In 2007, Somali-born Dutch author Ayaan Hirsi Ali published Infidel, an autobiography that documented her journey from repression in Muslim East Africa to the freedom of the Netherlands. To be free, Hirsi Ali claimed, Muslim women must renounce their faith and their cultures. Rife with awestruck veneration of the empowered West, Hirsi Ali's recipe for liberation for Muslim women was eagerly consumed. The book became a New York Times best-seller and its author a celebrity. Not long after, Hirsi Ali collaborated on a film that further pushed her point and featured her naked silhouette in the rituals of Muslim prayer. Extremist clerics in various parts of the Muslim world denounced her as a heretic, bolstering Hirsi Ali's royalties.
In 2013, the world is getting to know Malala Yousafzai, a schoolgirl from Pakistan who has become a champion for girls' education and was a favorite in betting parlors to win the Nobel Peace Prize. On Oct. 8, 2012, Malala, then 15, was a student at one of the few girls' schools in the Swat Valley, in the country's north. On an otherwise uneventful afternoon, Malala, whose family had received threats from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for continuing her education, got into the Toyota van that transported the girls to and from school. Minutes later, it was accosted by Taliban gunmen; they asked for Yousafzai by name and shot her. Her skull was fractured, and she nearly died. Her book, I Am Malala, is the story of that grim afternoon and all that came before and has come after.
Mary Daly (1928-2010) was a world-renowned radical feminist philosopher. When her groundbreaking work, Gyn/Ecology, was first released by Beacon in 1978, one reviewer called it “the most important book to come out of the feminist movement since Daly’s last book, Beyond God the Father.”
“In this deeply original,
provocative book, outrage, hilarity, grief, profanity, lyricism and moral
daring join in bursting the accustomed bounds even of feminist discourse.” —The
New York Times Book Review
“Daly’s insights into the background of radical
feminism…are brilliant, and her synthesis of theology, mythology, philosophy,
history, and medicine is absolutely overwhelming.” —Library Journal
“Gyn/Ecology is a great leap forward
in feminist theory…It defies simplistic categorizations of political theory,
philosophy of religion, or even poetry. The book is all of these yet none,
because it goes beyond them.” —Janice Raymond, New Women’s Times
“A vivid and exciting work, destined to become
of landmark in the radical feminist process.” —Chrysalis
“Brilliant and soaring, Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology is
the most amazing book I’ve ever read. It set me spinning. A wonderfully
dangerous book.” —Gena Corea
“Daly writes with deep healing anger and
uncompromising vision. Her book gives a shock of awakening such as is found in
the works of Simone de Beauvoir.” —Publishers Weekly
An author immerses herself in the frenzied fandom of Twilight, the young-adult vampire romance series that has captivated women of all ages
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer's young-adult vampire romance series, has captivated women of all ages, from teenagers who swoon over the film adaptations to college-educated women who devour the novels as a guilty pleasure. All told, over 110 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide, with translations into 37 languages, and the movies are some of the highest-grossing of all time. Twilight is a bona fide cultural phenomenon that has inspired a vast and unimaginably fertile fan subculture-the "fanpire," as the members describe it.
Just what is it about Twilight that has enchanted so many women? Tanya Erzen-herself no stranger to the allure of the series-sets out to explore the irresistible pull of Twilight by immersing herself in the vibrant and diverse world of "Twi-hards," from Edward-addition groups and "Twi-rock" music to Cullenism, a religion based on the values of Edward's family of vegetarian vampires. Erzen interviews hundreds of fans online and in person, attends thousand-strong conventions, and watches the film premiere of New Moon with Twilight moms in Utah. Along the way, she joins a tour bus on a pilgrimage to Twilight-inspired sites, struggles through a Bella self-defense class, and surveys the sub-universe of Twilight fan-fiction (including E. L. James's enormously popular "Master of the Universe" story, the basis for her erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey).
Erzen also takes a deeper look at the appeal of traditional gender roles in a postfeminist era saturated with narratives of girl power. If Twilight's fantasies of romance and power reflect the fears, insecurities, and longings of the women who love it, the fanpire itself, Erzen shows, offers a space for meaningful bonding, mutual understanding, and friendship.
Part journalistic investigation and part cultural analysis, Fanpire will appeal to obsessed fans, Twilight haters, and bemused onlookers alike.
