Feminist Friday: My Top Five Favorite Feminists

I like making lists. Grocery lists, favorite movies, a summer bucket list, my favorite types of macaroni and cheese, you name it, if I’m interested in it, I’ve probably written a list that quantifies it in some way. This week, you get to peek into my brain space and find out who my top five favorite Feminists are. Ready, GO!

1. Sylvia Plath

Let’s face it, I was an English major. Books and literature and authors are my lifeblood. Before I even identified as a Feminist I knew I loved Sylvia Plath and her poetry. Plath was a modern American, Feminist, confessional poet and novelist who committed suicide in 1963 when she was only 30 years old. Sylvia suffered from depression for a good chunk of her life and it is definitely reflected in her poetry. I first discovered Plath’s poetry during a Summer course I took at Southern Virginia University called “Modern American Poetry”. I was struck by Plath’s honest, at times shocking writing. The way she wrote about her family, her relationship with her father, her thoughts of life and death, I loved all of it. By choosing to write poetry that was raw and, at times, harsh, Plath cemented herself as a strong female writer and helped lay down the path for others to follow.

2. Laverne Cox

Laverne is amazing. She is a star in the amazing Netflix original series, “Orange Is the New Black”, an advocate for trans rights, a producer, an amazing public speaker, the list goes on and on. Here’s a short excerpt from her personal website talking about one of the many projects she has worked on.

Her documentary Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word aired on MTV & Logo to impressive ratings. The hour-long documentary explored the lives seven transgender youth from across the country and their determination to lead their lives as the people they are meant to be. Laverne was the host and executive producer of the ground breaking documentary which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

Laverne is also producing another documentary titled Free CeCe in order to heighten visibility and awareness surrounding CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman who was controversially sentenced to 41 months in prison for second degree manslaughter after allegedly defending herself against a racist and transphobic attack. The documentary will focus on McDonald’s case, her experiences while incarcerated in a men’s prison and the larger implications of her case for the transgender community.

She is truly amazing and I can’t wait to see how many more wonderful things she accomplishes…also, I can’t wait to watch season three of OITNB because I know she will be fabulous.

3. bell hooks

bell hooks is actually the pen name for Gloria Jean Watkins “an American author, feminist, and social activist. Watkins derived the name “bell hooks” from that of her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films, and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern perspective, hooks has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism.” (Thanks Wikipedia for such a concise introductory bio!)

I have loved everything I have ever read that she has authored and I have a personal goal to read her book “All About Love: New Visions” before the end of the year!

4. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Do I even have to elaborate on why The Notorious RBG is amazing? She’s an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, she has battled cancer, she is a fierce advocate for women’s rights, she was a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU and was on it’s board of director in the 1970’s, and she has an extensive jabot collection, what’s not to love!  I’m so excited for her biography to come out in October.

5. Amy Poehler

Not only is Amy Poehler hilarious and talented, she is also a very outspoken Feminist. As the star of the TV show, “Parks and Rec” a cast member on Saturday Night Live and the creator of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, she has a lot of accomplishments under her belt. Amy encourages girls and women to step up, be assertive and take control. I truly love her and her sense of humor. Also, how can I not love someone who is best buddies with Tina Fey!

Who are some of your favorite Feminists?

Feminist Friday: What More Can I Say?

This week, my heart is heavy. As I read the news from Baltimore I can’t help but be disappointed and saddened by how we, as Americans are treating each other. I could try to make a great argument for why this is still happening in 2015, I could try to explain my views and thoughts, but at the end of the day, this isn’t about me. I benefit from a myriad of privileges (white privilege, straight passing privilege, middle class privilege), I don’t know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a city where things are falling to pieces for years and no one with the power to change it seems to care. This week, I’d encourage you to read the articles and blog posts I’ve found written by people who have a very different perspective than I do. I want to leave you with the words of a very dear friend, Jessica Sorenson.

If you’re ‪#‎prayingforbaltimore‬, please be praying for this:

pray for those affected by poverty, pray for jobs (and fair job opportunities) for the unemployed and underemployed, pray for a better education system and better resources for public schools, pray for more shelters for the homeless, pray for better and safer childcare options for single working parents, pray for those affected by HIV and pray for an end to the spread of HIV, pray for more community resources for low income families, pray for an end to racial profiling and the presence of racism and racial divide, pray for the good cops whose reputations have been destroyed by the bad cops, pray for the protesters that their voices will be heard and pray for the rioters that they can overcome the circumstances and life experiences that have led them to turn to violence and anger, pray for the children that they can feel safe in their communities and homes, pray for the businesses that have been torched or looted that they can be restored, PRAY FOR BALTIMORE.

