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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Halloween, “Whores,” and Seeing Past It All

yourdailymedia.com

In response to Halloween & sexy costumes:

‘Tis the season of childish laughter and playful ploys bringing families together through the joys of free candy, costumes and the rite of passage that Halloween is to most. Specifically, an American Halloween. And that’s all fine and dandy for the youngsters, but when it comes time to pay your college dues at frat parties and night clubs, stumbling in short skirts and high heels is not necessarily fun anymore, it’s work, but it’s honorable work, because, that’s what girls are for and that’s what they do best. DUH.

DISCLAIMER (and then some): This post isn’t about slamming “slutty,” stupid, or inappropriate costumes. Nor is it about being pro-slut walk or encouraging the “flaunt it if you got it” idea. Instead, this post is personal because I want to talk about the pressures of popular conventions on All Hallow’s Eve (and honestly a whole ton of other nights out of the year) and why we all need to be more aware of what we say, how we think and the way we treat each other.

From my own observations and experiences, there are pressures on young women to be feminine, sexy and (sometimes) smart (in that order). But it’s more complicated than that: we ladies also have to balance constant judgments from peers and ourselves while being compared to and from the media. To say the least, it can be a little overwhelming to form an identity from these three main factors, especially when there seems to be a superficial, limited definition for each. As Jessica Valenti points out, it seems as though a woman’s worth is based on whether or not she’s having sex (The Purity Myth, 2009) and not on her intellect, her accomplishments or her character. With this being said, it’s no wonder that women spend more time second guessing what others will think of what she’s wearing instead of the political advocacy or individuality she holds.

Now, on Halloween it’s all about walking the fine line of being a “slut” and just pretending to be one. As Cady says in the popular movie, Mean Girls (2004), “In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Stereotypically, that pretty much sums up Halloween in college. The night is projected through the male gaze, but seems to be more about women competing with each other for the hot-o-meter.

And, as I said, this writing isn’t about chastising them for such choices, nor is it about applauding them. It is about critically looking at this formula, this set of mental questions and applications women must go through to constantly assess the response from their surroundings, peers and self-image.  It is the balancing act of getting by unscathed from participating or not participating in certain social functions and conventions. How can you be “slutty,” but not “too slutty?” More so, how the hell do you possibly create a scale to measure that question?!

Sure, you can dress up as a sexy magician, a sexy referee, a sexy child’s character or, the always classic, sexy cat. Fine. That’s all great. Go for it.

candyapplecostumes.com

zombiefun.com

Yandy.com

completelybonkers.co.uk

But how do you deal with the negative and positive responses you may get? Are you dressing that way to please yourself or others? Are you wearing those clothes (or lack thereof) because you think they look good or you’ve been conditioned to believe so? It is this idea, this belief, that if one succumbs to Halloween peer-pressure, it’s ok, as long as they succeed by being the hottest. Whether a decision is good or bad, it comes with consequences, some accounted for and some unforeseen.

Basically, I think, when a women dresses in any of the costumes above or the like, she is doing so because she’s been taught to believe that sexy is as sexy does and sexy means mini-skirts, heels and cleavage. Often, women are not offered an alternative to identify with, let alone a different standard to uphold. I do not think any girl wants to be told she’s a slut, but instead when she dresses provocatively that she wants attention. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. Sadly, looking good is the easiest way in this world to get compliments and adoration.

So, in conclusion, ladies — I don’t care how you dress or how you feel when you dress in a certain way, but no matter what you’re wearing, remember that the words and ideas of being slutty, whorey, hoey or sexy are relative. How you chose to see yourself is up to you, no one else. And hetero-men — the women dressed at parties bearing their busts and booties may catch your eye, but don’t need your approval or applause. And the women who choose to cover up do not need your name-calling or insults either. No one wants to feel like a piece of fresh meat hanging from the ceiling or a pair of disembodied parts waiting for your gaze. The world we live in says women should be beautiful. Let them learn on their own that no matter who they may be or what they look like, that they are stunning as themselves, inside and out. We don’t need your confirmation.

Darragh Dandurand Friedman, darraghdandurand@aol.com

The Truth…

This post is an exception to FF’s typical content. I promise we ain’t gonna get all “venty” all up in here. This is, shall we say, a personal update.
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It’s obvious, I’ve had a writing block. Plus, I have been extra busy with real life, the life where getting good grades and enough food and sleep sometimes ranks over side projects. Nonetheless, that is not excuse for not posting. Fatal Femmes is an investment, a priority, a mind-set and a collaboration, so, if nothing else, I owe it to Nicole to stick with it and make sure I nurture my part of the “bargain.”
As far as the writer’s block goes, I think I have just been overwhelmed with media and critique lately. Currently, I am in five classes: two for academic analysis, one vocational, one for organizational management and one independent study for a documentary. Sure, I have balanced a lot on my plate in between classes for the past four semesters of college, but I have been aware lately that if I were to post anything on Fatal Femmes, it would not have been quality work since my mind would have been elsewhere. We cannot be all things to all people (or blogs), but we can sure as hell try, and since there’s no money in Fatal Femmes (yet!), it’s OK to re-prioritize, reflect and take a little hiatus. As long as my heart stays in for the long run, and as long as oppressive content and misrepresentations exist in media and Nicole is my collaborator, I will be a Fatal Femme!
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Here’s to thoughts, freedoms and the never ending battle of time management!
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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!