Every few weeks, I get an email from a colleague, a friend or a student asking me what pronoun I prefer. I mostly go by “Jack” nowadays, although people who have known me for a really long time and some family members still call me Judith. Then there are a few people, my sister included, who call me “Jude.” I have debated switching out Jack for Jude to try to compress the name ambiguity into a more clear opposition between Judith and Jude. But then again–and contrary to my personality or my politics—when it comes to names and pronouns, I am a bit of a free floater. This goes against my instincts and my general demeanor—I don’t hang in the middle ground on much, not politically, not socially, not in terms of culture, queer issues, feminism or masculinity. I am a person of strong opinions so why, oh why, do I insist on being loosey goosey about pronouns?
Well, a few reasons: first, I have not transitioned in any formal sense and there certainly many differences between my gender and those of transgender men on hormones. Second, the back and forth between he and she sort of captures the form that my gender takes nowadays. Not that I am often an unambiguous “she” but nor am I often an unambiguous he. Third, I think my floating gender pronouns capture well the refusal to resolve my gender ambiguity that has become a kind of identity for me.
I watch friends, one after the other, transition, mostly from butch to TG male and I wonder whether I am just sitting on a fence and not wanting to jump. But actually, as a real medi-phobe, I don’t see taking hormones, even in small doses as right for me for any extended amount of time. Top surgery? Well, yes please, but then again, would this make it even harder for me to use the women’s locker room when I swim or work out (and I do one or the other almost every day so that would really be something to think about). So, while I could “transition” and still live in the ever-evolving, improvised territory of transgenderism…well, I prefer not to.
Yes, like Bartleby, that wonderful and doleful example of a refusenik who declined to explain his refusal to work, to comply, to communicate even, I prefer not to transition. I prefer not to clarify what must categorically remain murky. I prefer not to help people out in their gender quandaries and yet, I appreciate you asking.
I still use women’s restrooms, and I avoid any and all contact on going in or coming out. If someone looks frightened when they see me, I say “excuse me” and allow my “fluty” voice to gender me. If someone looks angry, I turn away, but mostly I just ignore what is going on around me in the restroom and do what I am there to do.
I wish more people would behave like my partner’s son (he’s 9 years old) and simply ask, politely and without judgement, what pronoun anyone prefers—he rarely presumes and often asks. I also wish more people would adapt to a pronoun system based on gender and not on sex, based on comfort rather than biology, based on the presumption that there are many gendered bodies in the world and “male” and “female” does not even begin the hard work of classifying them.
So, if you are wondering about my pronoun use and would like it resolved once and for all, I cannot help you there. But if, like the UK in the 1980′s, you are ready to give up on the “imperial” systems of measurements in favor of new metrics, then consider my gender improvised at best, uncertain and mispronounced more often than not, irresolvable and ever shifting.
And ps: grouping me with someone else who seems to have a female embodiment and then calling us LADIES, is never, ever ok!
Visit the other stops on the Going Gaga Blog Tour
My Husband Betty Where Jack wonders, "When did 'vagina' suddenly become a fashionable term?"
Queer Fat Femme "Feminism is as much about naming one’s desires with precision and care as it is about expressing desire in more amorphous ways."
Sugarbutch Chronicles "Heterosexual mainstream conversations about desire love to depict women as the ones who create an environment for love and romance and men as the ones who set the whole thing on fire."
The Qu "For the Gaga feminist, in fact, the end of the normal is in sight and we don’t want the same old norms packaged back up for us and sold to us again as new norms!"
Why are so many women single, so many men resisting marriage, and so many gays and lesbians having babies?
In Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal, J. Jack Halberstam answers these questions while attempting to make sense of the tectonic cultural shifts that have transformed gender and sexual politics in the last few decades. This colorful landscape is populated by symbols and phenomena as varied as pregnant men, late-life lesbians, SpongeBob SquarePants, and queer families. So how do we understand the dissonance between these real lived experiences and the heteronormative narratives that dominate popular media? We can embrace the chaos! With equal parts edge and wit, Halberstam reveals how these symbolic ruptures open a critical space to embrace new ways of conceptualizing sex, love, and marriage.
