Fatal Friday–Nueve

Despite twenty-some years of observing others, on Friday I discovered that my judgments are still too hasty. People’s character is infinitely more complex than society’s roles would suggest. And perhaps still more complex than one mind can understand alone.

No doubt you are rolling your eyes now……Hey, get to the good part! What DID you two do last Friday night?

For starters, we witnessed Gloria Steinem give a lecture. Who is she, you ask? Gloria is a writer, lecturer, editor, and the feminist activist. She was speaking at Haverford, to a full house of women and men.

In the course of the hour, she expanded on her theory of the interconnected nature of current social justice movements. She stressed that as long as the construct of racism exists, sexism will never go away, and vice versa. With her particular humor, she made it current by addressing the looming presidential election. She noted that rhetoric over the years has tried to make us believe our vote doesn’t count or is somehow meaningless. She also made it very plain that she considers Romney/Ryan’s proposed policies about women’s bodies dangerous and multi-faceted. One of the best moments of the night was when she asked “Why are ultra conservatives against both birth control and lesbians?” Food for thought. Her answer was because both allow women to have sex for pleasure not procreation. What I loved most about her (besides her wit) was her understanding of everything affecting everything else. She used the circle in her explanation; an idea world is modeled on a endless circle, not an inverted triangle of hierarchy.

Darragh geeked basically the entire time, and after the talk Gloria was signing autographs in the lobby. After waiting in the line, Darragh presented her book to be signed. Not a book written by Gloria, no. This was a vintage book of erotica, a real nightmare of pasty boobs and butts. Gloria looked at the book and made this face:

But being the wonderful person she is, she finally signed the cover “A Terrible Book–Gloria Steinem.” It’s true, I swear.

Flushed with these events, we got our picture snapped by this lovely organization:

(And spoke to its organizer. Keep an eye out for future collaborations.) What could get better than meeting Gloria Steinem in the flesh? While waiting for the train back to Temple, we engaged a neighbor in friendly chat. Her name escapes me, but she listened with good humor and recognized Gloria’s name as a famous feminist. After she got off at her stop, Darragh and I kept chatting pretty much continuously from the train station to the center of Temple campus. We met up with her gentleman there, and then things got a little funky.

A kid was urinating on the bellower. Now bear in mind this was 11:30 on a Friday night. North Philly has seen much odder in its time. But it bothered our guy friend, and he went over and slapped the kid around a bit, as you might discipline a bad, drunk puppy. Naturally, this kid had a group of garden-variety assholes around him, five or so. They started yelling and oooing and ahhhing. In the confusion, Darragh thought one of them told her to “get over here and suck my dick” or some variation of the usual crap. Long story short, she dropped her bag and punched the offending drunk in the face.

Wait, WHAT? Yes. Trust me, if I was making this up, it would be more believable.

For the record, I have never seen her get physically violent before. It was about thirty seconds of what appeared to be total disregard of consequences, pure emotional response. This is very out of character for my partner; she is someone who plans ahead, who has the future firmly in front of her eyes. Before Friday, I would have said it was impossible for her to do that. I guess the old cliche proves true again…..as it turns out, nothing’s impossible.

–Nicole Beck (nikolbolt@gmail.com)

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Media Review- “Putin Lights up the Fires”

“Putin Lights Up The Fires,” single dropped on August 17, 2012.

Feminist punk collective Pussy Riot released this track right after their three members were sentenced to 2 years in prison for “hooliganism” and “offending religious believers.” The video is a tribute montage edited by staff at the U.K. paper The Guardian.
My gut reaction the first time watching it was, “This is too fucking incredible. Amazing.” Clearly, the editing is very persuasive, especially some of the beginning photos featuring close-ups of Riot members with upraised eyes and melancholy expressions. On my second watch, I took issue with those photos. They seem placed to garner sympathy as well as admiration. Pussy Riot, from the performance clips and news coverage, do not need either. Also, the members specifically designed the group to be anonymous. The fact that they are beautiful individuals is irrelevant when they don their trademark balaclavas.

I wanted to know what the group members themselves had to say to explain and justify their actions.

From this article:
“We understood that to achieve change, including in the sphere of women’s rights, it’s not enough to go to Putin and ask for it…this is a rotten, broken system.”

In answer to the question ‘Why Pussy Riot?’                                                                          “A female sex organ, which is supposed to be receiving and shapeless, suddenly starts a radical rebellion against the cultural order, which tries to constantly define it and show its appropriate place. Sexists have certain ideas about how a woman should behave, and Putin, by the way, also has a couple thoughts on how Russians should live. Fighting against all that—that’s Pussy Riot.”   (From VICE)

Hmm. “Fighting” and “rebellion against cultural order”….. not a lot of room for sympathy there. While The Guardian video is well made, its agenda is showing. In addition to rioters, it wants us to see the members as beautiful sufferers. I reject that out of hand.

