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Archive for the 'Gender Studies' Category

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

A Media Roundup for Tainted Witness

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“Now that America has elected as its president a man who denigrates women and their bodies, who thinks women who exercise their reproductive rights should be “punished” and who spouts xenophobic and racist views, Gilmore’s insights are more pressing than ever. Tainted Witness is an important and timely book. If ever we needed evidence that the work of feminism is not yet done, this is it.” — Laura Frost

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Today, we have collected links and short excerpts from some of the great media attention Tainted Witness has received.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of both books!

In The Washington Post, Jill Filipovic believes that Tainted Witness “is a timely and necessary defense of the women whose voices are so often drowned out or shouted down”:

“Tainted Witness” arrives at the right time, at the front end of a rapidly building anti-feminist backlash. The ease with which so many Americans disregard or disbelieve women’s testimony was on clear display in November, when millions voted for Trump despite the accusations against him and his own claim, caught on video, that he had sexually assaulted women. This book provides a crucial feminist critique of the impossible and ever-shifting standards to which women who offer life testimony are held, along with guidance on how to navigate a path forward….

These are crucial observations and excellent rebuttals to the faux legalism that so often dominates the public discourse around high-profile sexual assault cases. We are entering an era when malevolent sexism and entrenched mistrust in women are not only tacitly approved but actively modeled by the man in the Oval Office, and when many of our most valued institutions and even the very concept of truth are under fire. Not in recent memory have the ideas Gilmore elucidates been so necessary, which is why I wish her work was more accessible to a wider audience. Still, this is a sharp work of feminist scholarship, unflinching in its insistence that women’s testimony about our own lives is a potent and often threatening force undercut by those who accurately assess its power. In a country soon to be led by a very loud man who ran a campaign of aggrieved masculinity, “Tainted Witness” is a timely and necessary defense of the women whose voices are so often drowned out or shouted down.

In the Times Higher Education, Laura Frost gave an excellent close look at Tainted Witness, which was named the THE Book of the Week:

The tautological observation that women are thought to be untrustworthy because they are women invites speculation about its genesis. While a definitive answer lies outside the scope of Tainted Witness, Gilmore is especially astute when she shows how “bodies and story move in a choreography of testimony”. For example: “The instant Anita Hill saw a barrage of flashbulbs erupt the first time she altered position in her seat, she knew that in photographs of her testimony, her body could be made to tell a story that would compromise her.” These and other somatic moments in Tainted Witness show how profoundly female embodiment influences the reception of women’s words. If harassment and assault are a means of denigrating women’s power, might the charge of fabrication – in the sense of deceit – conceal an anxiety about fabrication in the sense of making or creating, and perhaps the most fundamental power of reproduction?

Now that America has elected as its president a man who denigrates women and their bodies, who thinks women who exercise their reproductive rights should be “punished” and who spouts xenophobic and racist views, Gilmore’s insights are more pressing than ever. Tainted Witness is an important and timely book. If ever we needed evidence that the work of feminism is not yet done, this is it.

In the Boston Globe, Katie Tuttle quotes Gilmore on the timeliness of Tainted Witness:

“My hope in the book,” she said, “is if we can become familiar with these patterns for undermining women’s testimony, and undermining women’s credibility, then I think we can begin to anticipate where and how these attacks will take place and maybe we can try to stay a step ahead of them.”

As we face the results of an election that included examples of this dynamic (Hillary Clinton, Gilmore said, “has been a tainted witness for almost her entire career”), we stand at a moment of possible change. “On one hand, this seems like the era of welcome for women’s testimony. We seem to be hearing more stories from more places around the world from women,” she said. “But at the same time, the mechanisms for tainting women’s witness are swifter and more effective than ever.”

Finally, we look back to two articles written by Leigh Gilmore at The Conversation reflecting on two of the most apparent cases of disbelief of a woman’s testimony. First, she asked, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, why ‘“Crooked Hillary” [was] a more compelling figure than “Fundamentally Honest Hillary”?’

I’d argue that the media’s portrayal of Clinton has less to do with her actions than with the persistent tainting of female witnesses based on gender bias. In short, my research shows that women are doubted. Women are seen as threatening stability when they show ambition and seek power. Their success threatens the association of masculine power with order.

