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bluestockings

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 habe some power than 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 poltical. feminism is having a room of one’s own. feminism is the radical belief that we are all created equal. feminism is

bluestockings

© Sally Katz

mission statement

Blue·stock·ing n. a person with strong scholarly or literary interests; in the past this term was used derogatorily towards educated women.
Bluestockings is Brown’s first feminist-minded publication. We write (about) issues from a gender-aware perspective. We believe feminism is not a rigid set of guidelines or a restrictive ideology, but is instead 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 engage feminism as a generative process that has relevant and productive ties to every area of study. We will not try to answer the question, “What is feminism?” but rather, “What can feminism be?” We openly encourage submissions from people of all gender identifications, sexual identities, and races. We accept work from every genre, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art, comedy, and academic writing focusing on culture, politics, sex, and health.

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table of contents

A Conversation with Gloria Steinem 10 On Nudity 17 These are the Things that Matter 23 Miranda Forman On Being Strong 27 Leah Douglas Untitled 28 Abra Conn Bodies in Protest 30 Sara Matthiesen Notes Toward a Row of Urinals 33 Patrick Madden Mad Dawg 36 Katherine Entis Why Feminism Needs to be Trans-Inclusive 38 Einar Ragnar Jónsson Queering the Bad Bitch 42 Josh Schenkkan

62 Get the Election Out of My Vagina Sarah Grimm 64 Duzzztixi Veronica Estes 66 Abort Racism Jesse McGleughlin 71 Anonymous Aspirations Nicole Hasslinger 72 Yarnbombing Via de Fori Imperiali, Rome You Bin Kang 74 She Speaks Martin Menefee 75 PlainSex Dan Sherrell 82 Beautiful Gabrielle Sclafani 84 Person in Charge Caroline Steinfeld 88 Women (Doing) Shit Samer Muallem 90 Acknowledgments 91 Bibliography 92 Art

table of contents

Yermedea Raw 46 Filipina Navigation 54 Sara David Downton Abbey Power Rankings 57 Kate Holguin

letter from the editors

bluestockings
fall 2012
managing editors ana cecilia alvarez amy la count analise roland
chanelle adams nicole hasslinger arts jennifer avery sally katz blog danae metaxa-kakavouli taylor lanzet business manager amanda jones culture yoon jeong chong stoni thompson design carolyn shasha elizabeth berman features kate holguin david sanchez-aguilera literature grace adler sarah brandon politics kristy choi caroline steinfeld sex & health priya gaur alex wardlaw academic

So here we are. As you hold this, there is still much conflation and confusion surrounding feminism. Some believe feminism is “dead,” an ideology left useless and buried under the corpse of restrictive and misinformed stereotypes like “the man-hater” and “the bra burner.” Others understand “being a feminist” as a limiting identity, one that leaves little room for self-doubt. Yet, within the personal and political realm, “being a feminist” continues to be a salient and necessary identity. When we see attacks on reproductive rights, when the language of slut-shaming rings through the halls of our lawmaking institutions, when policy continues to ignore class realities, when popular narratives continuously exclude the stories of transgender people and tirelessly enforce confining gender binaries of masculinity and femininity, when the voices of people of color continue to have a limited audience, when gender oppression negatively affects everyone, this is the time that these conversations need a space to be heard. We feminists need to state—we are very much alive. So here we are. Eighteen months and countless days ago, we realized that this very vacancy existed within our community—an unfilled space, a missing dialogue. Conversations were occurring around us, words were being written in private, and artists were exploring on their canvases questions of feminism without a place to come together. Yet, in truth, this conversation has been stirring within us for the past 21 years. Quietly manifesting, slowly emerging through experiences in our personal lives and our engagement with the greater world. To say that we are proud of what we have created would be an understatement, and to be honest, untrue. We may have fostered this space, given it the attention it needed in order for it to grow, but we did not create it. You did. You have already played a role in this by engaging in any kind of dialogue or thought process that questions your identity both within yourself and in relation to others. In these pages, you will not find one definition of feminism, one statement that fully encompasses the totality of feminist ideals. What you will find are the words of feminist leaders, writers, thinkers, and artists. From pieces on the racial implications of reproductive justice, to a calling for transgender awareness, to a man figuring out that every woman really does poop—each piece in these pages has been ardently workshopped and communally edited. We invite you to join us, to dig into these words, to allow them to venture into your psyche and confront the very ideals you live by. To us, this book represents a beginning. It is at this shared place, this common point of feminism, that we put our differences aside and moved forward to create a community of individuals whose words we are honored to share in these pages. We have opened a door and welcome you to follow… With Love Ana, Amy, & Analise

editorial board

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A Conversation With

Gloria Steinem
On April 30th, 2012, writer, feminist, and activist Gloria Steinem visited Brown University for a conversation with President Ruth Simmons and a screening of her HBO film, Gloria. Steinem is accredited as one of the most prominent members of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and continues to speak out against the inequalities that women face today. She gained notoriety with an undercover exposé of Playboy, and went on to establish Ms. Magazine in 1972 and the Women’s Media Center in 2004. Bluestockings Magazine, along with The Providence Journal and The Brown Daily Herald, sat down with Steinem to talk about her thoughts on current poltics and future feminists.

Gloria Steinem: The only problem is I always have a kind of identity crisis because I think I should be interviewing you. Providence Journal: Is there a women’s movement today in the same sense as when you were at the height of it in the 70s? GS: Oh, it’s infinitely bigger than it ever was in the 70s. Hugely bigger. I mean the reason you know me is because there were so few of us [laugh]. If you look at the public opinion polls even, support for all the issues, people who self-identify as feminists are as least as many as those who self-identify as Republicans. [laugh] Or at least women - I’m not sure they have the wit to ask men. There’s thousands more organizations, whether they’re battered women shelters or women’s art galleries or rock bands...so certainly the conscious is way past the majority level but that also means that we’ve had a backlash for a long time because once we have a frontlash we have

a backlash. And the backlash has a lot of power, even though it’s not in the majority.But most movements, certainly abolitionist and suffragist movements, lasted about a century to become permanent, and that’s probably still true of the feminist, civil rights, gay and lesbian, and various social movements now. PJ: You mentioned backlash. What do you think in terms of backlash in reproductive rights – are we stepping way back? GS: Well, if you look at the public opinion polls, we’re not stepping way back. If you listen to the Catholic bishops you would think that Catholics are against contraception and legal abortion, but if you ask actual Catholics, you discover that more than 90% of Catholic women use contraception and Catholic women seem to need and choose legal abortion at about the same rate as everybody else. The problem is that the backlash occupies positions of power, not that it represents the majority of people.

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The largest problem right now is that what used to be the Republican Party has been taken over by very extremist groups, both economic and political, many of whom used to be Democrats. Say the 800 fundamentalist Catholic churches, Jesse Helms, they all used to be Democrats. Beginning with the Civil Rights Act though, people began to leave the Democratic Party and take over the Republican Party, which is why there are so many independents. So it’s very dangerous, and difficult, to have one of our two parties controlled by extremists. But you know if you think about it—[Barry] Goldwater could not possibly get nominated by the Republican Party now because he was pro-choice. Nixon could not get nominated because he supported affirmative action and civil rights in general. Even Reagan was pro-choice as governor. The first Bush supported Planned Parenthood. I mean it just shows you how far from the centrist Republican position we have come. PJ: Does it surprise you that this has happened? GS: Well, yes and no. I mean, it surprises me because I thought we had a democracy. So I would think that our leadership reflected our public opinion polls more than it does. We have to take responsibility for that too, because too few of us vote. But it doesn’t surprise me in the sense that controlling reproduction is the basis of hierarchy and nationalism. So to keep control of reproduction and to resist reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right is not surprising. It’s very, very basic. PJ: Does it surprise you that women get on board with that? We have a woman senator here who was promoting legislation that would restrict how women could receive abortions and what would happen prior, like certain kinds of sonograms… GS: Well, she’s a Republican, right? And she couldn’t have gotten nominated if she didn’t agree with that. Most Republican women are pro-choice just like everybody else, but if you’ve got a party whose machinery is controlled by a particular view, then you get Sarah Palin. In a way it’s kind of a tribute, because there’s a women’s movement, they realize they have to find a woman who disagrees with other women, or because there’s a civil rights movement, they have to find a Supreme Court Justice who disagrees with most African Americans. Brown Daily Herald: How long do you think it’ll be before there’s a female president, or even just a larger proportion of women in power in government? GS: I can’t guess, and it depends on us as voters and as people. You can’t be what you can’t see, so it’s harder for women to say, “I’m going to be a candidate.” So we need to go to women who would be good candidates and say, “You would be a good candidate and I’ll help you.” It’s not a passive question, it’s not when will it happen, but an active question, when will we make it happen? Bluestockings: So we recognize the intersectionality of race, class, and gender, but it’s difficult to fight for so many things at the same time, and second wave feminism has often garnered criticism for not including feminists of color. How do you feel your need to deal with this as a feminist leader while also maximizing the inclusivity of the movement? GS: First of all I need to say that that assumption about the women’s movement is wrong. I mean, is the women’s movement subject to racism and classism? Yes, in this country—absolutely. But can’t we also ask: Is it the most representative and integrated movement this country has ever seen? I think it’s really wrong to attribute racism to the women’s movement—you render women of color invisible who were in leadership positions, whether it was Eleanor Holmes Norton, or Shirley Chisholm, or Flo Kennedy. We could name so many women, and we can’t render them invisible by saying that they weren’t disproportionately in leadership positions, which they always were. And—you know, intersectionality is a great word but it’s not understood off-campus.

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of Time Magazine, you know, that has 100 years, she is the main organizer of Domestic Workers United, which is an organization of 30,000 domestic workers, largely undocumented immigrants and/or women of color. Amy Richards who is here with me, who’s written more books than me—I mean, she started out working for me but she’s way surpassed me as a speaker, writer, and organizer. Rushira Gupta in India, who’s the originator of Apne Aap, which means self-help, an organization working on sex-trafficking in India. There are just so many! PJ: What do you think of Michelle Obama? GS: You know, I have never met Michelle … oh, no, no, I did meet her once! [laughs] I was speaking at a lunch where she was and we did talk for a minute. You know, I find her—admirable. She was clearly always a smart, creative, brave woman and, in the beginning, Obama was working for her in the law firm, not the other way around, so that says a lot about Obama’s choice in a partner. BS: So I was going to ask kind of in that vein, in 2008 you initially supported Hilary Clinton. But it seems that your support has grown for President Obama. So I was hoping you could maybe talk about that shift – GS: It wasn’t a shift. Because, you know, for that first year, reporters would say to me, “Are you supporting Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama?” And I would say “Yes!” [laughs] Because, you know, he’s a feminist, she’s a civil rights activist, but—I think it was a cruel joke that we got two firsts in the same year. But it was always clear that all of us were going to work for either one, you know, whoever could get through the primaries. BS: And how do you feel about how Obama has done so far,

So, I would just say look at real life: wherever there is more racism, there is more sexism because you can’t maintain racial difference without controlling reproduction. We have only to look at the South in this country where the most punished crime historically was miscegenation, which meant any contact between white women and men of color, the reverse, of course, even by rape or force, was a whole different story. So controlling women as the means of reproduction is made even more necessary by any race or caste or class system. It just comes together, it’s just like life. And therefore it’s not even practical to be a feminist without being anti-racist or against classism. It just doesn’t work. BDH: Which current political or social advocates inspire you now in the women’s movement? GS: Well Ruth, your president of Brown University. Ruth Simmons inspires me—it’s in my mind because we just had lunch together. I joined the board of Smith because she was the president of Smith. She is one of the most—how shall I say—wise, creative, effective leaders of large structures, which is very difficult, that I have ever seen in any place. I find her very inspirational. My friend Alice Walker is certainly ahead of me on the path; I feel I have always learned from her. Wilma Mankiller, who died last year who was the Chief of the Cherokee Nation, should have been president. Ai-Jen Poo, who I was just writing about for this issue

“I think in general we probably feel more connected to each other’s women’s movements than to our own governments’’

“wherever there is more racism, there is more sexism’’

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on women’s rights and reproductive rights and other issues? GS: Well, first of all, I came to the point where I myself was going to have to vote for my own New York primary. I voted for Hilary Clinton, because I thought she was clearly more experienced and she understood the ultra right wing in a way that he had not had the opportunity to do. She was a fighter. I knew she couldn’t win. I always knew she couldn’t win because it was just too soon. Whatever group we come from, we’re mostly raised by women, so we see female authority as attached to childhood and appropriate to childhood. Though we as women have our own example to learn from, many men feel regressed to childhood when they see a powerful woman, because they were eight the last time they saw one. However, I think she did so well, and was so courageous, and continues to do so well, that she probably has changed people’s perceptions. I think we’re better able now to imagine a female of any race in the White house before Hilary. There is just no option to Obama being elected. No option. What we have to make sure to do is give him a Congress he can work with. Because he didn’t have the experience to use the Congress he had in the beginning well, but now he does. PJ: I have a personal question, if that’s okay—being a 50 year old woman with two teenaged sons, if you ever regretted not having any children. GS: Mmm, you know, people always ask me that. And for a while, I used to think, especially when I’m in India or some other place where the culture is different, I think, oh, maybe I shouldn’t tell the truth because I’ll lose people. But I did it to this group of women in India, I told the truth—which not for a millisecond have I ever regretted not having children. And they applauded, because they’re in a culture where they have to have children. So I like to think that my not having children is necessary to demonstrate that women who do have children have chosen to. I mean if somebody doesn’t do it, it’s not a choice. Now, I mean, I can imagine all kinds of reasons why…but I’m just telling you the end result. Maybe it’s because I took care of my mother, so I thought I’d done that already, orI don’t know, maybe it’s because the conditions of motherhood that I saw, maybe if I saw different conditions… BDH: Speaking of India, how much do you feel that the American feminist movement is now connected to international feminism, and how much should that be a focus in politics? GS: Well it always has been since the beginning, because we were always learning from each other. The economic development techniques that people use here were learned from women in the Third World, and some of the journalistic techniques that they use there were learned from here. So there’s always been a lot of connection. I think in general we probably feel more connected to each other’s women’s movements than to our own governments. BS: When it comes to activism, you were talking about second wave, third wave. Where do you think the most successful tactical choice is for third wave feminists or activists today? There is a big question between going through the government or grassroots, and I know that that’s not mutually exclusive, but do you see there being any particular focus? GS: Well if it’s election time, you focus on the election. And if you are living in a situation of violence, you focus on getting out. You just kind of focus on where your experience and expertise is. In a general way, I would say it’s usually more helpful to focus on the bottom, because like trees, change grows from the bottom. But every situation is different. I would avoid ‘shoulds.’ BS: I guess the deeper question is, how do you see people getting more engaged in the feminist movement, being brought in the fold of feeling like it’s their movement as well? GS: It’s on campus. In addition to what everybody’s already doing, you can get some of the Men Against Violence groups, or perhaps you already have, to come and speak on campus, so that men feel welcome and see that it’s in their interest also to play these roles. It’s organic. And some kinds of slogans and T-shirts and so on should be considered so they are inclusive. For instance, Equality Now and Apne Aap have a T-shirt that says, “Eroticize Equality.” Because the problem is, for men and women, the idea is that sexuality is about dominance and submission, when, in fact, cooperation is a lot more fun, to put it my way. So some of it, a lot of it, is just about empathy.

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PJ: If you look forward to what you hope will happen in the next generation, what is the most important thing that you wish for women who are younger, for what they want to achieve or experience or understand? GS: I just want them to be able to—you know, I was doing a discussion with Oprah with a whole bunch of students from Barnard, and we were talking about all these things, and at the end, one of the women in the back said, “Women need enough power to do what makes them happy.” You know, obviously, if we were going to address what involves the biggest number of women, reproductive freedom is a fundamental human right—like freedom of speech, the most basic right. Freedom from violence, since women worldwide are still at least 70% of all victims of violence. Equality in the family, democracy in the family, since the family is the microcosm of everything else, so if you have inequality and violence in the family, it normalizes it in the street, for foreign policy, for every place else. So I would say probably those three things affect the most people: reproductive freedom, freedom from violence, and democratic families. But there may well be someone sitting at this table who has a great idea to do something else that wouldn’t come under those umbrellas and that would really be great, and make all kinds of change. BS: In your own words, how would you personally define feminism? GS: I’d just go to the dictionary, it’s not bad. [laughs] The belief in the full social, economic, political equality of females and males. I would also say acting on it, I would add that to the dictionary, not just believing it. •

“Women need enough power to do what makes them happy’’

“I told the truth—which not for a millisecond have I ever regretted’’

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Reflecting on and revisiting Brown’s groundbreaking Nudity in the Upspace, an exploration of nudity, sexuality, and identity.
The development of Nudity in the Upspace coincided with a series of realizations I made during August 2012 that posed writing and performing about my body (and the manifold, ever-evolving facets of my relationship with that body) was not only something that I wanted to do, but something that I very suddenly truly needed to do. If someone had suggested the idea of performing nude to me in July, I would have considered it a laughable prospect. I probably would have even regarded it judgmentally, as another one of those things that Brown students do to be avant-garde, of which I wanted no part. However, hearing about it late in August, and specifically hearing about it from Becca, a person whom I have trusted, respected, and loved since my first year at Brown, cast the entire idea in a very different light. My entire life I have struggled with issues of control over my body and the links between my physical health and psychology. When I was twelve-years-old, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. This was disturbing on many levels, not the least of which was the idea that my body was literally attacking itself, that the cause of my illness was a reaction triggered within myself, against myself, and that this reaction may or may not be linked to my mental health and stress levels. I felt betrayed. If I couldn’t trust my own mind and body to keep me healthy and sane, than what could I trust? Treatment for my disease involved a regimen of corticosteroids in extremely high doses and weekly injections of a mild chemotherapy drug. The psychological side effects of the corticosteroids made it necessary that I seek mental healthcare, and so, a few weeks before my thirteenth birthday I was prescribed anti-depressants and have been on them ever since. When I saw my psychiatrist in early August, I mentioned to her an issue that I had always sort of ‘blamed’ myself for or attributed to some personal defect: the fact that I have never been able to reach orgasm. To my surprise, she had an easy and immediate explanation. According to her, nearly two-thirds of patients who take the anti-depressant I take and other anti-depressants in its class experience sexual side effects, which quite specifically include the inability to orgasm. I was angry that I had never known this before. I also felt very powerless, like once again my body was being acted on by forces outside of my control—by drugs and doctors in ways that I did not necessarily desire. I made the decision, then, that I wanted to see what I was like—that is, if I was able to exist—without these drugs. My decision to participate in Nudity in the Upspace became a forum for me to critically examine the relationship between my intellectual identity and my body, as I take the very frightening steps away from my dependence on anti-depressants in hopes of being able to feel in control of my mind and body on my own. - Garbielle Sclafani Gina Roberti Self Love