Support for the arrested members has come from various sources: Madonna, Paul McCartney, FEMEN, and the London feminist choir Gaggle to name a few.
Gaggle founder Deborah Coughlin said in this article, “It’s not fundamentally important that Pussy Riot are musicians, but it is important that we learn from their ideas. They are a living illustration of what needs to change in their country, because we can see them suffering for it. I’m in awe. We’ve been discussing what we would risk for our beliefs.”

Instead of offering pity, Coughlin asks herself a tough question.

What would we risk, indeed. Since we Americans can’t seem to get past the word “Pussy,” the likely answer is “as little as possible.” Even the Times and the Post didn’t print the name Pussy Riot in their headlines.

On the other hand, when Pussy Riot’s sentence was announced, protestors in NYC staged a punk prayer session outside St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral. It functioned as a show of support, while raising the question what form of political art gets attention in America? If an organized group of artists criticized and mocked members of our government in a real public space, what would be the fallout?

The key to Pussy Riot is their physicality. They take over public space, even if it’s for 40 seconds, and they make noise. They make a scene. Not on the Internet, in a select conference, or on a printed page. In front of your face, where you can’t click a box to turn them off. (Yet!) This is good old-fashioned confrontation, coming in a time where people have to break up via text message. And coming not from men with guns, but women with guitars, voices, and pussies!

The next question on my lips is how do we answer them? Not with pity, that’s for damn sure. (I doubt if they would accept it anyway.) Do we transition from actions in cyberspace to actions in real space? Is there a point when discourse isn’t enough?

What can we learn by doing, that we miss by speaking?

Marge Piercy–Feminist Author

Barbie Doll

This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.

She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.

She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.

In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.

Marge Piercy

To Be of Use, 1973.

I discovered Marge Piercy through her poetry, almost by chance picking The Moon is Always Female off a shelf. Her voice was strong and the lines stayed within me, in fact they haven’t left me yet. I’ve since learned that besides being a poet, Marge is a novelist, activist, and feminist. She has an impressive body of writing and shows no signs of stopping her publication output.

The poem above differs from her work in The Moon is Always Female. Moon is mystical, thoughtful, crammed with ideas and images…and much longer. “Barbie Doll” shows a sharper, sarcastic side of her personality. To be perfect, just give up everything that makes you unique. Of course. You can be happy knowing you’re accepted, and you’re just like every other doll in her box. Right?

In case someone out there is in doubt, a world full of Barbies is a nightmare of uniformity and impossible anatomy, not a dream come true. Thank you, Marge!

Media Review – “The Purity Myth”

“Starting from the premise that there is in fact no medical or scientific definition of virginity, The Purity Myth offers a crisp and compelling refutation of the obsessive claim that ‘saving it’ means saving the world.” – Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor of Slate.com

2011

Featuring: Jessica Valenti
Executive Producer: Sut Jhally

 

Long story short, “The Purity Myth,” as an idea, is about America’s obsession with “virginity,” “purity” and the worth of young girls based on sexualization, whether it’s abstinence of experience that gives them “value.” The book, published in 2009 got picked up for a documentary spin by the Media Education Foundation in 2011.

While I watched the film (and LOVED it), Nicole read the book. Below are our reactions and ideas:

FILM:

Film poster

It kicks misconceptions, contradictions and inequality out of the water. With the intensity of a graduate course in Human Sexuality, the slap-in-your-face delivery of a passionate protestor and the opinions of a clearly educated and clearly frustrated feminist, “The Purity Myth” debunks false ideas about values in our culture and how pushing them on young women is detrimental.

Valenti really burns the bridges of traditionalism when she breaks apart the essence of the “power of virginity,” such a cliched idea in our culture. No, I have no problem with people having sex, a little or a lot or none at all, but I do have a problem with is when so much emphasis is placed on a girl’s sexuality and understanding of her sexuality as “worth,” that she can only view herself and her own power as sexual.

And oh the horror of the Purity Balls that Valenti scorned and steamed over! They are horrifying, they are repulsive and they are all-around a complete unbalanced portrayal of familial control and self-esteem. The patriarchy, as usual, is too much to bear! Who could ever think that hosting a big formal party where little girls promise their “purity” and “virginity” to their fathers was a good idea?!?! Whether metaphorical (or physical *shiver*), it’s creepy and teaches girls that they don’t have control over their bodies and decisions.

The movie was great and I am so glad I watched it with an audience of close to 100 feminists at a closed screening at Suffolk University in Boston. The experience was special and enlightening and helped me to better grasp why feminism is so important to who I am and the world around me.