From Eve to Clytemnestra to Lady Macbeth, powerful female figures stir up deep-seated and irrational fears of women’s proximity to power. They prompt anxieties about masculinity. These fears can be exploited and directed against particular women, as far-right Steven Bannon’s campaign against Clinton demonstrates.

These narratives and others like them align the act of doubting women with rationality and objectivity, making them feel legitimate. In other words, it is not only traditionalists who feel that women can’t be trusted with power; cultural narratives of blame make it feel right in general to doubt women.

This old story prevents other narratives from emerging. When the media recycled anecdotes that discredited Clinton instead of reframing their coverage to address the emergent themes of her historic run, they ensured that Clinton’s untrustworthiness would remain the story.

And finally, she explained what the Brock Turner sexual assault case, both Turner’s actions and, particularly, his defense team’s approach to the court case, show us about biases that work against women in state courts and in the court of public opinion:

Phrases like “he said/she said” or “no one knows what really happened” are used commonly to describe rape as a matter of interpretation. Such phrases actively harm women’s credibility in general and erode our capacity to engage with the truth of specific cases. They allow savvy defense teams to substitute bias against women for the facts of actual cases and to turn sympathy towards perpetrators.

Because these stereotypes have entered the law and permeate everyday life, doubt has become a legal weapon that can be used against any woman who testifies about rape. And in criminal cases, like rape, reasonable doubt is the standard the evidence must meet.

Yet even when the facts in a case confirm guilt, as they did in the case against Brock Turner, who was caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, defense teams can rely on bias: that women send “mixed signals” about sex, that women say no and mean yes, that women regret sex and cry rape.

None of these cliches is grounded in evidence. Overwhelmingly, women tell the truth about sexual violence. The majority of rapes will never be prosecuted and, when they are prosecuted, the majority of rapists will not be convicted.

Why, then, are the stereotypes that women “cry rape” so durable? When the crime is rape, why are women doubted?

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Extreme Domesticity

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“I use the term “extreme” to jar us out of the common assumption that domestic spaces are always stable, banal, and conventional—invested in traditional family values and complacently bourgeois. The goal of my book is to trouble our stereotype of domestic life by exploring versions of home at odds with the normative ideal. I do so by looking at the non-conforming households of gender rebels, the marginal households of those dealing with dislocation and economic insecurity.” — Susan Fraiman

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Today, Susan Fraiman answers questions about what exactly she means by “extreme domesticity,” the importance of acknowledging the labor and skill of domestic labor while avoiding romanticizing the concept, and how she uses literature to examine conceptions of domesticity.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of both books!

Question: I’m curious about your title. What do you mean by “extreme domesticity”? Are you talking about a return to pre-technological, labor-intensive homemaking—as in making our own clothes, growing our own food?

Susan Fraiman: Definitely not. In fact, I would distance myself from what is sometimes called the “new domesticity”: a zealous return to artisanal housewifery, extreme crafty-ness, often understood in counter-cultural or even feminist terms. What I do have in common with this impulse is my appreciation for the labor, skill, and potential for creativity involved in keeping house, whether or not you take a DIY approach. At the same time, I would never want simply to romanticize domestic labor or lose sight of the way women have historically been oppressed by unpaid work in their own homes or low-paid work in someone else’s.

Q: In that case, how exactly is the domesticity of your book “extreme”?

SF: I use the term “extreme” to jar us out of the common assumption that domestic spaces are always stable, banal, and conventional—invested in traditional family values and complacently bourgeois. The goal of my book is to trouble our stereotype of domestic life by exploring versions of home at odds with the normative ideal. I do so by looking at the non-conforming households of gender rebels, the marginal households of those dealing with dislocation and economic insecurity. So “extreme” has a number of meanings for me. It refers to homemakers seen as immoderate or outlandish, whose gender/sexuality is stigmatized as dangerously eccentric. It also refers to those in extreme circumstances, whose home life is precarious as a result of poverty, violence, and/or immigrant status. I consider a wide range of domestic figures, but they’re all outsiders of some kind. A few are even literally out-of-doors.

Q: Your book spans several centuries, multiple genres, and brings together a number of unlikely suspects. Who are some of the “outsider” women and men you discuss?