Here’s What You’re Missing When You Object to the Black Lives Matter Protests by Maisha Johnson

Don’t Be That Friend – 1 PoV by 1 PoC by Kalani

Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now by Julia Blount

YOU HAVE PRIVILEGE. USE IT RESPONSIBLY. By Sophie Lucido Johnson

Here’s What Martin Luther King Jr. Really Thought About Urban Riots by Allie Gross

Pulitzer

I want to point out this photo from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s coverage of the Rams’ protest back in October. The Post-Dispatch won a well-deserved Pulitzer prize for their coverage of the Ferguson protests. Plenty of the photos in the series are phenomenal, but I hadn’t seen this one before, and it really moved me.

Ferguson Protests

It’s a little too perfect of a metaphor for the conflict born out of Ferguson. I went to one of the early protests, on a day when the police presence was significantly reduced and there was the hope of healing in the atmosphere. Nine months later, and that moment is sweet but swallowed by the whole of the relentlessness of injustice in America. The death toll among African-Americans at the hands of police is consistently rising, and the disillusion over Ferguson complicates the feelings of a revolution taking hold. There is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of healing still to take place. There’s not a lot I can say about what this photo means, because it says enough. It’s worth a look, though. I’ll come back to this topic soon, because it’s not something I can ever let go.

Feminist Friday: 10 Things the Feminist in Your Life is Tired of Hearing

Avoid saying these things to your favorite feminist. Trust me, we’ve heard them all before.

1. “Feminists just want to whine about stuff that doesn’t even matter.”

Are you really telling me that equal pay, reproductive rights and ending rape culture aren’t important? Those seem like pretty important issues to me. Did you know that Third-wave Feminism encompasses Racial Equality and Marriage Equality too?

2. “You just wish you had a penis.” Or, “You just wish you were a man.”

Nope, thanks. I’m pretty happy to be a woman. Women are awesome, men are too. Female feminists don’t want to be men, we just want to be equal to men.

P.S. Some feminists actually do have penises, see #10 for more details.

3. “You hate men, don’t you.”

Only the sexist ones! But really, no, we don’t hate men, we hate the patriarchy. Subtle, but important difference. Trust me, the patriarchy only benefits a select few, and if you’re reading this post, you’ve probably been negatively affected by the patriarchal society we live in in some way or another.

4. “Do you shave your legs?”

Does it even matter? Is it any of your business?

5. “Gender equality is just not possible.”

I have a hard time believing that. It might be a hard fight, but it’s definitely a worthy one. Sure, women and men have different hormones and sexual organs, but does that really mean that we can’t have equal opportunities?

6. “This is just a phase.”

Tell that to Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman-Hughes

7. “Men get objectified too!”

Yep, that’s also part of the patriarchy, something I’m working to eradicate. Trust me, Feminism benefits pretty much everyone.

“We must also raise our sons differently. We do a great disservice to boys on how we raise them; we stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way, masculinity becomes this hard, small cage and we put boys inside the cage. We teach boys to be afraid of fear. We teach boys to be afraid of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian speak, ‘hard man!’….But by far the worst thing we do to males, by making them feel that they have to be hard, is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The more ‘hard-man’ the man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is. And then we do a much greater disservice to girls because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of men.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

8. “Not all men are bad!”

True, I found a great man and married him! I agree, not all men are “bad”, but I can also tell you that all women, at some point in their lives, have been harassed, accosted, or pestered by men. All women have wondered if it would be safe to walk home alone at night, or take the shortcut through the dark part of town. I’d be willing to bet that many less men have had to worry about these same things. So, yes, not all men are bad, but not all women are safe, and that’s not OK.

9. “Feminists are always so angry!”

First of all that’s a tone argument, and it’s considered a silencing tool. The way I say something does not affect the substance of what I’m saying. But hey, you’d be pretty angry too if you were treated like a second class citizen most of the time.

10. “Men can’t be feminists.”

Lies! Lies I tell you! Lots of famous men are feminists. Steve Carell, Aziz Ansari, Daniel Radcliffe and many more!

I want to leave you with some homework for this weekend. Watch this video, and let me know what you think in the comments.

“A feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today,and we must fix it, we must do better’.”  – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune,’ Intro; Or, Why I Think Everything Means More Than It Does

In order to talk about all that I want to know, I must first reveal my ignorance about everything.