On Nudity

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Gabi: When my body first grew hair between my hips, the darkness looked wrong to me: an ugly stain that marked the entrance to a phase of life that I did not want to go through. In protest, I removed the strands one by one, yanking them from their roots with a pair of tweezers. But I wasn’t fast enough, the hair kept growing and I wondered how women could feel beautiful if they all carried such ugly scars. Becca: A bush was growing between my legs. Camila and Gabi: It was there to stay. Becca: Before high school, no one had ever told me to shave, but I distinctly remember freshman year, in the softball team locker room, my teammate looked at my naked body and said, “Ew, Becca, you have got to shave. If you don’t shave, no one is ever going to want to go down there.” Gabi: The darkness looked wrong to me. Camila: For several years I had this obsession with removing it. I tried all kinds of painful, annoying things to get rid of the hair from my legs, my armpits, my eyebrows, my upper lip, under my chin. I used chemicals to burn it off, a razor to shave it off, wax to pull it out but still it came back curlier, thicker, blacker, and coarser. Becca, Camila, Gabi: How can anyone feel beautiful if they all carry such ugly scars? Camila: The places I never worried about my hair were my nipples and vagina because, let’s be honest, no one was seeing any of that. But as I got older those areas came under deeper scrutiny. Becca: Right before coming to college, I gave into peer pressure. If I really wanted a boy to see my vagina some

A Devised Piece of Nudity

The devised performance piece of the week of Nudity in the Upspace. Pathikrit Bhattacharyya, Pat Holland-Stergar, Gopika Krishna, Camila Pacheco-Fores, Gabi Sclafani, Vince Tomasino, and Becca Wolinsky
... Gopika: The evolution of the human body has happened over thousands of years. Scientists are still trying to figure out why humans are not furry like other primates or mammals. Some believe that losing hair helped us regulate our body heat better, while others think hair is just no longer evolutionarily important. Consider: Fact 1: Human hair is the fastest growing tissue and can be as strong as steel. Fact 2: Pubic hair can trap pheromones, chemical secretions that can help attract mates. Camila: Hair. Curly, thick, black, coarse hair. It covers my body in most places. Becca: Before I came to Brown, my nickname was King Kong. Age 18, and I still had never shaved my vagina. Camila: Hair has always been a source of embarrassment for me. In the fifth grade I remember looking down at my legs and realizing that mine were about five times hairier than the girl next to me. That’s about when I started shaving.

day, King Kong had to go. I got a Brazilian wax and became hairless, kind of like Rufus, the naked mole rat from Kim Possible. Becca, Camila, Gabi: But I wasn’t fast enough. The hair kept growing. Camila: Bikini waxes became necessary and I even felt pressured to remove all of the hair from my vagina and go back to a pre-pubescent state. I felt like I had to pluck the soft hairs that surrounded my nipples and remove the fuzz that ran down my belly button. I felt that my nude body was meant to disgust me covered as is, with at least a thin layer of hair. Becca: Though I’ve never let it get to King Kong status since then, I’m no longer worried. Relatively recently, I was with someone naked who told me, “Becca, you don’t need to shave for guys.” I know it’s true, and you don’t need to tell me. If you’re going to see me naked, you’re going to get me in whatever state my hair is in. Everyone: Now we stand, naked in front of you—undressed of our clothes, but not of our hair. Vince: Why would god put hair in my asshole? It’s just not sanitary, carrying that stuff around with you all day. This isn’t what my pubic hair looks like. I trimmed it. Yeah, I did. I mean, these days it’s common courtesy. Have you ever gotten a mouthful of pubes? Then you definitely keep trim or shave or whatever you have to do to keep it civil for your partner.

This isn’t what my belly looks like, either. I thought my man wanted something a little more trimmed-looking so before he got back from—you know what? I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t have to explain what I do with my junk to you, you voyeurs. Yeah, I know what you’re up to. There are lots of weird things with my body. I could tell you about them, but that would ruin the part about trying not to tell anyone in the whole wide world about them. Like, you look in a mirror and “Gah! Where did that come from?” Well, okay, like, I found this muscle I’d never seen before and I thought it was a hernia—I was terrified. Look, look at how skinny my ankles are and how broad my shoulders are. I kind of look like a triangle. Can you see it? Can you see it? Nipples are weird, too. But what I really want to know is: Why can’t my penis be bigger? Camila: Look at my fingers—they’re like little sausages! Po: Look at these love handles! Gopika: What the fuck are stretch marks? Gabi: When my sister and I go down the stairs, my dad shouts, “THUNDER THIGHS!” Pat: Who has pimples on their ass?

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told me. “All those things you hear about parents talking to their kids about sex—that’s a myth. I’m modest. That’s just the way I am. You were supposed to learn about those things in school and from books. That’s what I did.” Gopika: Bodies were never a source of pride in my family. My family taught me from a young age that covering my body was a reflection of my honor. Blouses had to be buttoned up. Pants always loose. Skin had to be covered to keep it from getting too dark “like the maid’s.” Growing up, I always felt like my family had a say in what my body looked like and what it did. If you look closely, you can clearly see the genetic footprints: the infamous Krishna five foot frame, the soft hands from my mother, my father’s curly hair that sheds everywhere—just ask my housemates. As I got older, though, it felt like my body belonged more and more to my family than to myself. It was always a game of control—parents yelling about the clothes that grabbed too much attention, the skin that was too dark, the body that was too thin on some days or not thin enough on others. Like other shared things in families, their critiques soon became mine. The idea of seeing my own naked body, let alone show it to others, was frightening to say the least, and it wasn’t until these past few years that I felt comfortable appreciating it and sharing it with others. Standing here now, I want to appreciate these physical gifts my family gave me—hands, hair, etc. But I also want to acknowledge that this is me trying to resist and rebel and take control of my own body through love and respect. Po: My first time being naked in public was last year. I posed in the nude for the RIPE calendar. I dropped my pants for the cause of sustainable food and it was a liberating experience. My emotions must have really come through, because my conservative Indian parents also requested a copy. And they loved it.

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Gopika: The human body can be sexual in unexpected ways. Consider: Fact 1. The anal walls are not only a great source of pleasurable nerve endings, but also digitally manipulating, it can stop hiccups. Fact 2: The anal walls, as well as the hair follicles, have Merkel nerve endings. These lie underneath the skin and send touch information to the brain. Merkel endings can respond and fire signals to the brain when the skin is displaced by less than one micrometer. Gabi: I don’t like to look at myself naked. I don’t feel comfortable being naked when I’m alone. At times I found myself so ugly that I did not turn the lights on when I dressed and planned my footsteps such that I would never meet a mirror. But unclothing myself with another person, someone who appreciates my body and who tells me so, feels different. I had a partner once who was very good at pointing out things like this. One night we were having sex with the lights on. I’m sure I was feeling very self-conscious already. Suddenly, he stood up and moved a mirror from the other side of the room to the foot of his bed. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I want you to see how hot you are,” he replied. It was not the sort of thing I thought that I would enjoy. I have enough trouble looking at my face in the mirror, let alone my entire body, stripped down to the skin—vulnerable. But he was so emphatic and sincere that I trusted it, and we sat in front of the mirror, watching ourselves as we began to fuck, and he kept reminding me to look at myself, to look in the mirror, repeating, “Look how hot you are!” and I did and I even started to believe it and to like it and to laugh and to wish that I always looked at myself like that. Because I want to be able to appreciate my body without the affirmation of another person. As much as it

“His older sister poked her head out the bedroom window to see through the open flaps of the tent the incredible sight of ten naked boys galavanting late into the night.”
Everyone: I do! Becca: My breasts are size 34 DDD. Why me? I know why. My mom’s breasts are huge, Grandma Trudy has big breasts and great Grandma Rose had the biggest breasts that anyone had ever seen. I bet Great Grandma Rose literally picked up her breasts in the shower to wash her body. My family has been a naked family for as long as I can remember. Growing up in a single parent household in Houston, Texas dominated by several strong curvy females, wearing clothes was never a necessity. We were always encouraged to be open and comfortable with our bodies. And after my parents got divorced, it was just me, Jessica, my mom, and our cats. The cats were naked, too. I’ll never forget the time my mom answered the door completely naked because she thought it was one of her friends dropping something off at our house. It was George Barnstone, one of the many men trying to court her since the divorce. I never realized how lucky I was to grow up in such an accepting community until I came to Brown—not everyone grows up in a place where nudity is so accepted. Pat: Families in Montana are definitely not like that. But I do remember being thirteen and often playing around naked with my friends. One August night we were celebrating my friend’s birthday with a sleepover party. First we boldly streaked through his tiny one-hundred person town in the backwaters of Montana, yelling wildly the whole time. Exhausted, we ended up at the tent in his backyard where we started to play tag and tackle each other down. We were making such a racket that his older sister poked her head out the bedroom window to see through the open flaps of the tent the incredible sight of ten naked boys galavanting late into the night. Gabi: From the time I was eight years old and started showering by myself until I had sex for the first time, eight years later, I was the only person in the world who ever saw my body unclothed. In my house, we learned to hide our bodies from my mother’s disapproval—the way she tightened her jaw whenever shirts cut too low, or stretched too tight against her daughter’s breasts, or skirts danced too high on our ample thighs. My mother and older sisters kept their doors shut tight when they showered or changed, so that’s what I did, too. For eight years I was alone with my body, and as I got older it disgusted me. Two weeks ago, I decided it was finally time to talk about these things with my mother—about the way we hide our bodies, the way that she still calls sex “the consummate act,” the fact that I am twenty years old and I have never orgasmed. “That’s how families are,” she

22 | Features
means to hear someone else say it, I want to learn how to say it myself. Becca: For me, I am most comfortable when I am naked— naked, alone and free. I don’t usually associate nudity with sexuality. Before coming to college I had had minimal to no sexual experiences with another person. The first time I was ever sexually naked with a boy at Brown was beyond frightening. Sure, I had run around New Pembroke 3 totally naked as a stress reliever and all my female and gay male friends at Brown had seen me naked. But a straight male in a sexual way? Not a chance. I’ll never forget that fateful naked night freshman year, anxiety blurred with alcohol. Totally naked, totally exposed. I had to get out of there. The next morning, I cried. It was then that I realized nudity is something I love and embrace, but only when it is separate from sexuality. I have very low physical self-esteem, yet could care less about being nude by myself. But no boy should ever have to see my flawed body, and never with the lights on. I am more comfortable in the nude than wearing a bathing suit or a tight outfit. I have been a nude model for visual art classes for over a year. I have been to every naked party to which I’ve been invited. I’ve done the naked doughnut run twice. I am usually the curviest female there. I am not happy with my my curves, my thighs, my breasts, and especially my body’s size, but yet I love dancing around and being naked. For me, the continuing challenge is to incorporate my love of nudity into my sexuality, because let’s face it: as much I would personally like to divorce the two, they are very related. I can barely even hold hands with someone in a sexual way, so being naked is a stretch. As I continue to become more and more comfortable with others seeing me sexually naked, I will continue to prance around without clothing. In my naked, natural state, alone, I feel the most free. Camila: I want to explore your body. I want to know your body with my body. No, I don’t want to fuck you. I just want to remember every groove in your spine with the palm of my hand and the span of your chest with my shoulder blades. I want the soles of my feet to know the tops of yours and our fingers to forget how they ever existed without the others interlaced. Can we just... hold hands? Po: Body image is an issue with which I have always struggled. I was considerably overweight through most of my teens. During this time, I lived with the constant fear that I was growing giant breasts. The onset of puberty didn’t help, and neither did my regular stress eating. I remember being so terrified of laughter or ridicule that I would never take my shirt off in public. I loved swimming, but hated going to the pool. I loved the feeling of the sun on my skin, but avoided going to the beach. I fought with myself for years before I finally gave it up. I channeled my frustrations into running and lost some weight, and now, here I stand. Self love talks have become almost a cliché. But it is still surprising how often we forget to tell ourselves the one thing we need to hear: that we are beautiful the way we are. Perhaps in unusual ways, but beautiful all the same. People see us the way we see ourselves. If I can be brave enough to love myself, others will love me too. Gopika: Ordinary parts of the human body are capable of doing extraordinary things. Consider: Fact 1: The surface area of a human lung is equal to a tennis court. Fact 2: In the next 60 seconds, one of your blood cells will make a complete circuit through your body. •

Literature | 23

These are the Things That Matter
Miranda Forman

The problem with chopping yourself up, really, isn’t that you lose an arm down the grate in the parking lot, or that your pontomesencephalotegmental complex somehow warps itself into the living embodiment of the monsters who would skulk out of the attic at night, if your older brother weren’t there to fend them off with a sledgehammer. (He always claimed the sledgehammer was a guaranteed creature-killer, but now he sleeps in his New York apartment with a knife under his pillow, and you don’t understand how his arm hasn’t fallen off in some Herculean battle with a shadow.) The problem with chopping yourself up, really, happens when you can’t keep the email addresses straight, when one forwards into another and you can’t separate your official self (the self that emails your parents and your bosses and your sister’s husband’s best friend to thank him for the wedding-gift cutlery) from the erotica writer who has recently begun refusing to get out

of bed. There are twenty-one minimized Internet windows and not one of them is porn. You moved everything off the desktop screen, gravitized it all into a black hole, but the menu bar at the top of the screen was still this unbearable beam of white until you found out how to get rid of that, too. But the real problem is made up mostly of the missing that tiptoes up behind you at three in the morning after the elevator doors close and whispers how you’re not good enough for anything or anyone or yourself and why do you even bother. You stare at it, and you wave all your banners of success, all your pins and laurels, trumpeting how you’ve been so great, how you are so great, how you are so capable of future greatness—see? See? But it doesn’t see, and you’re still staring at it, and that’s all it takes. The missing doesn’t have to say anything back at all because you’re still staring at it and it’s just you and it and the elevator. Where’s the sledgehammer? Where’s the porn?

24 | Literature

Literature | 25

“sometimes even in Paris the elevators start working again.”
The fake problem is the purple jellybeans, especially at 3:17 in the morning, especially when you can’t sleep, and when you find a purple in your hand instead of a citrus flavor, it wouldn’t make any sense to drop it back in the bag and reach for a yellow, because you’d just get the purple again later. Instead, you wedge it between the cushions of the couch, or flick it across the room where it rolls into the grate under the radiator, because where else would you put the grape jellybeans while you’ve got one hand toying with the tip of your cock and your left big toe jabbing at the television, scanning through no-one’s-awake-to-watchthis programming which is telling you to “get excited about your life!” You look at the overweight man blaring from the screen and want to smash him, but you explode out of yourself instead. You know that sometimes when you are in Paris in the Louvre, and sometimes even when you are not there, elevators stop working. This is the real problem. Sometimes elevators in Paris in the Louvre and sometimes elevators in other places stop working and there’s no way to get them working again and you’re stuck for hours in Paris in the Louvre or in other places because no one can get them working. But you get on the elevator anyway, even though you know that elevators stop working and keep you inside themselves for far too long, which is intolerable alone, or in bad company, which is really the same thing. But you get on the elevator anyway, even though elevators, like 3 a.m. nights, are better in the right company. Elevators, like 3 a.m. nights—just say it outright—are better with sex. You don’t get on the elevator anyway, even though you know that sometimes even in Paris the elevators start working again. You could walk up the three flights, because three flights is well within the comfortable boundaries of vertical movement for an able-bodied human. Ten flights, though, is a bit harder, unless you’re a hot-air balloonist, and even those crazies struggle. You used to sometimes walk up the three flights, but mostly you took the elevator, because you were often in the right company. Now, though, you’ve discovered that the missing lives in the elevator, and it also lives in the tinny-ness of pop songs and House, M.D. repeats, so when you are alone together with it in the evening or at 3 a.m., you patiently explain to it how A) exercise is good for you, and B) you no longer have the patience for songs shorter than 4 minutes, and C) you no longer have the patience to read anything longer than a postcard, so...can it kindly screw itself. You stare at the unfazed missing until you stop staring at it and you end up listening to Wagner overtures (except you only actually listen to Tannhauser, on repeat) and skimming The Road (because it’s written in postcard-like segments), and you think maybe you should look into online dating because your hand is getting tired and might fall off into the grate under the radiator. Instead, you eat Doritos and stain everything orange. It has been known to the Food and Drug Administration that a diet consisting only of non-purple jellybeans and chips is imbalanced and even dangerous, often correlated with and perhaps the cause of melancholy affect, agoraphobia, and fatigue. You’re convinced that this is just propaganda spread by the Fair Treatment for Purples lobbyists, as you continue to flick the purples into the grate beneath the radiator and sometimes into the gap behind the elevator doors. Ten floors is a long time by foot, but even longer by elevator, and sometimes, by the time you’re passing the third or fourth floor, the missing clears its throat behind you and says, “Pardon me, I don’t mean to bother you, but it looks like you might have a problem.” You turn and stare at it and it continues. “It looks like your arm is not very securely attached to your shoulder. When your arm is not well-attached to your shoulder, it’s just common sense that you shouldn’t stand over any grates if you expect to give anyone any change of stitching it ba-” A flicked purple jellybean explodes its face. The light in the elevators is not Vermeer’s. Or maybe it is, because they’re both heavy and make your eyes hurt trying to lift them, but the elevator-light is bright white fluorescence and Vermeer didn’t have electricity or mercury vapor or purple jellybeans. If you try, you can see some Vermeers at the Louvre in room 71, beside the Ruisdaels. That is, you can see some Vermeers at the Louvre if you’re willing to find the room, willing to deal with the crowds and the cameras, willing to brave either the elevator or the stairs. In other words, you can see some Vermeers if you’re willing, but the Louvre isn’t really worth all your willing anyway, and it only has three things that aren’t there anyway: no head, no smile, no arms. Plus, the elevators aren’t worth half the trouble. The elevators in Paris in the Louvre (and maybe elevators anywhere) aren’t actually worth any of the trouble, especially when there’s all kinds of monsters creeping out of your pontomesencephalotegmental cholinergic system, and especially when you don’t have the energy to smash them or anything to smash them with because it would be uncouth to throw purple jellybeans around the Museum of Museums. It would be uncouth to throw purple jellybeans, or any jellybeans, around the Museum of Museums or any museum, and it would really be much better to instead squeeze all the problems into your falling-off fist and explode them out of yourself. Instead of intercontinental ballistic jellybeans, it would be better to just squeeze all the problems and explode them out of yourself, and then it would be better to eat compote de pomme crepes until it’s all you can do to just sit outside on the Pompidou Plaza and watch a fire-breather or sledge-hammer swallower or “statue” in the sun, and kindly thank the missing for playing. Missing, thank you for playing. Thank you for playing, missing. •

26

On Being Strong
Leah Douglas
All good feminists and Ivy League women are taught that they are, or should be, powerful. We don’t need men. We don’t compare ourselves to other women. We won’t worry about our weight, our armpit hair, our nails; we won’t ascribe to conventional standards of feminine beauty! We will shatter the glass ceiling with the force of our wills and our brains. We will find meaning in ourselves and each other, be happier than any dependent relationship could ever make us. And when we feel suddenly and surprisingly alone? In dire, desperate need of comfort and affirmation? When we have never felt less powerful, less willful, more lost? I think I’m a good woman. I want to be a good feminist. I want to be strong – independent – beautiful – rooted; So I have tried: to squat,