SF: I should start by noting that I’m a literary and cultural critic, not a social scientist. All of my examples are drawn from texts (as opposed to ethnographic research). As such they are images of domesticity, at one remove from actual lives. They do, however, tell us a good deal about how we conceive of the domestic. In addition to reflecting our views, images also have the ability to shape them. As for which texts I discuss, many are novels: from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848) to Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993) and Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Blu’s Hanging (1997). I also take up Edith Wharton’s classic design guide, The Decoration of Houses (1897), as well as depictions of Martha Stewart, that delightfully bad girl of good housekeeping. A last chapter draws on memoirs and participant-observer accounts of homelessness.

Q: Can you say more about the last chapter? I know you mentioned literal outsiders, but aren’t homeless women and men defined as such because they’re lacking in domesticity? If they have no homes, how do they count as domestic subjects?

SF: I would put it a bit differently. If you have no reliable shelter, your domesticity is broken up and embattled, but it doesn’t cease to exist. You still need to eat something, sleep somewhere, store your stuff, struggle to achieve a bit of personal safety, privacy, and coziness. If anything, when you can’t take “home” for granted, your domestic efforts are that much more urgent, ongoing, and visible. The figures discussed in this chapter include a mother in a welfare hotel, a guy camping out with his dog, a woman and her shopping cart, along with several robust subcultures of “homeless” people. The latter provide examples of collaboration as well as violence, political activism as well as poor conditions, and the chapter as a whole offers many examples of domestic agency as well as difficulty. If homelessness puts enormous pressure on domestic needs and routines, it also serves to highlight the aspects of everyday life shared across the board, whether or not we are securely housed.

Q: I have one last question. You describe this as a feminist project, but you’ve already noted the historical confinement of women in domestic spaces, restricting them to the drudgery of domestic labor. In what sense is your largely “appreciative” approach to domesticity a feminist intervention?

SF: As I say, my goal is not to romanticize housekeeping. It’s also true that the ideology of proper domesticity generally serves to enforce norms of gender, class, sexuality, and race. That said, it’s too often the case that domestic figures, practices, concerns, and spaces are the objects of condescension and blanket dismissal. Because women continue to be primarily responsible for household labor, everything associated with houses and housekeeping is strongly feminized and consequently trivialized (and this is true even when men are involved). In other words, the bias against all aspects and forms of domestic life is strongly tied to biases against women and phenomena identified as “feminine.” By stressing the diversity of domestic arrangements, by appreciating housekeepers of all genders, and by valuing the gestures that go into making a home, I am hoping to push back against that bias.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Introducing Extreme Domesticity

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“My goal in the following pages is to sever domesticity from the usual right-wing pieties and the usual left derision. I am out to kill the Angel in the House once and for all—but not by shunning houses and housekeepers altogether. My strategy instead is to decouple domestic spaces, figures, and duties from a necessary identification with conservative ‘family values.’” — Susan Fraiman

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from both the introduction and the sixth chapter of Extreme Domesticity.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of both books!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Tainted Witness in Testimonial Networks

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“Women are often seen as unpersuasive witnesses for three related reasons: because they are women, because through testimony they seek to bear witness to inconvenient truths, and because they possess less symbolic and material capital than men as witnesses in courts of law.” — Leigh Gilmore

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Today, to start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Gilmore’s introduction to Tainted Witness.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of both books!

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“In Extreme Domesticity, Susan Fraiman continues to perform the crucial task of challenging—in lucid, fervent prose—the “habitual, unthinking” conflations and repudiations which keep women, or the feminized, at the bottom of hierarchies of value.” — Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts

“Rarely does an academic book address its moment so precisely as Tainted Witness…. An important and timely book. If ever we needed evidence that the work of feminism is not yet done, this is it.” — Times Higher Education

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Rape on Campus: The Title IX Revolution

Hunting Girls

“Anti-rape activism is on the vanguard of transferring the blame and responsibility from individuals to social systems and institutions. If ours is a rape culture, then the solution must also address the culture of sexual violence that perpetuates sexual assault and gender-based violence.” — Kelly Oliver

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to provide an excerpt from “Rape on Campus: The Title IX Revolution,” an article by Kelly Oliver that originally appeared in The Philosophical Salon.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Hunting Girls!

