Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Major Loss in the Fight for Choice

I just wanted to link to this New York Times article that details the shocking decision that was handed down today by the relatively young Robert's court. In short, the 5-4 decision upheld a federal ban on late term abortions (derisively called 'partial birth abortions' by pro-life campaigners, and known medically as 'intact dilation and extraction' abortions). Unsurprisingly, the one woman sitting on the bench, Justice Ginsburg, wrote the dissenting opinion and stated that the decisions fly so directly in the face of earlier decisions that she doubts the decision can stand.

I sure hope she is right. It is a sad day when the Supreme Court works against civil rights.

In Reversal, Justices Back Ban on Method of Abortion

Feminist Art Label is Problematic

I wrote my last 'Broadly Speaking' editorial in the Yale Daily News on Tuesday, so I thought to re-publish the article here since it was, after all, about feminism and Yale (sort of).

Feminism blurs line between art, politics

Broadly Speaking

The art world at large has been abuzz over the past few months about the seeming re-emergence of feminist art. Three weeks ago, the Brooklyn Museum of Art inaugurated its Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which featured Judy Chicago’s feminist sculpture “The Dinner Party” on permanent installation. The same day, the Brooklyn Museum launched a major exhibit titled “Global Feminisms,” which featured a survey of feminist art made since 1990 from all over the world. In early March, another major exhibition of feminist art, “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

These two shows are noteworthy because they are the first shows of their kind to go up in the past 10 years. Feminist art saw its heyday in the 1970s and has largely been overlooked or dismissed in the intervening 30 years. In addition, the exhibits are notable because female artists are so rarely represented in major group exhibitions. For example, in the Greater New York show put up at PS1 in 2006, women artists made up only 33 percent of the artists exhibited, though women make up a majority of emerging artists. In addition, a survey undertaken by the feminist performance art group Brainstormers of the representation of women and men in Chelsea commercial galleries found that over half of the galleries show over 60 percent male artists, some as many as 80 percent or higher.

The question that exhibits of this kind raise is whether it is productive to promote a division between political or feminist art and all other types of art. Do these exhibits allow often-overlooked artists a forum? Or do they further ghettoize the works of politically conscious artists by constraining them to such a specific category?

Moreover, art shows with such an explicit curatorial focus promote an overly simplistic reading of the art, both by creating a rigid framework with which to view the works, as well as ignoring a lot of subtly feminist art. A show that features feminist art implicitly suggests that making work that deals with issues of gender, sexuality and womanhood is somehow different from any other art that responds to and is drawn from our cultural environment. All art is indebted to its artistic and historical context, yet we don’t pigeonhole Picasso’s work as being about only World War II, David Hammons’ work as commenting only on poverty in New York City or Diego Rivera’s very political murals as addressing only socialism.

Most feminist art shows would dismiss the works of minimalist painter Danielle Mysliwiec because nothing in her paintings obviously advances a feminist cause. Rather, Mysliwiec’s feminism is embedded in her minimalist undertaking — minimalism is a traditionally male-dominated area of art — as well as the delicate allusions to lace and other feminine objects found in her works.

My fear is that feminist art shows only look for feminism on the surface of the work and give little or no credit to the great deal of feminist rigor that serves as a foundation for many female artists. Making art as a female presupposes a certain level of feminism. Though women constitute the majority of art students, the commercial art market and elite arts institutions remain boys clubs. The Yale University Art Gallery serves as a good case study: Jennifer Gross, curator of the Modern and Contemporary Department, is often considered a feminist art curator because she exhibits and collects an equal proportion of male and female artists, even though she never does so with a consciously women-friendly intent.

The other critical consideration when thinking about this type of art is whether the art is made in service of a political message, or whether the political agenda is simply an outgrowth of the art. For example, posters made by the Guerilla Girls are art, yes, but more importantly, they are meant to be aggressively political. The artistic and aesthetic elements of the posters are only in the service of advancing a very particular goal. A sculpture artist like Betye Saar would argue that the politics explicit in her art are a natural extension of her assemblage process.

