Archive for the 'Race' Category

Summer Reading Program

Gender, Pop Culture, Race, Sex & Sexuality 2 Comments »

Since it’s hotter than Hades in New England this summer, I have spent a majority of the season hidden in my one room with air conditioning–the bedroom.  We only have one television, in the living room, so I decided to dust off the “must read” list I kept during three years of grad school and visit my local library.

Wow, I forgot how much I love the library!  It’s like participating in the summer reading program all over again!  Although the Rhode Island library system is strong, I’m having a hard time finding some of the LGBT, feminist, and independent work I want to read (I’ve sent in suggestions!), but I’ve been lucky with newer novels, books about blogging, writing, and other pieces of nonfiction.  I finally realize that I do not need to own every book I fancy, especially fiction (since I rarely go back and reread it).  During the month of July, I read the following pieces of fiction that I want to share with you:

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (B-)

Wally Lamb’s latest novel, a behemoth of 700+ pages, was sold as a story about the shootings at Columbine, but it’s not really a focal point.  Although there are some chapters about the event itself, Columbine is more of a catalyst for the main characters.  This is not Lamb’s strongest character work, but he does make smart and entertaining commentary about grief, trauma, the industry of American psychotherapy, substance abuse, the power of generational secrets, how we define family, redemption and faith.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (B)

Over the past year or so, I’d witnessed many conversations between co-workers, friends, and family that went a little something like this:

Person A: Did you read The Help?

Person B: (with big eyes) Oh yes! The best novel ________ (I’ve read this year/this decade/of all time)!

Person A: I agree…it was so good!

Besides all of this general excitement, I didn’t have any knowledge about the premise of The Help but I picked it up on the 7 day shelf at the library.  And I agree…I was entertained by the novel.  However, there were some pieces that didn’t sit well with me (in terms of the novel’s portrayal of race, gender, the author’s use of southern vernacular, etc.) and I plan to seek out some critical readings of The Help.  I may write more about this soon.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (A-)

I love and own all of Kingsolver’s work, so it pained me to wait this long to read The Lacuna (available about a year ago).  This historical fiction, set in the early to mid 20th century during the Mexican Revolution and the Communist scare in the United States, uses journal entries, letters, and press coverage to tell the story of the main character Harrison William Shepherd.  Harrison, a writer with dual Mexican and American citizenship, comes of age while working at the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  He also befriends Leon Trotsky, during his exhile in Mexico, and is a witness to his assassination.  Kingsolver again develops engrossing characters (even the real ones like Kahlo and Trotsky) and detailed settings that transport the reader back in time.  After I finished the novel, I found myself researching and reading about the Mexican Revolution, Frida Kahlo, the Aztecs, McCarthyism, and Russian history.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (A+)

I purchased Middlesex shortly after it became popular in 2007 (althought it was published in 2002) and it sat patiently on my bookshelf until I devoured it a few weeks ago.  I truly loved this novel and I found myself having strong emotional reactions to Eugenides’ work; over the course of 544 pages, I laughed, I sobbed, I cringed.  Middlesex, a multigenerational story about a Greek family who emigrates and grows in the suburbs of Detroit, resonated with me personally because of my own eccentric Greek family.  (We too had a Yai Yai that insisted she was on death’s door and wore black after her husband’s death for 20+ years).  The coming of age story of the main character, Calliope/Cal, is further complicated by the discovery that he is intersex.  Eugenides tied so many interesting topics together (gender identity, incest, ethnicity, race relations, etc.) with complex characters that I would gladly read a sequel…please make this happen!

Male and Female Performance

Gender, Pop Culture, Race, Sex & Sexuality 2 Comments »

The fiance and I have moved into a new apartment–a beautiful, roomy two-bedroom place with a huge kitchen perfect for entertaining and cooking up gluten-free food.  The apartment is surrounded by woods, a river, a small village of shops and restaurants, the bay, and a farmers market every Saturday.  We couldn’t ask for a nicer place to call home.