For instance: I did not originally read Dune in order to read Dune. I first read up on Frank Herbert because some fanboys on the forums over at TheoryLand and DragonMount were talking about how Robert Jordan’s Aiel are cheap derivatives of Herbert’s Fremen, which I thought impossible because of how impossibly excellent Jordan’s Aiel are.

(This was before I’d hit Jordan’s wall of prose around books nine and ten and realized just how insufficient the characters were for their wordcount.)

I expected swift rebuttal from Jordan’s followers and instead, as the pages of commentary inevitably bled on, I read a lot of reinforcement of the odd coincidence of shared fictional racial and imperial overtones over the span of fifty years of literary and historical development. In other words, I thought huh and shelved the issue away because coincidences happen.

Did I mention that I was incredibly naive?

Literary critics can’t afford coincidences because they are generally professors and always have to write and publish or lose their jobs and teach composition courses. It’s a matter of survival to ignore the whole “correlation does not mean causation” thing, because if you twist logic tightly enough, you can enter into a dreamlike sphere where the suspension of disbelief is actually pretty high and you can get your papers published on how James Joyce’s Ulysses is the predetermination of American politics of the twenty-first century. I just made that up but it’s probably happened. I kid you not.

But I think that the ties between Herbert and Jordan are a bit stronger than that, mostly because I discovered this past year that postcolonial criticism is a thing. Essentially, postcolonialism identifies struggles between the imperial and native tendencies of nations, cultures, and peoples. These dynamics extend to everything from philosophy to anthropology to psychology to sociology. And so, of course, they extend to literature of all sorts.

Even the literature that academics tend to dismiss out of hand.

But hey, that’s what Sleeping on the Roof is all about: putting the ‘pop’ in pop culture, exploding issues out of their original contexts and figuring out unconventional ways for them to matter in our increasingly unconventional world.

My hypotheses: that popular fiction serves as either a reinforcement or a rejection of cultural constructs that affect our nonfictional, international discourse; that the ideas of one author who wrote during the 1960s and 1970s being transplanted into a different genre and format in the 1990s and 2000s is more than mere coincidence; that our imaginations and politics, especially in our postmodern culture of existential fear and crisis, do bleed into each other; and that academia is shooting itself in the face by overlooking trends in popular and cultural fiction and risking becoming irrelevant in order to maintain the ‘dignity’ of its tradition.

Which brings us back to Dune, and everything which I do not know.

This is the first of many posts, which will hopefully be less obtuse than the one you’re reading now. But I’m talking about academia, so I can’t be too sincere in that sentiment.

I will be reading and recapturing Dune in these posts. I’ll be looking at the unfolding of Herbert’s work from various angles, but predominantly issues of postcolonialism, because Dune is a hallmark of postcolonial struggles. It serves as a strong watermark of American imperial policies, as projected into the infinities of possibility through the melange-ridden melancholy of political prescience. I’ll be consulting texts that I’m currently researching, whether it’s Edward Said’s Orientalism or Culture and Imperialism or Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth or Gauri Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquest or whatever else I’m reading at the time. I’ve got a stack of at least a dozen books of criticism that I’ll be getting to during this time and which will begin to color my reading in some pretty drastic ways.

And I’m looking into other veins of criticism, too. Whether it’s René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred or Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis or Svetlana Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia or whatever else, you’ll probably encounter a full range of of ideas in here. At least, that’s the hope. Maybe this is just a lot of conjecture. But at least it’s theoretical.

*********

So now, on to the first chapter. I call it a chapter but Dune doesn’t have numbered chapters, only breaks in the text heralded by fascinating in-world epigraphs that construct a mythology that immerses us in the scenario.

In this case, we’re fed a tidbit about the future Messiah-figure of Muad’Dib of Arrakis—a religious divorce from the reality of his origin, as a native of another planet, an heir of another legacy. For the cult of Muad’Dib, their savior has only the one possible identity.

In part, this is because myths of origin greatly determine the identities available to modern social counterparts. As the source of the quote—Princess Irulan—argues in the very first line, “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct” (3). Consider this in light of what Georges Balandier says about origins: “Ritual . . . accentuates certain aspects of power. It evokes its beginnings, its roots in a history that has become mythic, and it makes this history sacred” (Le Goff 55).

But it’s when we get into the way in which society adopts an originary that we encounter dangerous territory. Jacques Le Goff argues that “this [particular] kind of history is the collective memory that tends to confuse history with myth” (56). So what exactly is Irulan doing when she claims that the beginning must be balanced—especially when she argues that the actual origin of Muad’Dib is not his true identity? It’s the rejection of the objective and factual for the subjective and mythological.

And what is that objective, factual origin for Muad’Dib?