Literature | 27

or: How to Recover from a Persistent and Undefined Illness

back straight and weighted by a bag of corn, or years of calorie counting; to lift, a harvest bucket of squash whose edges dig into my fingertips; to eat, pies and cakes baked by my friends in the broken heat of the evening, celebrated straight out of the pan, forks diving and mouths laughing – so that I might affirm my bulky biceps and tightened thighs, might have the strength to lift myself from emotional mire. And I have learned: that my bones can support all of my muscle and fat without bending; that my friends can hold up my heart when it feels like it might crumble; that I can have a toned back and pretty hair; that I can have a beautiful soul and strong shoulders – But when I am still ashamed of my flimsiness? Still feel bereft, jealous, vulnerable? This piece is about being strong. It’s not so easy. •

© Sally Katz

© Sally Katz

28 | Literature

Literature | 29

Abra Conn

i get sad while watching The Voice because my dad says Christina Aguilera needs to go on a diet maybe she likes her breasts hanging out maybe I think she should cover them up too maybe I feel bad about thinking what I think she should do because she should do whatever she wants i feel bad for not focusing on how fucking attractive Adam Levine is amen

“what do you do if you hate art school” i don’t know if i’m dumb (i don’t think i’m dumb) but i don’t understand art that has no emotion attached i didn’t know feeling needed to be brought back because i never thought feeling had left where else does it hide besides deep inside and it’s okay to cry while you talk about your work during a critique even if it’s not about your work and you just cry because you’ve been bottling it all up recently and now you’re in front of people and you hate talking to more than two people at a time it’s okay to use that time to let yourself do what others have enforced on you to not do in public and maybe even what others have told you not to do even in private just do u, dawg •

the idea you try to be nice and make friends with some, “friends” is not enough the action the platonic relationship didn’t last the conclusion stopped seeing a boy once just due to his usage of the word “cunt” do not use that word in a derogatory sense especially not for road rage the escape climbs out and away from that bucket seat with my taco bell intact

30 | Politics
protestors. Upon resuming my spot at the entrance to the parking lot, he asked me again. When he got no response he said, “God loves you, and I love you Sara. Did you know that I love you too?” I wanted to tell him that he knew nothing about me, and that, in fact, the more he learned the less likely he would be to love me. I wanted to tell him that while he might think telling a total stranger he loved them in the context of protesting abortion might seem like an act of kindness to him, to me it felt invasive, disingenuous, and only put me more on guard than I already was in his presence. Instead, I told him only to stop talking to me. He asked me why, to which I responded by repeating my demand. So he tried one last time: “Is that what you really want?” Yes, I told him. “Okay,” he agreed, “if that’s what you want, but always know I am here if you change your mind.” .... I have tried to make meaning of these incidents many times over since they happened—if for no other reason than that they keep invading my brain when I am thinking about any number of other things. Most recently, they keep popping up as I turn over the question of reproductive freedom—who gets to define it, who has it, what does it promise? Already influenced by activists who understand reproductive rights to be intimately related to things like economic justice, queer politics, fair labor practices, environmental health, and prison abolition, the persistence of these incidents seems to say that they are also relevant to these questions and a political platform of reproductive freedom. Mostly, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that in these moments my body became a problem. This is not, of course, an exceptional experience. All of our bodies become problems at one point or another as we go about our day-today lives. However, some become problems more often than others for the simple reason that we do not all move through the world with equal ease. One way this fact is

Politics | 31
made knowable is through how we exist in and use public space—who (supposedly) should and shouldn’t be in it alone, who can engage in PDA without fear, who relates to stairs as a barrier instead of access to buildings, who is entitled to express their opinions and who has to defend them endlessly, who will most often look around and see few others who look like them, who at a certain point simply begins to anticipate harassment motivated by ignorance and fear. When these more “troublesome” bodies go public a transgression occurs. The outcome of this transgression can take many forms—a sense of empowerment, assault, a feeling of invisibility, a connection with others, or business as usual—but it is a transgression nonetheless because their mere presence upsets the status quo. As a young, white, able-bodied, cisgender* woman who presents more on the side of femme* than not, the process by which my body became a problem was very particular. Indeed, the events I describe above transpired in way that directly correlates to these characteristics. Due to the privileging of whiteness as the norm, those harassing me defined me most by my gender; to them I was first and foremost a woman and, thanks to compulsory heterosexuality, probably assumed to be straight. This resulted in them seeing me as a vulnerable, sexual but not hyper-sexual, female body, which they, by virtue of being both male and white, were especially entitled to look at, lust after, talk to, yell at, touch. When women’s bodies are understood as inherently accessible, women are expected to account for this by policing their own movement. The myth that women themselves make their bodies more accessible when they choose to populate public space means that they are always already in the wrong place. Transgression number one. Obviously, however, I was doing much more than occupying public space in these moments. In both cases, I was actively claiming my right and the rights of others to move through the world without harassment and fear, and to do so in whatever way they deemed fit with regards to their

Bodies in Protest
Sara Matthiesen
Two moments of transgression: When Slutwalk came to Boston, I went in spite of my doubts about the empowering potential of the word ‘slut.’ It was part political desire, part social experiment—I wanted to protest sexual violence and feel empowered and I wanted to see what empowerment under the banner of slut felt like. Misinformation on the event’s Facebook page meant that my three friends and I ended up about a mile away from the actual start point for the march, leaving our group of four to walk to Boston Common with our protest signs at our sides. It didn’t take long for the two men who had been trailing us since we left Government Center to approach us. Instinct told us to pretend like they didn’t exist, experience told us doing so was a shitty deterrent for harassment. “Are you a slut?” My friend Julie and I kept our eyes locked on one another as one of the men asked us this, while the other man began sizing up our respective signs and telling us how ineffective they would be. As we continued our cold shoulder strategy, “Are you a slut?” turned into “Why can’t you talk? Don’t you even know how to talk?” His persistence broke through Julie’s concentrated efforts to make him disappear with her mind, and she said calmly, “We know how to talk. We just don’t want to talk to you.” In response to this rejection, he upped it a notch. Half sneering, half grinning, he threatened, “You’re going to get raped.” One day, when I was escorting for Planned Parenthood, one of the three “regulars” who showed up without fail to protest abortion on clinic days asked if I knew that God loved me. I ignored him and walked the next patient from the parking lot to the steps of the building, attempting to act as a barrier between her and the loudest of the other

32 | Politics
reproductive choices and sexuality. The harassment I received in turn was an attempt to rectify the order of things, to return me to their idea of how I should exist in our shared space. I was a woman in public using my voice, and in the case of escorting quite literally my body, to protest the idea that women’s bodies are a site that inevitably motivates constant political debate, ideological conundrums, misdirected concern, or excessive attention. I was using my body to enact particular politics. Transgression number two. For me, these incidents force a question that I am not sure I have an answer to: what happens to the body in moments of protest, however small? As I have tried to show here, I do not think bodies are easily separated from verbal exchanges, political platforms, or personal politics. Instead, I think they quite literally determine how those aspects of our lives that become “political,” whether by our own actions or the actions of others, unfold. Here is what I do not mean by this. We often hear of certain bodies as the playgrounds or battlefields for sparring political agendas. This, for example, is what the “War on Women” would have us believe about the politics of abortion and contraception; various political platforms either actually or fraudulently concerned with these things make women’s bodies vulnerable and action-less. These invocations reveal little while naturalizing instead of questioning the assumption that some bodies are just vehicles for political conflict. This strips certain bodies of their own complexity and specificity, and reduces them to pawns in somebody else’s war. Perhaps most importantly, it shuts down the possibility of any other political outcome than the one that has already been assigned. Here is what I do mean. The body is capable of determining the political because we live ideologies, culture, and power dynamics through our bodies in a way that forces these things to be in constant motion and contestation. As evidenced by these anecdotes, this means bodies are incredibly powerful, capable of empowering or overpowering. For reproductive freedom specifically, and feminist politics more generally, it might be useful to try and harness this power by thinking about how bodies can be the starting point of, as opposed to the repository for, alternative political agendas. Starting with the body enables us to ask: What if, in its broadest iteration, reproductive freedom meant freedom from our bodies being made into problems, and freedom to cultivate, both structurally and creatively, the different ways we occupy space? Moving to the body in protest provides the opportunity to find out the answers to these questions, to feel out what these freedoms might look like, and how to make them a reality. Those are feminist politics I would put my body on the line for. •
femme (adj.) LGBTQ term describing feminine traits, behaviors, styles, expressions, self perceptions, and so on. cisgender (n.) A person who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth. The colloquial use of cisgender suggests that it is the opposite of transgender.

Opinion | 33

Notes Toward a Row of Urinals
Patrick Madden
1. Ideally, urination is a solitary experience. The presence of bodies on either side sets in motion a series of unspoken but universally practiced routines: A lateral peek. A rotation of the head just far enough to ascertain whether anyone else along the line is issuing a reciprocal glance. This bobble-headed investigative work is but the overture of a quiet symphony: flitting eyes, squeaking shoes, clanking buckles, soft sighs, and of course the periodic, melodic union of urine and ceramic. A row of men. Peeing. Not talking. Not thinking about each other. Not thinking. Peeing. Unzipping. Certainly not thinking about each other’s genitalia. Peeing. Clearing the throat. Emptying the bladder. Emptying the mind. Upon entering a public restroom, every man instinctively knows the rules of proximity: if the row of urinals is one from full, complete it; if three slots are available, scurry for the middle one and count your blessings; if a lone ranger occupies one terminus, head for the other...but stop one or two short because asymmetry is safer, less deliberate. Even the linoleum walls encourage a feigned, strained nonchalance. They echo every shoe squeak, every cough, every accidental bout of flatulence. They reverberate every chord and refrain of the bodily symphony while amplifying its underlying anxiety.

34 | Opinion
2. Urinals are getting more stylish these days. Which makes them harder, I think, to pee into. Rounded edges, bleached white and ergonomically sloping bowls, passive infrared sensors for a hands-free flush. The last thing I want to do to this thing is pee on it... Manufacturers have even begun to place small, colorful graphics in the bottom of the urinal. My favorite: a bumblebee, buzzing lazily just north of the bowl’s center. Is it simply branding? Am I to aim my stream at it? I do, usually. So if that’s the case, some engineer should get a pat on the back. Probably the bee has been strategically placed for smoothest stream reception and minimized splatter. Or perhaps the bee’s objective is simply to draw the eye downward and prohibit lateral drift. If this is the case, I am again a success story. Although to be honest I do worry about my downward focus giving the impression that I can’t, without rapt ocular attention, get the urine into the urinal. To miss at such close range would require a degree of determination... 3. Those who design the layout and spacing of urinals must be either comedians or anthropologists. Or both. Some urinals protrude but a little from the wall, girded by protective barriers on each side. This setup is ideal in the sense of solitude it grants the user. More specifically, this setup effectively truncates all sight lines to the genitalia. Other arrangements include urinals that jut out from the wall and have no dividers whatsoever. These require standing out in the open, unzipping, and letting loose for all to see. The difference in body language at a row of the former and at a row of the latter type of urinal is more than worthy of anthropological scrutiny. In the absence of one inch dividing boards and forced eight inches farther into the center of the room, men grow quite tense. Shifts in body angle to shield the lower self from view. Increased frequency of lateral glances. And, of course, a renewed effort to appear nonchalant. The conversion of a primal human need to a meticulous, strained routine. Standing on tile; striving not to splatter; aiming with care; making not a sound; monitoring the slightest urge. These are civilized men, uncomfortably sandwiched by similarly uncomfortable men. 4. Some urinals are actually single, giant urinals. These are generally aluminum

Opinion | 35

and appear in places like baseball stadiums. They look like pig troughs. They feel like pig troughs. They smell worse than pig troughs. An acrid amalgam of urea and chemical aromas. Some urinals stretch all the way to the floor. Some are staunchly rectangular, others almost spherical. Some are playful products of a designer’s humor: gargoyle urinals accepting urine into gaping mouths; metal bucket urinals; saxophone urinals; even venus fly-trap urinals. Bathroom humor never really gets old. 5. Women, it turns out, can use urinals too. A small device called the Female Urination Device, or the FUD, attaches directly to the female body and allows women to urinate and easily control stream direction while standing. The FUD can be used in conjunction with the traditional urinal for the full experience. Women should rest easy knowing that if they desire, they can urinate with the assistance of everything ranging from an FUD to a motion sensor to an ergonomically placed animal image. Equal opportunity is a beautiful thing. 6. Occasionally, I walk into a public restroom and find myself alone. A wall of urinals, stoic, silent, seizes my attention, while an odd sense of liberation unfurls in my gut. The risk of a stranger’s entrance only exacerbates my impulse to engage in the ridiculous. I glance to the ceiling, half expecting to find security cameras. In their absence, I take my time deciding which urinal to anoint. I hum a little melody. I dance a little dance. I unzip and let loose, sometimes backing up as far as I can mid-stream while still maintaining contact with the ceramic. I marvel at the inhibition with which public space is rife; revel in its occasional disintegration; regret the solitude accompanying moments of release. •

36 | Literature

37

Mad Dawg
Katherine Entis
it’s probably time for me to lose it we just boiled water for the bath I could drink it, like tea later look at the dog! he’s peeing in a corner! and you told me that wasn’t allowed! fellow dick dog! I hate you would you like to join me? for dinner? or tea? I’m so uncertain and very available yours and mine grief has a proper mourning place the ego is very inflated let’s dance! •

© Sally Katz

38 | Academic
I write this article today, amidst my various engagements with trans studies, because I want to pose a question that is not brought up often enough within feminist circles— especially those most recently formed by newly identified feminists who may lack the historical context of previous feminist movements and concerns: “Why does feminism need to be trans-inclusive?” Feminism has often had the well-intended, yet still ugly, tendency to try and delineate what exactly a ‘woman’ is— to assert that there is some essential core that all women can be said to embody and share with all other women. After the first-wave, disenfranchised feminists strove for and eventually achieved suffrage. Second-wave feminists then began to theorize the patriarchal root causes of misogyny and sexism that seemed integral to their critiques of women’s second-class status. With second-wave feminism, moreover, explorations of female embodiment and the position of female individuals in opposition to their privileged counterpart, men, became so central to these debates that “womyn-born womyn” spaces emerged that excluded men from their assemblies. This, ironically, has had a history of excluding trans women as well, evinced by the first known case of a trans woman, Nancy Burkholder, who was removed from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival despite having attended in previous years. Yet, many of these second-wave feminists, unaware of their privilege in occupying the coveted and valorized positions of whiteness, heterosexuality, higher economic capacity, corporeal ability and cissexuality, often forgot that ‘women’ do not look like one thing. No commonality can be presumed in the very corporeal contours of putatively ‘female’ bodies. Many feminisms that explored such topics as maternity, female-bodied erogeneity, and sexed embodiment with good intentions problematically assumed that such experiences could be said to encompass or constitute a female or feminine subjectivity, derived from the specificity of the body and one’s corporeal locality. While these ex-

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plorations, to be fair, enabled the generation of a necessary corpus to create feminist inquiry, which was beneficial to those who do experience female sexed embodiment, they had the unintended effect of being essentialist, homogenizing, and, consequently, exclusionary. These feminist explorations preoccupied with the ‘female’ body, for the purpose of this article, have eclipsed the ways in which trans women differ from other (cis) women insofar as they do not necessarily have or occupy a ‘female’ body. Such a universalizing presumption of cissexuality is ciscentric and cissexist because it assumes that the authenticity of femininity is rooted in the female body, that cissexuality is the correct or superior gender identity, and that all ‘female’ bodies hence yield and are inhabited by female-identified ‘women.’ This cisgendered view also assumes that sexed embodiment is crucial for identifications of femininity and assertions of womanhood, which is trans misogynist and cissexist to trans women who have already faced innumerable charges of inauthenticity, insanity, and subhumanity. When Janice Raymond, for instance, published her highly polemical The Transsexual Menace: The Making of the SheMale (1979), she crystallized her position as the exemplary figure of second-wave feminist transphobia by shoring up hostility against trans individuals denigrating the status of trans women by reiterating their putative inauthenticity—a position which was, unfortunately, well-received by many second-wave feminists. Of the many cissexist and transphobic remarks she made about the “transsexually constructed lesbian feminist” (to use her charged term), she wrote most infamously, “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves.” Raymond’s vitriolic remarks are unsurprising, particularly given her prescriptive stance that all sex work constitutes sex trafficking despite the presence of some forms of consent-based sex work. But such a sentiment is not uncommon. Mary Daly,

or: The Bodily Consequences of Cisnormativity
Einar Ragnar Jónsson
Cissexuality (Cis): When there is an alignment of an individual’s gender identity, biological sex, and other putative gender-determining bodily signifiers. That is, the majority of individuals who identify with the gender that corresponds to their biologically assigned sex. Cissexism: A systemic form of discrimination against, hierarchical de-privileging of, and treatment of inferiority towards trans and gender non-conforming people. Cissexism reinforces the notion that cisgender and cissexual identities are more natural and authentic than trans identities, usually with appeals to the biological or anatomical ‘facticity’ of sex. Cisnormativity: The commonplace normative assumptions that sex and gender should and do equate with one another, that cissexuality is the only valid form of sex-gender interpretation/translation, and that trans people are thereby fundamentally atypical, abnormal, unnatural and inauthentic in comparison to their cis counterparts.

