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Archive for the 'Women’s Studies' Category

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Reviews of “The Hillary Doctrine”

The Hillary Doctrine

“Decades of research reveal that the subjugation of women is directly linked with state and non-state armed violence. When women are left out of peace building—as in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan—the likelihood of a country sliding back into armed violence increases dramatically.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to present a roundup of some of the glowing praise that Hudson and Leidl’s book has received.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

From a review by Micah Zenko that originally ran on the Council for Foreign Relations blog and was subsequently picked up by both Quartz and Newsweek:

During her confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in no uncertain terms, “I want to pledge to you that as secretary of state I view [women’s] issues as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.” A thoughtful and nuanced new book by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex & American Foreign Policy, evaluates to what extent Secretary Clinton has fulfilled this pledge.

Unsurprisingly, they find many examples where Clinton’s rhetoric does not meet U.S. foreign policy reality. Rather than simply denounce the former secretary of state for this, they try to understand what explains this reoccurring disconnect. For example, the authors contend that a component of Clinton’s hawkish support for intervening in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya was the belief that women’s lives would be markedly improved. Hudson and Leidl disagree, noting, “Military action in and of itself against regimes violating human rights will not protect women. If anything, it unleashes new and usually even more vicious male-bonded groups intent on stripping them of even the most basic human rights.” It is this sort of refreshing analysis that makes this book so important, and one that I highly recommend to anybody interested in elevating women’s voices in world affairs, as well as the practicalities of day-to-day U.S. foreign policymaking.

(more…)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Women’s Rights Around the World

The Hillary Doctrine

“Decades of research reveal that the subjugation of women is directly linked with state and non-state armed violence. When women are left out of peace building—as in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan—the likelihood of a country sliding back into armed violence increases dramatically.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this post, we have excerpted parts from two pieces that have recently appeared in the World Politics Review: first, an interview with Patricia Leidl about government responses to crime against women in Latin America; and second, an article by Leidl and Valerie M. Hudson on the status of women’s rights in Yemen.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

Latin America: “Latin America’s Uneven Response to Growing Violence Against Women”
An interview with Patricia Leidl

WPR: What has prompted the recent public outcry against violence against women in Latin America?

Patricia Leidl: The “recent” outcry over violence against Latin American women is in fact not recent at all. Since the early 1990s, human and women’s rights defenders have been raising the alarm over steadily climbing rates of gender-based violence in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with the sharpest increases beginning in 2006 and escalating by as much as 21 percent each year. In South America, human rights observatories have likewise reported steadily rising rates of violence against women—but most particularly in Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, of the 25 countries that are home to the highest femicide rates in the world, more than half are located in Latin America.

It is perhaps no coincidence that many of these Latin American countries were embroiled in the “dirty wars” of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. These wars were characterized by the proliferation of small arms and extreme and systematic violence against women, which many scholars now believe set the stage for today’s epidemic of femicide. Human rights activists also speculate that women’s greater economic independence—in the form of low-paying and unskilled factory jobs in the wake of free trade agreements with North America, Asia and Europe—could be contributing to a climate of violence against women in a region whose culture of “machismo” traditionally relegates women to the domestic sphere. (more…)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Watch the book launch discussion of “The Hillary Doctrine”

The Hillary Doctrine

“Women are not the canaries in the coal mine [telling us that something is wrong in a society]. The state of male-female relations within a society is the coal mine. The explosive instability that results within in a society is actually the canary that’s telling us something is wrong in the coal mine.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Today, we are happy to present a video from Hudson and Leidl’s book launch, which involves a presentation by Hudson and Leidl, and then a roundtable discussion with prominent scholars and policymakers Rosa Brooks, Kathleen Kuehnast, and Daniela Ligiero.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

No Matter Who’s Elected, We Need the Hillary Doctrine

The Hillary Doctrine

“If Realpolitik implies being “realistic” about the world in which we live, then the Hillary Doctrine is potentially one of most transformative policy changes this nation has ever seen, capable of rendering our foreign policy far more effective than it has been to date.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Today, we have an article by Hudson and Leidl arguing that regardless of who wins the 2016 presidential election, U.S. policymakers should take the Hillary Doctrine seriously.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

No Matter Who’s Elected, We Need the Hillary Doctrine
By Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

President Barack Obama must be feeling a sense of relief: after being stymied by Congress at every turn, he can now exit the presidency with two major political triumphs to his credit courtesy of the Supreme Court—Obamacare and the legalization of gay marriage.