Everything was perfect until, five days after moving in, I took a fall down the outside stairs and busted my leg.  A broken fibula, a fractured ankle, and a surgery later, I am facing another 3-6 weeks of bed rest before I can even start putting weight on my leg. 

I’m out of work for this whole time and am running out of ways to entertain myself.  Daytime television is driving me insane–did you know that The Jerry Springer Show is alive and well?  I think I’ve read the entire contents of the Internet and I am almost finished watching the lengthy list of silly 80s movies I’ve never viewed in our collection.  Erik the Viking = thumbs up; Iron Eagle = thumbs way down! 

But it’s not all doom and gloom and synthesized music.  I started reading Eat, Pray, Love (a book that really speaks to me so far…I love the author’s voice) and finally taught myself how to use Twitter.  Since finishing my pain meds, I have found stretches of time and mental clarity to work on my thesis. 

And now it is time to breathe some life into my writing–my favorite past time/vocation but the first thing I dump in case of emergency or times of stress.

While wasting my day away on the Internet, I stumbled upon this frame-by-frame parody of Shakira’s “She-Wolf” video:

This video led me to watch the original version by Shakira, which of course featured very different audience responses than the parody featuring a male.  Comments on YouTube for Shakira’s version included calling the singer slutty, sexy, hot, flexible enough for great sex, and a terrible dancer that has a nice body.  And those are the tame comments.  Almost none of the comments mentioned the song, the beat, the singing, etc.

I appreciate the parody, created by Washington State sophomore Andrew Foster, because it opens up the possibility of a dialogue about male versus female performance.  Also, if enough people create and/or consume these types of parodies I think it weakens the effects of the original message.  While Shakira’s dance moves and poses are a tad ridiculous, they contain many of the stereotypically “sexy” moves used by female performers–dancing in a cage or near a pole, sucking on their fingers, shaking their hips, women of color as animals, etc. 

However, viewers seem to find these moves not sexy and down right hysterical when performed by a man.  Most of the YouTube comments are either commending Andrew for creating a funny video or condemning him for acting “so gay!” 

As a culture, this is a stark example of our rigid gender roles–particularly around what is sexuality and sex appeal.  Frankly I find both performances to be awkward and unappealing (you have flexible shoulders–I want to sex you!  huh?), but I am clearly in the minority. 

What do you think?

Liveblogging WAM!: Gender, Non-Conformity & the Media

Gender, Media, Pop Culture, Race, Sex & Sexuality 1 Comment »

I just attended a really powerful breakout session called “In/Out of Focus, Broadening a Feminist Lens: Gender, Non-Conformity and the Media” which was moderated by Kate Bovitch and featured Jack Aponte, Miriam Zoila Perez, and Julia Serano.

Each panelist spent a few minutes talking about themselves and then started a discussion about how the feminist community can make room for gender variant people even if they do not identify with the word “woman.”  There was also quite a bit of discussion about the media and how it creates and perpetuates many of the transphobic assumptions found in our society. 

This session was so insighful and full of incredibly important questions about gender and feminism that I know I cannot do it justice here.  I took so many notes and know that I will be pondering these issues for quite a while.  However, there are some highlights I want to point out immediately:

  • I wish everyone in the world could be exposed to the brilliant insight of Julia Serano, the author of Whipping Girl (if you haven’t read it yet, you must…right now!).  As a transwoman, she has experienced misogyny two ways–when people see her as a woman and when people see her as a transgendered woman.  Transphobia and sexism are deeply rooted and related to each other, so much so that feminists should be concerned about transphobia and other trans issues. 
  • Gender variant people, like many other marginalized groups, are invisible in our society and media depictions help shape the way others see them.  Media and pop culture coverage of gender variant people often include objectification, exploitation of the body, intrusive questions, etc. 
  • To loosely quote Jack Aponte, some people feel strong kinship with the female community, but don’t want to squeeze into a gender binary for the cause of solidarity. 
  • There are many ways that transgender allies can show their support.  First, it’s important that if we’re writing about gender variant people, we do so without exploiting them or trying to come across as a trans expert.  As Julia pointed out, we need to educate ourselves and listen to the issues that the community raises–not the issues that people outside the community are interested in reading. 
  • We need to have a large discussion about gender and feminism, not just in the context of gender variance.  Everyone needs to question and study their own gender. 