Why Feminism Needs to be Trans-Inclusive

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press themselves so candidly, 57% of the respondents reported being rejected from their families. Because of severe discrimination in employment, 16% reported engaging in sex work and drug trade and, similarly, numerous individuals used either alcohol or illicit substances to cope with their mistreatment. This particular statistic, which highlights how trans people are disproportionately likely to be affected by anti-sex work and anti-drug stigmas, has often led to the justification of violence against trans people and its subsequent condonation by the predominantly cis public. It is no surprise, then, that nearly 41% of the respondents—and undoubtedly a multitude of others throughout the world—have attempted suicide. The other adverse effects of being visibly trans are too numerous to list yet that only attests to the necessity of trans inclusivity within any form of activism which aims, by principle, to help those most in need. Though I have provided a litany of statistics indicating the extent of trans discrimination, it was not these figures that drove me to pursue trans studies academically—it was the harrowing stories of trans people affected by violence. Those of us who have taken gender studies courses might remember the poignant story of the Latina trans woman Venus Xtravaganza in the documentary film Paris is Burning (1990), a frequent participant in the Harlem-based drag balls and a sex worker, who was later strangled and stuffed under a hotel bed in New York in 1988. Or Brandon Teena, a trans man who was raped multiple times and finally murdered by two cis men in 1993, which was later depicted in the Academy Award-winning film Boys Don’t Cry (1999). I think of trans woman Gwen Araujo who was brutally as-

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saulted and killed by four men, two of she had previously had consensual sexual relations; not only that, the defense dared to try and alleviate their defendants’ culpability by asserting that it was done in a violent state of a temporary form of insanity caused by the still-scientifically questionable “trans panic.” And who could forget the first trans person to ever be considered the victim an anti-trans hate crime, Angie Zappata, beat to death by a fire extinguisher when a cis male discovered her trans status, calling her an “it.” There are too many instances of violence against trans people for me to list, and far too many remain unreported. These are the bodily consequences of cisnormativity—the prevalent and presumptuous assumption that cissexuality is the only acceptable and legible form of gender identity—which show us why, when we engage in feminist activism and inquiry, we must be trans inclusive in our efforts to ensure that every human being deserves justice when wronged. Instead of demonizing an already heavily marginalized group, we must strive to ensure that the rights of all women are being upheld—regardless of whether or not those women conform to certain bodily criteria, such as the facticity of sex. We must fight for the rights of all trans people and include them in our discussions, because they represent the most daring of individuals who are willing to destabilize our current constrictive gender norms despite the bodily consequences gender policing and transphobia might impel. Such a destabilization of oppressive gender norms is one of the many tenets that has continually sustained and invigorated feminism, both today and historically. •

“feminism has repeatedly failed to recognize the nuanced complexities and diversities of women’s lived experiences”
Sheila Jeffreys, and others celebrated her work, indicating that transphobia has too sometimes found its home in feminist spaces. In an academic discipline and type of activism such as feminism where inclusivity would seem so crucial to its various projects, feminism has repeatedly failed to recognize the nuanced complexities and diversities of women’s lived experiences, including trans people who purportedly fail to conform to our notion of an ideal, representative or ‘real’ woman. Any attempt to speak on the behalf of all women will then tend to showcase some women’s perspectives at the cost of others—namely, those women who are not white, cissexual, heterosexual, able-bodied, Western, upper-middle or upper class, safely employed, native to their resident country, and outside the precincts of carceral confines. Trans perspectives offer us novel modes of seeing the everyday myths that govern our lives, especially those that enforce compulsory cissexuality and regulate gender norms, where the price for nonconformity is the threat of dire bodily consequences such as rape, assault, suicide and murder. So again I must ask, why does feminism need to be trans-inclusive? While the problems feminism currently faces are urgent and grave, especially amidst the current Republican-driven “War on Women,” we must not too hastily centralize our issues and simply set aside those which may seem less important, less imperative for our project. In my recent research, I have become more and more aware of how trans people are in many ways one of the most marginalized, discriminated against and violated groups throughout the world. In the U.S., one in twelve trans individuals are murdered. For trans people of color, impacted by the devastatingly intersectional, compounded effects of both racism and cissexism, that figure is one in eight. The most comprehensive study to date on trans discrimination in the U.S., “Injustice At Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, shows the severity and extent of discrimination and violation against trans people today: they are four times more likely to be in poverty, almost twice as likely to be homeless, twice as likely to be unemployed and four times as unlikely if the person is a trans person of color. Discrimination in employment, educational institutions, housing, and governmental agencies is also rampant and often severe: 63% of the participants experienced at least one severe form of discrimination—job loss, eviction, sexual or physical assault, homelessness, lost familial ties, incarceration or denial of medical services—with nearly a quarter of trans individuals experiencing three or more of these compounding discriminations. Upon coming out, at a moment of intense vulnerability for those who may have taken years to ex-

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Josh Schenkkan
Towards the beginning of her multi-platinum debut album Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj—the most famous female rapper in American culture today—snarls, “I’m a bad bitch.” Over the course of the album, Minaj uses the phrase over a dozen times to describe herself, the women in her clique, and the women that she desires. This classification might seem derogatory, but in this case, bitch appears to be a good thing, even a necessary thing. Female rapper Azealia Banks tells a jealous girlfriend in Fantasea, “here with your man, hand on my hip...a bad bitch do it like this.” Male artist Young Jeezy bemoans in his single “Leave You Alone,” “All I need is a bad bitch to run through the city and spend this cash with.” You almost feel for Chris Brown when, in “My Last,” he stutters like a toddler on Santa’s knee, “I just want the...I just want the baddest bitch in the world here on my lap.” Urban Dictionary, the Wikipedia of slang, certainly makes the “bad bitch” out to be a positive thing. According to the most highly voted definition, the ‘bad bitch’ is “totally mentally gifted and usually also fine as hell.” Another popular definition describes the ‘bad bitch’ as “a self-respected, strong female who has everything together. That consists of body, mind, finances, and swagger. Also, a female who does and gets hers by any means necessary.” Rappers—both male and female—also assert the positivity of the ‘bad bitch.’ The language originally designed to deplore women now seems to be used to bolster their status. But when looking at the history of the term, and how

BAD BITCH
the term has changed in recent years, the usefulness of this re-appropriation is questionable. The ‘bad bitch’ trope didn’t start with Nicki Minaj, Azealia Banks, Jeezy, or C. Breezy. It’s unclear who the first ‘bad bitch’ was, but the term became ubiquitous in the mid-’90s, with the rise of the first hugely successful female MCs like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. The rise of those female MCs paralleled dramatic changes in the mid-’90s rap landscape. During this era, the politically conscious raps of groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A were losing popularity to the much more commercially successful ‘hustler narratives’ of artists like Notorious B.I.G and Jay-Z. Though both Notorious B.I.G and Jay-Z criticized the conditions that created their need to ‘hustle,’ or engage in illegal activities like drug dealing and gang banging in order to make money, their music simultaneously glorified a lifestyle of violence and sexual promiscuity that came with running with a gang, or with the fast money of drug dealing. A similar shift was simultaneously occurring in the admittedly smaller world of female MCs. As the male hustler narrative was becoming increasingly popular, so too was a kind of female hustler narrative: the ‘bad bitch.’ The lyrics of rappers like Salt-n-Pepa, who called for female sexual empowerment, were overtaken in popularity by rappers like Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim, who accepted a certain degree of objectification—for a price. As Lil’ Kim, a self-described ‘bad bitch,’ raps on “Magic Stick,” the single from her third album

Queering the

La Bella Mafia: “my head game have you head over heels, give a nigga the chills, have him pay my bills, buy matchin’ lambos with the same color wheels.” Lil’ Kim makes clear her willingness to self-identify as a sex object, so long as her rims match the paint color of her Italian sports car. Similarly, Trina, another self-proclaimed ‘bad bitch,’ offers a lesson to younger girls on her single “Da Baddest Bitch”: “I got game for young hoes—don’t grow up to be a dumb hoe...Sell the pussy by the grands, and in months you own a Benz. If I had the chance to be a virgin again, I’d be fucking by the time I’m ten.” Just as the male hustler, the 2Pac or Notorious B.I.G, used what they had—drugs, guns—to assert their power and to get paid, the female hustler uses what she has—her body—to assert power and to make money. Rather than being victims of hip-hop misogyny, the ‘bad bitch’ becomes the victimizer, working within those terms to assert her power over her helplessly sprung male counterparts. This is not to say that all female rappers in the last two decades have succeeded by adopting the ‘bad bitch’ narrative. Lauryn Hill sold over 19 million records encouraging sexual discretion rather than promiscuity or sexual fluidity. Missy Elliot, at least for most of her career, refrained from overtly sexualizing herself and still had six albums go platinum. The point is not that all female rappers have used the ‘bad bitch’ narrative to gain popularity and attention, but rather that most female rappers that come to mind have articulated themselves as such. Adopting the ‘bad bitch’ narrative, it appears, is an easy way to assert female power in a male-dominated genre. But the notion of the power of the ‘bad bitch’ is clearly complicated. Even when ‘bad bitches’ like Lil’ Kim and Trina appear to be expressing female sexual power, they use the same sexually exploitative images and personas as their male peers. The ‘bad bitch’ might articulate themselves as victimizers rather than victims, but, as Brown University Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose has written, they do so while affirming “the male-empowering terms of hustling, victimization, and sexual domination as legitimate power,”

leaving those terms not only intact, but legitimized. Male heterosexuality becomes the narrative, the normative force, for all genders—and sexual orientations—without regard for authenticity. The question of queerness becomes crucial when talking about the newest crop of bad bitches, particularly Minaj. When, in 2008, Nicki Minaj declared herself the ‘baddest bitch’ in the rap world, she was declaring that the torch had been passed from her female predecessors, that she was the culmination of nearly twenty years of female MCs’ articulations of identity, sexual and otherwise, in hip-hop. However, while Minaj has adopted many of the same aspects of the ‘bad bitch’ as her predecessors, she does something else: Nicki Minaj plays with the representation of her sexual orientation. Minaj encourages speculation on her sexual orientation by making statements that she would “Minaj-up [female R&B artists] Lauren London and Cassie” if given the chance. In a sense, Nicki Minaj queers the ‘bad bitch.’ But in looking at the trope itself, it’s relevant to ask if this actually does anything positive, or different than before. With Trina and Lil’ Kim, it was alluring to the (largely male) rap consumer base to adopt heterosexual male attitudes towards sex. Bisexuality, or rather the idea that female sexuality is inherently fluid, is a similarly alluring image for the male gaze. In looking at Nicki Minaj as the only successful, mainstream female MC to articulate anything other than an explicitly heterosexual orientation, does the queer ‘bad bitch’ do anything to open up hip-hop as a space for the discussion of LGBTQ issues? Or, does her portrayal of her sexuality perpetuate inauthentic notions of queerness as always centered around males? First, a clarification—Minaj has gone on record saying that she’s not, in fact, bisexual. “I think girls are sexy,” Minaj is quoted as saying in an article with Rolling Stone. “But I’m not going to lie and say that I date girls.” LGBTQ bloggers have subsequently questioned this statement, believing it to have come from pressure to conform to the heteronormative confines of hip-hop. But Minaj’s actual sexual orienta-

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tion—whether the ‘bad bitch’ is, in fact, queer—doesn’t change a whole lot. Rather than speculate as to whether or not Minaj is actually bisexual, it’s more relevant to look at how Minaj has represented her sexuality in her music. Perception is key, and if Minaj is not perceived as actually being sexually attracted to girls, then her image isn’t alluring. She must, at least for the consumer, embody authentic queerness, which is what makes an exploration of her sexuality relevant. Minaj initially distanced herself from the idea of bisexuality, rapping on “Baddest Bitch” off her second mixtape, Sucka Free, “I only fuck with the baddest bitches, no homo.” Minaj is conveying her relationship to other women, based on their status as fellow ‘bad bitches,’ as purely heterosexual, even going as far as to use a potentially offensive qualifier (“no homo”). However, on her third mixtape, Beam Me Up However, this is what ultimately becomes problematic about Nicki Minaj’s representation of her sexuality. While her appeal to women boosts her status, in framing her sexuality largely around male notions of power and sexuality, she seems to close off hip-hop for the discussion of authentic queerness. Perhaps the clearest example of this is in a guest verse Minaj provided for male R&B artist, Usher. She starts her verse on “Little Freak” with a seemingly harmless assertion of her sexual orientation to another woman: “Excuse me lil’ mama, but you could say I’m on duty, I’m lookin’ for a cutie, a real big ol’ ghetto booty.” However, she goes on to frame her sexuality through her relationship to the song’s artist, Usher: “I really like your kitty cat and if you let me touch her…I’ll take you to go see Usher…the girls want a Ménage, yeah they wetter than a rainman, Usher buzz me in, everybody loves Raymond.” While Minaj uses the ‘bad However, while Nicki Minaj’s articulation of her sexuality may not open up hip-hop as a space for the discussion of queerness, it is relevant to ask whether or not other aspects of Nicki Minaj’s music might do so. In an interview for Lopez Tonight in 2010, for example, Minaj described herself as having an alter-ego in her rhymes, Roman Zolanski. Zolanski, according to Minaj, is a “gay boy...he’s very angry, he says the things that I can’t say.” Racialicious blogger April Gregory writes that, in having an aggressive, queer youth as an alter-ego, she “challenges heteronormativity by portraying queer youth as authoritative rather than marginal…” In addition to empowering queer youth, Gregory seems to argue that Zolanski’s presence could potentially open the narrow, heteronormative confines of mainstream hip-hop. But does Zolanski actually serve this purpose? In Zolanski’s most aggressive song, “Roman’s Revenge,” Minaj-as-Zolanski raps along side Eminem, who raps as his hyper-aggressive, self-proclaimed “evil” alter-ego, Slim Shady. However, even as Zolanski, Minaj doesn’t make any explicit reference to either Zolanski’s queerness, or queerness in general. Furthermore, one of Minaj-as-Zolanski’s verses are immediately followed by Eminem-as-Slim-Shady proudly declaring, “all you lil’ faggots can suck it, no homo, but I’ma stick it to ‘em like refrigerator magnets.” Zolanski’s presence on the song, without challenging Eminem’s overt homophobia, could be seen as condoning Eminem’s words. At best, it seems, Zolanski provides a confusing message to queer youth, and at worst, he potentially encourages the kind of homophobia that his presence is supposedly working towards eliminating. Nicki Minaj’s queering of the ‘bad bitch’ might be problematic, but it seems to have opened up the door for a number of other female MCs who articulate a similarly non-heterosexual orientation. Azealia Banks, the 20-year old Harlem rapper who garnered attention for the song “212,” came out in The New York Times to little fanfare. In two lines that appear near the end of the story, a profile of Banks, rather than of Banks’s sexuality, the article reads: “Ms. Banks considers herself bisexual, but, she said: ‘I’m not trying to be, like, the

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bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don’t live on other people’s terms.’” Banks’s assertion of her sexuality seems like a positive step towards acceptance of LGBTQ in hip hop, and her lyrics are certainly less exploitative of her sexuality than Minaj’s. Banks raps on “Esta Noche,” and although she raps about wanting to sleep with a man who “spend dividends, benjis, residuals,” she also talks about stealing another man’s girl— for her pleasure. In “212,” she raps that she wants to “kick it with ya bitch who comes from Parisian…now she wanna lick my plum in the evening, and fit that ton-tongue d-deep in. I guess that cunt getting eaten.” Banks still objectifies other women—but she’s getting down with a woman as an assertion of her own power and her own sexuality, rather than to satisfy a male spectator. Perhaps the most exciting figure is up-and-coming female rapper Angel Haze. At the beginning of September, Haze was given a record deal by Universal Republic based on the strength of her mixtape, Reservation. Though she identifies as a pan-sexual, Haze rarely references her sexuality in her music, seemingly preferring power to sexual power. As Haze stated in an interview with The Observer about her goals as an artist, “As a female rapper, you have to sell your body, you have to be attractive, you have to be promiscuous. You never see any female rock stars being told, ‘Take off your clothes, be sexy.’ I want to have that type of freedom but still be able to say whatever I want as a rapper.” Perhaps Haze is proof that hip hop is ready to embrace a mainstream female rapper who doesn’t have to sell inauthentic queerness for success, who can assert her sexuality for what it is. And when Haze weaves cleverly decimating lines like “you niggas bout to be bitches, you bitches bout to be Casper,” it’s hard to believe that her ambitions aren’t possible. •

“Rather than being victims of hip-hop misogyny, the ‘bad bitch’ becomes the victimizer, working within those terms to assert her power over her helplessly sprung male counterparts.”
Scotty, Minaj began to flirt with a looser representation of her sexuality. She raps on “I Get Crazy”: “I keep a bad bitch… but I leave her in a second for a thick girl.” Minaj seems to be embracing her bisexuality, while also aligning her sexuality in the same terms a male rapper might: she rejects monogamy when other, better prospects might arise. Her apparent bisexuality seems to be used solely as a tool to raise her ‘bad bitch’ status. The previous ‘bad bitches,’ as Rose points out, used the kind of “male-empowering terms of hustling, victimizing, and sexual domination as legitimate power,” but directed that power at men. In directing these same ideas towards women, Minaj, in a sense, transcends her female peers—if, as Rose points out, a ‘bad bitch’ is the female expression of the male hustler, by articulating male notions of power towards women, Minaj becomes the ultimate ‘bad bitch.’ bitch’ model of trading sex for material gain—in this case, an encounter with Usher—the ultimate prize is that sexual encounter with a male. For Minaj’s ‘bad bitch’ bisexuality, women are a symbol of status (as they often are, in hip-hop, for men), but the ultimate prize for those women—regardless of their orientation—is the ability to sleep with a man. Similarly, on a guest verse for rapper Big Sean on his single “A$$,” Minaj expresses a similar kind of bisexuality for the male gaze. She begins with an assertion of her own appeal to the opposite sex: “Ass so fat, all these bitches’ pussies is throbbin’, bad bitches, I’m your leader…” Her appeal to women both makes her more attractive and unattainable to the male who is ostensibly watching this encounter, while simultaneously cementing her status as the preeminent ‘bad bitch.’

46 | Features
Bluestockings: One of the most striking scenes in the play for us was when there was a group of women sitting in a circle, producing labor of some sort and singing. Can you talk about the way female labor—both in the more literal, economic sense and perhaps in the poetic, maternal sense— is represented and talked about in the play? Katrin Dettmer (dramaturge): So you mean the circle of women who are sitting and sewing? They come in singing a Spanish song, “Campesinos,” they go on to sing:
“Spooling our lives out for stitches, feeding our reserves of perseverance through the bobbins… MEDEA, YERMA Once there were two women. Medea and Yerma. CHOIR (The Women) They sew clothes. YERMA This story survives embroidered on a fabric made of ghost gold. MEDEA Telling – CHOIR Hearing – MEDEA, YERMA The story. CHOIR We are with them. YERMA They are witches and make gold out of string.”