For even as the champagne bottles pop and long-time same-sex companions rush to tie the knot, the female half of the human population has a good reason to be less than sanguine about the Obama administration’s performance. Although the outgoing president can be credited with a number of high-level female appointments—Janet Yellen and Sonia Sotomayor to name but two—and has fought for the Paycheck Fairness Act and signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, there is one area where his administration has notably lagged: women and foreign policy.

Far from taking a strong stand to affirm the UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the administration has been worse than anemic with regard to ensuring that women in Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan and other fragile states take part in negotiations where their participation could mean the difference between war and peace, poverty and prosperity.

And while Obama was quick to condemn Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on his stance on gay rights, he was completely mute on Putin’s tolerance of open, coerced polygyny and harshly enforced female dress code in Chechnya. So why the disconnect? Are not the rights of one half the population as worth fighting for as those of same-sex couples? (more…)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Has Hillary Really Helped the World’s Women?

The Hillary Doctrine

“On the one hand, the doctrine that Clinton made a central part of her time at Foggy Bottom was revolutionary; never before had the cause of women been elevated to a priority of American foreign policy and labeled a key national security concern. But talking the talk is not the same as walking the walk, and as Clinton prepares for a presidential candidacy in which she will likely tout both her tenure at State and her potentially history-making role as America’s first woman president, it is only natural to examine whether the “Hillary Doctrine” really worked.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from The Hillary Doctrine that originally ran in Politico Magazine.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

Has Hillary Really Helped the World’s Women?
By Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

Many leaders have had doctrines named after them—from the Monroe Doctrine to the Truman Doctrine to the Bush Doctrine—but so far there’s only that can be ascribed to a woman: the Hillary Doctrine. As Hillary Clinton herself defined it, “the subjugation of women [is] a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.”

But for proponents of this doctrine, perhaps no irony was crueler than seeing its namesake, then Secretary of State Clinton, smiling broadly in her trademark pantsuit as she walked the red carpet from her plane in Riyadh with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in 2010. The moment brought to mind an incongruity no less extreme than if Frederick Douglass had been appointed ambassador to the Confederacy and found himself sipping tea and making small talk with Nathan Bedford Forrest. For, in Saudi Arabia, the subordination of women is as peculiar and pernicious an institution as was slavery in the antebellum South.

It wasn’t the last time Hillary Clinton was accused of brushing aside her own self-declared commitment to women’s rights, ostensibly in the name of the national interest. Most recently, as she prepares to launch her all-but-declared presidential campaign, reports have emerged concerning large donations to her family’s foundation from countries including Algeria, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and, of course, Saudi Arabia—a rogues’ gallery of governments with poor records on women’s issues. How could Clinton—she of “women’s rights are human rights” fame, who by all indications will soon try again to break the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” of the White House—still be so cozy with a regime so at odds with one of her core, lifelong causes? (more…)

Monday, July 13th, 2015

How Sex Came to Matter in U.S. Foreign Policy

The Hillary Doctrine

“Many regard international affairs as primarily a male realm, a subject that speaks principally to men about political, economic, and strategic interests largely defined by a male perspective…. [V]iolence against women and girls—and how it relates to national and international security—continues to be hidden in plain sight to this day.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this post, we have an excerpt from “How Sex Came to matter in U.S. Foreign Policy,” the first chapter of Hudson and Leidl’s book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy

The Hillary Doctrine

“From now on, no debate about national or global policy can proceed without reading The Hillary Doctrine by Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl. It is the first book about high level efforts to create a foreign policy as if women mattered.” — Gloria Steinem

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Hillary Doctrine. 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, July 17th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, April 13th, 2015

The Hillary Doctrine and Saudi Arabia

The Hillary Doctrine

“In the case of Saudi women, Clinton has chosen a course that appears to be penny-foolish, but is surely pound-wise.”—Valerie Hudson and Patrica Leidl, authors of The Hillary Doctrine

With yesterday’s announcement of her presidential campaign, the record of Hillary Clinton will undergo new rounds of scrutiny. This of course will include the policies and agendas she advanced while serving as Secretary of State. Chief among them is the protection and advancement of women’s rights, which became a cornerstone of her tenure as Secretary of State. In their forthcoming book, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl argue that Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first Secretary of State to declare the subjugation of women worldwide a serious threat to U.S. national security.

