Friday, 27 April 2012

On Megan & Bella (III)

Alright, so I admit it. I like Megan now. (I can't really say about Bella so will wait for the next "Twilight.")!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/image.jpg

She is a bit of a child, but she's in her twenties in the Sixties, so maybe that's understandable. She is, in other ways, definitely an adult. In recent episodes, we learn that she cares about her job, her colleagues, her work itself, friendship, and real love in marriage. If she is pouty or silly at times, maybe my annoyance is more about me than about "Mad Men."

I feel a lot of compassion for Megan in the recent Howard Johnson's scene, especially knowing that when Don drives off and leaves her there, she is hugely at risk. When he comes back to find her but can't, as he panics, we panic. And when they reunite later in the apartment, his relief is our relief. It is also undeniably clear (for me, for the first time), when he says, "I thought I lost you," grasping her around the waist, that these two people deeply love each other and want to protect and honor one another.


Thursday, 26 April 2012

How Do We Get There? (II)

In her concluding chapter of The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf offers some ideas for a way forward. First, she says, "we must now ask the questions about our place in our bodies that women a generation ago asked about their place in society" (270). I am in awe of the list of questions she suggests, among them: "Is 'beauty' really sex?" and "Does a woman's identity count?" She goes on to encourage us to "separate from the myth what it has surrounded and held hostage" and tells us what some of those things are (271).

I'm relieve to hear Wolf say that she is "not attacking anything that makes women feel good; only what makes us feel bad in the first place. We all like to be desirable and feel beautiful," she says (271). On the next page, she develops this idea: "we must see that it does not matter in the least what women look like as long as we feel beautiful" (272). Wolf isn't tell us to give up everything that makes us feel beautiful; in fact, she wants us to reclaim a range of ways to be beautiful, to make it possible for more women and girls to love ourselves and our bodies, and doesn't that, in turn, mean that we'll have more love to give, which is better for everyone on earth?

After all these pages of research, theory, and detailed experience, Wolf distills her message into a punchy, truth-talking conclusion with lines like: "The real problem is our lack of choice" and "The actual struggle is between pain and pleasure, freedom and compulsion" (272, 273). We should not have to choose between being "sexual" and being "serious."

I've noticed more recently while watching the BBC London News and Channel 4 News that I tend to note the women's appearances in much more detail than the men's. Although I love his flashy ties and socks, I don't really care what Jon Snow looks like, just about what he has to say. I'm much more distracted, I'm sorry to admit, however, by Cathy Newman's tiny arms, facial features, or stilettos. Maybe noticing that I do this is the first step towards breaking it apart. As Wolf notes, "the choices we make about our appearance [are] no big deal," but I have clearly been trained to see them as though they matter a lot (273). What if I could learn not only to diminish the significance of Cathy's appearance in my own mind but also to celebrate what she has to say to others (men and women)? Wouldn't that be a small kind of progress?

Re-reading Wolf's book has reminded me all over how strongly I don't want anyone in this culture (or on this earth, truly) to be hungry, to be violated, to be judged unreasonably, or to be imprisoned inside his or her own body. If we really want a world in which everyone can be free to live, to love, and to be "fully human," we have to first deconstruct the pernicious and pervasive beauty myth that keeps us all down. King said, "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The same goes for freedom.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

How Do We Get There?

We were talking today in class about some voices in various waves of the Women's Movement that have been and are critical of a range of institutions, like religion and capitalism, and we began discuss some of the challenges involved in changing our world.

During the Civil Rights movement in America, Dr. King articulated what for many of us was and is the dream, but people disagreed (and continue to disagree) about how we get there. I have always been sympathetic towards some of the ideas in Black Power literature, articulated by the likes of Malcolm X. And certainly Anti-Apartheid leaders like Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela fall into this category for me. It is inspiring to listen to voices representing an oppressed people, calling us to find a way forward, and in some cases, showing us that way. The violence of both of these race-based movements was and is highly political and controversial. I do not have the answer, but I understand why our questions are so fraught.

For me much of the same is true of the Women's Movement. Various leaders, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Gertrude Stein, have inspired me with their articulations of women's collective experiences and have rallied women and men alike in their cries for a different world. This does not mean--I'm sorry to report, in some ways--that I have burned my bra or absolutely stopped wearing high heels. It does mean that I am more tuned in to gender issues, for better and worse. Perhaps I am more troubled by what I see because I have learned to notice and interpret it. Yet, I hope at least, perhaps I am also, in some small way, empowered to be a part of the solution as we take small steps towards a better and more equitable future...


Friday, 20 April 2012

Some Key Lines from "Killing Us Softly 4" --> Reflection

"Just about everyone feels personally exempt from the influence of advertising."

"[Ads] create an environment we all swim in... a toxic cultural environment."

"Ads sell more than products... They sell concepts of normalcy... They tell us who we are and who we should want to be."