Rape on Campus: The Title IX Revolution
By Kelly Oliver

Title IX legislation, associated primarily with equal opportunities for girls in high school and college athletics, has become a turning point in discussions of sexual assault. Until recently, the greatest impact of the 1972 Title IX legislation had been to ensure girls and women had access to sports. Although introduced to stop discrimination in higher education, Title IX became the hallmark of women’s athletics, to the point that today there is a women’s sporting clothing company named Title Nine, and last year President Obama spoke about the importance of Title IX for girls in terms of his own experience coaching his daughters’ basketball team and the confidence it gave them. Initially, Title IX was used to secure funding for girls and women’s sports, which had been lacking until required by this Federal statute.

On April 4, 2011, The United States Department of Education sent a “Dear Colleagues Letter” to institutions of higher learning, shifting the focus from college athletics to educational environment, specifically naming sexual violence as prohibited by Title IX. The letter defines sexual violence as “physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent due to the victim’s use of drugs or alcohol,” including “sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion,“ and makes colleges and universities responsible “to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence.” (more…)

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Social Media and the Lack of Consent

Hunting Girls

“Given the continued use of social media to target, harass, and humiliate young women, it is telling that these technologies were born out of sexist attitudes. In their inception, some of the most popular social media sites were designed to denigrate women.” — Kelly Oliver

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. Today, we are happy to provide an excerpt from “Social Media and the Lack of Consent,” an article by Kelly Oliver that originally appeared in The Philosophical Salon. In this article, Oliver traces the “continued use of social media to target, harass, and humiliate young women” back to the sexist origins of many forms of social media.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Hunting Girls!

Social Media and the Lack of Consent
By Kelly Oliver

Social media such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Tinder were invented as part of a culture that objectifies and denigrates girls and women. It is well known that the Facebook founder and Harvard graduate, now one of the richest men in the country, invented the social media site Facebook to post pictures of girls for his college buddies to rate and berate. Reportedly, Evan Spiegel, Stanford graduate and inventor of Snapchat, sent messages during his days in a fraternity referring to women as “bitches,” “sororisluts” to be “peed on,” and discussed getting girls drunk to have sex with them. And the founders of the wildly popular hook-up site Tinder, were both involved in a sexual harassment suit involving their former Vice President of marketing, who claims she received harassing sexist messages calling her a “slut,” a “gold-digger,” and a “whore.”

Given the continued use of social media to target, harass, and humiliate young women, it is telling that these technologies were born out of sexist attitudes. In their inception, some of the most popular social media sites were designed to denigrate women. Of course lots of social media sites, like other forms of traditional media, bank on pictures of attractive girls and women looking sexy or cute, along with pornographic images. Creepshot sites in particular are a telling example of a new phenomenon, namely, the valorization and popularization of lack of consent. (more…)

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Dismantling Fantasies of Consent and Violence: Three Excerpts from Hunting Girls

Hunting Girls

“From fairytales to pornography, popular culture is filled with girls and women, unconscious or sleeping, “enjoying” nonconsensual sex. And until we change our fantasies, it is going to be difficult to change our realities.” — Kelly Oliver

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. Today, we have a few excerpts for you, all of which testify to Kelly Oliver’s gift for drawing connections between literature, film, popular culture, and rape culture. In the first excerpt, Oliver traces a distressing (and frighteningly current) male fantasy back to a fourteenth-century Catalan tale. In the second excerpt, Oliver considers the fraught relationship between the law and consent, exposing the dangers of focusing on one moment of affirmative consent in what is, in fact, an ongoing negotiation between sexual subjects. Finally, in the third excerpt, Oliver examines certain representations in recent literature and film of girls who “give as good as they get,” and shows how these representations send mixed messages–are our Katniss Everdeens and Tris Priors feminist revenge fantasies, or do their actions on screen normalize and valorize violence toward women?

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Hunting Girls!

Excerpt 1

Excerpt 2

Excerpt 3

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Girls as Trophies: Introducing “Hunting Girls”

Hunting Girls

“Life imitates art, and vice versa. Thus, art often revolves around the objectification and assault of girls and women. Unfortunately, increasingly, life imitates pornography, particularly creepshot photographs of unsuspecting girls and women. With uncanny regularity, college and university officials are discovering Facebook pages, and other social media, used by fraternities, or creepshooters off the street, to post photographs of women, sometimes unconscious, naked, or in compromising positions.” — Kelly Oliver

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. To start the week’s feature, we have excerpted part of Oliver’s introduction, in which she uses an episode of America’s Next Top Model from 2012 as a way into her discussion of how popular culture affects how women are both perceived and treated in reality.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Hunting Girls!