BOOK:

Book cover

Jessica Valenti is incendiary. Underlined and everything. She wields a double-barreled shotgun of sarcasm and insight, and woe betide you if your ass is anywhere near her target. I ate her words up, ready to have some clarity of thought at last. Her prose voice is compelling, not overly academic or highbrow. Reading Purity feels like a conversation with a very confident, articulate dinner date.  While reading, I often had the urge to leap up and dance for joy, as if Valenti had just scored a point at a debate. Why aren’t non-heterosexual couples part of the purity discussions? Why would a government that supposedly supports separation of politics and religion fund abstinence-only education? Why is a woman’s sexual history used to assign her value, instead of, oh say, her INTEGRITY?

Yes, she is persuasive, citing her facts and numbers extensively, and for most of the book I absorbed her agenda like a sponge. And that’s the danger. While I read, I agreed with her so often that I began to accept her word as infallible. Thank God there are a few moments in the footnotes where she becomes reflexive, acknowledging that she is by no means an objective onlooker. It reminded me to insert my own thoughts into the dialogue, to question and probe before accepting every point she made.

In pushing her argument, I find that the author goes too far the other way to the point where sincere religious beliefs aren’t given the respect they deserve. For example….Abstinence-only is a ridiculous sex-ed curriculum choice, and safe sex needs to be taught, period. But I believe that schools should provide an option for a religious exemption from a safe sex class. Basically, give people a choice. If someone believes she will be sinning, let her choose not to attend that class session. Bottom line: religious chastity deserves exactly the same amount of respect as responsible, safe intercourse.

Because, let’s say it again, sex does not define your value as a person. Judge people by their honesty, their compassion, and their self-disipline. While you may disagree with the person’s choice of when and how to become sexually active, that doesn’t mean you get to treat them with less respect.

With her words, Valenti destroys preconceived notions about “virginity” and suggests a new frame of reference where sexual status is not the beginning and the end of a person. While I give that a round of applause, I also note that freedom to disagree and be heard is essential when struggling with issues on this gigantic of a scale. Hopefully, for Jessica and the rest of us, The Purity Myth will not be the final word on the matter.

Famous Feminists (and Adventures!)

7.21.12

On a magical Saturday night, actually, my first night in Boston, I met a lovely girl in a cafe while looking for cream and sugar for coffee. She noticed my female symbol, ♀, necklace that I normally wear and approached, asking if I was a feminist. With great excitement I exclaimed, “Why yes, yes I am!” and she proceeded to question what I was up to that night. I commented that I had no where to be and what ever adventure she was likely offer sounded better than sitting through two and a half hours of the new Batman movie my friends invited me to, although I’m sure I would have had a good time…maybe. Katherine, as she introduced herself to me, slowly, curiously asked if I knew who Jessica Valenti or Jean Kilbourne were and if I had ever heard of the “Purity Myth.” As my eyes got bigger, she realized that she had a devoted feminist on her hands. We chatted excitedly as she told me that that night at Suffolk University, in Beacon Hill, there was to be a screening of “The Purity Myth” and that post-film, a panel of famous media researchers and feminists were to speak, as moderated by Jean Kilbourne. Jean OHMYGOD Kilbourne. Best $10 I ever spent.

Around 5p we hopped on the T subway and wound our way through the underground tunnels of Boston with their colored tiles and dimly lit terminals. After maybe twenty minutes we got off at Park Street and walked up manicured brick paths that met with cobbled streets. Thank God Katherine knew her way around since I would have never found the entrance to the theater we were headed to, tucked away on a quiet side-street.

We sneaked into the auditorium as the lights came down and the film began to flicker up on the screen. For almost an hour, I sat with close to a hundred impassioned feminists, men and women alike, as well as those who were just beginning their exciting self-education of the movement. At times we boo-ed and cheered and reacted as if we were at a football game, but that’s just what Jessica Valenti, sitting only a few rows ahead of me, wanted.

To sum up the story, Valenti, Dr. Allison Perlman,  Michelle Goldberg, La’Tasha Mayes and Deena Zandt offered a wonderful panel of experts from different fields, all focused on Feminism. Afterwards, I met them all and exchanged contacts. It was amazing, it was fantastic and I still cannot believe that I had this wonderful experience. Here’s to Boston, great stranger (*shout out Katherine!) and feminism.

And, last but not least, the next morning, I called up Nicole and told her about my awesome night the day before. Overjoyed, she, as I imagine, ran to our campus’ library and took out The Purity Myth, in book form. She claims to have read it in one sitting and I’m not going to try to argue that. Click here to read our joint media review of “The Purity Myth,” film and book.

Famous Feminists

JEAN KILBOURNE EMAILED ME. OH YES, OH YES SHE DID.

And she granted us an interview!

This will begin the prep-part of Fatal Femme’s “Famous Feminists Interview Series,” short conversations, in writing, audio or video, with feminists making a difference, whether they are world-renouned or beginning their quest.

Comment for suggestions or questions!

(squee face!)