Liveblogging WAM!: Cynthia Lopez

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Cynthia Lopez’s presentation was very informative…what a great start to the day, in typical WAM! style.  Her overall theme was how we can use media to invoke meaningful conversation about a variety of issues. 

Lopez also spoke at length about the role of women in media and entertainment–particularly that while some positive steps have been made in terms of representation, there is still a long journey ahead of us.  Women, particularly women of color and women over 40, are noticeably absent from Sunday morning news shows, prime time television, radio, and newsrooms in general.  While some women have been successful in public broadcasting, this form of media continues to be grossly underfunded. 

Over the past 20 years, POV has created more than 250 films that represent a diverse collection of topics–poverty in Africa, white supremacy, police brutality, political corruption, discrimination in the Boy Scouts, etc. 

There were two previews shown for recent POV films.  The first was Made in L.A., about three Latina immigrants who helped rally other sweatshop workers to boycott Forever 21.  Made in L.A. has been screened hundreds of times, including at the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles and for Washington policy makers. 

We also had the opportunity to see a preview for POV’s next documentary to be aired on PBS–New Muslim Cool.  Focused on a Puerto Rican Muslim rapper named Hamza Perez, the documentary deals with Perez’s goal of lifting young people out of drugs and crime in Pittsburgh while under surveillance by the FBI (and other counter-terrorism organizations) for his religion.  It airs on PBS on June 23rd; I will definitely be watching.

PUBLISHED! ColorLines Magazine

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I am very proud to announce that I have been published in ColorLines magazine, a national publication focused on race and politics.  My article, “About That Ad You Clicked On…” is an op-ed piece about the role that some proprietary schools (for-profit colleges) play in deepening financial burdens for students of color. 

Please check out a copy of the magazine at your local bookstore–the other articles in this issue are excellent and you’ll get to see a picture of me!  Click here for an online version of my article.

PUBLISHED! Feminist Review

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Check out my latest published work!

Masculinity, Psychoanalysis, Straight Queer Theory: Essays on Abjection in Literature, Mass Culture, and Film

PUBLISHED! Feminist Review

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Check out my latest published work!

queersexlife: Autobiographical Notes on Sexuality, Gender and Identity

Burst Your Bubble: Bitch Needs Our Help!

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As a hardcore Bitch groupie and lover of independent media in general, I am absolutely devastated after watching this video. 

 

I first picked up an issue of Bitch in 2000 during a visit to the Borders at Providence Place Mall.  I was browsing what I call the “outcast” section of magazines—independent publications for GLBT readers, writers, left-leaning politicos, artists, photographers, and women who don’t want to read Cosmo.  I admit that the name of the magazine caught my eye, but it was the tag line that had me really excited—“Feminist Response to Pop Culture.”  At the time I was a sophomore in college studying media theory and women’s studies.  I was beginning to identify myself as a feminist and starting to question the misogynistic messages I was finding on television, in movies and music.  I devoured my first issue, page by page, and I haven’t stopped in over 8 years. 

 

As a magazine junkie, I can easily blow through a publication and place it in the recycling bin before you can bat an eye.  But Bitch is different.  I have honestly enjoyed reading (and re-reading) every article.  Even the advertisements make me think.  I have recycled hundreds, possibly thousands, of magazines over the years but I have never discarded an issue of Bitch.  I can’t imagine ever finding a more suitable publication for me, unless there’s a magazine out there for gluten-free feminist freelance writers from New England who love artichoke hearts and higher education…anyone?  Bueller? 

 

Bitch has opened up an entire world to me, fully of like-minded people who have smart things to say about our culture.  Although the magazine is a quarterly publication, their articles are often timely and provide me with media analysis about pop culture trends I have missed.  I first learned about the Center for New Words and their fabulous annual conference through Bitch.  I even had the chance to meet the co-founders at a Center for New Words event.  I have discovered dozens of my favorite musicians (Girlyman!), authors (Liza Featherstone!) and products through Bitch.  Most importantly, Bitch confirmed to me that it is possible to create an entire career out of studying popular culture and its messages in regards to class, gender, race, and sexuality…and that this work is important and valuable.  I started my Masters Degree in 2006 in Gender/Cultural Studies and made a point to take courses and writer papers exclusively about these issues.  My writing has the same focus. 