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Book Giveaway! Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape

Hunting Girls

“Kelly Oliver’s brilliant analysis of how young girls’ path to womanhood is filled with beating, battery, abuse, and sexual assault is shocking and timely. Oliver’s meticulously researched volume moves back and forth between myths and fairy tales linked to rape, contemporary films, television shows and ads featuring violence to girls, along with studying rape culture, and ambiguities of ‘consent,’ on college campuses. It is essential reading, showing that women may not have liberated themselves after all.” — E. Ann Kaplan

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Hunting Girls. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, August 26th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, March 28th, 2016

What Kate Did — On the Legacy of Kate Millett’s “Sexual Politics”

Sexual Politics, Kate Millett

“What Millett’s work showed were the ways that political action and cultural expression interpenetrate. Both sites of struggle were necessary to bringing about the “altered consciousness” that, for Millett, would mark a sexual revolution and bring ‘a world we can bear out of the desert we inhabit.’ We’re not out of this desert yet; in some ways we are more lost than ever. But culture, Millett taught us, may help us find our way to a better land.”—Maggie Doherty, from her article “What Kate Did,” published in The New Republic

In reviewing the new edition of Sexual Politics, by Kate Millett, Maggie Doherty comments in The New Republic on the intense and immediate reaction to the book by both the mainstream press and her fellow radical feminists when it was first published in 1970:

The reactions of both camps went beyond anything Millett could have anticipated. Suddenly, she was wanted on every college campus. She was invited onto daytime talk shows. (Her Minnesotan mother warned her against appearing onscreen with unwashed hair.) Her book appeared in editorial cartoons. Her phone rang constantly. Her portrait, by the painter Alice Neel, graced the cover of Time; the magazine crowned her “the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Liberation.”

As Maggie Doherty explains, Sexual Politics, which was Millett’s revised dissertation for a literature PhD., reflected her belief that “reading could produce a better way to live.” Millett’s analysis of the ways in which four writers—D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, and Jean Genet— shaped, or in Genet’s case, challenged, patriarchy offered a powerful critique of the existing political, cultural, and social views and treatment of women. Millett’s revolutionary work, presented with scholarly rigor, articulated ideas within the radical feminist movement regarding the sexual revolution, homosexuality, and monogamy and brought them to a mainstream readership.

Millett was somewhat unprepared for the intense reaction her book received and never saw herself as a public figure in the way that Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan did. Her book came under criticism from those who faulted it for not sufficiently addressing issues of class or race but as Doherty argues, the book’s ideas continue to resonate. Doherty concludes by speculating on the singularity of Millett’s achievement and its continuing legacy:

It’s hard to imagine any work of literary scholarship—let alone a Ph.D. dissertation—landing its author on the cover of Time today. While the contemporary academy has its share of public intellectuals, most of its scholars write for audiences of specialists (after all, they are employed to do just that). Millett, by contrast, was writing in the waning years of what Louis Menand has called the age of “heroic criticism,” a time when the stakes of literary debate seemed high. The books you preferred said something about your politics, even your morals. If you wanted to change the way people lived and loved, you might very well set out to change the way they read.

This faith in literature—in particular, this faith in the academic study of literature—is perhaps the thing that most marks Millett’s work as the product of another time. It’s striking that in the years after her first book’s release, when she was spending much of her time advocating for “gay liberation,” it occurred to her that the best thing she could do was not speak, or organize, or teach, but write a book of literary criticism, a “SexPol of gay and straight, a scholarly objective approach more convincing to the authorities.” She mapped it out one night at her farm-cum-feminist artist colony in Poughkeepsie: “First lay down a theory about the two cultures, our segregated society. Then find in homosexual literature the emotional truth of the experience as it was lived.” The book never came to be, but the dream of it tells us something about what it meant to be a literary scholar, and a radical feminist, in the early 1970s.

“Will future historians say that I blew it?” Millett asked in Flying. The answer has to be no. Sexual Politics may have its intellectual and political flaws, like any text that documents a way of thinking proper to the past. But what Millett’s work showed were the ways that political action and cultural expression interpenetrate. Both sites of struggle were necessary to bringing about the “altered consciousness” that, for Millett, would mark a sexual revolution and bring “a world we can bear out of the desert we inhabit.” We’re not out of this desert yet; in some ways we are more lost than ever. But culture, Millett taught us, may help us find our way to a better land.