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and put them to music, and it was quite an organic decision making process. We were reading these words and just saying: this sounds like a song. The way we thought about this show though is how we start out the play as los nadies, as nobodies, and in the circle, they become somebody. The working conditions are pretty harsh, but there is also a pride and joy in their work, because what they are producing is beautiful. And we got these beautiful textile images from Latin America—they’re very intricate and sophisticated in themselves. On the other hand, though, this also goes back to the mythology of Yerma and Medea—they are also sewing females, back in those mythologies. There is a portion of their suffering that becomes a part of the fabric. So the fabric is sort of a testament to both the joy and the suffering that is woven into it. Emma Thorne (Medea): What I also thought was interesting, I think in the song, is that there’s this—they’re the same words, but they’re somehow able to use the melody to change it and use it as a weapon against the factory owner. And even if that’s what they’re supposed to be doing—making the fabric, they’re using it as a form of getting back at them, and it’s sort of like using it to keep themselves up in some way. KD: In the reprise where they push Medea in the box forward, it becomes a totally different song all over again. Particularly when the choir was riffing on some words, like through and out—these words became very pronounced, which then took on a very different meaning. Yerma is the one who gets out, who gets through. Kym Moore (director): I think the other consideration was not presenting these women as victims. In some early conversations Alejandra Prieto and I had with the playwright, he said, “well, these women are victims.” I responded, “I don’t think we want to see that. We see that every day, anywhere. They keep going, they’re surviving, and that is

Yermedea
a conversation with the cast
Rooted in the contemporary issues of poverty in El Salvador and legacies of genocide in South America, Erik Ehn’s Yermedea RAW braids together cultures and narratives of seeming polarity to understand and recreate the psycho-spiritual damages of war. The clash between the US and other colonial forces in South America with indigenous communities is intertwined with the narratives of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s barren protagonist Yerma, and Euripides’s famously infanticidal Medea. Together in Yermedea, both of these characters explore issues surrounding the government’s exertion of violence over women and children. Yermedea’s impact is an effective rewriting of mythology and indigeneity, of the questions surrounding motherhood and citizenship in war. Yermedea relies on puppet work and experimental theatre to account for the psychological and social displacements of war. The play disrupts linearity to occupy a space somewhere between what is seen and not seen, a world where what is ‘not-real’ is shown to be real in the many senses of how it is felt. As part of the play’s ongoing commitment to education and unearthing the silenced, the Yermedea team ran workshops with Providence Public Schools and community organizations to discuss the histories of genocide. The play was performed at Brown University, 95 Empire in Providence, the Factory Theater in Boston, and arrives at New York’s LaMaMa in November. Bluestockings had the honor of sitting down with Yermedea’s cast and crew—director Kym Moore, puppeteer and Cogut Fellow Alejandra Prieto, dramaturge Katrin Dettmer, and actors Emma Thorne (Medea), and Alejandra Rivera Flavia (Yerma).

RAW

The English words come from the play, and there are a couple of instances where we just took words from the play

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to subvert that notion, and it’s true. I wasn’t subverting it—it’s just true. Women work their butts off, everywhere, and if we didn’t there would be no world. There would be nothing. Because who is going to bring the kids up, keep the job, keep the husband in tact. This is not new; it’s just never appreciated and valued. And so we wanted to value that struggle in the movement. BS: There’s been so much rhetoric lately, so many articles in the news about how women still can’t have it all. There’s a sense that women’s work isn’t as valued as men’s work. What do you think Yermedea says about that? KD: In terms of what you are saying, we have made some changes in the performance since we were at Brown. Pachamama, the female cut-out of the mother, makes the first appearance. And every times she’s seen, which is three times now, she’s seen getting bigger, which stands for the growing maternal life source, the creating... KM: In Latin America, Pachamama is the Great Mother. She’s also the Mother of the Earth, all beings, so that there is a force, an energy to call when one needs assistance. She’s always there. BS: Death and children come up a lot in the play—as a feminist publication we couldn’t help but be reminded of the issue of abortion, and the impetus women have of feeling remorse, guilt, loss. How does Yermedea comment on the larger narrative of women having innate, unavoidable maternal desires? KM: Yerma wants to have children and can’t, that kind of maternal desire. With Medea killing her children, that’s a different kind of maternal instinct—a stronger one. ET: Well, we talked about this a lot, how Medea is portrayed in Western mythology. She is very often described as a crazy woman who kills her children, and her embodiment, the character in this production, presents a different kind of maternal instinct. It’s the protective instinct. It’s speaking to how horrible the conditions are in which her children would have grown up in, and what would be taken away from her. We say she’s president of the flesh, she gives life, and she takes away life because of what her children would go through otherwise. It’s the supreme act of love to keep them from that. KD: The parts of Medea that are highlighted in Euripides are where she is killing the children out of revenge, but there are also parts in the text, that say the Corinthian army is coming, and the soldiers are going to kill them—so no, I am going to kill them, they are my children, I am their keeper, and I would rather kill them then give them over to the army. It’s interesting that Western mythology, or Western storytelling, focuses in on the parts where Medea is hysteric and crazy. “i. Medea reappears, takes children from the nurse, runs to the house, but cannot enter ii. Medea presses children to her chest, with love iii. Ominous drumming (Medea smothers her children.) iv. Medea lets the dead children fall to the ground and exits.” But the abortions that we are talking about in that context are actually forced abortions. Forced sterilizations. It was a way of controlling the indigenous people and their populations. Especially in that scene with the hospital where they show people taking children away from their mothers, even before birth. That is not the wish of the mothers at all. So it’s a way to control and maintain power. KM: From the onset of the conquest, there were something like 70 million—just in the region that’s known as Peru, Bolivia—indigenous people living there. Within 150 years of contact with Europe, that number was diminished to—I believe it was something like 3000. That control of the region was maintained through religion, these kinds of forced sterilizations, and economic deprivation.

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AP: It’s also in Peru—Fujimori, who was the president of Peru for 10 years, he conducted these programs, these sterilizations of indigenous women, and I can’t say the figure exactly, but I heard it in my mind and I’m remembering that it was like a million abortions. No one is talking about it. KD: We’ve been very conscious about it. It started with the conquests, but it’s still ongoing. Even in the twentieth century—the Argentina Dirty War, children disappearing all over the place...to control and diminish the life force of indigenous people, of mixed heritage, that is an ongoing policy. BS: It’s happening in Guatemala today: there’s a high rate of feminicide, it’s literally being legislated; women and children are being killed. It’s a culture of inflicting violence on women. KM: That’s what makes it genocide, when it becomes law. The same was true for African slaves being brought to the U.S. This is not news. People have been engaging on this kind of large-scale decimation of humans for the purpose of having power for years. And we’re still in that battle today. And it’s very widespread around the world. So we are looking at Latin America but, I think, in the end, the whole “soulagraphie” project is trying to talk about that widescale practice. That everyone in the “developed” world is benefiting from this, including those of us sitting in this room. Once you start forming some consciousness, some understanding on a different level, you start asking different questions. It doesn’t mean get rid of your Mac, I mean, we have these things. But it does mean, let me think differently about certain things, or how does my engagement with these issues shift, because I’m also now complicit in all of this. BS: There seems to be a weaving of traditional Western culture and Latin American culture between the ideas of Medea and Yerma. We saw this as creating a tension when the questions of colonialism are raised. What are your thoughts on this? KD: Erik Ehn, the playwright, has said to us many times that the lens that he’s writing through is of course the Western lens. When he tries to make sense of the stories, he goes to stories that he knows. It’s a problem, when you try to explain another culture through your own: what happens to the actual culture you want to explain? So I guess from the very beginning we were very adamant to bring in as many images and as much research from that culture, and that’s also the reason why Pachamama has such a prominent role, to see that there are many mythologies working side by side, and that the indigenous people of Latin America have their own mythologies that help them cope and help them survive. And I think the way in which we’re treating it, our Medea and our Yerma are writing their own histories, and writing themselves out of their mythologies that were written by men. We have this line at the end of the play about these historians who are writing the stories of women, and the women eat these words and spit them out.
“CHOIR The children are the vehicle. Become the sound of bells. MEDEA Blood is a bag of coins on the historian’s floor. He will pick the coins up – take them from you – then write what he wants to anyway. (repeating) (Choir eats from the scrolls, spits out the words) CHOIR (staggered) then write what he wants to anyway. (Choir rolls up scrolls and tells a happy story) Medea and Yerma eat fried sardines and sing sad songs on an island in the sea.”

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cast in stone. When we talk about Yerma and Medea we talk about what is taught in schools, but we have a certain responsibility to actually look at these stories and how they are operating, what view of the world they are actually selling. BS: Yerma can’t have children and Medea kills them. These are narratives that only women can tell, that only they can relate to. An innate femininity underlies this piece. Do you feel Yermedea is a story only women can tell? KM: Yes. [laugh] I’m totally kidding. And I’m not. Alejandra Rivera Flavia (Yerma): Quite frankly my instinctive answer is yes, I kind of think it’s only a story that women can tell, but I can’t articulate exactly why that is. In terms of “is it a story only women can relate to,” I don’t think so. I think everyone can relate to it. I think that there’s a particular reason why there’s these two women—referred to as Yermedea, as one woman. The whole function of this play is—when you can put all of this into one story, and the au-

dience knows the name of that person, of those two people, and they become one person—there’s that lean in, like: oh, this matters, there’s something at stake here. So in that way, I think it’s absolutely something that anyone can relate to from that human perspective. KM: I would add there was a procreative act that went down. The playwright actually planted the seed, and this room of people grew it. And the fact that the base of this production team is women and lead by me, a woman, you know, it’s not that only a woman can tell the story, but I felt like only a woman could grow this story. Because we’re inside of it. It was like that whole perception of they’re victims. I was like: no they’re not, they’re surviving! Those two things together make the work. We got this seed of a play, and we have now birthed it, we nurtured it, we fed it, we sweated over it, we had labor pains. And we’re now also having to take care of it as it’s been birthed, and make sure that it’s experiencing a life beyond the womb. And it is! We had a very powerful experience downtown: we had

It’s really out about taking charge of your own story, of developing new mythologies, new histories, that are apart from those mythological stories that really are basically

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a number of immigrants and refugees who came to the production, who said, yes, you got it right, you told the truth. And you know, they’re learning to speak English. And they could see themselves represented. So that’s pretty powerful. BS: We read in your description that you were “attempting to express the inexpressible through less traditional forms of theatre.” Why did you choose puppetry, what do you think it communicates that an ensemble of human actors cannot? AP: There are actors, and there is puppetry, and they all work together, so it’s not only a puppet piece. I just want to say that because I think it’s really important what we’re choosing, and why we are choosing puppetry. I always explain why puppetry gets me in these terms. You’re sitting down, and an actor comes in. The first second you see him, you’re like: oh, he’s tall, he’s short, he’s hot…that’s probably what you are thinking of the character, but there is always something going on in your head when a human being appears on stage. And you have a hundred of those definitions. But when you see a puppet come in, you sort of... maybe it’s three seconds, but you wait. Your brain doesn’t make as many connections. The actor has to sort of work against all that, but the puppet has that time. It probably is also the time of the dead, of the mysterious, of the secret life—I think they are all in the same world. That’s one thing about puppetry, and since we are talking about los nadies, we give an hour to ourselves to see what these people have to say, and these people are actors, but they are also coming in as puppets, shadow puppets. These are creating an atmosphere where the time signature is not the real signature, so we all can breathe as they breathe. KM: We exist in a space between the tangible and intangible, and that’s what puppets are. That’s a quote by Ken Groves. We’re in the past, present, and future, and how do you articulate that, in visual or oral terms? I did call Ale right away when I got the piece because she’s a remarkable puppet artist, and I just thought—can you do this, and she said yes, gratefully, and we managed to get her here for the whole semester. AP: There’s also the interaction—puppetry is also being read as talking about things that are seen or unseen. Puppetry is seen as something when puppeteers are isolating themselves, and that can be a pretty good show, but that’s not what I’m interested in. I want to see the unseen part of the scene—I want to see the puppeteers as part of the company. I’m very interested in the relationship between the human actor and the puppet. That’s why when you see the puppet you see the actor. There’s no isolation between them. KM: Puppeteering or being puppetted as a trope in the piece is also in there. It’s about a manipulation. We got through a workshop—it was at auditions, where a group of actors auditioned together, puppetting a live person, and we were like, that’s in the piece. When Medea comes back out as a puppet, that was a way to say, okay, they’ve killed her and she’s still coming back. The puppet is a dead piece of wood and she’s still coming back. So it has the ability to take her energy, her life force, and propel it into the space, along with her rage. BS: As actors and directors, how did questions of gender inform your performance? Is there a way that you feel you are challenging the dominant narrative of theatre’s prescribed gender or race roles with Yermedea? KM: Oh, we’re definitely subverting all of that. But I’ve been doing that for twenty years. Every female character that’s handed to me, like a Miss Julie, you know, I say she’s not crazy. She’s kind of frisky and she’s trying to have a date! We had some point, where, the boys were like, “we’re just assholes in this play.” So we created this moment, which comes on the heels of the really horrible scene where there’s a suggested rape that goes down. But these are the same guys that return, looking for their women. The women that are gone, that are lost. The men are also vulnerable. Yes, they are rapists, the husbands are soldiers too, but the hus-

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“So if woman is a witch, then the world is a witch, too.”
bands are also seen nurturing the kids. So you see that image and then the paradox is—they’re also the ones killing, and the kids will become killers if Medea doesn’t take them out. KD: And of course we have the driver, who is a male-gendered spirit, who is very much involved with this history and appreciates the stakes for what they are. That the women are violated, that the children are murdered. He’s the one who actually calls it for what it is. Especially in the first scene when the nurse is trying to not look, who’s trying to write the story so it conforms with her point of view. He’s the one who says, “At midnight, they rape her and burn her house.” So he’s the one who tells it like it is. The women are in the center of it, but it’s not about pushing men to the margins. It’s really about showing everyone. KM: Also, the driver was written originally as a woman! And just by happenstance, the puppet was built and it was a boy. The actor I gave the puppet to was a boy, so we were like: let’s look at this. So the thing that I thought, and we convinced the playwright, was useful about that, is that who is around during war? It’s young children, women, and old people. And the old people are the keepers of the history, of the story, all of that. They’re carrying the culture so it’s important to protect them. That’s one thing. The other thing is, if the piece is feminine, then we have to think about the feminine as the receptive, compassionate. And looking at that as a point of strength, not weakness. So in that respect, the feminine is ruling the whole piece, but the feminine exists in both genders. ET: It’s almost for me—it’s not masculine and feminine, but it’s seen and unseen, what is able to be shown and told and what is presented and held back. You can think about that in any permutation. KM: And that’s why we’re so dangerous! [laugh] KD: We have the word witch floating around, because that’s one of the tropes that’s attached to this. So—she has this sort of power, it cannot be natural, it must not be natural, it must be unholy...We make it clear that it’s not something that’s not normal. That’s just the way life works. So if woman is a witch, then the world is a witch, too. ARF: I think it’s also working with the negative connotation of witch, too. Like, okay, you call me a witch, you cross me, and the world is finished. Because I am a witch, I am powerful. Life cannot go on without me. •

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as white? Or, if they’re into East Asian girls, is their fetishism satisfied by my body? My body that, when actually in East Asia, is immediately recognized as not East Asian, and often second-class? Does that matter in an individual’s sexual race politics? My father moved around a lot as a kid. His family was mostly based in the Philippines, but they spent many years in Saudi Arabia. In high school, he spent a year in south Jersey. This was in the 1970s. My father said, “Me and this black boy were the only kids in the whole school who weren’t white. We had to sprint to my house after school every day to avoid getting the shit beat out of us. It was only a few houses away, so he stayed over until his parents could pick him up after work.” The stories that my aunt told me, however, were different. She was in middle school, and she not only received threats of violence, but sexual violence in particular. This, as a child, was something I could not reconcile. If people are so disgusted by us, why would they want to have sex with us? I didn’t understand then what I’ve learned over the years: that power and rape are a mechanism to dehumanize and humiliate a cultural community into submission of their roles and treatment as second (third, fourth, fifth)class citizens. My father is still very young. His parents could have been put in jail in America for having an interracial relationship. He grew up in the ‘70s. Not that long ago. Even fresher in my bloodline is my own rape and my experience with sexual racism and the institutional protection of white male rapists. When I was 12, I sat across the desk from my white guidance counselor who leveled with me. “You are a smart girl, I know that, but he’s a prominent member of our community—a very respected teacher, president of the Kiwanis society, and the head of our music education program.

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You’re a very young girl with a tendency to act out, and you just moved here from the Philippines.” I walked out wondering if things would be different if I were East Asian, if I had been born in America, if I were well-behaved. Would anyone listen to me if I were more palatable? More than a decade later, I know that times have changed. In my father’s lifetime alone, interracial couples can marry. My baby brother walks home from school without his life in danger. Progress is good. I think it is important to look forward, but I am so painfully aware of what is nipping at our heels. It wasn’t long ago when people of color couldn’t even gather in a group to discuss racial politics without needing a lookout in case a gang of white people decided to barge in and kill them all, knowing full well they’d be invincible from the law. I’ve been the victim of a man who was invincible from the law. And I went on a coffee date with the law the other day. It made me realize that I am Filipina. And I will always be, whether I am a victim of sexual racist violence, privileged enough to occasionally read as an East Asian model-minority, or navigating social mobility across national borders. My existential woes as a woman with brown skin run deep. In a discussion with a friend of mine, she said, “To be other-ed is to have a complicated, multi-faceted relationship with one’s identity. I don’t have the luxury or the privilege of maintaining a singular sense of self. I’m not just a woman.” Sometimes I wonder if maybe being an “other” means that I am fractured in a way that is less than the sum of my parts. My identity is multi-faceted and muddy. But trying to assess how I can or have become palatable buys into the myth that a Filipino cannot naturally be so. I am saying, “No.” •

Filipina Navigation
Sara David
I went on a date with an LAPD officer because we both moved to LA from New England, because he seemed really nice and non-threatening via OkCupid, and because I really like going on dates. What followed was a personal case study on racism and fetishism under the guise of “colorblindness.” This young, white, self-identified “liberal” flung around racially-charged generalizations “Oh, you’re in Glendale? There are a lot of Armenians there…” “Working in the ghetto kind of made me realize that most stereotypes about black people are true.” “Filipinos are like the Mexicans of Asia.” The last one really confused me. I asked him to explain further, and he said it’s because we have dark skin and are poor laborers. Then he looked confused and said, “But also there are a lot of Filipino Muslims, too!” It was as if the Filipino was the dirtier second to the pale-skinned, culturally-definable, pure East Asian. I signaled for the check because I was so fucking done. I walked out and sent him a text that read, “Thanks for coffee, I don’t really think we should go out again.” Whenever I meet a guy who is interested in East Asian studies and takes a liking to me, I give him the side-eye. Well, you do know that southeast Asia is a different beast, and every time you tell me how fucking awesome Japan is, it plays over my grandmother telling me that she completely denies her Japanese heritage because it resulted from a rape during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II? In Chinese films, a dirty Filipino man falling in love with a lily-white pale Chinese woman is used as comedic relief because it’s just so preposterous and hilariously futile! But guys who want to fuck me often tell me that they’re really into brunettes. And I wonder: doesn’t that imply whiteness? Because that’s how I see my porn browser separated: blonde, brunette, Asian, Latina, or “ebony.” That’s it. So if they’re into brunettes but also me, does that mean that since I read as East Asian, it’s as good

Downton Abbey Power Rankings: Season 1 - 2
Kate Holguin
As the new Mad Men season aired last spring, Grantland writer Mark Lisanti wrote “Power Rankings” for each weekly episode, ranking the top ten most powerful characters that really held their own, characters that had the nerve do something bold and unprecedented. I set out to do the same with America’s new favorite period piece television obsession Downton Abbey, a Masterpiece Theater series created by Julian Fellowes. The series depicts the lives of the British aristocratic Crawley family and their servants at their country estate, Downton Abbey. Seasons one and two are set between April 1912 and December 1919, during which great world events shape the lives of the people at Downton and the British social hierarchy in general. These events include the sinking of the Titanic, Wordl War I, and the Spanish influenza epidemic. The series begins with Lord Robert Crawley, head of the Downton estate, receiving news of the death of his heir aboard

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Where I decide who is the real boss around town.

the Titanic. Lord Crawley sees the preservation of the Downton estate as his mission in life, and feels strongly about the necessity to marry off one of his daughters to the heir of Downton in order to maintain the estate’s line of heritage. In turn, he brings a distant cousin, Matthew Crawley, to the estate to act as his new heir. Matthew and his mother, Isobel, are very progressive and socially engaged, and clash at first with Lady Mary Crawley, eldest daughter of Lord Crawley, and the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, Lord Crawley’s mother. Meanwhile, the staff members of Downton have intriguing storylines amongst themselves, storylines of dedication, heartbreak, and inner strength, even as they lead most of their lives within Downton’s servants’ quarters. Only a total of seventeen episodes in, this television import from the UK has captured the undivided attention of over fourteen million Americans—but why? Is it because everyone loves watching

© Carolyn Shasha

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the Earl of Grantham stomp around the estate in his old military uniform? Probably not. How about watching Carson the Butler all puffed up in a rage, spurting out ridiculous phrases like “hobbledehoy?” Definitely not. It’s really all about the women when it comes to Downton Abbey. The ladies of Downton Abbey are the backbone and the soul of the show, and when it comes down to it, they are the ones who hold all the cards. Today, most period piece television shows revolve around males (think Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Vegas), and if there are female storylines, they’re typically dependent upon the storylines of their male counterparts. No period television drama currently on the air really explores female issues of the time, other than as a secondary or tertiary storyline. Even though Downton Abbey is an ensemble show, it does a fantastic job of showing the nuances of womanhood in post-Edwardian British society, from many generational and socioeconomic viewpoints. If there’s any women’s issue taken up in an episode, such as employment for an aristocratic woman or the women’s vote, you’ll see the it from all sides, from the perspective of an elderly countess to the perspective of a teenage kitchen maid. Moreover, even issues that aren’t as gendered as “women’s” issues, such as the World War I, the changing significance of the aristocracy in British society or adapting to new inventions like the telephone or increasingly modern automobile models, you can bet that elderly countess, that teenage kitchen maid, and every female in-between will have something distinct and poignant to say about it, something that will resonate with you even after the episode’s over. So, here it is, the Top Ten Key Female Players on the Downton estate:

2. 3.