 

My first professionally published work, about the thankfully short-lived imaginary girlfriends trend, appeared in Bitch’s Fall 2004 Fake Issue.  When I received my acceptance e-mail from Andi Zeisler, the Editorial Director and Bitch Co-Founder, I danced around my apartment a la Risky Business (but with my pants on).  I called everyone I knew with the good news, and fielded many uneasy questions from my family (“is Bitch some sort of sex magazine?!”).  As the publication date grew nearer, I scoured every corner of Rhode Island in search of the Fake Issue until I found it at a Newbury Comics in Massachusetts.  Then I bought every copy they had in stock…whoops.  As a gift, my partner had the article professionally framed and mounted above my desk.  During times of extreme writers block or lack of schoolwork motivation, I look at the article and it puts me back on track.

 

Two years later, after more of my writing was published in other media, I wrote another Love It/Shove It article for Bitch and you know what?  It felt just as uplifting as the first time.  There is an enormous difference between writing for a publication for the purpose of getting paid and writing for a publication because you truly believe in the mission.

 

I beg all of you to please visit Bitch online to donate towards their goal of raising $40,000.  Please don’t let yet another independent publication go under.  Please don’t let our culture continue down the path of conglomeration to the point where only a few companies control the message across all media.  Please support this vibrant, intelligent voice that stands a head above 99% of the magazines on the market. 

PUBLISHED! Feminist Review

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Check out my latest published work!

Review of Dangerous Knowledge

WAM!

Gender, Media, Pop Culture, Race, Writing 1 Comment »

This entry was started while working on my iPhone, how sweet is that? Unfortunately there have been some technological glitches, having nothing to do with the phone, that have caused this (yet again) to not be a live blog. I didn’t want to give up, so today I dragged Synergy (my 800 lb. beast of a laptop) to the conference today only to find out that the WiFi connection is not working here in the Stata Center. Le sigh. I guess I’ll try again next year!

Anyway, the conference was just as great as last year–inspirational, educational, fun.  Like last time, I am full of energy and ideas about my work.  Let’s see how far I take it during the next 364 days…

Haifa Zangana gave an educational and heart-wrenching keynote address about the current plight of women in Iraq. According to the speaker, the climate in Iraq is much worse than during Sadaam’s regime. 91% of Iraqi casualties are men, which leaves women bearing the sole burden of employment and raising children. She gave startling examples of issues that do not reach us through American media:

There are currently over one million widows and five million orphans. Iraqi women and male clerics are raped as tools of military domination and familial/religious shame. The word “democracy” has become the butt of jokes as well as a threatening word that is used against unruly children. Only 28% of Iraqi children attended school last year. Women are being preemptively imprisoned for being “potential suicide bombers.” The Iraqi government and military are both poorly prepared and not adequately representing or protecting its own people. American spending on the war has now reached $3 trillion—about $10,000 per U.S. family.

“Stereotyping and Typecasting in Reality Television” was a fun and interactive workshop presented by Bitch‘s Andi Zeisler and TV Producer Terra Renton.  I got to catch up on the past few years of reality TV (without the benefit of having cable telelvision) and I have to say that I didn’t miss much.  I do want to watch the entire season of that MTV dating show with Tia Tequila–THAT looked crazy.

The most helpful workshop I attended was Christine Cupaiuolo’s “Everything You Wanted to Know (and Didn’t Know You Needed to Know) about Blogs and Blogging.”  I finally understand the inner workings of RSS feeds, Digg, Feed Burner, etc.  I have enough new resources about blogging to last me for a month–hopefully I can find the time to apply many of them here.  I’m really optimistic about creating a better blog and bringing more traffic to my site through the lessons I learned in this workshop.