Using Lady Gaga as a symbol for a new era, Halberstam deftly unpacks what the pop superstar symbolizes, to whom and why. The result is a provocative manifesto of creative mayhem, a roadmap to sex and gender for the twenty-first century, that holds Lady Gaga as an exemplar of a new kind of feminism that privileges gender and sexual fluidity.
Part handbook, part guidebook, and part sex manual, Gaga Feminism is the first book to take seriously the collapse of heterosexuality and find signposts in the wreckage to a new and different way of doing sex and gender.
Halberstam has co-edited a number of anthologies including Posthuman Bodies with Ira Livingston (Indiana University Press, 1995) and a special issue of Social Text with Jose Munoz and David Eng titled “What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now?” Jack is a popular speaker and gives lectures around the country and internationally every year. Lecture topics include: queer failure, sex and media, subcultures, visual culture, gender variance, popular film, animation.
Photo by Assaf Evron.
Follow the Going Gaga! Blog Tour
My Husband Betty
Where Jack wonders, "When did 'vagina' suddenly become a fashionable term?"
Queer Fat Femme"Feminism is as much about naming one’s desires with precision and care as it is about expressing desire in more amorphous ways."
Sugarbutch Chronicles"Heterosexual mainstream conversations about desire love to depict women as the ones who create an environment for love and romance and men as the ones who set the whole thing on fire."
The problem with Slaughter’s piece—and now planned book—is not that she doesn’t speak for most women, but that she and other women in the 1% fail to recognize how their failure to exercise power in support of women at the economic bottom hurts all of us. Take a fictionalized, working-class black woman named Crystal living in a city like Baltimore, a town blessed with a large number of highly-ranked hospital systems. Jobs in health care are plentiful and a woman with only a high school education and who is, say, a practical nurse may be able to find employment as a home health care worker or as an aide in a hospital. If she lives in West Baltimore and has no car, she will have to leave her home early—most likely while it’s still dark to get to work at 7 or 8am when her shift begins. Baltimore has one of the most limited subway systems for a major American city. Thus, Crystal will have to wait at a bus stop and take a ride that will last about hour or more before she makes it to her job. When she leaves home in the morning, she must leave her children—ages 12, 9 and 7—to get ready for school. This means that the 12 year old will have responsibility for waking and organizing the two younger children, and ensuring that they make it to school on time. This includes seeing to it that her siblings have their notebooks and homework in their backpacks, locking the door to the home, and navigating bullies (her siblings’ and her own) on the walk to school.
If her shift at work is 12 hours, Crystal will make it home by 8pm or 9pm. Perhaps she has a neighbor or sister or cousin look in on her children in the afternoon. Maybe not. If she has a normal 8 hour shift, she will make it home, physically exhausted, by 7 or 8, with precious little time, or perhaps even inclination, to read with her children or to spend “quality” time asking about their day and getting familiar with the names of their teachers and friends.
So what do the women of the 1% percent, who’ve just discovered that they can’t have it all, have to do with Crystal? The women in the 1% have the power to take the lead in changing the conditions that make it nearly impossible for Crystal to work and parent effectively. They are regular voters. Perhaps they work in city or state government, or they are doctors, professors or partners at a major law firm in town. Perhaps they work in the federal government like Slaughter did, taking the Amtrak Northeast Corridor train to their job at a federal agency in D.C.
Despite Slaughter’s accurate portrayal of the difficulties these women face in balancing their home and work lives, these women actually have power. But the failure of the transportation system in Baltimore to meet the needs of working class people is not a priority for them. They drive or take the commuter train to work. They have a nanny or regular babysitter who meets their children at the bus stop and brings them home. So they did not seek to ensure that the billions of dollars in stimulus money were allocated for construction projects would go to projects that would benefit working women—like inner city transportation improvements—rather than highway construction projects more likely to benefit those at the top.
Women of the 1% vigorously supported the Lily Ledbetter Act, and are mindful at their own workplace of pay equity between men and women. But these same women are not at the forefront of efforts to increase the minimum wage, which stands at a pitiful $7.25/hr. That would give Crystal less than $300/week before taxes on which to raise her 3 children.