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Lady Sybil Crawley/Branson (played by Jessica Brown Findlay)
Between her one-piece silk and tulle genie-like dinner party outfit, her desire to work as a nurse, and running off with the socialist Irish chauffeur, Lady Sybil is always challenging the norm. She is not someone who wants to split her time between social engagements and sitting around an estate all day; instead she would rather have a long, frustrating day in a hospital, probably followed by heading to the pub to grab a pint with her co-workers. She is definitively marching to the beat of her own drum, but what is even greater about Lady Sybil is that she wants everyone else to do the same—there’s no criticism of her sister, Lady Mary, who wants her whole life to revolve around Downton Abbey (more on her shortly), nor of someone like Carson the Butler, who lives and breathes to serve the Crawley family in the most traditional fashion. Lady Sybil is, unashamedly, pro-choice (which may or may not come into conflict with her new Irish Roman Catholic husband, whom she marries at the end of season two. To be determined…).

1.

Lady Mary Crawley (played by Michelle Dockery)

The Right Honorable Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith)
If you have ever watched even a single episode of Downton Abbey, you know that Violet is the head bitch in charge. The Dowager Countess is always a step ahead of everyone else. Nothing gets by without her knowledge of it, and she has the final word on every decision that is made in the Downton Abbey village and estate—and with good reason! No matter what the moment is, she always has the perfect retort: Exhibit A: (on Mr. Pamuk, the Turkish visitor to Downton Abbey, and his sudden death at Downton) “Of course it would happen to a foreigner. It’s typical… No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house.” Exhibit B: (on Lady Edith lamenting her probable future as a spinster) “Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle-class.” Exhibit C: (on dealing with the blackmailing Sir Richard Carlisle) “We can’t have him assassinated, I suppose.” And there you have it—the head bitch in charge.

Ah, the ever so practical Lady Mary. She is without a doubt the product of her grandmother Violet—everything has to play out in a business-like manner. Lady Mary has no time to worry about others’ feelings, much less others’ problems of the heart—unless of course, they’re her own (oh, to love your third cousin, Matthew Crawley!) But Lady Mary is quite virtuous in her loyalty, to Downton Abbey, to her family, and most importantly, to herself. As Sir Richard Carlisle, a newspaper man, tries to blackmail Mary into marrying him by threatening to release information about her out-of-marriage sexual trysts with the Turkish visitor to Downton, Mr. Pamuk, she ultimately decides that it is better to live with a scandalized name than marry a man that already does and will continue to treat her without dignity and without respect. This is something huge for a woman of that time with her status, given the standards for women in the 1910s (no sex before marriage, especially with a foreigner!) and especially the standards for aristocratic women, who were the celebrities of Britain at the time. When it comes down to it, Lady Mary is a principled woman, and nothing can sway her from the rules of life she has set out for herself.

4.

Gwen Dawson (played by Rose Leslie)
Gwen is not the typical dreaming housemaid, who spends her spare moments wondering what a life outside of serving an estate would be like—she makes things happen! It takes real chutzpah and bravery to decide you’re going to secretly hide a typewriter in the estate you’re working in and spend any free time you have learning how to type so that you can ever so slightly move up in the rigid British class system and make a better life for yourself. But Gwen doesn’t care, because she knows if she sets her mind to it, she will get exactly what she dreams of, some life that is more fulfilling than a life of solely serving others. And look!—at the end of the first season this girl of poor country farming origins secures herself (with a bit of help from Lady Sybil) a position as a secretary for the new telephone installation company. It was a shame to see her leave the show after this happened, because her determination was really something inspirational to us all.

5. 6.

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Mrs. Isobel Crawley (played by Penelope Wilton)
Isobel is probably the most headstrong character on this show. At one time married to a doctor with whom she sometimes worked, she knows she is just as capable as any man and is always out to prove it. At times her very modern views may come into conflict with Violet’s (let’s be real, they always come into conflict) but somebody has to be there to convert Downton Abbey into a very much needed World War I convalescent hospital, or tell Violet that shorter skirts and looser cut dresses are the way of the future for women. That someone is always going to be Isobel.

8.

hospital for eye surgery so that she can regain her sight. Mrs. Patamore is a straight-up lion (she’s got the hair for it, after all)—proceed with caution.

Miss Sarah O’Brien (played by Siobhan Finneran)
Also proceed with caution with O’Brien: she is the vengeful type and believe you me, you will feel it if and when you cross her. For every kindness she does not forget it, that goes doubly for anyone that does this ladymaid wrong. She is distrustful and obviously a believer in survival of the fittest, which would explain all the horrible tricks she plays on Mr. Bates. But, she carries with her a dignity and respect that, rather than becoming apparent only at certain times, is with her and on display at all times. There is a never-ending list of awful things one could call O’Brien, but weak is certainly not one of them.

10.

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The Right Honorable Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (played by Elizabeth McGovern)
Last but not least we have Lady Cora, who, like Mrs. Hughes, usually is not the center of attention in any episode. But she is the wife of the Earl of Grantham, and her family’s fortune did save the Downton estate, so she’s got both money and power on her side. More interesting, though, is that her maiden name is Levinson—is she a part of the tribe? A member of the chosen people? If so, there must be some wild backstory in which she had to square off with Violet in order to get her permission to marry her son, Lord Grantham (I would think the Dowager Countess would want pure Anglo-Saxon blood for her son and her grandchildren). Maybe one day Julian Fellowes will make use of the classic flashback but until then, we can only speculate on the strength and willpower of this Jewish-American countess.

Anna Smith/Bates (played by Joanna Froggatt)
Very much like Lady Mary, whom she attends to as a ladymaid, Anna knows what she thinks is right, and nothing will cause her to waver. She knows that Mr. Bates is a good man, and refuses to let any naysayers (ahem ahem, O’Brien and Thomas) say any different. Even when Mr. Bates is indicted for the murder of his ex-wife, Anna sees it only as a moment to stick even closer to him, doing everything in her power to clear his name. Yes, it is because she loves him, but I think it is even more because she knows he is an innocent man who is accused of a crime he did not commit—she seeks justice to no end, and for that kind of righteous persistence, she is an obvious female favorite on Downton Abbey.

9.

Mrs. Elsie Hughes (played by Phyllis Logan)
Yes, Mrs. Hughes is the head housekeeper, and yes, she does a very good job at being housekeeper, but Julian Fellowes has not given his viewers much on Mrs. Hughes to keep us interested—except for the fourth episode of season one, in which a former suitor of Mrs. Hughes’ youth returns to court her and ask her to marry him. As Mrs. Hughes relates the history of herself and this man to Carson the Butler, it becomes clear that her choice between the suitor and continuing to work at Downton was really a question of choosing dependence on another or self-reliance, and Mrs. Hughes, before and then again, could not bring herself to give up her independence. For that, I tip my nonexistent hat to Mrs. Hughes.

7.

Mrs. Beryl Patamore (played by Lesley Nicol)
Mrs. Patamore is the best cook out there, and she will never let you forget it. She runs that kitchen with an iron fist, and I pity the fool that tries to get in her way. It truly is an amazing feat to cook three square meals daily for a family of five, plus their frequent and occasional guests, plus the entire staff of the Downton Abbey estate. She knows that there’s no one out there better for the job than her, which is why she leaves Downton Abbey metaphorically kicking and screaming when Lord Grantham sends her to a London

Not ranked: Lady Edith Crawley, Daisy Robinson the kitchen maid, the evil ex-wife Vera Bates, Jane and Ethel the housemaids, Mrs. Bird the other cook, Ms. Lavinia Swire the deceased fiancée of Matthew Crawley, Lady Rosamund Painswick the sister of the Earl of Grantham, Lady Rosamund’s ladymaid, the farmer’s wife from that one time Edith drove a tractor, other miscellaneous maids on the estate, women of the village. Some of these ladies don’t have enough of a storyline to ever warrant a power ranking (c’mon, the farmer’s wife from that one time Edith drove a tractor?). But the real difference between them and the Top Ten Ladies of Downton is that they have not quite found their voice, unlike the most powerful females of the show. The most powerful women of Downton Abbey are the ones that have worked out the extent of their agency over their lives in a strict male-dominated British society—and are constantly striving for even greater agency over their lives that they know they deserve. •

62 | Politics
within my uterus to even mention issues like the lack of a national maternity leave policy—or, more importantly, the fact that paternity leave polices don’t even exist.

Politics | 63
willing to use their genitalia as lobbying tool. My vagina certainly refuses to be used that way, but I highly doubt that the Women for Mitt and Women for Obama coalitions will close their legs anytime soon. •

Get the Election Out of My Vagina
Sarah Grimm
Election years undoubtedly magnify the problems that fundamentally plagues national politics. 2012 is no exception, spotlighting gender in public discourse with reckless abandon. As the media gives increasing focus to Governor Mitt Romney’s and President Barack Obama’s fight to win the ‘women’s vote,’ the discourses surrounding gender equality—reproductive justice, equal pay, and equal representation within positions of power—are problematically presented as issues which can only appeal to a essentialized voters group: women. To me, appealing to women as a uniform entity seems ridiculous since the only thing I am assured to have in common with my fellow women voters is the possession of a vagina. My vagina doesn’t vote—I do. So why do our presidential candidates insist on appealing to a group whose only assured commonality is our genitalia? Moreover, why does it continually isolate women as the only ones concerned with the issues surrounding gender justice rather than addressing the national populace as a whole? This implicitly reinforces the structural inequality afflicting men and women by keeping gender segregation intact. I hope to see a presidential election in which people of all genders and sex identities are treated as equals, and where issues of gender are presented as uniformly valid and crucial for all voters. Instead of being grouped with like-bodied people by external forces, I want to participate in my own grouping with like-minded people. Part of what prevents this is the conception of women’s role as universal baby-makers first, citizens second. The pro-choice fight is a crucial one, but it inevitably steals the majority of the valuable election-time limelight on issues of social justice. Why do middle-aged, male politicians have any clout whatsoever when it comes to my decisions on the use of my reproductive organs? What about all the other structural issues that come after a woman gives birth, which will prohibit my daughter from being able to compete with male-bodied people as an equal? We are too busy fighting

Sure, I am impressed with Obama’s sincere rallying for equality for women. As he lobbies, “I don’t think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health care decisions for women. Women can make those decisions themselves.” But how many times can he talk about his wife, daughters and mother-in-law? How many personal anecdotes must we hear falling from lips eager to display their unfaltering kindness towards my “kind?” I want to hear about some concrete methods to fight for justice in the workplace, rather than more strength to sue once I’ve been the victim of injustice. Even more bothersome is Romney, who speaks relentlessly about recruiting women (in binders)—but only ones who fit into the hetero-normative role with which he is comfortable. That way, he can show his magnanimous character by giving them special treatment, which in turn reinforces the patriarchal model from which he profits. It is squarely within this framework that the “pro-life” argument lies. Romney does not mince words, stating, “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that,” painting a clear picture of our majority-male politicians’ desire to maintain power over my uterus. Dramatizing the idea that life begins at fertilization, they coax many voters away from what they’re really claiming—that the inseminated mass of ovarian tissue no bigger than my pinkie nail is a human. In this myth-making game, they demonstrate how easy it is to get support by alienating my fundamental right as a citizen of this country to have the liberty to decide what happens with my reproductive organs. Ultimately, keeping the spotlight on catering to the women’s vote avoids taking on the more complex questions of gender roles and how to forge a path towards equality of all bodies and associated identifiers. I do not consent to legality penetrating me, and I am disturbed that so many are

Anna Ridley “NO!”

64 | Literature

Literature | 65
Carbix told me this word because everywhere I go, eyes follow. Even when we went to an upscale restaurant, where lobsters crawled about in aquariums atop the center of each table, did eyes still jerk about my presence. In Weezilxi, a tongue lapped my clitoris slowly and calculatedly every other day. The tongue lapped and I squeezed a nipple. The tongue began to create a circle with its secretion and I moaned for it to continue. I grabbed the nipple and brought it to my mouth. I bit and began to suck and the tongue reversed its direction. I wanted to moan but I continued to suck. In the teashop, I had ordered three scones that I did not eat. I ordered them a while ago, thinking that by now hunger would have struck me and I would begin eating. My tea had gotten cold, and I was not hungry. The tea was too hot when I first received it, and I was writing instead of sipping on it. I had gotten so engrossed in writing and the act of writing and the thoughts that were pulsating and the eyes that were on me that I forgot about the tea when it was just the right temperature. I thought about going to counter to ask for more hot water, but my cup was more than halfway full. I met Cabrix while I was on a bench at a park. Cabrix approached me and asked if I knew the use of the bench at night. I said I did not and she told me that it was better that I did not know. I asked her to explain the purpose of the bench, but she maintained that I would know when I knew and took out a wallet. Within the wallet she had several pictures of the bench during the four seasons. A hand pushed me against a surface. A foot was pressing my inner thigh, and a tongue was sliding down my throat. Cabrix said I immediately caught everyone’s eye and wished to now see my tongue. I had read somewhere that asking to see your tongue was an action you asked only to close friends. A tongue reveals more about a newcomer than imaginable. I told Cabrix that I would when the time was right, possibly in a museum or a cave beneath a waterfall. A voice said they needed me to come inside. A hand was burned by hot water. A stop button was pressed. My lungs filled with air, and then emptied. A head fell on my chest and laid there. •

Duzzztixi
Veronica Estes
When talking to men, you must speak a certain way. When talking to women, you must also speak a certain way. When talking to the ambiguous, you must avoid the question, “Do you have a penis?” I do not. Some people need further clarification, as if I somehow forgot what we were talking about, as if the antecedent got up from tea and forgot to kiss the remaining parties on the cheek. This is not uncommon where I am from, yet tea is fairly common. The departure from tea is simple, and only if you are truly close to the person does one call after duzzztixi, which literally means “breathe from your toes.” So should a toddler or someone passing on the street perform a double take, I occasionally delight in uttering a particular sentence about my genitalia. In Weezilxi I did not encounter this question. In this teashop where I am writing, there are sixteen pairs of eyes upon me. No doubt this is because of the ambiguity I wield. I do not mind; I welcome it. In the local language there is a word that I’ve learned recently from a coworker, and I had it written down. I did not want to forget the word. Suxili means “the one who draws the most eyes to one’s figure is the most desirable.” In Weezilxi, this word does not exist. The departure from tea is simple, and only if you are truly close to the person does one call after duzzztixi, which literally means “breathe from your toes.”

66 | Academic

Academic | 67
the corporation’s website, it states, “there is a battle being waged in the United States that has taken more lives than any foreign war or act of terrorism. The enemy is abortion.” Visitors on the website will find minimal information on the corporation and how it is funded; those who donate are given the opportunity to join Life Always in “exposing the truth.” Donations are doubled by an unnamed “friend of Life Always.” The only people listed on the website are the board of directors including Abby Johnson, a former director of Planned Parenthood who has joined the prolife movement, and Reverend Stephen Broden, an African American FOX news commentator and pro-life activist. While Life Always opposes abortion in general, its billboard campaigns seek to highlight their belief that abortion is especially pernicious to the African American community. The Chicago Tribune reported that when a Life Always minister came to Chicago in 2011 to launch the anti-abortion billboards, he stated that “black women account for about 36% of the country’s reported abortions, even though blacks are less than 13% of the population.” “Black and Unwanted.” It also placed sixty billboards in predominantly African American communities in Oakland California in June 201. Life Always is not an outlier; it is part of a national trend. The rising number of anti-abortion billboards has resulted in great controversy and protests by pro-choice activists. The SoHo billboard was taken down after just one day due to protests, while in Chicago some citizens, who wished to remain anonymous, covered billboards with banners. One protest banner said, “In 21 minutes this sign should be gone”, while another read, “Abort Racism.” Those in opposition to the billboards argue that Life Always uses statistics that show higher rates of abortion in African American communities without accounting for the structural socio-economic conditions of these communities: they ignore the “greater incidence of unwanted pregnancies, resulting from economic inequality and poor access to contraception and education.” Indeed, on their website, Life Always only discusses racism against unborn fetuses and never mentions existing racism against African

Abort Racism:
Jesse McGleughlin
In 2001, during Black History month, a Texas-based nonprofit corporation called Life Always placed an anti-abortion billboard in SoHo, New York City. Then, in March of the same year, Life Always placed another billboard in the Eaglewood Neighborhood of Chicago, planning on funding 30 more billboards in the Chicago area. One of the billboards was an image of a young African American girl alongside text that read, “the most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” Another one had a picture of President Obama and said, “Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted.” The billboards, which advertise “thatsabortion. com,” have resulted in extreme controversy. Those opposed to the billboards have argued that they invoke a racist rhetoric to demonize the African American woman’s body while using a coercive strategy to limit black women’s reproductive choices. In an attempt to understand Life Always’s strategic choice to target the African American

The Racial Implications of Reproductive Justice

community, one can turn to the eugenics movement of the mid-twentieth century in which the United States government defined African Americans as “unfit” to reproduce and practiced forced sterilization on African American women. These actions contributed to a well-founded fear in African American communities about losing the right to reproduce. The billboards, playing on the vulnerability of the black community, use a vocabulary that reinforces the idea that the African American woman is incapable of making her own decisions. Despite this, African American women and reproductive justice organizations have challenged the use of race in the pro-life campaign. This resistance is in line with a long historical resistance from African American women seeking to maintain agency over their bodies and lives. Life Always, the corporation that placed boards in New York and Chicago, tries to define abortion as evil and dangerous through their extensive advertising campaigns. On the homepage of

“...other pro-life groups ought to change their name because as soon as a black child is born, they stop caring about the life of the child.”
A clip titled “PP aborts AA”—Planned Parenthood abortions African Americans—on the Life Always website says, “abortions among African American women are 3 times that of the rest of the population which means over 25% of the next generation is being wiped out as we speak,” creating a campaign founded on the ‘loss’ of the African American population. The website links to “post-abortive healing ministries” and “pregnancy resource centers.” It is important to note that Life Always’s billboard campaign erupted alongside The Radiance Foundation’s billboard campaign that placed 65 similar billboards in Atlanta with statements such as, “Black children are an endangered species” and American children and their families. Jasmine Burnett, lead organizer for Sister Song, the Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, and Trust Black Women, a national coalition of African American women’s rights organizations, said, “those other pro-life groups ought to change their name because as soon as a black child is born, they stop caring about the life of the child.” Burnett believes that organizations like Life Always do not care about African American children once they are born, using race as a tactic only to dissuade women from having abortions. Courtland Milloy, editorial writer at The Washington Post, articulated how abortion rights are complicated by race.

