Agonizing Ads….

Just last week, I had the pleasure of flipping through an issue of the fashion magazine Marie Claire. According to their website, this publication is: “Your source for information on fashion, style, beauty, women’s issues, careers, health, and so much more. It is the fashion magazine with character, substance and depth, for women with a point of view, an opinion and a sense of humor…If it matters to women, it’s in Marie Claire.”

Hmm, sounds promising so far.

Inside I found these two ads:

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What matters to women? Apparently Slimfast diets and breast implants. I particularly love the Slimfast image, with its bait and switch. Women want to lose weight to be more confident, it’s improving their self-image, right….? Oh wait, what they actually meant was women want to look better naked.

Two things:

1. Don’t tell me to diet.

2. I already look good naked.

Why do these ads make me happy? It’s not because I’m looking to drop pounds or get bodywork done.

It’s not even because they expose Marie Claire’s mission statement as blatant hypocrisy.

These ads make me smile because of what happened as I was looking at them. (Glaring in anger, really.) Because at that moment, two other women in the room with me became interested in what was causing my face to twist up. I quickly showed them the offending pages. And what happened next was brilliant. We started a dialogue.

In a very simple way, we deconstructed the hell out of those images. We talked through it. We voiced our different opinions. These stupid, frustrating pictures of faceless women turned into tools whereby we could talk about what it means to be a woman now. And that’s a seed of hope for this society. Women want to talk about what it means to be women. They just need the opportunity. And what is more fitting and more ironic than using  mass media as a diagram of exactly how we don’t want to be seen?

I may even write a little note to Marie Claire, to thank them for making their idea of womanhood so clear to me. It’s useful to know thine enemy.

-Nicole

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Phoebe Bachman: Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces

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Phoebe Bachman, a Sculpture student at Tyler School of Art, presented her project Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces this evening at Temple Contemporary. While it was a presentation of her research, we were encouraged to interact with her displays via post-it notes or underlining sections of the typed documents. In addition to listening, the audience engaged in discussion and Q & A with Phoebe and one another. I wasn’t the only one with a raised eyebrow when one woman remarked that her boyfriend hated the word ‘feminist.’ But that comment sparked a further discussion: what does it mean to say you are a feminist? Do you act as a free agent, individually? Or do you have to see yourself as part of an organization, a larger context….does feminism imply a collective? There aren’t perfect answers, but the evidence around us suggested that wonderful reactions can occur when feminists come together.

Small gestures. Changing one other person’s day. I was touched by that moment in Phoebe’s presentation, that particular phrase. The connections that she establishes are so immediate and open. People respond, and that means she’s getting through our barriers. She’s mentoring us, as she was mentored by the women activist artists she studies. For a moment we were all a community aware of itself, and she made that possible. I’m grateful to have felt like a part of it.

Read more about Phoebe’s work:

http://wmaaps.blogspot.com/

-Nicole

Media Review–“Accessory”

Jordyn Taylor

Confessions of a Shopaholic

2009

“Fashion defines women” is certainly not a new concept, but I was surprised to learn that by tracking fashion trends, you can track the modernization process of a society. To put this into practice, I’ll do my best to gain some sort of insight into our society by breaking down the messages in “Accessory.” I am indebted to Professor Susan Hiner for her excellent talk on fashion and modernity given at Tyler School of Art, which inspired and provided the background for this post.

Oh, our love affair with inanimate objects.

No, really, she is about to make out with that mannequin. Do woman (wealthy, white) have so much agency that they can afford to love their luxury accessories instead of- or more than- other people?  Clearly, pleasure is tied up in the acquisition and display of “brand name” objects. Now take a moment to appreciate this image.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the handbag did not always carry the meaning we assign to it today. In fact, circa 1801 handbags were seen as ridiculous alternatives to pockets, which were hidden underneath the dress. A handbag, in contrast to the secrecy of the pocket, was promiscuous. The women carrying a handbag openly was immediately “classed down”  as vulgar, letting it all hang out. Unless her bag was a sewing bag, because in that case it announced her prowess at home economics and thus potential wifely qualities. Needlework was acceptable, it showed a woman’s moral fiber. Virtuous needlework would keep a woman from the idle vanity of handbags.