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Brawn in Civilization — A History of Virility

A History of Virility

“For muscle is everywhere. It jumped over the walls of the stadium and the ropes of the ring a long time ago. It reigns absolute on screens large and small…. The claim on muscles has been democra­tized, the practice of bodybuilding now tends to be widespread, and anatomical power is displayed as a continuous, obsessive, universal spectacle.”—Jean-Jacques Courtine

In his chapter “Brawn in Civilization” (see below), in A History of Virility, Jean-Jacques Courtine examines the phenomenon of body building and hyper-masculinity. Beginning with the creation of Muscle Beach in Venice, California, to today’s ubiquitous GNC, Courtine examines the social, political, and economic contexts that shape our understanding of muscle and what it means for our understanding of masculinity:

Monday, March 14th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “A History of Virility”

This week we are featuring A History of Virility, edited by Alain Corbin, Jean-Jacques Courtine, Georges Vigarello; and translated by Keith Cohen.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of A History of Virility to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Wednesday, March 16th at 1:00 pm.

For more on the book, here is the chapter “Working-Class Virility,” by Thierry Pillon:

Friday, February 26th, 2016

Images from “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”

How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?

We conclude our week-long feature on “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs,” by Tahneer Oksman by sharing some of the extraordinary images from her book:

Aline Kominsky Crumb
Aline Kominsky Crumb, top of title panel from “Nose Job,” 1989

Lauren Weinstein
Lauren Weinstein, “The Best We Can Hope For,” 2008

Aline Kominsky Crumb
Aline Kominsky Crumb, untitled cartoon. In Need More Love

Vanessa Davis
Vanessa Davis, full-page color drawing. In Make Me a Woman

(more…)

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Tahneer Oksman on Writing a Jewish Book

“Why did I write a Jewish book? Because I was trying to reclaim my Jewish self, however unfamiliar its now ragged shape.”—Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”

When Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs, first began as PhD. student in literature, focusing on Jewish women’s comics was not on the horizon As she explains in a recent essay in Lilith, while women’s literature was of great interest to her, she had decided to put her Jewish upbringing behind her:

Somewhere between my upbringing in a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school in the Bronx, and the years of slowly replacing that orthodoxy with new modes of belief and practice — feminism, writing, literature and, yes, yoga — I decided that my Jewish history would never figure, could never figure, in my life as it — as I — had been remade. It would certainly never become a centerpiece.

However, as she pursued her studies, she found herself drawn to the lives of such Jewish writers as Anzia Yezierska, Sara Smolinsky, and Grace Paley. This shift to concentrating Jewish women writers was not necessarily the best career move. Oksman explains:

Writing about a Jewish topic also meant transforming myself into the very worst thing you could become as a graduate student: unmarketable. I was now too Jewish for English Literature programs, and I would never be Jewish enough for jobs in Jewish programs. This left me, as usual, between worlds; if you write your first book on a Jewish topic, after all, you’ve pigeonholed yourself: you’re a Jewish writer. Haven’t you seen how so many of those popular “canonical” Jewish writers (and actors, and painters, and critics) reject that title? Write about something else; take the word Jewish out of your title, for heaven’s sake!

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Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Tahneer Oksman Recommends Recent Graphic Memoirs

Turning Japanese

The following is a post by Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs

In “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” I examine the complex and exciting ways identity can be mapped out and pictured on the comics page. I chose to focus on autobiographical Jewish women cartoonists in particular because I found their ambivalence about Jewish identity—their desire to often simultaneously identify as insiders and outsiders—a captivating example of how comics can help visualize incongruity, paradox, and conflict alongside connection, acceptance, and recognition.

One of the (happy) frustrations I encountered in writing this book was that I kept stumbling across powerful works of graphic memoir that didn’t necessarily fit into the set of themes I was grappling with in the book. In other words, they weren’t particularly Jewish. Here I offer a brief glance at four works, three recently published and one forthcoming, that caught my attention and merit a closer look.