68 | Academic
He wrote, “…race still matters. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion. But, as the billboard campaign reminds us, the conservative effort now underway to overturn the court’s decision is not just being waged on women’s reproductive rights, but on the black woman as a person.” Milloy went on to link the description of the African American woman in the ads to that of the “black welfare queen,” an image proliferated during the Ronald Reagan administration to target this same community. Others opposed to the billboard campaigns critiqued the rhetoric for its degradation of African American women’s sense of self, silencing discussions on black reproduction. In the Chicago Tribune, lawyer Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body, reminded readers that the billboard “was reminiscent of the eugenics movement, which deemed black women as sexually irresponsible and incapable of making good reproductive decisions. […] The thinking was they shouldn’t be allowed to control their own bodies.” She noted that the billboards make it difficult to discuss methods of prevention for unintended pregnancies. According to Roberts, the images that the billboards evoke are pervasive, limiting the discussion through rhetoric that casts black women as “inherently promiscuous.” In the same article, she asserts that the “ads stigmatize African American women and restrict their ability to make personal medical decisions.” While newspapers responded to this controversy, the most extensive conversation has existed within reproductive justice organizations founded by coalitions of women of color and not within mainstream pro-choice organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Courtland Milloy’s 2011 Washington Post editorial states, “because the attack on the black woman’s body is so pervasive and, historically, so persistent, black women are expanding the womb-centered debate over abortion and birth control to one of ‘reproductive justice.” The reproductive justice stance recognizes a pro-choice and pro-life outlook “but with a twist that distinguishes them from […] the anti-abortion group that’s putting up those billboards.”Milloy explains the way race is central to the abortion debate, making a distinction between mainstream pro-choice organizations and reproductive justice organizations. Unlike other organizations, reproductive justice organizations work to create a movement that specifically recognizes the attack on black women’s bodies. An article produced by SisterSong stated that “inadequate outreach by pro-choice groups to women of color, and insufficiently direct attempts to address the complicated history of [Margeret] Sanger and eugenics, has left a door open for pro-life organizations to come in and say, ‘they don’t care about you, but we do.’” The mainstream movements have over-simplified the complicated nature of abortion in African American communities by refusing to acknowledge and challenge a complex history of government supported eugenics programs. This allows pro-life organizations, such as Life Always, to gain support in mainstream debates. The mainstream debates skim over a history in which the United States government manipulated and exploited black women’s reproductive choices. In order to understand the pro-life rhetoric, it is necessary to examine the way the formal eugenics movement was popularized and supported by the United States government from 1920 until the end of the baby boom era. It was during the eugenics movement that underprivileged women were targeted and viewed as less fit to be mothers, a stigma that later became attached to African American women. Many African American women, as a result, were forcibly sterilized in several states including Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Michigan in 1927. In a 1927 case, Supreme Court Justice Holmes said, “It is better for all of the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…three generations of imbeciles are enough.” This sentiment was transferred to African Americans: as more African Americans were forcibly sterilized, the term “manifestly unfit” became increasingly racialized and inherently sexist. Rebecca Kluchin refers to eugenics after the baby boom as “neo-eugenics,” describing a new eugenics movement evolving from a fear about the demands made by African Americans for racial equality. As neo-eugenics became more popular after World War II, more African American women were sterilized. In fact, “in 1965, 14 percent of black women had undergone sterilization as opposed to only 6 percent of white women.” As evidenced by this statistic, sterilization was disproportionately tied to the control of women of color. In Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, Jennifer Nelson discusses the punitive sterilization laws proposed in many states in order to reduce the number of poor and illegitimate children. She detailed the 1971 proposal from a Republican legislator in South Carolina “for a bill that would force a woman on welfare with more than two children to give up her entitlement or submit to sterilization.” Sterilization campaigns were specifically designed to take decision-making away from African American women and place the power over these women’s bodies in the hands of government officials. While the billboards respond to a history of forced sterilization, they also respond to Planned Parenthood’s frequently overlooked connections to racist policies around reproduction and birth control. In Killing the Black Body, Roberts examines the way birth control became more nationally accepted because it was introduced as a tool of eugenics and population control. The American Birth Control League—which became Planned Parenthood

Academic | 69
in 1942—championed the eugenics policy to promote birth control among the “socially unfit.” Planned Parenthood began to use the Federal Organization of Economic Opportunity (OEO) funds for domestic welfare programs concerning fertility in 1964. In 1967, The Social Security Act stipulated that no less than 6% of funds for maternal and child-health services would be spent on family planning: enforced population control was on the national agenda. The current rhetoric of Life Always recalls when Margaret Sanger (founder of ABCL) argued for female liberty and choice and for a eugenics platform to reproduce only “fit” races. Thus, when Life Always discusses Planned Parenthood as contributing to genocide, it draws on a history in which Planned Parenthood had a deep involvement with the eugenics movement and family planning policies. While family planning existed first within the top-down structure of government-enforced sterilization programs, it also became a contentious issue within African American communities. In the late 1960s the Black Panther Party opposed the use of birth control and abortion because they saw it as “a genocidal plot to reduce the black population.” The billboards, in discussing the loss of the black race, articulate a rhetoric that existed both outside of the black community but also within the Black Nationalist Movement. It must be noted that these politics were challenged as early as 1970 when black feminists sought to reshape the dialogue among black nationalists and black freedom fighters. As black activist Toni Cade Bambara argued, “It is a noble thing, the rearing of warriors for the revolution. I find no fault with that idea. I do, however, find fault with the notion that dumping the pill is the way to do it. …You prepare yourself by being in control of yourself. The pill gives the woman, as well as the man, some control. Simple as that.” The anti-abortion billboards only respond to one part of the conversation about abortion. They do not acknowl-

“The thinking was they shouldn’t be allowed to control their own bodies.”

70 | Academic
edge the way that African American women have shifted and expanded the dialogue around reproductive choices. In this way, the billboards exploit and flatten a history by refusing to recognize how African American women have worked to both respond to an exploitative history and build a reproductive justice movement for the future. Of course it must be noted that the anti-abortion campaigns are not intending to represent a complex and nuanced history: instead they are seeking to draw on the most alarming trends in history in order to gain supporters. While the billboards respond to a history of the exploitation of African American women’s bodies, they also use a similar rhetoric to that of eugenicists who blame the vulnerable woman for being unable to care for herself or her children. The billboards, in claiming to protect the African American body and the future of the black race, use a rhetoric which views African American women as incapable of making choices about their bodies and lives. It is this vocabulary that once again places African American women at the margin of decision-making. Moreover, this vocabulary ignores the fact that African American women have always organized to maintain control over their bodies and their lives. This dates back to slavery when African American women resisted rape and childbearing that would produce more slaves and developed underground methods of birth control and pregnancy termination. In response to the billboards, reproductive justice organizations like Sister Song have critiqued “anti-abortion groups who are selectively co-opting civil rights rhetoric to present abortion and even contraception as eugenicist plots.” In calling for a movement that recognizes a history of subjugation of African American women and their bodies, African American women’s organizations have challenged a manipulative argument to demand reproductive justice. •

Literature | 71

Anonymous Aspirations
Nicole Hasslinger

Slits on your tongue, paper cuts from licking envelopes to send away your time, leave your kisses tasting like metal. It’s fine you say, because I bruise like a peach and I’m low on iron as it is. And for a while I believe you, because you would have me think I’m weak and believe that the sting on the tip of your tongue feeds me, like some twisted penis envy. Lips withdrawing, your bitterness tastes sweeter in the back of my throat than stationary glue ever will. You forget that my bruises are not addressed to some anonymous aspirations and they lack the deference of your tongue. While your strained veins pulse unappealing, each swallow of your saliva thickens me. One sip more and I’ll remove you from me, carrying a defiant ache, but at least I can lick my own wounds. •

bibliography
Cade, Toni. The Black Woman: An Anthology, ed. Toni Cade. New York, NY: The New American Library, 1970. Kluchin, Rebecca, M. Fit to Be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2009. Nelson, Jennifer. Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement. New York: New York UP, 2003. Roberts, Dorothy E. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Pantheon, 1997. Ross, Loretta J. Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000. Ed. Rickie Solinger. Berkeley: University of California, 1998. 161-207. Silliman, Jael Miriam et al., Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2004. White, Deborah Gray. Aren’t I A Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. NY: W. W. Norton, 1999. Newspaper Articles/Websites/Journal Articles Anonymous, “Abortion Ad Targets Black Community.” Chicago Tribune, March 30, 2011. Anonymous, “Billboard Cover-up; Critics Place Fabric Banners over Anti-abortion Ads in Englewood,” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 2011. Baker, Katie, J. M. “Controversial Antiabortion Billboards to Stay Up in Oakland for Now,” East Bay Express, June 27, 2011. Fox News. “Planned Parenthood Director Quits After Watching Abortion on Ultrasound.” Accessed May 10, 2012. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,571215,00.html Life Always. “That’s Abortion.” Accessed May 8, 2012. http://thatsabortion.com/ Milloy, Courtland. “Unequal Anger in Abortion Debate,” The Washington Post Company, March 14, 2012. The Radiance Foundation. “Too Many Aborted.” Accessed May 10, 2012. http://www.toomanyaborted.com/ Ross, Loretta and SisterSong, “Is Abortion “Black Genocide?” SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective: Collective Voices (Summer 2011). Saul, Michael Howard. “Antiabortion Billboard in SoHo Draws Ire,” Wall Street Journal, Feb 24, 2011. Strong Families Blog. “Strong Families Blog.” Accessed May 5, 2012. http://www.reproductivejusticeblog.org/2011/07/we-did-it-together.html Trice, Dawn Turner. “Debate over Black Abortion Disparity; Billboards Highlight Rate; Activists Say Causes Not Simple,” Chicago Tribune, April 20, 2011. Twohey, Megan. “Abortion Rights Group Covers Anti-abortion Ads,” Chicago Tribune, April 4, 2011.

72 | Art

Yarnbombing Via de Fori Imperiali, Rome
You Bin Kang
Yarnbombing Via de Fori Imperiali, Rome, was an installation and performance influenced mainly by two concepts: the art of yarnbombing as a feminine form of protest, and fascist influence in Mussolini’s urban planning of Rome. After participating in FemSex at Brown, I tried to incorporate the role of women and feminism in society into my work, giving structure and thought to my identity as a female. This led me to yarnbombing as a feminist artistic approach. According to the New York Times article “Creating Graffiti With Yarn,” yarnbombing “takes the most matronly craft (knitting) and the most maternal gesture (wrapping something cold in a warm blanket) and transfers it to the concrete and steel wilds of the urban landscape.” I experimented with yarnbombing in the Fori Imperiali, a road in the center of the city. This Roman road was built by Mussolini and decorated with four overtly masculine, twice-human-size statues of Roman emperors to impress Hitler on his visit to Rome. I knitted and installed legwarmers for the statues of Julius Caesar, Trajan, Augustus, and Nervae, as an act of protest to the hyper-masculinity promoted by Mussolini’s urban planning. Like most acts of transgression, the legwarmers were shortly removed by the police. I was able to record the installation; the subversive intent of yarnbombing lives on long after its strings are unravelled. •

You Bin Kang You Bin Kang

74 | Literature

Sex and Health | 75

she speaks
Martin Menefee
she speaks—so easily & of such large things such large things & of them she speaks so easily as if things happen in accordance with the way she speaks of them •

PlainSex
Dan Sherrell
The first time I met Wanja I was not in a good place. I mean this in two ways: romantically and geographically. To begin with, I was living in North Dakota, and not swanky North Dakota, like Fargo or Grand Forks. My friend Luke and I had been working on a dairy farm 20 miles outside a town of barely 200 people, in the dead center of an empty agro-state. It was late October, and so cold that sometimes we had to thaw out the cows’ utters before milking them. After the fact, people would ask us why we chose on a whim to live in rural North Dakota for a month, and we would always equivocate. Frankly, we didn’t have a satisfactory answer, besides that maybe we thought it would be interesting to visit America’s least-visited state for the past eight years running. Either way, there we were, and it was six degrees Fahrenheit, and we hadn’t really seen a woman since leaving Chicago. The day we first met Wanja was also our first day off and, fumbling around for a dose of plains culture, we had driven out to Maddock, ND for their annual Rural Renaissance Festival. Wanja was selling homemade cosmetics from behind a fold-out table at a crafts fair in the Maddock High School gymnasium. What struck us wasn’t that she was cute, or young, or dressed in something other than the de rigueur Carhartt and camo. What struck us about Wanja was that she was black—the first and last black person we would see in all of North Dakota for over a month. We stare for a second too long, and have to take another tour of the craft booths (“Finnish-style” needlework, wooden trivets carved with tractors, home-made American-flag weathervanes) before working up the nerve to talk to her. She lets us know immediately that she could tell we weren’t from around here and we tell her likewise. She tells us she moved here from Kenya in 2004, and sells her own line of skin products, and just loves meeting new people, and talking to her is like drinking water after a long walk through the desert. She is something wholly uncommon to rural North Dakota farming country—she is chatty. The three of us hit it off and

76 | Sex and Health
her laboratory—a dark room stacked with huge unmarked jars of sandalwood ointment and fleur de sel and other beauty essentials we never even knew we were missing. It is here that she mixes raw ingredients into the various masks and exfoliators that help the women of Bismarck keep their skin glowing through the icy North Dakota winters. Wanja speaks with an improbable accent that is equal parts East Africa and Great Plains. Her syllables are stretched and her O’s hollow, but she peppers her sentences with Midwestern niceties and “Oh gosh’s.” Her cooking is just as bizarrely and miraculously hybridized. For dinner we eat ugali, greens, and Kenyan curry-beef, prepared from cornmeal, frozen spinach, and Angus rib tips bought at the Walmart in Mandan. To the best of her knowledge, Wanja is the only Kenyan émigré living in Bismarck, the sole member of her own demographic.After dinner we shower with soap made from ingredients we’ve never heard of, lay our sleeping bags out on the zebra carpet, and we wonder: how did Wanja end up here, in this apartment in this city in this pariah of a state? And for that matter, how did we? ... The next day the three of us pile into our Honda Civic to see what there is to do in Bismarck. Wanja keeps insisting that “there is nothing to do in Bismarck,” but we tell her about the dairy farm and how everything is relative. Our first stop is a small Native American museum that turns out to be more like a fairly large Native American gift shop. On the walls there are intricately painted bison skulls and beaded hunting arrows, but these are mostly hidden in the piles of cheap-o tomahawks and bulk-produced paintings of Indians on horseback shedding a single tear. Everything is for sale. A woman at the desk shows us how to use dried sage grass in a traditional smudging ritual and then tries to sell us a

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bundle of it. We are the only ones in the museum. Wanja caves and buys a small flute with a horse-hair tassel and then we leave. Our second stop is a bookstore, run by a friendly older woman with a manifest fondness for the Victorian period. After that there’s not a whole lot left to do in Bismarck, and so our third stop is at an autobody where we go to pick up Wanja’s newly-repaired van. The van is huge and filled with more tubs of ointment. “Why such a big van?” We are standing against the hood of the Civic, waiting for the mechanic to make a final adjustment. “Oh gosh, that’s a long story.” “There’s nothing else to do here.” “Oh well. I lived in this van for a while after the divorce.” “You were married?” “Yes, I was married, unfortunately. To this guy who thought he was just the coolest. And when we split up he took the house and I was sleeping in my van for a year. But, y’know, I came to North Dakota because it was peaceful, and I was okay just sleeping in the van, driving places on my own. I drove out to the national parks, I took road trips by myself. And now I’m 35 and I own my own business and my own apartment and I’m happy to be done with it. He was a North Dakota boy and I think he was attracted to me because I was different, because I was African. I even brought him back with me to Kenya for Christmas and when he came back he told his buddies that he’d seen the world and that he knew everything about everything. And the sex wasn’t even very good. That is important in a marriage. The sex needs to be good.” The mechanic comes out to tell us that actually the van

after 20 minutes she has invited us down to Bismarck to stay at her place when we’re passing though. When she offers us a hot shower and some home-cooked East African food we forget our manners and take her up on it. Two weeks later, we’ve milked our last cow and left the farm. We call Wanja to say we’ll be passing through, and we drive south toward Bismarck. Bismarck, ND is a short city in a tall state. North Dakota’s oft-forgotten KVLY-TV mast, a giant antenna on the plains outside of Blanchard, was the single tallest manmade structure in the world from 1963 until 2010, when it was dethroned by a skyscraper in Dubai with a swimming pool on the 76th floor. In a state where towns of 37 people erect 150-foot grain elevators, metropolitan Bismarck is dominated by three-story office buildings and prefab homes with patchy lawns and seasonally appropriate filigree in the windows. By far the tallest building is the state capitol, an uninspired nineteen stories of Art Deco symmetry. Driving through Bismarck you get the feeling that you’re in a SimCity built 20 minutes ago by an unusually prosaic fourth grader. The library is a low building with the word “LIBRARY” stenciled in enormous blue letters on its side. The streets align in a grid, and where the city ends they stretch in angled vectors across the prairie.