Fatal Friday – Ocho

I lied. This is a Fatal Friday and Thursday combination. Oh yeah. We goin’ all out baby and  this is because Nicole and I got to see each other TWICE in a row this week. TWICE.

On Thursday we decided to meet up and shuffle our booties down town to the edge of the Gayborhood in Philly, to a big, beautiful brown stone: the home of the William Way LGBT Community Center. There, Hollaback Philly was hosting a free (FREE!) screening of “Not My Life,” (2011) the eye-opening, heart-breaking and awe-inspiring documentary about modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Released almost a year ago, “Not My Life” is a timeless piece capturing the depths of the inhuman treatment of people all around the world, mostly young girls trapped in positions of poverty, manipulation and torture. To have found a free screening of this film seems unbelievable to me, but with topics like this one, it is more important to spread awareness and knowledge than it is to have a high box office gross.

After the film was over, Rochelle Keyhan, a leading player involved in Hollaback, moderated a panel of trafficking experts and rehabilitation coordinators, including Hugh Organ (Covenant House) and Stefanie Fritzges (Homeland Security). Unfortuantely I couldn’t stay, but fortunately Nicole could.

(If you know of anything suspicious or related to a human trafficking effort: 1-888-373-7888)

And then on Friday, oh Friday, Nicole and I met up at a pizza and beer joint on campus with a few other buddies to discuss why I’m not getting enough B12 as a vegetarian, roller-derby through the 2nd wave feminist lens and androgynous angels in Byzantine art. Sadly she had to leave early since she lost her wallet. Although it didn’t make up for the trauma, when she returned downtrodden after trying to re-locate it, her special man friend and I bought her beer and cheese fries. That’s what friends are for.

About half an hour later, we divided into two groups: those that wanted to continue consuming alcohol and those of us who wanted to attend a slam poetry showcase. Hosted by Temple University’s award-winning student organization, Babel, five of us went and had a great time. The subjects were heavy, including anti-military, black identity, women’s sexuality and religious beliefs. The experience was amazing and I have a tingling to start slamming myself.

And lastly, although I did not witness it (and I could kick myself EVERYWHERE for it…) Nicole and our friend Justin, who came to watch Babel with us, told me that while I had stepped out during the opening mic portion of the evening, a girl got up, dedicated a love song to the emcee and then, in the moment, proposed to her. On stage. LGBT acceptance style all-around. Whether or not I was there, the hopeless romantic in me applauds the love that went down.

Fatal Friday-Siete

As anyone who knows her can agree, Darragh is at home with spoken words. She has a way of expressing them, using her hands and face and whole body as much as her vocal cords. Listening to her, as I’ve discovered, requires the attention of my eyes as well as ears. Otherwise I don’t get the full meaning of the story. It always amazes me, how well her body language reflects the contours of her thoughts.

Friday’s discussion ranged from personal reservations about makeup, to scientific articles studying evolutionary psychology, to why women wear heels during sex, to the ubiquity of the “orgasm face” in advertising. So just a normal Friday night.

From there we ended up reminiscing, sharing moments from our teen years when we said/did/wrote something odd or or a little embarrassing. (One word: fandom).  If I had to give the entire thing a time frame, I’d say maybe four hours? (That’s longer than I talked to my parents this month.)

What I’m saying is that if there was an Olympic marathon for talkers, we’d make a gold team. Eventually, and with the help of delicious chocolate brownies, we attempted a homework coup. Prince and Sade were on the playlist (bet you didn’t see that coming) and then I turned up the nostalgia with The Tempts. Since I can’t listen to those voices quietly, I began singing along. To my intense surprise and happiness, Darragh joined me. Thoroughly interrupted from homework, I grabbed a sketchbook and began to make blind line drawings.

Around one AM, we had a visitor drop by. The only thing to do in such situations is to have a tea party. Which we did. By then, we were reaching muffin time, that magical time of night when the muffin joke evokes fits of laughter. When our visitor left us, we wandered into the wilds of the Internet. After a detour through AskMen.com, we stumbled into a swamp known to many as “Cosmo.” Bear in mind that this was about 5 in the morning. Mocking and booing and shuddering our way through “30 things to do with a naked man,” we did our best to study all aspects of its ridiculousness for both sexes. We also continued our grand tradition of looking at more boobs and butts than most of our guy friends. Occupational hazard, I suppose.

In the end, we didn’t get drunk, but we may have been a little intoxicated.  Would I have it any other way? Not on your life.