However, as Secretary of State and as a key figure at the Clinton Foundation her commitment to women’s rights, some argue, has been undercut by her refusal to criticize certain Arab countries for their treatment of women. In fact, the Clinton Foundation has accepted large donations from many nations with abysmal records regarding women’s rights. In a recent article in Politico, Has Hillary Really Helped the World’s Women, Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl examine Clinton’s record and the options available to her regarding Saudi Arabia, a nation central to U.S. policy in the region but one that is often criticized for its treatment of women.

While Hudson and Leidl acknowledge some of the contradictions in Clinton’s stance regarding Saudi Arabia, they also recognize that publicly criticizing the current regime might not lead to positive change. More specifically, external criticism of the regime might endanger activists currently living in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, destabilizing or even removing the Saudi monarchy might lead to a far-worse scenario much like the ones that have played out elsewhere in the Arab world. Hudson and Leidl write:

Given the widespread nature of the Wahhabi belief system within the country, the fall of the Saudi monarchy would absolutely not result in an improved situation for women. On the contrary, what little gains Saudi women have made most certainly would be lost, as evidenced by the trajectory of the Islamic State-controlled Sunni “caliphate,” and indeed, the Arab world more generally. Far from hearkening in a brave new era of human rights, dignity and greater enfranchisement, the uprisings of more than three years ago have yielded not a single Arab country that has become a better place for women (though we are crossing our fingers for Tunisia).

(more…)

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Sex and World Peace: What’s Next

“Empower women and you enhance security in all its dimensions. Disempower women, and you undermine that security.”—Valerie Hudson

Sex and World Peace, Valerie Hudson

The following post if from Valerie Hudson, co-author of Sex and World Peace.

My co-authors and I are very grateful that Gloria Steinem found Sex and World Peace to be an important read. How the insecurity of women creates insecurity for the broader collective, whether at the local, national, regional, or international levels, is a vital topic of concern not only to scholars, but to policymakers and policy advocates as well. In a very real way, whether we speak of food security, economic security, demographic security, security and governance, security and health, or any one of a numbers of interlocked aspects of collective security, women are the great pivot. Empower women and you enhance security in all its dimensions. Disempower women, and you undermine that security.

We are often asked what will follow Sex and World Peace and its initial efforts to demonstrate those linkages that are often invisible in our security discourse. To date, we are engaged in two research projects, one nearing completion and one just getting underway.

Scheduled for publication in June 2015 by Columbia University Press is the forthcoming volume, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy. In that book, journalist Patricia Leidl and I examine how attention to the situation of women has become, in the words of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “a cornerstone of our foreign policy.” Certainly women have not been seen as such until very recently. How as a nation did we come to the point where a Secretary of State could openly claim “the subjugation of women is a direct threat to the security of the United States”? We call this new understanding “The Hillary Doctrine” after its most eloquent exponent.

Furthermore, what then did the United States do, as a nation, to implement that vision through foreign policy? How did the White House, State Department, Defense, USAID, and other elements of the federal government craft policies and programming to attend to the Hillary Doctrine? And what was the result? What can we learn from the track record of successes and failures that would be of use to an incoming presidential administration?

(more…)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Gloria Steinem on “Sex and World Peace”

Sex and World PeaceAs part of her Reading Our Way to the Revolution, Gloria Steinem has selected Sex and World Peace as the book of the month. In the coming days, Steinem will be featuring the book and you can follow #GloriaReads for more updates. Here’s Gloria Steinem on the book:

Sex & World Peace is a rare book that could and should change everything from our behavior toward each other to our foreign policy. Ever since it was published in 2012, I’ve been carrying it with me to quote wherever I speak, and urging it on anyone working against or worried about violence, whether in our own homes and streets, in our militarism toward other countries, or in the terrorism that’s directed at us.

This well-written, well-documented, and very readable book by Valerie M. Hudson—plus three other scholars, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett—proves that violence in macrocosm happens wherever and whenever violence has been normalized in microcosm.

To cut to the bottom line: The biggest determinant of violence within a nation, or the willingness of one nation to be violent against another nation, is not poverty, not natural resources, not religion, and not even degree of democracy. It’s violence against females.

