A tool for critical viewing

Here’s a handy memory device for the next time you watch a movie.

It will help you remember the 3 rules to Alison Bechdel’s measurement of gender bias in media.

The bottom line is TWO–are there two named female characters on screen? If yes, great! Advance to the next level.

The second is TALK–do these female characters talk to and interact with each other? If yes, holy crap, you’re moving up to…

The third criteria TESTES–do our characters talk about something besides testicles? If they only talk about men, the film fails. But if they do not, hurrah! Get that star!

The original context of this test was a comic strip, yet I find myself amazed and horrified at how regularly films fail it….and often on the first level. Try it for yourself sometime.

-Nicole

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Encounter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Johannes Vermeer, Study of a Young Woman, 1665-67

Some man said you weren’t as beautiful as

that floozy in a turban, but at least you have

a measure of gracefulness to offset your plain

features, thank goodness for virtue.

I had a laugh when he compared you to Mona

as if you had anything to do with her Leonardo

amused, together in that imaginary space

the gallery

admiring your pearl face

from the corner of my eye.

what you know that I don’t is worth a moment

the shape of Vermeer’s dirty brush and maybe

not by choice

and how to sit statue-still, a porcelain lady

hide your teeth and your dark womb thoughts

relinquish even your name

for father’s art.

–Nicole

Fatal Friday – June 28

Sometimes, you find yourself mid-conversation with an intensely charged and intelligent woman in a space full of erotic toys and fetish gear. At least you do if you’re ever invited to a sex educators mixer. The event took place in the Sexploratorium, recently re-located to 317 South Street. We took our usual walking detour to get there, [not lost at all, ahem] toyed with the thought of hopping a wall into a churchyard, and finally wound up at the shop around 8pm.

Five hours earlier, we were sitting in a kitchen discussing our respective research for our Fulbright grant applications over custom gorditas and chocolate milkshakes. The conversation transitioned to past loves and romances, horrendous kissing techniques and bad dates. Eventually we stood up and got mint iced tea, finally deciding to make the sacrifice…. to actually put pants on. [Yes, it’s hot out there.] It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper Fatal Friday, you see. But hopefully we’re not out of practice.

Now, back to the Sexploratorium. Once inside, we did a whirlwind tour of the first and second floors, which were dripping with leather restraints, BDSM How-To books, gags, corsets and whips. Eventually we made it to the third level where we found a lovely setup of deep red, carpeted floors, chairs, and baked goods. The space was occupied by a varied and beautifully passionate group of fellow educators. Soon we were absorbed in conversation with two of these women, Susana Mayer, Ph.D and the Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale. Throughout the course of the evening, Nicole took a Sex and the Bible quiz, after which she learned that she was not erudite enough to be a Sexy Bible Scholar. While the Reverend Beverly Dale spoke with Nicole about the intersection of sexual and spiritual, Darragh spoke to Dr. Mayer regarding rape culture both here and internationally, touching upon the topic of ‘safe sex’ versus “responsible sex.” At some point, the conversations organically merged together and everyone ate homemade snicker-doodle cookies and exchanged business cards.

Before, the Reverend had observed to Nicole that part of spirituality is in righteous living. Speaking to us both, she elaborated on the beauty of a religion founded on incarnation–a God entering into human flesh–explaining that, for her, Christian faith should be the most loving, most sex-positive expression possible. Needless to say, we were blown away by the experiences and insight of these outspoken educators. We are seriously considering presenting a class ourselves, and most certainly attending some events that the program Passion 101 offers. We left with a giddy high from good conversations and the offer of a potential chance to put together a panel series.

However, our night was far from over. Making our way back to Broad Street, we devoured some vegetarian fare at Govindas, but we quickly rushed away to make it to The Venture Inn. There, we had a birthday to attend, or rather two birthdays, and we didn’t want to be late. We had a very festive drag show to get to.

Miss Scarlett Bleu, second from the left, performed two numbers on her birthday. She sang live to the whole place, and absolutely rocked it! Darragh screamed in delight as Miss Scarlett hit baritone lows and cooed of true love, the eve after DOMA had been knocked off its rocker. The night was particularly important, as Scarlett’s parents had shown up for the first time to see her perform in full queen regalia. At the end of her second number, she went over to where her mom was sitting and dropped down into her lap, at which point we both nearly cried. So touching, so supportive, so fun!

A successful Fatal Friday we think! 

-FF

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

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?

fourj

~Nicole

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)