What role have elite women played in seeking to change oppressive criminal justice policies like stop-and-frisk, California’s “3 strikes you’re out” sentencing law or the proliferation of long criminal sentences for non-violent drug offenses that might be responsible for landing Crystal’s husband in jail for years, without the ability to contribute to the well-being and support of his children and wife? Isn’t the emotional stability of Crystal’s son—who if he lived in New York City might be stopped and frisked by police a dozen times during his teen years—just as important as that of Slaughter’s son? What choices does the working-class mom of a black, teen stop-and-frisk victim have to help her son through the emotional fallout of police harassment?
And let’s be real. Many women in the top 1% employ women at the economic bottom. All over Manhattan one sees the startling visual of black and Latina women pushing white babies in carriages and strollers. What worker protections do these women enjoy? Many of these domestic workers leave their own children all day in the care of others to take care of the children of economically elite women. Organizations like the National Domestic Workers Alliance have worked for years to organize and obtain basic labor protections for domestic workers. Where do 1% women stand on the efforts to afford labor rights and benefits to the women who care for their children and clean their homes?
Finally, we should remember that Crystal and women like her are not without ambition. Like Slaughter and other economically elite women, they have a strong desire to elevate their educational and professional status. Crystal enjoys working with patients and also knows that if she were able to get her degree as a registered nurse, she would make considerably more money than she is able to make now. Having children should not mean the end of education or professional development for women. How can we support the ability of working class women to move up the ladder?
Slaughter’s piece fails to recognize that women in the 1% have real power to transform the work/family reality for women at the economic bottom, who are seeking the luxury of the kind of choices about which Slaughter and I wring our hands.
As a weekly rider on the Amtrak ACELA train on the run from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, it’s been hard not to notice over the past two years how many high-powered white women on the evening train seem to unwind by reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. With briefcases tucked behind their knees and power lipstick faded after the day’s meetings, exhausted 1% women on the evening train ride seem to find a kind of perverse relaxation in reading a romanticized account about the bonds that might develop between privileged white women and their black maids. But we needn’t rely on fanciful, retro fables that elevate personal friendship over economic, educational and social transformation. Change for women in the workplace will happen from the bottom up, and will take hold when powerful women expend their capital on behalf of women in the 99%. But I suspect that we shall wait a long time before there is a book deal that tells this story.
Tanya Erzen is an Associate Professor of religion and American studies at Ohio State University. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It.
Edward Cullen is a twenty-something ruthless CEO who meets Bella when she interviews him for her college newspaper. They experience a magnetic attraction, but he harbors a nasty secret: the only way he can have a relationship with her is if she agrees to sign a written contract agreeing to be his submissive. Edward expects a recalcitrant Bella to engage in whippings, handcuffing, and other bondage games. At one point, when Bella asks, “Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Edward?” his response is, “No Isabella, it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I f$#k . . . hard. ... Come. I want to show you my playroom.”
This delightfully predictable (at least in the world of porn) exchange is to be found not in he famously abstinent pages of the Twilight saga, but in “Master of the Universe,” formerly the most-read Twilight fan fiction story online, and now, in its new incarnation as Shades of Grey, a novel about to receive a 750,000 first print run from Vintage. MofU, as it was known to the fanpire cognoscenti, was written in giddily awaited installments by Snowqueens Icedragon or “Mistress Icy.” “MofU is my own special brand of heroin, an addiction I will have to go into rehab for,” one of the thousands of devoted readers raved. Now, in the first installment of the Fifty Shades trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed), Edward and Bella have morphed into Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele (copyright!) and Mistress Icy is using her pen name, E.L. James.
MofU was the gritty anecdote to Twilight’s relentless abstinence, part of the vast fan fic parallel universe where the most popular stories are what writers informally call “smut.” It's a genre that re-envisions the relationships in Twilight as sexually explicit and often raunchy. From “clean smut” to “hardcore,” instead of meadows and dazzling vampires, there is promiscuity, sexual abuse, incest, bondage, and sex addiction. In “The Training,” Bella “lives to serve her Master…” In "Never Sleep in a Strange Man’s Bed," Bella is awakened by a stranger named Edward who climbs into bed with her: “She was rubbing her firm little ass against me and moaning! Holy hell and all the devils in it!” In The List, a sexually frustrated Bella catalogues all the ways she’d like to have sex with Edward once they’re married. “To Do: Against the tree in the meadow, on our lab table, on his leather couch . . .” You get the idea.