I don’t mean to condemn the efforts of the Brooklyn Museum or of MOCA. It is important for artists who consider themselves feminist to show their work and to have a platform to organize and network. Furthermore, it is about time that a major arts institution installed a show that focuses on contemporary women artists. But this should not encourage the art world to prescribe certain working methodologies to women artists or essentialize women artists as feminist artists. Women can and should make art about whatever they choose and be judged on the aesthetic and social value of their work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Some Words from a Guest Blogger

this probably should've been a post but here i am.... maybe i will make it one...

excellent comments andom; most especially because they highlight the role our-ever friendly media plays in devaluing racism.

but in truth, what's a woman who thinks, well i do remember hearing

Smack that, give me some more
Smack that, 'till you get sore
Smack that.

and akon's "smack that" doesn't even include "ho".

there's also snoop dog's interesting response to being compared to don imus, which is problematic in its own right, but an interesting comment nonetheless:

"These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC [the cable network home to Imus] going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha-----as say we in the same league as him."

interesting. several questions which i'd like to debate:
if one ought to take care and consider the nature of media representations when discussing internal injustice, how does one proceed to create interior justice if not in the public sphere, if not in bringing to light these cultural internalizations of systemic oppression? where is this so-called private, black-only sphere where black identity can heal itself from colonial assumptions of heteronormativity?
and do we not paternalistically presume that our community is too weak to acknowledge internal discrepancies and then to proceed with an equally public movement away from misogyny, an example of progress?

it is a testament of our capacity to represent blackness not as a stringent category of identification, to demonstrate its capacity for morphing, for evolution. perhaps the question is not whether specificity of viewpoints in the black community contribute to division, but rather how do we develop a rhetoric that uncategorically demonstrates us as unified against white supremacy and at the same time, incontestably human in our capacity to express viewpoints that alternate from brother to brother, sister to sister. we are not a political party with one ideology to which we march (though perhaps some might argue we ought to be), we are a people, in the multivarious forms that the word "people" takes.

is it also not possible to reject don imus' and his likes while also stating, 'we categorically reject hip hop's perpetuation of misogyny which sustains heteronormativity, a system of power upon which white supremacy often rests?' - or something along these lines.

it would be a shame to shy from this discussion and alienate our women from our identity on grounds that race as it relates to our relationship to the white public takes precedence over gender discourse within the community.

what's more, i am **accutely** sensitive to the historical legacy of white colonialism (in its wondrous, multivarious forms) use of women's positions in other cultures to attack these communities as primitive, backwards etc., a reason to mutilate cultures. i think the discourse of feminism in the Middle East currently testifies directly to this.

but i am concerned that this acute awareness of how these cultural critiques from the "enlightened" eurocentric lead us to great susceptibility to 1. perpetually imbue female bodies with the role of cultural representatives such that these discussions about race necessarily occur through our bodies, once more encouraging the silencing of women as mere bodily representors of idealism - does she or doesn't she wear a veil, does she or doesn't she wear her culture's garb, does she or doesn't she cook X food, doesn't she or doesn’t she use birth control, is she or isn't she raising our children in this way, etc (has any one heard black female view points? maybe i've missed this but it appears as though men are once more speaking in the place of women) 2. accentuate one form of injustice over another.

so perhaps someone can answer for me where this private sphere for black judgment occurs, and why we cannot reclaim justice as a heterogenous community rather than one that necessarily presents a monolithic front; in short, why in at once condemning don imus' racist comments, there can't be a more nuanced and yes, public critique that acknowledges hip hop's perpetuation of not merely gender injustice but equally problematic, race injustice by so vividly and so often reflecting the rhetoric of white heteronormativity (though perhaps in a more verbose manner than white sexism's great capacity to be insidious)? why when we critique hip hop's gender injustice we cannot also publicly denounce the *continued* unequal pay of women across the US, the many unjust applications of rape laws, the eroding access a woman has to birth control let alone abortion, the absence of day care to ensure women's actual capacity to enter the work force, the appalling number of women tenured as professors despite the steadfast, growing number of females graduating university compared to their male peers.

it's not right, i concede, that the black community must both bear the brunt of racism as well as be the solutions to these injustices. but i am deeply concerned when one form of injustice and its resolution take precedence over another because we find ourselves in the public and often oppositionary eye of the other. i am beginning to understand the dangerous cost of this double consciousness, this perpetual acknowledgment of the white perspective on blackness.

it’s our difficult to move forward with change by taking hold of the rhetoric and calling internal critique of blackness not an instance of division but a representation of another assault on whiteness, where we refuse to perpetuate power structures which have and will continue to uphold racial, gender oppression so long as we choose to not tear down the both simultaneously.

we are fortunate enough to historically know how women have been sidelined in and for race politics ( – let’s not make the same mistake twice.

so be equally insulted that black women were referred not only in racially derogatory terms, but at the absurdity of reducing our amorphous and profound sexuality to an apparatus for lust.

i won’t choose to be more upset as a woman or a black person in these comments. i’ll thunder that i’m made to choose, as though sexism and racism were not cut from the same cloth. so snoop can talk from his soul as much as he wants and don imus can reveal his true colors, but neither’s masculinity or blackness is enough a shield to protect him from my anger.