It’s pain. It’s manipulation and agony and political artifice which deny Paul of his ability to be his own person, however ‘human’ the gom jabbar determines him to be. The Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit, after all, claims that “[their] test is crisis and observation” (10), with an almost inhuman callousness for the pain caused him, the destiny orchestrated for him, and the role expected from him.

Almost immediately into his narrative, Paul Atreides has been plunged into a fixed course that he has little power to change. His family’s estate has been given stewardship over the desert planet Arrakis, essentially forcing them by political necessity to uproot from the more than two dozen generations of holdings on their native, green planet of Caladan in order to lay claim and authority over the most valuable economy in the universe.

The entire situation screams empire. We have different economic entities which, in their political gambling, offer as chips on the table entire planets and cultures. Eternal legacies are their playthings. We move from the verdure of Caladan into the barren sand of Arrakis—from the Eurocentric “Castle Caladan . . . [an] ancient pile of stone” (3) surrounded by “river orchards” and “green farmlands” (6), to the orient of Dune itself, a sandwaste in which the natives suck the residual water out of their dead.

The conflicting tropes are so blatantly loaded with West vs East archetypes that it’s hard to not see them. This will become even more obvious later in the novel. But the point here isn’t that these tropes are part of Herbert’s work; it’s that they are clouded in the preference for a mythos over politicos, even though the projected role for Paul is political to a fault.

He is heir to an economic Western imperial conglomerate that has been granted power and sanction over a ritualized Eastern tribal society. The way in which these power dynamics work over the course of the novel showcase some fascinating insights into the way in which Herbert regards the development and destruction of imperialist dogma.

But since we’re still in the realm of beginnings, let’s form a quick summary of the dynamics behind Paul’s origin:

  1. Paul has no ability to determine his own future or past. He is the result of human engineering; the Reverend Mother admits as much by the end of this chapter. And his family’s politicking has placed his future firmly on Arrakis.
  2. Within the first paragraph of the novel, we’re informed that Paul’s political origin is irrelevant compared with his greater identity as Muad’Dib, a ritualized Savior figure that rejects factual grounding.
  3. This dichotomy between politics and religion reflects the stark divide between Western and Eastern philosophies, which serves as one of the central conflicts of the novel, if not the series.
  4. Who Paul originally is greatly determines who he will become, and who his people will claim to be.

Since Paul originates in manipulation and violence, then the ritualized mythologized politicized trail of cultural fragmentation surrounding him will probably (definitely) follow suit.

At the risk of becoming didactic, take a moment and ask yourself what such conjecture might mean for fragmented mythologies of origins in our own societies, and the interplay between Western and Eastern cultures. Where do our current conflicts originate within our cultural consciences and identities? Are those cultural identities legitimate or mythologized? And what might be informing those identities?

Come back for more in the next post.

Cited:
Le Goff, Jacques. History and Memory. New York: Columbia UP, 1992.
Print.

The Military Industrial Complex Comes Home

Like a lot of people, I spent most of last night glued to Twitter as  it was flooded by images and first hand accounts of peaceful protesters and journalists gassed with tear gas and targeted by assault rifles. Like a lot of people, I sat with horrified indignation, wondering aloud, “what about all those constitutional amendments? What about the bill of rights?”

For all intents and purposes, the first amendment has been suspended in Ferguson, Missouri. There’s pretty good evidence the otherwise beloved second amendment doesn’t have much of a chance either, but I would advise against anyone testing that hypothesis. Especially if you’re a resident of Ferguson.

What’s going on in Ferguson might seem difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately, it’s not the first instance of urban militarization gone awry recently. It’s part of an ongoing trend of aggressive policing, inequality, and escalation that has grown out of our nation’s bloated military industrial complex combined with a failing drug war and a major drop in violent crime.

During his farewell address, Dwight Eisenhower warned about the growing military industrial complex and it’s potential threat to American democracy and global peace. Anti-war activists have long cited Ike’s speech as prophecy fulfilled, but conventional wisdom in Washington perpetuates the idea that cutting defense spending is political suicide. Now we have a situation in Ferguson where a local police department is equipped with the arsenal of an invading army, and the citizens of Ferguson are the conquered.

There is a direct link, too. The New York Times reported this morning on how the Pentagon dumps excess weapons and tanks onto local police departments, basically because they need to get rid of it.

From the Times:

Congress created the military-transfer program in the early 1990s, when violent crime plagued America’s cities and the police felt outgunned by drug gangs. Today, crime has fallen to its lowest levels in a generation, the wars have wound down, and despite current fears, the number of domestic terrorist attacks has declined sharply from the 1960s and 1970s.