Media Review – “Naughty but Nice”

Dr. Sherril Dodds, scholarly dance professor at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance recently presented her engaging research on Neo-Burlesque performance as social and gender commentary. The lecture was informational to say the least and controversial at the most. I sneaked in as she began to speak and grabbed a seat in the front row. Pulling a notepad and pen out of my bag, I did not stop writing until I had to leave.

As Dodds explained, she has been studying neo-burlesque for several years, interested in how performers communicate more than sexuality and coy femininity while on stage, but when it came to her research, her nose definitely didn’t stay in the books. Dodds went on to show pictures of herself in a UK-based burlesque company, twirling tassels and shaking her groove thang. Throughout her thesis reading, she showed pictures of famous burlesque stars from America and Great Britain, summarized the history of the medium and went on to argue that burlesque has more to do with political statements than showing off what your momma gave you.

As she spoke, her word choices were flowery and articulate and they flowed off her tongue with a hard British accent. She liked using alliterations and metaphors to try to get the audience to imagine that they had attended the same burlesque shows she had seen for her research. The effect was stimulating, but at times took away from what she was trying to prove. This becomes an issue when an educated individual tries to present their research when framed between two wall-size screens with pictures topless women licking their lips. Novelty? Yes. Academic? Yes. Full Communication? Hopefully, hopefully.

Firstly, Dodds made it very clear that there is a difference between “stripping” and “burlesque.” Stripping, she described, is when individuals have “economic necessity,” or the priority to meet their safety and physiological needs. In this mindset, they cannot explore the medium with creativity. “Commercialized neo-burlesque focuses less on politics and commentary and more on nudity and ideal feminine sexuality through the male gaze.” Dodds was focused with the influence of authentic neo-burlesque, not its commodified cousin.

Besides authentic neo-burlesque being “good, clean British fun,” Dodds emphasized (every other paragraph, practically) that it empowers women to make choices about how they communicate their gender roles and sexuality. Certainly she was pro-burlesque, but to what extent? Dodds did not view the form as exploitative in the least, apparently. I struggled with this evaluation during the whole lecture. Many of her points were valid in my eyes, but others, well others I just could not morally agree with!

Dodds said that neo-burlesque is an art form that allows “imperfect flesh” to be “celebrated.” That it is a “parody” examining the humorous stereotypes of complicated female identity while mocking expressed feminine behavior and hyper-masculinity. Yes, that’s all fine and dandy and I think it’s great to deconstruct those ideas, especially in a creative manner, but burlesque, no matter what the performer is intending, involves nudity, stripping, teasing and sex. It is male fantasy. It is degrading. It is using one’s body to seek value. I my brain, none of these things are right or rewarding. And even when  try to justify Dodds ideas by saying to myself that burlesque is an opportunity for women to explore sexual power, I fall back and see that it is just another way of seeking male approval.

Burlesque is apparently a lot like Drag in that the performers don’t sing, but instead lip-sync and dance to carefully planned choreography. Dodds says that this offers participants a chance to meticulously plan costume changes, movements and props, therefore creating spectacle and statement. “Facial expressions are social commentary that offer more than just what the smile represents.” Well, what I see is women actively participating in voicelessness, allowing their exposed bodies to speak for themselves with cultural context, not personal. This is detrimental because the audience sees breasts,  butts, curves and sex – a playtoy, instead of a thoughtful individual who may very well have planned a social commentary into their dance. This “voicelessness” represents passivity and perhaps is the exchange for the female to hold court on stage, but she should not have to give up her voice in order to get attention. Her body should not have to be exposed for her to be able to have a platform for opinion. Her ideas should not have to be interjected in-between shimmying, unzipping and flashing. Sex is power, but only temporarily.

First and foremost, Burlesque is a medium that sexualizes and monetizes the female form. Although Dodds enthusiastically commented that cat-calls from the audience are motivating and approving, all parts of me cannot imagine how. Does burlesque actually offer women the freedom to explore their sexuality or can they not get off unless someone else is? With popular forms of media like women’s Cosmopolitan magazine whose sex advice to female readers is largely how to please “your man,” (the mag is almost always heterosexual, mind you) and never to speak out for your own desires, I’m pretty sure that women are being conditioned into these mindsets.

At the end of the day, neo-burlesque as parody, strip, commentary, rebellion, expression, exploration, exploitation or entertainment is mixed messaging. Dodds has a doctoral degree and has proven the ability to deconstruct. The average person does not have that education nor the media literacy training to comprehend the millions of images and texts penetrating their existence from every source imaginable. This is why burlesque is problematic – the commentary is lost somewhere in-between the garters and the feathers.

*May it be known that those who actively participate and enjoy burlesque are not in the wrong, they are expressing themselves, hopefully. I have no issue  with their choice, their bodies and minds are their own. I am sincerely and solely concerned with how our society interprets women, their roles and their bodies through their actions and current privilege discourses.