**and may i just add that these moments of internal critique need to be buffered with the role of the media which uplifts misogynistic rap while giving little to no play to rappers like lupe, dead prez, talib, roots, and so many others who have returned to rap's original *revolutionary* role as a voice of dissent and a voice of UPLIFT. there's a reason why hip hop has taken root around the world, from senegal with the amazing didier awadi rapping against neocolonialism to the banlieus of paris against france's hypocritical reputation as race-heaven to palestinians against the israeli occupation to female middle eastern MCs rapping about american cultural hegemony.

so i say: rap is beautiful.
let's bring it back home.

ps for someone notably more eloquent than myself, the black law feminist kimberly crenshaw has written on this not-so-new issue. y'all should check out her article:

pps tns doing loving internal critique…

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Online Misogyny: Does the Internet Make Sexism Easier?

By now I'm sure many of you have heard about the scandal at the Yale Law School. As the Yale Daily News and the Washington Post have reported, three female students at Yale Law School have claimed to be the victims of slanderous comments on an online discussion, AutoAdmit, which allows posts by undergraduate students about schools, job offerings, etc. One of the three students believes that the offensive posts damaged her career chances, since the discussions are among the first hits of a Google search.

I read through some of the comments, and I was shocked. The posts are lewd, aggressive, even violent; there are speculations about her sexual health and threats of rape. I know that some will say that these threats are not to be taken seriously, but it's truly horrifying to think that people can voice such thoughts on a public forum anonymously and not fear legal action. Similar phenomena have occurred elsewhere online: recently, a female blogger became so frightened by gruesome death threats that she canceled speaking engagements (read more about this story here).

I am also thinking back to last year when Della and Sabrina received a barrage of hateful comments in which the words "bitch" featured prominently. Is it easier to hate women electronically? It seems that this kind of hate speech is tolerated online in a way it would not be in a print forum or in everyday conversation. Perhaps the anonymity of message boards eliminate the filter between thought and speech . . . or perhaps I just don't notice the expression of these sentiments in other arenas. I realize that posters can attack a wide variety of people in vicious ways, but it is particularly disturbing that women are often the victims of these attacks and that the slander is of a sexual nature. For all of those people who claim that sexism is gone and that feminism is unnecessary, these disgusting posts prove otherwise.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Whoa, Women's Crew!

On an incredibly positive women-note, the Yale Women's Crew team made a ridiculously funny, ridiculously critical video about their relationship to food ("This has 3,000 calories, this has 3,000 calories, let's eat it!") where they spoof the now famous internet video "Shoes." Amazing. Thank god for women being funny and making light of the ridiculously stringent eating habits athletes have to adhere to! Way to put your intellect and comedy and femininity to use. This video is brilliant. There, I said it.

Also, they are wearing mustaches for much of the video. I love the women's crew team.

Take a look.

(Reblogged courtesy of Ivy Gate)

Naked Women, They Sell Everything

I have been meaning to complain about the above poster since I first saw it heralding me from outside of the Yale Rep. My vigor was re-fueled last night when walking by the poster and my friend asked me if I wasn't surprised that The New York Times refused to run the image as an ad for Yale's production of Lulu.

No, I am not surprised, in fact I totally agree with The New York Times' discomfort, although admittedly my objections may be more political than proprietary.

I find this poster offensive. Not only is the body headless, armless and for most purposes legless (ie really it has a vagina, the only important part of a female body), the body is deathly white and totally hairless. No landing strip here boys. Go right on in. I worry that there is this mentality among intellectual institutions, people, and theatrical organizations (apparently) that because we are conscious of the tradition of misogynist imagery we are accessing it's alright for us to mine it.

It is not alright. Lulu is a play about sex and abuse and prostitution and the degradation of women. The play is incredibly violent. Grotesquely violent. The poster image relates only in that it degrades women and is sexual yes, but the apple? The virginal, death-like, obectified body? Tangential at best. Really, its an easy, simple poster that took little to no talent or ingenuity to come up with and which employs a wonderful, rich history of sexist imagery to deliver a quick, sexy punch. Do better Yale Rep, I am sad to see you disappoint.