(more…)

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Interview with Amrita Pande, author of Wombs in Labor

Wombs in LaborThe following is an interview with Amrita Pande, author of Wombs in Labor: Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in India:

What made a sociologist choose a topic like surrogacy?
Well, it started with a short newspaper article I read in 2006. Surrogacy was still at its infancy in India and the article – just about 400 words – described it as India’s new form of outsourcing. This newsarticle really unsettled me. Flashes of Canadian feminist Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale passed through my mind, where a class of women is valued merely as breeders of children of the privileged race and class. I was then a doctoral student at UMASS Amherst and I have to confess the idea that my country would now be stereotyped as a land of not just child laborers, and “slumdogs” but also baby farms made me very queasy! After some quick digging around, I realized that there was no research (academic or otherwise) on this rather critical issue. So began my ethnographic journey into the first country in the global south to have a flourishing industry in both national and transnational surrogacy. (more…)

Friday, May 9th, 2014

The Ethics and Ambivalence of Motherhood — Sarah LaChance Adams

“Mothers have opportunity for great crimes and great heroism. Maternal ethics are illustrative precisely because both these options are possible; we are capable of being both better and worse than we typically imagine.”—Sarah LaChance Adams

Mad Mothers, Bad Mothers, and What a Mother’s Day is Sunday and we turn to Mad Mothers, Bad Mothers, and What a “Good” Mother Would Do: The Ethics of Ambivalence, by Sarah LaChance Adams. In the book, Adams explores some of the inherent tensions of motherhood to draw a more nuanced portrait of the mother and child relationship and maternal ambivalence.

In the following excerpt from the conclusion, Adams considers some of the philosophical and ethical issues related to motherhood and the complications of being a mother:

Philosophers can make a unique contribution to clarifying the com­plexities of the maternal situation, but in order to do so they must listen carefully to the experiences of mothers to understand their material and social conditions. Generally speaking, the philosophical canon is guilty of either ignoring or mistreating mothers. If philosophy is to have concrete relevance, then it must go beyond the metaphorical and romanticized per­spective. The metaphors we use are not neutral; they advocate an inter­pretation of the phenomenon in question. Thus it is only right to check these metaphorical understandings against the lives they intend to invoke.When we take seriously the true complexity of motherhood, we find that the mother-child relationship is philosophically rich indeed.

At the beginning of [Mad Mothers, Bad Mothers, and What a "Good" Mother Would Do] I said that I would demonstrate that it is because of, not in spite of, the tensions inherent to mothering that it is an instructive case for ethics. And, indeed, these discoveries extend be­yond the mother-child relationship. We have found that caring for others,though it is something that one sometimes feels compelled to do, does not come naturally. Romanticizing any type of relationship or setting up impossible ideals is counterproductive. Mothers dealing with their ambiv­alence demonstrate how important it is to recognize one’s limitations. The acknowledgment of hostility toward someone in need is central to being able to respond more appropriately to her call. Emotion can be thought provoking, but it is also thoughtful and reflective in itself; it reveals its own understanding of a situation before it is fully reflected upon.

(more…)

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Professor Mom! An Interview with the editors of “Mothers in Academia”

Mothers in AcademiaWith Mother’s Day right around the corner, we thought we would shed some light on those mothers who also toil in academia. The following is an interview with Mari Castañeda and Kirsten Isgro, the editors of Mothers in Academia. The interview was originally published in Inside Higher Ed:

Q: What prompted you to write this book?

A: The proposal for this book was inspired by the increasing number of discussions we were both having with colleagues at all levels (students, faculty and staff) about the simultaneous presence and invisibility of mothers in academia. Behind closed doors, many of us were discussing the issues, challenges, joys and promise of working/learning in an academic environment while also caring for children. Yet these conversations were existing outside of the traditional structures of power within our various universities and colleges. The collection thus became an attempt to bear witness to the multiple realities of mothers in academic contexts while also providing a theoretical and empirical grounding for the experiences of women in higher education. We felt this was especially important since women are increasingly becoming an important part of the academic work force as well as the student body. While the project does not valorize women who are parents, it does attempt to address how we as women who are scholar-mothers balance these two roles on a personal and institutional level.

Q: How do you see academe, compared to other parts of society, in terms of being “family friendly”?