Jump forward to the 1880s. Department stores have entered the scene, trampled small businesses underfoot. We can see all too clearly the developing gendered economy, reflected in the literature of the time. Women, as consumers, are idiots. They drive men to bankruptcy. And who is to blame for this trouble? The humble handbag. Because woman get irrational over them. In fact, it’s almost like your wife or fiancee is having an adulterous relationship with these huge stores full of fashion. Isn’t it? Check out 2:52 in the video again. Stores are seduction machines.

Well, the adultery never stopped. By the 1900s, women had moved into the public sphere of activities. Their defiant use of fashion accessories allowed them to transgress traditional  boundaries that associated women with privacy and the home. Where does that leave us today? The bigger the better! In the video, our girl dances in front of bags larger than she is. Designer bags are now symbols of wealth and status, to a much greater degree than they were in the past.

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See? We’ll even fight for them! How can we go out into the world without an accessory that proclaims our power and marks us as better than the competition?

“He’s my latest accessory. Was he on sale?”

We’re at the point now that we use relationships in the same way we use designer labels: to boost our status. To give us another reason to feel good about ourselves, in the public street and online, through photos and status updates, anywhere. It’s a kind of power trip to be able to claim someone as “your significant other.” “Accessory” is a bit interesting in that it is the women who are making this statement of power, quite blatantly listing men as objects in their collections. I would not call it empowering, however. It comes at the expensive of dehumanizing men, even to the point that men are bought and sold like the shoes and bags. That’s no kind of progress.

We tend to think that quantity makes up for quality. If we own a lot of bags, or boyfriends, our quality of life will increase. Are these things just tools, or are they some fundamental part of our egos? And at that rate,  I wonder at what point does ownership transfer? When do we stop owning our accessories, and they start to own us?

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~Nicole

Fatal Adventures 1.19.13–Mosex Revisited

MUSEUM OF SEX
233 Fifth Avenue (@ 27th Street)
New York, NY

In my head I’d imagined it bigger. Something on the scale of the PMA, or even Philly’s City Hall. From Darragh’s description of her first visit, I’d built up a picture of an endless maze, a pictorial journey through the History of Sex. Standing on fifth ave, my expectations around my ankles, I held back the urge to mutter “Really? That’s it?”

The first floor sex shop was surprisingly less shocking and more, I don’t know, coy? It seemed a little too clean, too well put together, like Barnes and Nobles trying to be kinky. There were popular novels, too, such as 50 Shades of Grey, and shot glasses, and coloring books. Hiding in the back of the shop were the actual sex toys, which were only vaguely intriguing. (Why a cupcake?) The shop itself could have made a succinct exhibit, Commodification of Desire, or The Sexual Consumer. But the next floor above made up for all that.

The museum calls it Universe of Desire. To me it will always be the floor where I first saw porn. Or as they put it,“As human behavior becomes more clickable than physical, we can’t help but wonder what this means for our most basic, biological impulse: sex.” says Mark Snyder, Director of Exhibitions and Co-Curator of “Universe of Desire.”  The black walls really help the screens of copulation to stand out, as if they weren’t going to have all your attention anyway. Out of all the kinks, all the video installations, it was the animated cartoon sex reel that made me nauseous. I think because of how exaggerated the motions were. Come on, cartoon dude, she’s not a kabob. I stood there wincing until I’d seen the video through. At least this exhibit helped me discover what I’m not into. One object that I did like on this floor was the orgasm quilt. It was, as you might imagine, a quilt with orgasming faces on each panel. The images came from this project, The Beautiful Agony, dedicated to the beauty of the human orgasm. It gave your eyes something still to rest on, pleasurable instead of demanding. There was a lot of stimuli in that room.

Beyond the digital sex exhibit, the floor I liked the most was called Sex Lives of Animals. It came closest to fulfilling my desire for information as well as arousal. Besides learning about the shocking and ridiculous ways animals get it on, you also get to look at some fun sculptures and pics. Deer threesome, anyone? Or if that’s not to your taste, how about camel masturbation? People laughed in this room, or snorted with embarrassment, or grabbed their friend to point something out. Not the hushed, dark, weird space of the porn floor at all.