 

Police departments, though, are adding more firepower and military gear than ever. Some, especially in larger cities, have used federal grant money to buy armored cars and other tactical gear. And the free surplus program remains a favorite of many police chiefs who say they could otherwise not afford such equipment.

 

It gets more complicated when you consider the effects of the so-called War on Drugs, the mass incarceration of low-level offenders, and glaring disparity between whites and blacks in the justice system. Which brings us back to the original sin of the chaos in Ferguson — a police officer murdered a young man for the crime of walking down the street while being black.

We’ve become so accustomed to inequality that we automatically try to justify the action, even subconsciously. If, maybe, Michael Brown had simply obeyed the officer. If he had been more cautious in a rough neighborhood. If he hadn’t tried to flee, or fight, or whatever it is that police claim he did. Any sort of criticism like this essentially blames Michael Brown for his own murder, completely missing the fact that he was committing no crime in the first place, and the whole incident was born out of unnecessary police aggression. In cities all over America, police stop and arrest black men at a disproportionate frequency compared to, well, anyone else. Not only that, but we currently live in a time of a severe statistical anomaly — poverty has risen, violent crime has fallen, and the number of people in prisons has skyrocketed. These facts have been well-documented and discussed, but it’s a peculiar series of policies that developed into the circumstances where the three don’t exactly add up.

The way this plays out on the streets is that poverty-stricken areas — which typically follow a racial divide in addition to an economic one — are heavily policed by over-equipped officers trained to treat nearly everyone like a threat. Last night the world watched as clueless police officers teargassed and arrested reporters, pointed assault rifles at peaceful protesters, and basically embarrassed themselves and the entire country.

The Ferguson police department have completely disregarded basic civil rights, including the right to protest, the right to the free press, and in Michael Brown’s case, the right to due process and life itself. After the chaos, when they’re finished with their futile grandstanding, there needs to be serious accountability. The so-called keepers of the peace have escalated a grieving community into a warzone, and justice demands an end to their despotic reign.

* * * * * * *

Post-Script: I barely even touched on the comical hypocrisy from conservative media outlets, and the general lack of outrage from tea-partiers in general. For a normally cantankerous crowd obsessed with The Constitution, not very many on the right seem too concerned with what’s going on in Ferguson. Of course, Fox News invited the Ferguson police chief on to tell their side of the story. Meanwhile, second amendment advocates still demand their rights to carry assault rifles into Chipotle, and the Bundy Ranch folks still demand their right to rip-off the government with an armed protest. I think it goes without saying that if one single protester in Ferguson dared to brandish a weapon they’d be shot dead on the spot.

Post-post-script: While JJ was editing this post, both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have issued statements on Ferguson. Paul admits that “given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them,” which is very astute of him to actually recognize the reality of racial divisions, and surprising coming from a guy who once questioned, out loud, the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act. Maybe this is part of the GOP’s move back to innovation, which I gladly welcome, even though his solution might still be more of the same state’s right nonsense.

I still don’t really care what Ted Cruz has to say about anything.

Happy Independence Day!

I love that we set aside a national holiday in commemoration of fighting off an army of alien invaders. It was nearly twenty years ago when two smart-asses uploaded a virus into a mothership orbiting earth, freeing us of a potential genocide, I think. Or were they going to enslave us? Or eat us? I was never clear on that part.

This photographer did win a Pulitzer for photojournalism, posthumously, of course.
This photographer did win a Pulitzer for photojournalism, posthumously, of course.

It’s telling that America is the only country that really celebrates the day we blew up a bunch of aliens, but not surprising. After all, it was America’s shining moment. It was our guys who figured out that aliens with superior technology would not be able to spot a couple of interspecies spies boarding their most heavily guarded infrastructure to plant a virus programmed on a 1990’s Macbook into the OS of an intergalactic vessels. Also it was president Bill Pullman who led the defensive, which was good for his legacy, because his domestic policies were almost as big of a disaster as The White House itself by the end of his presidency. In the end, I think we can all agree it was best for the country when he lost reelection to Jed Bartlett.

Great E.T. defense policy. Not so great at curbing inflation.
Great E.T. defense policy. Not so great at curbing inflation.

But still. How come the U.S. is the only country in the world that blows stuff up on July 4th to commemorate the massive, radioactive, explosions that burned holes in the atmosphere when we blew up giant spaceships? It’s because other countries are ungrateful jerks.

Also, it was our guy who punched Hitler in the face. America, baby.

Red, white, black & blue.
Red, white, black & blue.