A: There seems to be an idealized notion of academe that it is more family-friendly than other parts of society because in many institutions, faculty get summers “off.” While many faculty are not always required to be at the office during the winter and summer breaks, that’s not the case for college staff who have 12-month contracts, and in some cases for student mothers, who must work through the summer to support their families or take classes part-time in order to finish their degrees. Additionally, the increased expectations for revenue generation and “prestigious” scholarly output, for instance, have placed undue pressure on all staff and faculty, making it harder to create, maintain or expand a family-friendly environment, or one that promotes a culture of care. We believe a culture of care is family-centered. It does not minimize excellence; on the contrary, such a culture understands that folks work better when care responsibilities are acknowledged and policies are developed that align family and personal life and work. One thing that became very clear through the process of this book is that we always think about faculty and administrators with regard to these issues, but rarely staff or undergraduate or graduate students. Thus, some sectors of academe experience a more family-friendly environment than others; the policies and expectations are uneven based on position in the higher education hierarchy. It is important to note that while headway in creating and implementing family-friendly policies has been accomplished, but much more can and should be done if academe will continue to be a leader with regards to this issue.

(more…)

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Robin Morgan, Gloria Steinem, and Others on “Sex and World Peace”

“The very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated.”—from Sex and World Peace

Sex and World Peace, Valerie HudsonIn the past few days a variety of sources have focused their attention on Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett’s much talked-about and increasingly influential work, Sex and World Peace. Commentators, activists, and scholars have recognized the importance of the book for the women’s movement as it offers the first real scholarly understanding of the impact of a nation’s treatment of women on its security and relations with other countries.

Radio host, noted feminist activist, and author Robin Morgan interviewed Valerie Hudson for her show on Women’s Media Center Live. In the interview, Morgan and Hudson discuss a variety of topics central to the book, including the ways in which a patriarchal society is not compatible with a healthy democracy.

Hudson begins the interview by discussing her experiences as doctoral student in security studies and how the existence of women was barely, if at all, mentioned. In large part, as she explains, Sex and World Peace challenges this omission by showing the ways in which the security of women is integral to the security of the state.

Valerie Hudson also points to how the treatment of women both in law and in practice influences a nation’s life expectancy rate (for both men and women), food security, and a host of other indicators. Seen in this light, she suggests that India, often referred to as the world’s largest democracy, fails to live up to the ideals of a democratic society due to its poor treatment of women.

Another proponent and admirer for the book is none other than Gloria Steinem, who in a recent talk on the occasion of Ms. Magazine‘s fortieth anniversary praised Sex and World Peace. (She begins her comments on the book at the forty-minute mark.) In particular, she argues that the findings and arguments of the book should play an important role in US foreign policy.

(more…)

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

From Shameful to Sexy — Kelly Oliver on Changing Representations of Pregnancy

Kelly Oliver, Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down

“Pregnancy and pregnant bodies have gone from shameful and hidden to sexy and spectacular”—Kelly Oliver

In From Shameful to Sexy, the introduction to Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films , Kelly Oliver examines the shifting image of the pregnant woman in popular culture and Hollywood films.

She argues that this phenomenon has taken pregnancy out of the closet, it also creates unrealistic expectations for women to have it all. It also reflects ambivalent attitudes toward women’s roles and traditional family values, and new technologies of reproduction.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

Pregnancy has become an obsession in popular culture where paparazzi are constantly on the lookout for celebrities’ telltale “baby bumps” and heavily pregnant bellies, and reality television shows and tabloid magazines parade teen pregnancies, sexy “momshells,” and celebrity baby woes and triumphs. Pregnancy and pregnant bodies have gone from shameful and hidden to sexy and spectacular….

Certainly, positive and desirable images of pregnant women are a step forward. But if we look closer, we can see how these seemingly new stories repeat traditional ideas about abject maternal bodies, conventional notions of family values, familiar anxieties over women’s role in reproduction, and fears of miscegenation. In addition, current ideals that promote pregnancy and maternity as desirable, especially for career women, bring new expectations that often require heroic efforts and large doses of caffeine, antidepressants, and sleeping pills—not to mention Mama Spanx maternity wear, “mommy-tucks,” diet fads, and taxing workouts at the gym. Today, women are not only responsible for the health and welfare of their babies but also expected to stay beautiful and fit while pregnant and to lose their “baby fat” as soon as possible in order to “get their bodies back” (as one tabloid put it, suggesting that their pregnant bodies are not their real bodies). Pregnancy has become like an accessory worn by the rich and famous, an adornment that can be removed. Pregnant celebrities go from lack to excess and back again, from anorexic to sporting the telltale “baby bump,” so popular in the media. Now, rather than laying in or staying at home, pregnant women are expected to exercise, continue working, and still be beautiful and sexy for their male partners. In the words of Wenda Wardell Morrone, “We can all recognize the successful pregnant working woman: she is the one in the maternity jogging suit running a marathon on her way to chairing a business meeting; she’ll give birth in her lunch hour without even smudging her eye shadow. She is also a fantasy”.