MOSEX is an experience that everyone relates to in some way. But going through it feels more like a carnival atmosphere than a museum. There are huge holes in the structure and content, none of which seems logically organized. Sexy sex in other cultures is omitted (Anime? Manga??). Religious attitudes towards sex are never referenced. This is not a scientific inquiry, ladies and gents. But that’s okay, because its target audience is the 18-25 crowd. Girls taking pictures of themselves in front of the exhibits, guys copping a feel of their girlfriend’s butts….the visitors themselves are sometimes more interesting than the exhibits….galleries….whatever they are. I’m still mentally digesting everything I saw there, not sure if there’s any real insight to be had…other than, as much as we may like to have the sex ourselves, perhaps we like even more the suggestions and the possibilities available by watching others have it?

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If you’d like to check out their other exhibits, here’s the website: Museum of Sex.

–Nicole

Hiding in the woods…

……an hour outside of Manhattan, I spent last Thursday and Friday (without Nicole) in a woodsy conference center helping to choose the 2013 National Young Women of Distinction for Girl Scouts USA. In 2011 I was honored to have been selected myself to receive the title, and, a year later, I was asked to be on the selection panel choosing the next class. I cannot tell you how awesome the opportunity was!

For a little background, each year ten NYWOD are chosen from all over the country for their outstanding Gold Award work. The Gold Award, the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn, is a voluntary service project that she takes upon herself to give back to her community, local or global, to make the world a better place. My Gold Award, completed in 2010, was a documentary about Holocaust survivors in the Philadelphia region. Of the nine other girls ranked with me in 2011, there was one that taught federal prisoners in Washington State how to knit blankets for the homeless, while another, at only 15 years old, started working with human trafficking survivors to raise awareness.

The panel that gathered this past week consisted of close to 20 members, including myself. We stayed in cabins tucked into the hillside and each of us read through about 10 projects in one night. The 33 gold awards that were competing to be honored in 2013 were amazing. One girl, from New York, raised almost $30,000 to invest in athletics in her town and a young women from New Jersey successfully lobbied for a law to be passed in her state’s legislature for teen dating abuse education be taught in schools from 7th-12th grade. The choice who to vote for was tough, but worth it. The tally will be officially in a few months, but I am just so excited that I was on the final board for selection.

Thank you GSUSA!

Media Review – The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville 

Directed by Sylvain Chomet

2003

Well, that was….unexpected. Almost understated, in the sense that no one makes a statement throughout the movie, barring the beginning and the very end. Being an American raised on Disney animation, I’m used to hearing my animated characters babbling a mile a minute. It took me a while to accept the non-verbal qualities of these characters, who are anything but silent. The soundtrack is brilliant, adding an individuality to both characters and locations. But beyond formalism, beyond its stunning good looks, what’s the heart of this very deliberate work?

I’m mostly stricken by the movie’s very passionate portrait of aged womanhood. Old women in this cinematic world are protectors, strong, indefatigable, entertaining and unique. They are vital, full of life, and that’s why I said I was stricken. The contrast between how I view age and how Grandmother Souza and the Triplets express their age…..it’s the difference between quiet, colorless institutional walls and the heat and sound of the club where the Triplets perform. Can any of us imagine our grandparents and great-grandparents performing in a sleazy club….?

How about hunting for their dinner every night? Throwing explosives? Biking uphill? Or the most impossible of all, enjoying every minute of everything?

Ebert says,”Most animated features have an almost grotesque desire to be loved. This one doesn’t seem to care. It creates a world of selfishness, cruelty, corruption and futility — but it’s not serious about this world and it doesn’t want to attack it or improve upon it. It simply wants to sweep us up in its dark comic vision.”

Did we watch the same movie? Of course the film doesn’t want to be loved; when you’re old, you get your priorities straight. And if it is nothing else, Triplets is aggressively old. It does the unthinkable: equates female age with vigor, and youthful manhood with passivity.
Champion, the grandson, cannot do anything for himself, ever. He has to wait to be rescued by Souza, his grandmamma. Poor, horse-faced boy.
The film indicates to us that her grandson is Souza’s prized possession, exactly like a pure-blooded racehorse. He has no agency of his own. In fact, the men in this world are either passive like Champion or violent like the mobster villain. Cynical, right, but perhaps that’s how age always views youth? The young need direction, or they’ll grow into petty thugs…
I do agree with Ebert on one thing; these women Chomet has created are ferocious. And I don’t want them any other way. Willfulness, determination, and energy….for every tooth lost, another cackle and another song! That’s one vision of aging, and it is beautiful.
(Time to break your faith in humanity. Who did this film lose the Academy Award to? Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Ufff! Thank you, and good night.)