The pleasure of reading the Twilight series for millions of fans resides in the books’ titillating fantasy of sexual postponement. Readers endure thousands of pages of erotic tension with Edward and Bella panting at each other with quivering lips and interrupted kisses. Even when they do have sex in Breaking Dawn, the final novel, Twilight fans only get a blank space between when Edward and Bella go to bed on their honeymoon and wake up to drifting feathers, a shattered headboard and her black-and-blue body.
The stories that crowd the top-ten lists of fan fiction like MofU provide plenty of salacious sex but stick to a romantic premise. No matter if Edward is a dominant in a bondage relationship, a “smooth-talking motherfucker” who likes to pick up girls in bars for casual sex, or a commitment-averse architect who has never had a long-term relationship: Bella and Edward are soul mates, destined to be together forever. The insatiable demand for books like “Fifty Shades” speaks to the power of the fantasy of true love and the redemption of the damaged hero awakened by the love of the right woman who is either sexually innocent or virginal. Like Twilight, “Fifty Shades” delivers on the romance novel fantasy that a relationship initially based solely on sex will turn into blissful marriage. Anastasia’s virginity ensnares and entrances sexually voracious Christian Grey until he realizes that his feelings for her are emotional rather than just sexual, and his treatment of her becomes kind, solicitous, and caring.
The fairy-tale success story of James is also seductive for fans, especially the hundreds of hopeful fanfic writers who long to be the next Stephenie Meyer, whose first attempt at a novel was Twilight. Or, they could be the next Amanda Hocking, whose self-published vampire romance novels, My Blood Approves, landed her the million dollar book deal with St. Martin’s Press. And this takes us back to the real romance, to our contemporary narrative of hope and longing: that in our age of mundane and ubiquitous celebrity, the story you’ve written online could catapult you from obscurity to celebrated writer. And a seven figure advance.
Today marks the first day of the Honorable Judge Nancy Gertner's retirement from the United States District Court, where she has served since her nomination to the bench by President Clinton in 1994. Don't worry--she's not going to take up quilting or zip off to a deck chair in Boca: the illustrious judge has been appointed a Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, where Dean Martha Minow said upon her appointment:
"Nancy Gertner's brilliance as a legal advocate did so much to advance civil rights, criminal law, and the rule of law for two decades even before her appointment to the federal bench. As a distinguished federal judge for the past 17 years, she has brought keen intelligence, deep learning, and rigorous investigation of facts and law while also serving as an inspiring teacher and scholar. She has shared her searching questions, rich experiences, and uncanny ability to bridge theory and practice with students at Harvard Law School and elsewhere, and I could not be more delighted that she will now join our community as a Professor of Practice." (link)
She ended her tenure with a severalnoteworthydecisions. We wish JudgeProfessor Gertner well in her new academic digs, and can't wait to read her next memoir.
In honor of her retirement, here are some videos of her talking about her legal career, including her first case as a lawyer and how she became a judge.
Gail Dines doesn't pull any punches in this piece for Counterpunch about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the hotel maid who accused him of raping her:
I have a great idea for a movie. Here’s the pitch: A poor, slutty immigrant takes a job as a chambermaid so she can have great sex with the hotel guests. One day she hits the jackpot. She walks into a room only to be met by an irresistible stud old enough to be her father. Known in his home country as “The Seducer” he offers her a full view of his impressive manhood.
Overcome with lust, she falls to her knees and the two have great consensual sex. But being a woman and all, she is a lying, scheming whore and accuses the seducer of rape. The poor seducer becomes one more victim of “sex offender hysteria,” as one caller to National Public Radio named it, and now he must defend his good name.
Beacon Press director Helene Atwan talked with Judge Nancy Gertner about her new book, In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate. Watch to hear about her life as a defense lawyer, what it meant to her to defend women, and the different paths Gertner and Justice Sotomayor took to becoming judges.
"You should not have to be subjected to being raped or sexually assaulted because you volunteered to serve this nation." -- Susan L. Burke, lead lawyer in a case filed this week against the Department of Defense.