If Hollywood did not create this fantasy, it continues to feed it. Indeed, in recent years Hollywood has helped revive the fantasy of women “having it all”—babies, careers, sexy bodies, and the freedom to enjoy them. Pregnancy has become as desirable as ever, now fueled by images of “knocked-up knockouts,” “momshells,” and pregnant celebrities. Hollywood is giving birth to new images of sexy, cute, and attractive pregnancies offscreen and on….

(more…)

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

MomCom as RomCom

Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down

“Today, Hollywood need not bother with marriage. Rather, sex, baby, love—often in that order—are the contemporary triple threat.”—Kelly Oliver

In her book Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films, Kelly Oliver discusses the genre of the “MomCom,” in which pregnancy is the means by which a man and a woman become romantically involved rather than the other way around.

In this excerpt, Oliver discusses such films as Knocked Up, Look Who’s Talking, Fools Rush In, and Juno to explore the ways in which pregnancy is depicted as a way to “soften” the controlling woman and make the man grow up.

Today, Hollywood need not bother with marriage. Rather, sex, baby, love—often in that order—are the contemporary triple threat. While we are used to seeing sex without love in contemporary Hollywood films, we are not used to seeing babies without sex. As we will see, uncoupling sex and reproduction causes so much anxiety that, often in the most contrived ways, these films manage to bring them back together. And the transformations that take place through pregnancy, particularly to the control-freak career woman, not only recouple sex and reproduction but also bring love and romance into the mix.

In Knocked Up, pregnancy is the softening agent that eventually makes the career girl more likable and tolerant and makes the slacker nerd grow up. Of course pregnancy also becomes the reason why our heroine worries about keeping her high-powered television job. Not quite Doris Day’s characters before her (who gives up career for family), Alison (Heigl) wonders how she can balance her high-powered career and a baby. And like Doris Day’s character in Lover Come Back, she is pregnant as a result of a one-night stand. Unlike Doris’s characters, however, Alison is not in love with the father of her child. In fact, she doesn’t even know him. Rather than pregnancy following from courtship, romance, and marriage, we get the reverse trajectory in recent pregnancy romcoms where pregnancy becomes the vehicle for courtship, romance, and heterocoupling, if not also marriage….

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Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Kelly Oliver — Bella’s Baby: Extreme Home Birth

With our featured book this week being Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films we are re-posting Kelly Oliver’s essay originally published for mother’s day.

Kelly Oliver, Knock Me Up, Knock Me DownTwilight: Breaking Dawn continues a long line of horror films featuring women giving birth to otherworldly creatures. Bella, the teenage heroine of the Twilight series, is a modern day Rosemary’s Baby, whose pregnancy with a “demon” leaves her wasting away. While Rosemary drinks vile potions prepared by witches, Bella drinks blood out of kiddie Styrofoam cups complete with straw. She is further infantilized cuddled up on the couch under her childhood quilt, another nod to the childlike Rosemary. Whereas Rosemary’s Baby ends with a close-up of the demon baby’s glowing red eyes, Breaking Dawn ends with a close-up of Bella’s glowing red eyes, signaling her transformation into a vampire.

Another homage to Rosemary’s Baby is Bella’s nightmarish birth scene, shown through flashing images of a screaming Bella being drugged so vampires can remove the baby. Talk about extreme home birth! Edward delivers the baby by chewing through the amniotic sac. Not a very sterile operation, but it does the trick. Still, don’t try this at home! Never fear, the baby looks adorable after Edward’s “sister” cleans her…perhaps by licking off all that blood?

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Monday, October 15th, 2012

Book Giveaway! “Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down,” by Kelly Oliver

“This is a wonderful book…. It examines new possibilities, not all positive, in an age of techno-pregnancy and the erotic glorification of “baby bumps”, “momshells” and pregnant celebrities. A highly serious yet entertaining account of the relationship between film and the popular imagination and a timely reminder of importance of popular culture in everyday life.” — Barbara Creed, University of Melbourne

Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films

This week our featured book is Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films by Kelly Oliver.

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films and we are offering a FREE copy of the book to one winner.

To enter our book giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck and spread the word!