Jennifer’s Journal: The Life of a Suburban Girl, Volume 1
Jennifer Cruté
(Rosarium Publishing, 2015)
From its bubbly and enticing cover, which pictures a young girl playing with dolls in her room as a devil smoking a cigarette grins in the corner, to its sincere depictions of a serious artist focused on painting and creating, Jennifer Cruté’s Jennifer’s Journals is often startling in its unexpected juxtapositions. The book is partly the story of becoming an adult and artist and partly a family history, with amusingly jarring interludes featuring moments in the childhood of the author/artist’s friends. Cruté offers her readers a motley of such unusual narrative techniques, including punch lines, an adult translator who occasionally appears, and sometimes the simple but forceful confusion of a sequence of painful memories offered without explanation. Her characters are cartoonish, bubbly; but that doesn’t lessen the sting when, for example, in a sequence recalling distant family history (“Georgia, circa 1915″), her great-grandfather matter-of-factly tells her grandma Faye, “Aww, don’t worry, baby. Dead people can’t lynch us.” If anything, the book’s style catches its readers off-guard, offering an unpredictable, open-ended self portrait of a life still unfolding.

Turning Japanese: A Graphic Memoir
MariNaomi
(2d Cloud, forthcoming in spring 2016)
I’ve long been a fan of MariNaomi’s autobiographical comics, from her early collection Kiss & Tell, which documents a range of romantic (mis)adventures, to Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories, an episodic compilation on family, work, and love. In Turning Japanese, MariNaomi brings her understated, often deadpan narrative voice to life with spare, fluid lines. On the surface, the book traces two seemingly unrelated threads: a new relationship weathering the ins-and-outs of everyday life; and the search for connection with a place and culture that the protagonist, who calls herself a “mutt,” has been distanced from. Born to a Japanese mother who fled home to marry and raise a family in America, MariNaomi reveals, over the course of the narrative, how the search for a future, with or without a partner, is inevitably, if sometimes vaguely, tied to one’s personal history, one’s past. Like the texts that I write about in How Come Boys?, this book reflects the complicated nature of identification and disidentification, of the ways we can paradoxically come to find who we are through our rejections and rebellions.

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Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

An Interview with Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”

Tahneer Oksman,

“What’s interesting about comics is that you have artists drawing versions of themselves over and over on the same page. You can actually see their serial selves, their past, present, and future self-portraits in relation to one another.”—Tahneer Oksman

The following is an interview with Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”" Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs:

Question: The graphic memoirists you write about in your book have complicated relationships to Jewish identity. What are some of the ways they express or articulate their ambivalence?

Tahneer Oksman: For someone like Aline Kominsky Crumb, her reflections on Jewish identity read, at least initially, like a general distaste for the Jewish Long Island community that she grew up in. Her memoir is saturated with visual and verbal stereotypes about Jews, and Jewish women in particular. But the more closely you examine her work, the more you recognize its complex push-pull: she incorporates those stereotypes in order to fully explore her own sense of self. In a way, she is continually mocking her own mockery.

Some of the other cartoonists I write about tend to be more overtly ambivalent. Vanessa Davis, for instance, expresses a clear adoration for various tenets of her Jewish identity, many of these associated with childhood and family. But within images portraying precious memories—of her Bat Mitzvah, for example—she incorporates words or body language that contradict the celebratory, engaged atmosphere depicted around her. Other artists, like Lauren Weinstein, express ambivalence indirectly, as when her young persona writes a letter to Mattel, complaining about how “All your Barbies look like Aryans!,” and then later laments her own so-called Jewish looks (including her nose).

Q: How does this differ from the ways in which Jewish male graphic artists might grapple with these questions in their own work?

TO: I don’t believe there’s any essential difference in the ways that Jewish women and men—or women and men more generally—portray identity in comics. In the book, I selected seven memoirists who, to my mind, successfully model this ambivalent Jewish identity that I set out to explore. There are plenty of other Jewish cartoonists who didn’t make it into the book, not because they don’t fit into this model but because I had to set limitations in order to effectively develop my ideas. The book is meant to introduce a way to start thinking about how identity functions in comics, and not as any kind of end point.

To my mind, crucial differences emerge when it comes to how different kinds of comics (and artistic and literary works more generally) are perceived. Certain subjects and styles are still considered amateur or frivolous both in and out of academic contexts. It’s still a very male-dominated medium in this way, no matter how many women skillfully assert themselves in various forms of print and online. This reception ultimately influences the ways that comics get made. In other words, there’s going to be an awareness, for artists and writers who have been marginalized, of certain critical tones, and that will inevitably find its way into the work, for better or worse.