On Tuesday, two men and fifteen women filed a class action lawsuit against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and current Secretary Robert Gates, claiming that the Pentagon leadership failed to protect servicemembers against sexual assault. We asked Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, about her book, which chronicles the lives of several women serving in the military, and the accusations in the case.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I was unhappy about the Iraq War from the start, but I wanted to hear what the soldiers who had actually been fighting it thought. Then I met my first woman soldier, and she told me, "There are only three things the guys let you be if you're a girl in the military: a bitch, a 'ho, or a dyke." She also told me that no one believed that she'd served in a war because she's a woman. Then I discovered that more women were fighting, being wounded and dying in the Iraq War than all US wars put together since World War Two. All that made me know I had to write about women soldiers.
How long did it take, and how many people did you end up interviewing?
I interviewed for about three years. I interviewed over 40 women who'd served in Iraq, as well as some who had served in Afghanistan and earlier wars. I also talked to male soldiers. Of all these people, I picked five women to spend a lot of time with, visiting their homes, seeing them several times, talking to them for many hours, both in person and on the phone.
What surprised you in the course of your research and interviewing?
I never expected to hear so many stories of the women being relentlessly harassed, sexually assaulted and raped by their own comrades – while they were training or actually at war. I was also surprised by how engaged in ground combat these women were, despite the Pentagon's ban against women doing this job. They were raiders and gunners and guards. They were fighting.
Finally, I was surprised by how much I liked and sympathized with the women, and how touched I was by the idealism of the young.
A play was produced as a direct result of your book. How did that come about, and what was it like for you to see your book come alive?
I wrote the play myself, The Lonely Soldier Monologues. Then, through sheer luck, I found a director (William Electric Black) who had a theater ready to go. He suggested I expand the play, and he figured out how to stage it.
It was humbling to see the words come alive on the stage, but as the play was in the words of the real soldiers I had interviewed, it was also odd. As I watched the actors perform, I could see the actors, the real soldiers behind them like ghosts, and hear the words in my head as I had written them down – all at once. I also learned how many fewer words you need when a human being adds expression and gestures to them. I learned how much I could cut!
What kind of effect has the book and play had as far as you can tell?
The effects have been gratifying, and numerous.
Top members of the Defense Department have read the book and implemented some of the changes I suggested.
I have been invited to testify to Congress twice on behalf of women soldiers.(Read testimony from May 2010 here.)
Many articles have been written about the book and its subject, here and abroad. (The book is out in Italy now.)
And a lawyer named Susan Burke came to see the play, and subsequently read the book, and then she contacted me and we met. She said she was inspired by the soldiers' stories to start a class action suit against the Pentagon on behalf of military women who have been sexually assaulted while serving. That suit is now a reality.
I have also received dozens of emails thanking me and the soldiers -- and the actors -- for bringing this great injustice to light.
Last, but not least, the real soldiers came to see themselves portrayed in the play, and it was a moving experience for them, the actors and the audience alike.
The class action lawsuit you mentioned accuses the Department of Defense of allowing a military culture that fails to prevent rape and sexual assault, and of mishandling cases that were brought to its attention. The case claims that the Pentagon violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Can you explain the claims in the case? Do you think that the leadership has failed to protect service members?
This case came about for several reasons. Too many female servicemembers have reported rapes and assaults only to be countercharged with threat of court martial to keep them quiet. Military culture fosters and encourages a blame-the-victim attitude that intimidates women out of telling anyone about sexual persecution. And among those cases that are brought the trial, the vast majority are either dismissed, or result in non-judicial and absurdly light punishments for the perpetrators. The details are in the book, but, in short, the command from the top down has done little to either prevent or punish the sexual harassment and assault of its female servicemembers, and this has been the case since women were first allowed into the military over 100 years ago.
“Since Dustin Hoffman heard that memorable ‘just one word,’ plastic has re-made American society. In a stroke of brilliance, Laurie Essig brings together plastic credit cards, bodies, and gender identities by telling the story of how economic insecurity has intersected with the celebrity culture and the neo-liberal ideology of choice. Essig's well-researched and original analysis deserves our serious attention.” —Juliet Schor, author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth
As the new year begins, many people's thoughts turn to "improving" their bodies, and, in our age of quick solutions, plastic surgery often is looked at as a shortcut to perfection. Over the last decade there has been a 465 percent increase in cosmetic work, and we now spend over $12 billion annually on procedures like liposuction, face-lifts, tummy tucks, and boob jobs. In American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and Our Quest for Perfection, sociologist Laurie Essig argues that this transformation is the result of massive shifts in both our culture and our economy—a perfect storm of greed, desire, and technology.