For more on the book: read the introduction From Shameful to Sexy or browse the book in Google Preview.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Amy Allen — ‘Mommy Wars’ Redux: A False Conflict

“[T]he history of second wave feminism suggests that the choice that has emerged in the debate over Badinter’s book — that we either view attachment parenting as a backlash against feminism and or embrace attachment parenting as feminism — is a false one.” — Amy Allen

The Politics of Our SelvesOn May 27, the New York Times published “‘Mommy Wars’ Redux: A False Conflict” by Amy Allen in their philosophy blog, The Stone. Allen is the Parents Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities and a professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies at Dartmouth College, the author of The Politics of Our Selves, and the General Editor of the excellent New Directions in Critical Theory series for Columbia University Press. In “‘Mommy Wars’ Redux,” she looks at the furor caused by Elisabeth Badinter’s book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women and argues that conflict about motherhood among feminists distracts from the “economic policies and social institutions that set up systematic obstacles to women working outside of the home.”

Allen claims that the central argument of The Conflict is that “a certain contemporary style of mothering — a style that requires total devotion of mother to child, starting with natural childbirth and extending through exclusive and on-demand breastfeeding, baby-wearing and co-sleeping — undermines women’s equality.” Allen thinks that this kind of questioning of motherhood is a question that reveals divides in feminism as a movement:

A post in The Times’ Room for Debate forum earlier this month described the conflict staked out in Badinter’s book as one of “motherhood vs. feminism.” But what this discussion failed to capture is something that Badinter actually discusses in her book at some length, namely, that the debate over mothering is not just a conflict between feminists and women in general but rather a conflict internal to feminism itself.

[A] short detour through the history of second wave feminism suggests that the choice that has emerged in the debate over Badinter’s book — that we either view attachment parenting as a backlash against feminism and or embrace attachment parenting as feminism — is a false one. Neither vision of feminism challenges the fundamental conceptual oppositions that serve to rationalize and legitimate women’s subordination.

Even if one accepts the diagnosis that I just sketched — and no doubt there are many feminist theorists who would find it controversial — one might think: this is all well and good as far as theory goes, but what does it mean for practice, specifically for the practice of mothering? A dilemma that theorists delight in deconstructing must nevertheless still be negotiated in practice in the here and now, within our existing social and cultural world. And women who have to negotiate that dilemma by choosing whether to become mothers and, if they do become mothers, whether (if they are so economically secure as to even have such a choice) and (for most women) how to combine mothering and paid employment have a right to expect some practical insights on such questions from feminism.

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Friday, May 11th, 2012

Julie Stephens — The Contradictions of Mother’s Day

This coming Sunday, May 13, is Mother’s Day. In honor of the occasion, we are featuring two guest posts this week discussing popular conceptions of motherhood. Today’s article is written by Julie Stephens, an associate professor in sociology and politics at the School of Social Sciences and Psychology, Victoria University, Australia, and author of Confronting Postmaternal Thinking: Feminism, Memory, and Care.

Confronting Postmaternal ThinkingThe gift-exchange that is Mother’s Day can provide insight into cultural meanings around the maternal, particularly at a time when there is so much anxiety around human dependency and care. It is easy to identify the obvious commercialism and sentimentality surrounding the day when public and private attention is supposed to be focused on mothers. Uneasy contradictions nonetheless emerge when the work of nurture, care, preservation and sacrifice is marketized and made visible in ways difficult to reconcile with the actual work of mothering. In this respect, both the giving and receiving of gifts that so clumsily attempt to symbolize a non-market relationship, can feel somewhat tainted.

Sara Ruddick, the feminist philosopher and author of Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, viewed mothering as ‘a work with ideals’. While depicting it as a strange mix of play, organization, attentiveness, panic, boredom, lack of attentiveness, infatuation and emotion, she also recognized mothering as a social process, involving moral and ethical thinking and decision-making. Accordingly, the practice of maternal care produces a form of moral reasoning and a different way of seeing, knowing and acting in the world. Such conceptions have little to do with the market, and indeed serve to complicate standard political divisions between public and private.

By contrast, Mother’s Day reinforces these divisions by bringing so-called ‘private’ caring relations into public view. The fact that it is celebrated as one ‘special’ day in the year also reproduces the fiction that on the other days, home is somehow separate from and uncontaminated by the ‘unfeeling’ market. This way of imagining home can be traced back to early capitalism. Yet such understandings of home, or of the maternal as situated in a pure and private affective domain, can only be sustained through cultural representations based on nostalgia and longing. Mother’s Day is a perfect vehicle for such representations.
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