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Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Book Giveaway! “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”

This week we are featuring “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs, by Tahneer Oksman.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, February 26th at 1:00 pm.

Jeremy Dauber, Director, Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, Columbia University, writes:

“A careful and nuanced exploration of the complexities of identity and identification, “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” is an excellent and ground-breaking work.”

Below is the introduction, “To Unaffiliate Jewishly”:

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

The Legacy of Eve Sedgwick

Eve Sedgwick, Between Men

On the heels of the recent publication of the Thirtieth Anniversary edition of Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, The New Yorker‘s blog, The Page Turner, posted a piece on the book and Eve Sedgwick’s legacy.

The article by Jane Hu, “Between Us: A Queer Theorist’s Devoted Husband and Enduring Legacy,” begins by describing how her husband, Hal, is preserving Sedgwick’s archive to insure that her work endures. As the piece points out, at least in the immediate future there is little danger that Sedgwick’s ideas and influence fading away. Scholarly journals continue to devote issues to her and there are or have been multiple conferences dedicated to her book, including a recent one at the CUNY Grad Center on Between Men.

In addition to citing Sedgwick’s scholarly impact, Hu also describes Sedgwick’s intellectual and personal bravery. Critics from all directions — feminists, gay men, etc. — asked her to account for herself. Her writing, unlike much academic work, would often be very personal and even confessional, and has served as an inspiration to other scholars and critics.

In describing the influence of Between Men and the recent conference on Between Men, Jane Hu writes:

Hal [Eve Sedgwick's husband] showed me around Eve’s archives the day after the most recent of these conferences, celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of “Between Men,” a groundbreaking book that popularized the term “homosocial.” At the conference, Jennifer Crewe, the president of Columbia University Press, recalled how typists working on it constantly rendered the word as “homosexual” because of just how unusual the term was in 1985.

“Between Men” not only put Sedgwick on the map as a queer theorist, it helped to establish the field of queer literary analysis. Sedgwick became, as Rolling Stone once put it, “the soft-spoken queen of the constructionists.” (A speaker at the conference noted the shocking disjunction between Sedgwick’s quiet speaking voice and the bold statements she made in print.) The book was published during a heated period of the gay liberation movement; as Wayne Koestenbaum notes in his forward to a new edition, the H.I.V. retrovirus had been isolated a year before, and ACT UP was formed just two years afterward.

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Becoming Way Too Cool: How Neoliberalism Alters How We Feel

Way Too Cool

The following is a guest post by Shannon Winnubst, author of Way Too Cool: Selling Out Race and Ethics.

Becoming Way Too Cool
(How Neoliberalism Alters How We Feel)
Shannon Winnubst

I remember when my grandmother learned to use the word “cool.” It must have been about 1982 and, at 83 years old, she spryly pronounced my new shirt was “cool.” Stopped short, I caught the twinkle in her eye and proudly agreed. Little did we both know that we were in the grips of the rapidly ascendant neoliberal marketing machine.

“Cool” has been big business for a long time now. Pilfered from black culture by the men’s clothing advertising industry in the late 1970s, “cool” has packaged just about every commodity on the market at one time or another—and still continues to do so. Youth culture, especially, seems never to lose its connection with this heartbeat of energy. “Cool” has become a kind of naturalized constant in 21st century marketing cultures: we are so drawn to it that we cannot imagine otherwise. The quest to be “so cool” seems never to die.

But “cool” didn’t always refer to the latest, hippest thing. In the U.S., “cool” was born in post-World War II aesthetics of black culture, especially jazz. It captured and galvanized the kind of ironic detachment that enabled black folks to persevere in the face of systematic, persistent racism and its everyday violence. It energized black folks not only to survive, but to create and believe in something better. When Miles Davis stood up to racist cops and bigoted television show hosts, he was enacting the essence of cool: the kind of strong, determined detachment from racist mainstream culture that enabled intense creativity and the strength to flourish. This kind of “cool” is what bell hooks identifies in black leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as the strength to “alchemically change pain into gold.” The birth of “cool” was the birth of an ethical detachment from the hostility and violence of a racist world that carved the space for a better, more just world. (more…)