Wanja lives across the Missouri River from Bismarck, in Mandan, ND, a suburb of barely 18,000 with a large Native American population and zero tourism. We arrive after dark at a small grey apartment building with a poorly lit parking lot. On the mailbox are names that have largely disappeared from our national lexicon, names like White Horse and Isaac Still-Moon. Wanja’s name is scrawled conspicuously in ballpoint ink on the very bottom box. We ring the appropriate bell. Wanja comes to the door smiling and Luke and I stumble inside, carrying our sleeping bags and probably smelling like cow still. The apartment is tiny and immaculate, with hanging plants, pleather furniture, and more zebra print than is usually considered tasteful—she refers to it repeatedly as her “bachelorette pad.” Wanja starts in on dinner and begins telling us her abbreviated autobiography, talking to us like we’re more than just two dudes she chatted with for seven minutes at a crafts fair one time. Originally from Kenya, Wanja got a scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and wound up in North Dakota after graduation. She spent some time living in a tiny farming community before moving to Bismarck to start her own business selling homemade cosmetics and skin creams from a booth in the city’s only shopping mall. In the back of her apartment she shows us

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isn’t completely fixed yet, and that we’ll have to come back later. He is wearing a baseball cap that says “Monster” across the brim in neon green. Wanja gives him a curt “thank you” and we hop back in the Civic. It’s been a frustrating morning in Bismarck, ND, and on the way back to the apartment we distract ourselves by prolonging the sex talk. Wanja has a lot to say about sex, most of it pithy and aphoristic. Luke and I adopt the role of pupil, and here are some things we learn: “The breasts are not an erogenous zone. Men think they are but they’re not. When you fondle a woman’s breasts you are only pleasing yourself.” “Sex is best with older men. If he’s older than 40 a man is a terrific sexual partner. But under 25, they’re all machismo and no skill.” “Women cheat as much as men, we just don’t get caught.” “A woman is at the absolute peak of her libido at the age of 35.” After this last one Luke and I glance at each other to confirm that yes, she just told us she was 35 like a half an hour ago. Things escalate from there, and I try to keep my focus on the road as I nod more and more emphatically. Her expertise, it turns out, is not accidental—Wanja has found a niche for herself as the de facto sex guru for the women of the Bismarck-Mandan metropolitan area. “It started just with me talking to some of the ladies who came to buy my products, just about dating and gossip and things. I would use words like G-spot and orgasm and, y’know, none of them had even heard of that stuff so then I was like, ‘Okay, Wanja something needs to be done here.’ Now I have a group of ladies who get together and we talk about this stuff. At first everyone was pretty timid but now © Brenda Zhang

Sex and Health | 79
we all get raunchy together, we all want it bad, oh gosh. And these North Dakota men, they know how to operate farm machinery and that’s about it if you know what I mean. So I give them instructions on positions and sex toys and I make natural lubricants and depilatory cream for the vagina. It’s like a revolution for some of these ladies I’ll tell ya. And I think they think I know everything, because I’m exotic, y’know, because I have big hips and a big butt. They just needed someone to come here and shake them awake y’know, show them what they want and how to ask for it.” We realize then that we’ve inadvertently stumbled across North Dakota’s analogue of Brown’s FemSex.* Wanja’s sessions are informal and underground, groups of inconspicuous middle-aged wives in sweaters circled furtively in a Starbucks, away from the prying ears of husbands and children. Over time, embarrassment turns to curiosity, which turns to outright glee. Back in her apartment, Wanja continues. “I love it,” she says. “This is my life. I help the ladies of Bismarck with skin problems and other problems. I think this is absolutely my calling.” She laughs mischievously at the ceiling and kneads a mound of ugali with carnal enthusiasm. “Oh gosh, I almost forgot, I have a session tonight actually. Just me and my friend Sharon. She’s great. You guys should come along!” Before we can suggest that maybe we should sit this one out, Wanja is packing what’s left of dinner into the fridge and casting around for her purse. “C’mon boys, it’ll be fuuun!” “Have you told Sharon about this?” “No, you guys will be a surprise, she’ll love it.”

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Sex and Health | 81

We hesitate but curiosity does us in. Luke gives me a ‘When in Bismarck…’ sort of look. And so we leave the apartment and drive toward the periurban strip-mall side of town, to a bleak-looking Borders with an enormous parking lot. Sharon is seated in the little coffee nook part of the store, wearing mom-earrings and a sensible turtleneck. She looks to be about 45, but she giggles like a tween when she sees Wanja. “Hiii. How are yooouuu?!” Wanja is all smiles. “Oh gosh lady, you know I’m always good, but how are you?” “Well, thank you for that little gift you gave me. Things have been going very well, let’s just say that.” Luke and I pull up chairs awkwardly, unsure of our role. “Oh Sharon, this is Luke and this is Dan. They’re my visitors.” Sharon looks us over conspiratorially and doesn’t ask any more questions. Over the course of the conversation it becomes clear that Wanja’s sexuality has attained near mythic status among her acolytes, and Sharon probably assumes we are some sort of boy toys that Wanja has imported on a

whim for the weekend. Pleasantries aside, Wanja and Sharon get down to brass tacks in earshot of pretty much everybody in Borders. Sharon is loud, and, as she confirms for us multiple times, “LOVES sex!” “Oh y’know, George takes trips down to Iowa every other week, but when he’s back home, hubba hubba! I told him “George, that job can wait, now you have to make time for us.’ And he’s trying, God bless him, George is a good man. He’s orally challenged, but he’s a good man.” Mercifully, Luke and I are not asked for our opinions about George. We sit back and try to listen politely as Sharon reaches a fever pitch. She talks about her mattress and her diaphragm, she tells us about her sexy west coast road trip with George two months ago, she disparages the collective chauvinism and sexual ignorance of “North Dakota guys.” For Sharon, talking to Wanja is a big raunchy release, an emancipation from her repressive agricultural upbringing. “I’m in my late forties now, but I’ll tell ya, I’m having the best sex of my life.” At this point we’re getting spook-eyes from most of the patrons in the Borders café area, and a guy in a camo hunting vest keeps looking over at us and grinning conspicu-

ously. By the time we get up to leave, it’s been more than an hour and Luke and I have spoken very little. Sharon is flushed and practically shouting as she hugs Wanja goodbye and tells us that it’s been very nice to meet us. We agree with her and hasten our retreat towards the parking lot. From across the store Sharon gives us one last earsplitting pointer. “REMEMBER BOYS, THE SEX JUST GETS BETTTTTTER!” Wanja laughs hard and the sliding doors whir shut behind us. ... That night, while Luke is in the other room talking to his girlfriend, Wanja and I have sex. It is not a hasty decision. In fact, we talk about it for two hours before deciding it’s to our mutual benefit. She’s the putative sex goddess of Bismarck, ND, but she’s been celibate since her divorce eight months ago and the irony is just killing her. For my part, I’ve been living on a farm for five weeks, milking cattle from their non-erogenous teat zones. We’re both horny and willing to rationalize. Wanja seems to have forgotten her rule about twenty-somethings. The sex is no different from sex with someone my age, except that when we’re done Wanja is gracious enough to grab a paper towel from the kitchen and wipe me off. “Cud-

dle me,” she says, and I do. In the morning, after pancakes, Luke and I pack our bags—we have to be in Calgary in a few days and it’s a long drive. At the door, I sort of usher Luke along and turn back to give Wanja a kiss goodbye. This is the part where I start to feel like an asshole, one of those itinerant, fly-by-night, sexually extractive dudes that I really, in my heart of hearts, don’t think I am. Or at least earnestly hope I am not. I begin to apologize for leaving so quickly but Wanja cracks up and kisses me full on the mouth. “Oh gosh, no, don’t even. No one ever visits North Dakota, this was a special treat. Plus, you’ll be a great story to bring back to my girls.” And now I feel foolish telling this story. Because somewhere in North Dakota I know it’s already being told. •
FemSex (n.) Female Sexuality workshop conducted at Brown University.

82 | Literature

The first beautiful I knew was my older sister. When she laughed, she had the kind of smile that took over her face until all it was was teeth and tear-stains. Un-plucked eyebrows and untamed curls unfurling in tousled tendrils like they did when she’d been running. Track-star long legs, shins that doubled as first class seats for my personal airplane rides, “Fast or slow? Bumpy or smooth?” landing a tickle torture collision of fingers and flesh, laughter kicking itself out through all my limbs they grow longer, leaner, older, learn a new kind of beautiful. Untouchable ink stains on the pages of magazines, tear if you clutch them too tightly. High-gloss glares ensnaring me with dares to look like them. Wrists like chopsticks. Only good for holding one bite at a time careful now! they snap so easily. Bamboo bones broken by their own weight, told, stand up straight! all the time, never sleeping. But I’d gladly break my bones and bind my feet for the feeling of focused eyes following my footfalls, making me feel beautiful. I want so badly to be beautiful. I try and all I feel is tired. I balance on lily-feet and all I have are blisters. I eat one bite at a time. And all I am is hungry. Still hungry. I used to like the way things tasted, but now every bite tastes bitter, without the sweet. And I’ve forgotten what it felt like to fly. To run with thighs of thunder, hair alive with static. Electricity that lights my eyes up bright so you can see

that the black of my irises and the black of my pupils are not the same black, but different, one is more black. I shut my eyes and the lights go out. Living magazine lies, catalogue pages thrown away or faded. The lights went out. I am forgotten. I’m afraid I forgot the other kind of beautiful. My sister’s kind. The kind that’s not afraid to shout, and be angry, and make a scene, and tear up Cosmo’s shiny lies that make girls sick trying to make men love them. That’s not afraid to have eyebrows thick to better keep out the rain from eyes that don’t smile just for cameras. Lets her track-star long legs, thunder thighs, show muscle and meat, hair that ought not be there. Stretch themselves out exactly where someone was about to step. She isn’t sorry. She isn’t sorry for laughing loudly in a quiet room.

Literature | 83

beautiful
Gabrielle Sclafani

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Literature | 85

Not chill, not warm. Hot. But I bet you understand...

person in charge
Caroline Steinfeld
So yesterday, I went to speak to the person who is in charge: Hello, person in charge, they told me you would listen to me if I had any requests! I don’t know if I have a request, but I think I do have some questions. (Then I heard no sound, but I thought that was probably because the person was listening.) Person in charge, I started, can I be loud? I don’t know why I started with this question, see, I have many, many, many questions, but can I? Can I be loud? I know it’s not really pleasant, and, you know, they do tell me that I have to be chill! But chill? I am not chill! I am hot, I am warm, I am everything but chill! The only chill part of my anatomy that I know of are the very tips of my fingers. The very tips of my fingers are, in fact, always cold, and my nails are often blue, but I know that even that doesn’t mean anything. Just like they say it back home: Mãos frias, coração quente Cold hands, hot heart.

I wish I could draw you a picture, so you would start to understand even if just a little bit better; this picture, I would fold it up and curl it into your palm to make sure you kept it with you. Maybe holding that picture would burn your hand a little, because you’re not the kind of person who usually holds many things that palpitate. Or maybe the sight of this picture will make you shiver a little, and you will feel a trepidation right around your belly button. Oh, I would be glad if you did! And I would kiss your shoulder and hang there with my face just by your neck, whispering my non-idiomatic English in your tired ears. But tell me, person in charge, how many degrees can we hold in the palm of our hands? How many degrees can we bear to hold? Oh, but I don’t even need to hold things! Can you please let me just touch people a little bit more? You know, rubbing skins accidentally, sitting side by side, hugging, weaving braids and braids of hair and hair. Can we please do that? See, I’m even asking politely because I know you like reasonable requests. Oh, and let me not wear my bra! Can I please have my nipples showing? Yes I said it, I only have one bra, and I really don’t like using it. It’s uncomfortable and doesn’t fit my boobs well. Almost no bra fits my boobs. I don’t need a bra! I have beautiful breasts. I think so. They are round and full and they will never get saggy and fall. I promise! And even if they do, which they will do, they will still be my beautiful round breasts that do not like being in a bra. (And then I paused, because I really do like my breasts, but I was afraid that that had not been a very sophisticated thing for me to say.)

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Person in charge, I then continued, You know, I am a little bit sad. Because I am a girl, and I often, often cry when I’m angry. Instead of being angry, I cry, and my mascara leaves trails of gray on my cheeks. Yes, I cry a lot, and I also like to wear makeup! Not that these are related. They tell me here that if I wear makeup it’s because I am manipulated! But I don’t feel manipulated by makeup, person in charge, I like the colors and I like to spread them on my skin. I like the textures and the bristles and the multicolored powders that stain my carpet. Person in charge, is that wrong? Person in charge, is it also true, that I can’t take the time to be affectionate? Is it true that I have to have a big brain and be really thin and focus on running around, running away from anything that could weigh me down? Should I really be cool and detached all the time? Yes, I know, it does sound weird to me, but they do tell me all those things! Or at least, I think I hear them somewhere, I think those things are whispered around, maybe by the very furniture in my room, by my tired laptop that sits on my desk, watching over me when I sleep... never turned off. And silently, I think they also tell me that this place has no space for girls like me, for those girls who just want to connect, who want to smile and study together side by side, arm against arm, and who would like to say “I’ll give you a hand.” and who also like to say “Can you please help me? I don’t understand.”

Person in charge, I know that now this might be asking for too much, but, am I allowed to get angry? Can I be sarcastic sometimes? And a little mean? Can I say things and later have to apologize for them? Can I act in the heat of the moment? Do I have to be cool and controlled all the time? Can I be unreasonable? Yes? And tell me, can I really, really, deeply, care about people? Person in charge, can I call them to know if they’re doing well? Even if we’re not really friendsfriends yet, can I hug and feel their warmth? Can I have sex with strangers as many times as I like? And can I have sex with one same stranger a lot of times? Are you sure about this one? Even if I don’t think I will ever call that stranger my only one? And after we have sex, I’d also like to be kind to the stranger. Can I? I’d like to make them coffee and kiss them on the cheek, and cook dinner and invite them over and wrap them in a blanket of all things beautiful and secret. Is that allowed? Please tell me it is. Person in charge, now this one is important, and it’s my last one, so please make sure you’re sure about what you’re saying, Tell me, person in charge, can I be love? (And then I held my breath and waited for the final response, but what I heard came in an echo: person in charge, can I be love?) •

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Comedy | 89

Women (Doing) Shit
Samer Muallem
My dad is an OB/GYN. Yup. You read that right. So I grew up in a house with my mom, my sister, and a man whose job is literally 100% women. As you might guess, I did not get any of that fluffy stork bullshit when I was a kid. Oh no. There was no wonderful story of the birds and the bees, or how when two people love each other, yadda yadda yadda. When I was a child, my dad sat me down on his knee (not really, ‘cause no parent ever actually does that. It’s bad for their knees), and told me the wonders of the female body. How a woman has two X chromosomes. How a woman sheds her uterine lining every so often. How an erect penis can ejaculate sperm into a woman’s vagina and penetrate her ovum if the timing’s right, resulting in a fertilized cell that will divide many, many, many, times over the course of nine months, eventually becoming an 8-pound little person that will claw its way out, screaming like a banshee and dragging a blood-covered placenta behind it. I learned the biological horrors of womanhood at a very early age. And I never fucking forgot them.

I grew up scared of women’s bodies. Because they are foreign to me. Because I’m a man. And a man has a Y chromosome and chest hair and a thick, bushy, beard, and he goes out into the forest and chops down trees and fights bears, right? That’s what my business cards say, at least. Samer Muallem: hairy man/lumberjack/bearfighter. But here’s the thing. As terrifying and alien as everything about women is to me, I feel even more uncomfortable around men. I don’t know why exactly, but I think it might be the weird knowledge that whenever I’m talking to a guy, his junk is just right there. It’s right there. It’s not well-guarded or retractable or anything. It’s just there. Women don’t have that. Their sexy bits are simply an internal part of who they are, not some creepy alien thing attached to them. Although men’s genitalia are my social kryptonite, women still managed to intimidate me for the majority of my life. The internal monologue during my teenage years was essentially a loop of “Oh my God, a girl! What do I say? I should say something funny. Quick, Samer. Be funny! Oh no, I’m just blurting out nonsense words. Oh God, look at her reaction. This is super uncomfortable. I’m gonna throw up.” But as with all things in this ephemeral universe, that anxiety was fleeting. In college, I finally overcame my fear of women because I spent a year living with them. Six of

them. Six female roommates in one year. And you don’t come out of a year like that without having been dragged out of your comfort zone a few times. Don’t get me wrong: I loved spending time with my lady roomies, but being around them revealed things I had no idea I would learn. For example, although they’re each unique, hilarious individuals, they all share a common trait. Whether it’s the vegetarian Zumba instructor or the hypochondriac who watches way too much Law & Order SVU, they all poop a lot. I mean, they poop as much as I do. When I realized this, I felt infinitely more at ease with myself and with women. You see, everybody poops. There’s an entire book whose title, thesis, and conclusion are that exact idea. Therefore, ipso facto, women poop. But that’s precisely why women are awesome. Sure, they’re beautiful, and they’re strong, and they’re responsible for literally all of human life. But they also poop. They’re just as gross and weird and insecure as I am. They have flaws and worries and fears, and they expel their metabolic waste out their buttholes. So when I think about all the other horrifying things women’s bodies do, it’s kinda comforting to know we all have this in common. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wrestle a bear to the ground at my lumberyard. •

special thanks

friends of bluestockings
QA is an umbrella group for 15+ subgroups ranging in focus from advocacy, community, and outreach. To learn more about our subgroups and how to get involved email queer@brown.edu.

Queer Alliance

Granoff Center Sarah Doyle Women’s Center Maria Acabado Thomas Baker Julieta Cardenas Gail Cohee Elias Cohen Chase Culler Felice Feit Lily Goodspeed Ian Gonsher Beverly Haviland

Bluestockings was made possible in part by a grant from the Brown University Creative Arts Council

David Hefer William Keach Aida Manduley Sara Matthiesen Kyra Mungia Matthew Peterson Marley Pierce Rachel Ratchford Anna Reed Robert Self Jim Smith Michael Stewart Jonathan Weinberg

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92 | Art

Art | 93

Grace Miceli Our Lady of Whatever Colored Pencil

94 | Art

Art | 95

Brenda Zhang All the Rigidity in the Stem is Basically Solar Energy Tugging at Columns of Water, Remember. Acrylic on Canvas

Devin Kelley Tapioca Beauty Cream Performance/Mixed Media

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Art | 97

Megan Pickering Saint Agatha Plasticine, Acrylic Paint

Maija Elizabeth Ekey Untitled Composition (Groceries) C-Print

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Art | 99

Jessica Daniels Tying My Stomach in Knots Oil, Thread, Embroidered Handkerchief, On Dyed Canvas

Elizabeth Goodspeed Untitled Collaged Paper

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Art | 101

Kah Yangni Untitled Mixed Media

Hannah Antalek Disordered Acrylic Paint, Glitter

102 | Art

Hannah Antalek To Honor and Obey Alkyd, acrylic, spraypaint, graphite, crayon, and collage on paper

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 habe some power than 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 poltical. feminism is having a room of one’s own. feminism is the radical belief that we are all created equal. feminism is

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