Tag Archives: feminism

Politics and Poetry: Feminism

In the last year, I’ve been giving a series of lectures titled Politics and Poetry for The Socialist Party USA. This is an excerpt from the Slam Poetry section of that lecture.


Image of Sylvia Plath
Image from PoetryFoundation.Org

So, Sylvia Plath. She’s not my favorite, but one can’t talk about feminist poetry without talking about Sylvia Plath. She’s most well known for her work The Bell Jar, which is semi-autobiographical and was published right before her death. She had a tumultuous life, attempting suicide multiple times until the last time, when she stuck her head in an oven with the gas on in 1963. She was married to another poet, Ted Hughes, who cheated on her, often, and had two children. She is known for her intensely autobiographical works and the social restrictions facing women. This poem, Lady Lazarus is from her book Collected Poems and was written in 1960:

Lady Lazarus

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.


From Amora to Zatanna: February 2015

Oh my goodness, comic junkies! I am late yet again on my monthly blog post. This is primarily because I am finishing up my last semester of grad school and my master’s thesis is kicking my butt! Aside from my student turmoil, I wanted to take this month’s blog and examine a pretty important character in the Marvel universe: Gwen Stacy.

8299d295feb249e7663d95d7ff1f8267Now let me start by saying that I never used to be a Gwen Stacy fan. Sure, she was smart as well as beautiful, but I was always more interested in Felicia Hardy (aka Black Cat) and Mary Jane as romantic interests for Peter Parker. I’m not really sure why this is, except that by the time I started reading Spider-Man issues myself, he was already in a relationship with Mary Jane.
And Felicia Hardy was someone I became obsessed with when I went further back into the series to catch up on what I had missed. And, let’s face it, Felicia Hardy is so sexy and sassy!
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But Gwen Stacy is really something special. She was, and is, hugely important to comics.
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First of all, Gwen Stacy’s death is an incredibly iconic moment not only in Spider-Man’s fictional life, but in comic history. The graphic death of Gwen Stacy by Spider-Man’s hand was shocking on multiple levels. The “snap” sound effect drawn on the page was somehow brought to life as readers collectively heard the bone brake. It was gritty, visceral, and real. It was in this moment that comics also took a firm stance against the Comics Code Authority and proceeded to tell stories in which superheroes were fallible. The death of Gwen, though debated for a few months after the issue’s release, was entirely Peter’s fault. His overconfidence in his abilities and himself as a superhero lead to the heart-breaking death of his beloved girlfriend. And this is someone who is supposed to have an intimate knowledge about physics!
ASM2-Death-of-Gwen-StacyWith Gwen’s death, Spider-Man became less perfect and more damaged, launching a comic movement that drifted away from the Comics Code and towards “grey storytelling.”

Fifty Shades of Conversation

While I have yet to and probably will never see the Fifty Shades of Grey movie nor read the books that inspired it, I am happy it has been written, has become popular, has been made into a movie, and has changed what is and isn’t taboo for the public to have a conversation about.

Literature is reflective of the society it is written in and can often point out uncomfortable truths about the world around us. Is Fifty Shades of Grey literature? I don’t want to get into that debate. I know the grammar is awful and it started off as Twilight fan fiction, but I’m not the ultimate authority on what and what isn’t literature nor do I know what future generations will think is great literature from our time.

“Here we see the inspiration for the greatest novel of the 21st century – the color grey.” – Some guy 1,000 years in the future.

What I do know is that Fifty Shades of Grey has started multiple conversations throughout multiple news sources, on multiple blogs, and even on multiple people’s Facebook pages related to women’s rights, affirmative consent versus coerced consent, BDSM, capitalism, and pornography. If Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t around, would these conversations be happening in the open? Would our society be looking at these issues?

I, at first, was wary of clicking on articles related to Fifty Shades of Grey because I had no interest in the story, but when I noticed a trend of critical societal examination in the titles, I started to click on articles and I was happily surprised.

Writing the Opposite Gender

Gender! The great divide of humanity, or something like that.

Writing for the opposite gender has long been an issue for many writers. The Atlantic posted a story a while back exploring male authors and how they sometimes successfully write women, but not always, nor often if we’re talking about pre-modern literature.

So what makes it so difficult?

In this writer’s humble opinion, the reason so many find it so difficult to write for the opposite gender is because they’re forgetting one very basic thing: gender is a social construct. Our sex, or the genitals we are born with, have absolutely no baring on what gender we associate with (beyond social expectations that we will associate with a gender due to our genitals) nor on many of our social preferences.

I took this lovely Playbuzz quiz on what gender your brain is, and this was my result:

Well, shoot.
Well, shoot.

So despite being born with my boobs and female genitalia, as well as my preference for men, according to the socially constructed theory of gender and a scientifical quiz-writer at Playbuzz, I’m more dude-like than woman-like. And what questions did Playbuzz ask to come up with this division?