Plastic is crucial to who we are as Americans, Essig observes. We not only pioneered plastic money but lead the world in our willingness to use it. It's estimated that 30 percent of plastic surgery patients earn less than $30,000 a year; another 41 percent earn less than $60,000. And since the average cost of cosmetic work is $8,000, a staggering 85 percent of patients assume debt to get work done. Using plastic surgery as a lens on better understanding our society, Essig shows how access to credit, medical advances, and the pressures from an image- and youth-obsessed culture have led to an unprecedented desire to "fix" ourselves.
From science to sports, from nature to population studies, our authors cover a wide range of subject matter. But at the root of their discussions are the interweaving strands of human rights, racial and gender equality, and a shared interest in the betterment of society. Our authors have been receiving a great deal of attention this week. Here are a few highlights:
Fred Pearce has become a strong voice in the counteracting of overpopulation theories. In his book The Coming Population Crash, Pearce describes a "reproductive revolution," one in which women have been celebrating their rights and ultimately changing the face of the planet. An excerpt from the book can be found on Scientific American. This excerpt also includes two video links (found in the highlighted words "liberation" and "baby bust") on the impact of women's rights on birthrates. Pearce was also quoted in Seed Magazine for his more positive outlook on "defusing the population bomb."
In her book The Match, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Beth Whitehouse, documents a family as they struggles to keep their child alive through the help of a newborn sibling. In an hour-long interview for Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning program, Whitehouse discusses the ethics behind "savior siblings" with Jeffrey Kahn, the Director of the Center for Bioethics and professor in the department of medicine at the University of Minnesota.
For fans of soccer and the World Cup, The Boys from Little Mexico, by Steve Wilson, documents the struggles and successes of an all-boys' Hispanic soccer team as they lead the way to victory at the Oregon state championship. Wilson's book received a nice write-up from a pretty move, a popular soccer blog that is scheduled to post an interview with Wilson post-cup. Enter to win one of the twenty-five copies of Wilson's book through the Good Reads Giveaway.
With Red Sox season in full-swing, Howard Bryant chronicles the history of racial integration of this historic baseball team in his book, Shut Out. Bryant will be joining a panel discussion on June 22 at the Loeb Drama Center (64 Brattle Street, Cambridge) following the performance of Johnny Baseball, a new musical about the iconic Boston Red Sox. For tickets to the event, visit the American Repertory Theatre. Bryant's new book, The Last Hero, documents the life of African-American baseball legend, Henry Aaron. Having just been released, it is a must read for all baseball fans.
In Write These Laws on Your Children, author Robert Kunzman looks into the economic, social, religious, and personal reasons behind the growing trend of homeschooling. In a recent essay for Religion Dispatches, Kunzman further examines Generation Joshua, the civic education program for homeschoolers that combines social interaction with political engagement.
Looking at a different spectrum of children's interactions with the law, I Don't Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine documents how juveniles are actively being placed into adult prisons. Author David Chura has devoted his life to the education of at-risk teenagers, particularly during his time teaching at a New York county penitentiary. Chura's book was spotlighted on the blog Juvenile Prison Watch this week. Democrat Unity recently posted an article by Chura on the harsh reality behind solitary confinement. In his second radio interview for WHMP's Bill Dwight Show, Chura discusses this article along with the recent decision by the Supreme Court to ban life sentences for juveniles who have not committed murder.
Since the advent of the Internet, the world of pornography drastically changed for the worse. Gail Dines, author of Pornland, describes this evolution as one that actively accepts violence, racism, and sexism. Dines was recently quoted in the Daily Beast for her views on the mainstreaming of violence against women in these videos. Dines was also quoted inThe Boston Herald for her interpretation of porn, an opposing voice as pro-pornography feminists protested at a conference at Wheelock College here in Boston.
Chuck Collins, economic inequality expert and coauthor ofWealth and Our Commonwealth, describes how society's investment into healthcare, education, and economic development promotes individual success. In a recent article on the estate tax, Collins is quoted in The New York Timesfor his opinions on the changing face of the middle class and the creation of a "generation of dilettantes."