"Women of color are only considered beautiful if they approximate the white ideal."

"Women's bodies are constantly turned into objects."

"Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person."

"The obsession with thinness is about cutting girls down to size."

 "We have an epidemic of eating disorders."

 "Eating has become a moral issue."

"The ultimate impact [of a single version of beauty] is profoundly anti-erotic."

"[If there's only one way to be beautiful on offer], it can hardly be considered a choice to choose it."

"Public health problems can only be solved by changing the environment."

What we can do / What we need:
--become aware
--citizen activism
--media literacy
--"[to become] a public that thinks of themselves as citizens rather than primarily as consumers."


I've been thinking a lot this week (while reading on in The Beauty Myth) about Kilbourne's belief that our sex-obsessed ad culture is "profoundly anti-erotic." Wolf talks about how the ad culture "depends on sexual estrangement" and "is fueled by sexual dissatisfaction." I'm not sure if this makes me want to cry or laugh out loud--probably a little of both. How utterly ridiculous it is that "what they sell is sexual discontent"! (143)

Some of my dearest friends, Gaby & Selden, who live in California, achieve more than anyone I've known what Wolf describes as "real mutuality--an equal gaze, equal vulnerability, equal desire" (152). For them, human beings are human beings, male and female alike. They are aware citizen activists with high media literacy who prize discussion. They think of themselves primarily as citizens, not as consumers (all as Kilbourne suggests is necessary to be free and healthier).

I've also been thinking a lot about the environment and how, as Kilbourne says, "[Ads] create an environment we all swim in... a toxic cultural environment." I knew in high school that girls' and women's magazines were not healthy for me overall, that they were not contributing to a better life or sense of self and so forth, so I gave them up when I was sixteen. Similarly, a couple of years later, I stopped watching television as a college freshmen (which lasted with very few exceptions for fourteen years until my surgery this winter made television more appealing)! Yet I wouldn't say that abstinence is the answer; nor would I say that it really works. Quitting beauty/glossy magazines and television certainly meant I was less exposed to beauty imagery ("beauty pornography"), but it did not mean that I was immune. In my experience, unless you live alone on an island, beauty imagery finds you wherever you are.

I think violence is the most distressing and urgent manifestation of the beauty myth. As Kilbourne states, "Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person," and most of the images we see turn women into things. Wolf, too, will talk more about violence soon--an upcoming chapter is called "Violence"--and we've the presentation(s) from "Solace: Women's Aid" to consider as well as our course continues...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

On Bella & Megan Continued

Back to "Twilight"... I'm worried about two main things in the most recent film: the violence against (and victimization of) Bella and her total emaciation to the point of death. I will say, however, that it's complicated.

Bella has a Jane Eyre-esque sense of self. She is determined to be strong and independent in many ways, determined to make her own choices. She chooses, against Edward's will, to carry their vampire baby. (Yes, if you don't know the film or books, you heard that right.) But Jane and Bella are caught in the same default dependence on men--partly (though not entirely) determined by their circumstances. Mr. Rochester enjoys the immense benefits of his station, and while acknowledging Jane as an intellectual equal, he also manipulates her (expecting her, for instance, to wear the jewels and dresses he selects and purchases) and lies to her (about Bertha, his wife in the attic).

While both Edwards (the vampire and Mr. Rochester) have many attractive qualities, they are confined and conditioned by some hyper-masculine ideology, partly because they are physically strong and luckily wealthy, but also because they are unable to use reason and imagination to free themselves (and to be part of freeing their partnerships) from social constraints (norms and mores).

Edward the vampire seems distraught when he hurts Bella during sex on their honeymoon (ostensibly because he is such a strong and virile vampire that he can't help it), but did the writers and filmmakers consider their complicity in a long sequence of images of brutality against women and girls? I'm worried about this. Bella says it's okay, and I think we're supposed to believe her and/or agree with her, that she is bruised and marked because she wanted to have sex with Edward and isn't upset about the injuries she sustains.

Isn't Jane better off collapsing on the moor without a friend in the world to help her? Not necessarily... because she would die without food or shelter, as we all would. And unfortunately, it is into the manipulations (and patriarchy) of St. John Rivers that Jane is "saved." Only when she inherits money does Jane truly own her life, her self, and her choices.

Things get worse for Bella. Although it seems admirable in many ways for her to choose to carry the baby--after all, we want women and girls to be able to make choices about their own bodies--Bella is physically attacked, battered, and blood-sucked by her male fetus, a perplexing development, to say the least. Edward seems powerless to do anything, while Bella steadily disappears, her gaunt face and skeleton the signs of impending death.

I'm intrigued by the solution: drinking human blood. Blood is associated with many things, including menstruation, womanhood, life, childbirth, sex, religion, and death.

To say the least, I'm staying tuned for the next installment and don't know yet if Bella Swan is really more like Jane Eyre or Ana Carolina Reston (the supermodel who died last year from anorexia).