Oh, right. My desire to lead, not have kids, ability to do math and want of a career make me a totally terrible woman.
Oh, right. My desire to lead, not have kids, ability to do math and independent nature make me a totally terrible woman.

While this quiz is obviously biased and trenched in social stigmas that are long outdated when it comes to how we classify gender and gender roles, The Atlantic article seems to have similar social biases when it comes to talking about how writers sometimes successfully write for the opposite gender:

“By default, women have it easier than men when they attempt to craft characters of the opposite sex,” says novelist Sally Koslow (The Late Lamented Molly Marx), “because our whole lives we’ve been reading vast amounts of literature written by men.”

From Amora to Zatanna: January 2015

From-Amora-To-Zatanna

My apologies for being so late on this post, my dear comic fans, but time is slipping away from me so quickly these days. (I blame it on my final semester of grad school!) Stress aside, I wanted to keep it simple this blog and post a list of comic pulls I’m excited for this upcoming,2015 year. Let’s get started!

#1: Spider-Gwen
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How was this not a comic already? The “What-if” universe didn’t even run a story like this, but thanks to the Spider-verse (and the end of the Marvel comic universe as we know it, apparently) this dream has become a reality. In an alternate universe, Gwen Stacy is the one gifted with the amazing Spidey powers and is unable to save the Peter Parker of her universe. It’s an interesting premise that pulls on our collective heart strings all over again as this beloved couple is still doomed to fail in the end. Plus, all female rock band with Mary Jane? Yes please!

#2: Silk
Silk_Vol_1_1_Lee_TextlessAnother spidey-related super heroine that is also a person of color! Cindy Moon was bit by the same spider that bit my beloved Peter Parker and was also endowed with spider abilities, though she a rougher time handling these new and fantastic abilities than Peter did (and that’s saying something!). She is currently running amok the Spider-verse, which in itself is a bit crazy, but I’m excited to she where her character goes from there.

#3: Angela: Asgard’s Assassin
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Plot twist, Odin had a daughter! And no, I don’t mean the reincarnated Loki that seems to enjoy embodying both male and female bodies or this strange female Thor that I still cannot decide if I like or dislike, but a long lost sister abandoned in Heven and raised to despise anything Asgardian. Naturally, she has already been introduced to the Marvel comic universe thanks to the genius of Neil Gaiman (though prior to this even she was an Image property), but is currently getting her own solo run. See? I like other comics besides Spidey…

#4: A-Force
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Just announced, well, today was the all female Avenger’s team! Some confirmed characters include She-Hulk, Dazzler (70s style?), Medusa, and Nico Minoru, while also promising to introduce a wholly new character named “Singularity.” With a writer like G. Willow Wilson and an artist like Margaurite Bennet, who could not be excited for this comic event?! Oh right, people who think an all-female team is nothing more than a gimmick rather than their own prejudice. “I just want good storytelling!” And why can’t an all female team not have a good story as well?

Why I Thought Middle School Was a Nefarious Ploy to Abandon Children in the Wild

I read a lot as a kid. As I was entering junior high school, I had already finished all of the Goosebumps series of books and moved onto R.L. Stine’s Fear Street novels.

Beyond the watered-down horror, I had also finished all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books (reading through every adventure option, of course) at my local library, along with a handful of classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, Black Beauty, and a whole slew of other books.

I read, and I read a lot, and I read for fun. When I entered junior high, the horror, fantasy, adventure, and whimsy all made way for a series of books about children stranded on islands and having to survive without adults.

Sounds fun, right?

Except, why now? I would ask myself. Why would we have to read three novels in a row with survival without adults as the central theme?

Dystopian Fiction: Where’s the Sexism and Racism?

Literature is reflective of the society it is written in. This holds true for Young Adult (YA) novels and other forms of dystopian fiction. Slate recently ran an article asking why dystopian movies avoid sexism and racism. The answer is simple: a lot of dystopian books that are turned into movies barely touch on racism or sexism, so the source material is lacking the narrative to be put into movies in the first place.

I think it’s easy for people to say “so what?” or to dismiss this concern by saying it’s not the goal of the author or the series to tackle these issues, but that just avoids the issue rather than excuses it. It’s important for us to be critical on the materials our society celebrates so we can better understand the society we live in and our society’s concerns. And, when we find that narrative doesn’t match our experiences, we can question why the mainstream wants to avoid these issues that we hold to be true.

That is to say, just because dystopian literature isn’t talking about sexism and racism doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Anyone who lives in a big city like Los Angeles can look outside and see the racial tensions happening outside of their windows. The rest of us can turn on the news and see report after report of Ferguson or New York or any other place where rights are being violated on the basis of color (and there are, unfortunately, many such cases).

Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl”: When A Writer’s Words Are Used Against Them

"Girls: Season 3" - UK Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals

By now, most people have heard of Kevin D. Williamson’s accusation of “Lena Dunham’s sexual abuse, specifically, of her younger sister, Grace, the sort of thing that gets children taken away from non-millionaire families without Andover pedigrees and Manhattanite social connections.”