In a special announcement, a reading of Flashback, by Penny Coleman, will take place on Friday, June 25, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, June 26, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at The Clockwork Theatre in New York City. A part of their 2010 Reading Series, Flashback is a look into the history of posttraumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning home from war proving that their battles are hardly over. To reserve your seat, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From economic inequality to economic giants, Stacy Mitchell's book, Big-Box Swindle, examines the negative contributions that large retailers inflict upon the American economy and environment; she also addresses the positive future in store for us all should the economy lean in favor of smaller, independent businesses. In a recent article for The New York Times, Mitchell was quoted for her concerns for independent companies and their direct competition with these corporate giants.
Today's post is from Gail Dines, author of the forthcoming book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. Dines has written and lectured on the porn industry for over two decades. She is professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College.
For all those women who think men are interested only in sex and not conversation or intimacy, think again. A New Jersey based company, ironically called True Companion, has come out with what it calls the "the world's first sex robot". This is, according to news reports, a life-size rubber doll that has all the "necessary" orifices. Why the big news? After all, this is not the first time that the porn industry has come out with a sex doll. The company Real Doll has been around since 1996 and offers "an extensive list of options, including 10 female body types and 16 interchangeable female faces." Offering to customize the doll to the desires of the particular consumer – color and shape of pubic hair, fingernail colors, hairstyle, ethnic features etc., -- the company boasts that "If you've ever dreamed of creating your ideal partner, then you have come to the right place."
True Companion is trying to build a business on the deep insight that some men want more from their ideal partner than silent beauty. For about $8,000 True Companion offers a doll that actually talks in response to various stimuli, generating nuanced and complex sentences such as "I love holding hands with you." Douglas Hines, the owner of True Companion, wants the customer to be able to "talk and relate to" the doll because he has come to the great realization that "Sex only goes so far -- then you want to be able to talk to the person." At last, men have discovered that for most women -- and perhaps a few dolls -- conversation matters! Well, it's a start.
As ridiculous as this robot may seem to many of us, it actually makes perfect sense in a society saturated by porn, where the average age boys first view porn is 11 years. Boys and men are socialized by porn to see sex as lacking in connection, intimacy and emotion. Sex in porn is all about penetration; as chrisfjohn, commenting on the robot on the Huffington Post, said, "the great part about porn is that you don't have to deal with all of the emotions and drama of a relationship." For chrisfJohn the robot is a bit too emotionally connected -- he doesn't want to "have to listen to it talk." For Don E Chute, on the other hand, the price is a bit steep because, he calculates, for that amount he could buy "roughly, 80, $100 hookers." To be fair, many of the comments do see the problem with the robot-as-partner idea, but the misogyny still drips from their posts, as in the case of AZ85283, when he asks "Mothers, what the hell are you raising?"
Of course, it's not the mothers but the pornographic culture that is raising men who are increasingly seeing women as interchangeable with sex dolls. If a doll with three orifices can stand in for a woman, then it doesn't bode well for women who want to be seen as equal to men and deserving of full human rights. To see just how gender specific this is, can you imagine women shelling out thousands of dollars for a male doll, no matter what size his manhood, even if it did say, "can I make dinner for you"?
Mary Daly, a world-renowned radical feminist philosopher, died on January 3rd. Today's post honoring Daly is from Ann Braude, Senior Lecturer on American Religious
History and Director of the
Women's Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School.
What color flowers do you choose for a memorial for Mary Daly? Deep red roses for radicalism and women's blood? The lighter roses seemed more calming and reflective, closer to my own mood. But would Mary have blanched at the prettiness, the conventional feminine associations of the pastels? Or would she have relished the playfulness of pink with baby’s breath? Or would she have hated the idea of roses altogether, decrying working conditions on Brazilian flower farms? I settled on deep coral roses with purple asters. The unconventional contrast seemed right, and, sadly, Mary would not be there to argue with the choice.
But she would still be arguing in my mind. Mary Daly made us think about everything: every choice, every action, every word. Because of her, generations of women and men questioned what had never been questioned before. Two dozen of us whose lives were changed by Mary Daly's work gathered on Tuesday at Harvard Divinity School to remember one of the most courageous and outrageous thinkers of the 20th century. Sitting in a circle, we recounted memories, crystalline in detail, of the extraordinary interventions of Mary and her work in our lives. Several brought missives from those who could not be present. While Mary's books are her legacy -- and all agreed that their importance has yet to be realized -- the change she wrought in so many souls is a powerful legacy as well.