But in case you haven’t heard, Williamson is basing his accusation on passages Dunham wrote in her memoir Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”. Passages like:

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.
 
My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”
 
My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been a success.

And this:

As she grew, I took to bribing her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl, I was trying.

In an exclusive statement to TIME, Dunham apologized to her fans, saying “If the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read, I am sorry, as that was never my intention. I am also aware that the comic use of the term ‘sexual predator’ was insensitive, and I’m sorry for that as well.”

Dunham is no stranger to controversy or criticism. On a recent appearance on The Daily Show, the actress and screenwriter admitted that “It can definitely be challenging. It’s not something when you’re writing in your room and dreaming of this career, you’re necessarily like, ‘I’m going to have a TV show and I’m going to write a book and everyone’s going to hate me on the Internet!'” But that, when criticism inevitably happens, she responds with a little bit of “class and sass.” (Below, one can only assume, is the sass.)

 

Book Review: How To Be a Woman

One reviewer noted that she was pretty much a dude before she read this book, then magically she turned female. I think I feel the same way.

One reviewer noted that she was pretty much a dude before she read this book, then magically she turned female. I think I feel the same way.

Caitlin Moran is hilarious. Let’s just get that out there. While How To Be a Woman is a New York Times best seller, I didn’t really know about the book until I started researching contemporary books for the feminist book list blog series published on this site.

The overall composition of this book is different from other autobiographies I’ve read, albeit I haven’t read many by comedians. It’s funny, but it’s more than that. How To Be a Woman is composed in a very exact way. Each chapter starts with a childhood memory. For Moran, it starts on her 13th birthday, walking home, and getting rocks thrown at her by some boys. Instead of a cake, her mother makes her a baguette with cream cheese in the middle. She whispers secrets to her dumb dog who just hides under Moran’s bed. But Moran doesn’t just tell us her life story, she connects her experiences with a central moral of the chapter, then brings that lesson into the present. Each chapter is executed in such a fashion, and each chapter contains a different lesson that started in adolescents and can be traced into adulthood.

I think what struck me most about this book was how honest it was. Moran isn’t afraid to talk about herself or the awkwardness that is womanhood that we all go through. She is frank, direct, and recognizes her own ignorance about her own body and the changes it was going through from childhood to womanhood. Moran’s comedy comes from an honest place as well – we need to laugh at ourselves, at this transformation, at the ridiculousness of the world around us. The comedy doesn’t take away from the issues she’s tackling, though, but rather allows us, the reader, to laugh while we think.

Books for Feminists – Big and Small, Part 4: Classics

This is the final installment of our Books for Feminists series. If you missed it, there are three other parts: feminist books for children, feminist books for teens, and contemporary feminist books for adults. Now we’re going to talk about classic feminist literature.

Feminism has been around for a long time in the United States. From Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband, John Quincy Adams, asking him to “remember the ladies” when he worked with the constitutional congress on the establishment of this new nation to Sybil Ludington, the woman rider who rode twice the distances as Paul Revere on the same night to warn the Americans that the British were coming.

Feminism isn’t a movement restricted to one geographic location, indeed, it spreads across landmasses, nations, color, and gender. The books included on this list come from around the world and are all essential to any feminist’s reading.

(Image Source: Amazon.Com)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

This book by Mary Wollstonecraft was first published in 1792. It is considered one of the first manifestos of women’s rights. Wollstonecraft’s classic book makes an argument for women to be educating, noting that “Tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavor to keep women in the dark, because the former want only slaves, and the later a plaything.” Her assertion that women should be educated to enable their independence was radical at the time it was made, despite women’s education not being questioned in current times. This book shows the evolution of thought and how it sometimes takes a radical to get an idea started that later becomes part of the common practices of a culture.


(Image Source: Amazon.Com)

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a French classic, first released in 1857. While the link above is to a translated version of the text, I hear reading it in its original language is an absolute-must for people who are able because a lot of nuances can be lost in translation. Emma Bovary is bored. She’s a housewife and life couldn’t be duller for her, so instead of being an obedient wife, she pursues an affair with Rodolphe. This novel is often credited with being one of the first modern realism in addition to being celebrated for its poetic craftsmanship.


(Image Source: Amazon.Com)

The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote this short story based off of her own experiences with depression (from the semi-autobiographic story, it can be asserted that she had postpartum depression) and her lack of power over her own treatment for her ailment. When the woman in the novel asserts that she would really feel better if she was able to get up, move, write, and see her baby, her husband, a doctor, banishes her thoughts on her own medical treatment and insists that she ascribes to his prescribed rest cure. Being locked up in an old nursery, unable to write, interact with people, or exercise her own will and judgement, the narrator slowly goes mad and starts seeing a woman in the yellow wallpaper of the room.