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Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Pride & Prejudatass

In Art, Feminism, film, Freud, Gender Studies, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex on November 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm

The fifth in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

pandp

by Barbarism

In this spirited send-up of Pride & Prejudice, BARBARISM queers the classic! (which itself queered the classics–as Jane Austen queered femininity, the Barbs queer what has been queered before! With new and old results). By inserting the Thatcherian past into the Austenian past, Prejudatass connects new to old and upends the old, creating continuity as discontinuity, a constant inconsistency attesting that “there is no solid, objective reality… each of us experiences our reality subjectively”; it is rather for us to advocate what “encourages overlapping and sometimes contradictory realities… as opposed to essentialism’s quest for the One Truth” (Queen, 1997, p. 21).

Psychoanalytically, Prejudatass is a bacchanalia of defenses! This Darcy reincarnation relies on intellectualization and Otherizing to displace and combat his feelings of insecurity by scapegoating immigrants and dandies, thus divesting himself of responsibility and instead assigning blame to socially inferior parties. Psychologically self-soothing, this lack of honesty–as exhibited in his defense against enjoying performing femininity on The Old Stage–represents an egodystonic relationship with exhibitionism. He is finally able to integrate the multiple components of himself as he acknowledges his enjoyment, though with a discomfort that belies the complexity of emotions broiling underneath.

Further, this video is itself a defense against discomfort which “by finding a means of withdrawing the energy from the release of unpleasure that is already in preparation” is able to transform it “by discharge, into pleasure” (Freud, 1960, p. 290).

Works Cited

Freud, S. (1960). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Queen, C., & Schimel, L. (1997). PoMoSexuals: Challenging assumptions about gender  and sexuality. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press.

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Teaser

In Art, Feminism, film, Freud, Gender Studies, LGBT, Performativity, Sex on August 20, 2013 at 9:29 pm

The fourth in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 11.39.48 PM

by Barbarism

In this BARBARISM production, we explore the visual/metaphorical dimensions of projection! As the literal screen gives rise to an aural example of cultural scapegoating, we witness a verbal soliloquy of everyday sexual humiliation-meets-cajolery of women using the symbol of the breast. But if the breast is synecdochically symbolic of woman, woman is itself symbolic of sex and mother but “‘men’ and ‘women’ in Wittig’s radical argument are political creations designed to give a biological mandate to social arrangements in which one group of human beings oppresses another. Relations among people are always constructed, and the question to be asked in not which ones are the most natural, but rather what interests are served by each construction” (Bersani, 1995, p. 38).

These symbols upon symbols create a vent for basic emotions that become perverted into one-sided disparagement. “Symbols precede us. Their internalization serves to construct us” (Corbett, 2009, p. 43). The woman/breast/sex/mother is a mere screen upon which people may project their feelings and fantasies, which are influenced by culturally-condoned misogyny which simply speaks to the fear of vulnerability/mother/sex as represented by women. When people are unable to connect with an other they stoop to Otherizing and projecting within a narcissistic realm, blinding themselves to the person in favor of their created symbol stand-in for the person.

When holistic personhood is not culturally valued, the interpersonal result of intrapsychic discomfort, people are disembodied into parts that evoke amorphously scary feelings which are metastasized into cruelty and misdirected onto the part representing the person.

But the breast doesn’t represent the person, the breast represents something in the observer’s mind which is subsequently perverted into being called the person.

Works Cited

Bersani, L. (1995). Homos. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Corbett, K. (2009). Boyhoods: Rethinking masculinities. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

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How Fashion is Queer

In Feminism, Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Performativity, Queer Theory, Transgender on March 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm
Leigh Bowery

Photo by Leigh Bowery

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by Alison Bancroft

There are a number of popular ideas about fashion: That it demeans and oppresses women, or that it is a capitalist plot to extract money – either that they do not have, or that they do have but do not appreciate – from the gullible and the credulous. Attached to both of these is the idea that fashion is vacuous fluff, something trivial that is only of interest to women and gay men and thus pointless by virtue of those who are interested in it. If it were serious, significant, relevant in any way, shape or form, then straight men would take an interest in it. The fact that, on the whole, they don’t take an interest in it, and the people that do are, on the whole, marginalized and discriminated against, is enough to move fashion to the back of the queue for cultural and political importance.

In this short essay I would like to propose another way of looking at fashion, one that will emphasize the ways in which it reframes notions of gender and sexuality. What makes fashion so remarkable is that it has zero regard for heteronormative ideas about men and women, masculine and feminine. In fact, it offers one of the only cultural spaces there is for variant models of sexed subjectivities. In fashion, the usual categories of man and woman do not apply.

Also, before this essay continues, it should be said that fashion here refers to creativity in dress and bodily ornamentation. It is a branch of the avant-garde that makes people say “but you can’t wear that” as if a garment’s unsuitability for everyday life is a problem when, actually, it is the whole point. Fashion is not about shopping, and if you think it is, you have missed a trick. Fashion is not going to change the world, of course. It is never going be truly revolutionary. It is seditious though, it subverts from within, offering challenges to the presumed naturalness of existing hierarchies within the terms that are available to it.

Sheila Jeffreys is the most vocal exponent of the standard criticism that fashion reflects and serves to maintain female subordination. In her book Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West she argues that the appearance of the drag queen Ru Paul in adverts for MAC cosmetics and on the runway for the designer Thierry Mugler is a testament to how much fashion hates women. By Jeffreys’ logic, using a drag queen as a model tells the world that fashion thinks women are irrelevant.[i]

Unfortunately for Jeffreys, anatomy is not destiny. It is not the case that fashion hates women so much it makes them redundant by using a man in their place. Instead, fashion ignores the very idea of men and women from the outset, and it puts men in the place of women, women in the place of men, and trans becomes the default, the norm, rather than an oddity or an abasement. This disregard for the usual categories of man and woman is evidence firstly that gender binaries are irrelevant in fashion, and more generally that gender identity is not located in the anatomical body anyway. For anyone familiar with the development of Queer Theory in the last twenty years, this second point is no surprise. Queer Theory, though, is a bit niche, and beyond the confines of the humanities and liberal arts departments of Western universities where it is researched and taught, no-one has really heard of it. For people outside of universities, the ideas of Queer Theory are communicated differently – and fashion is one of the ways in which queer ideas become culturally active. Indeed, it could be said that fashion was queer avant la lettre.

Andrej Pejic, on the cover of Schon magazine

Andrej Pejic, on the cover of Schon magazine

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Seeing History From the Margins

In Feminism, film, Gender Studies, LGBT, Politics on February 27, 2013 at 12:04 am
The first in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”
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peck mirage

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by Bonnie Morris

“What’s wrong with you, Mr. Stillwell? Don’t you want to remember? No; you don’t. That’s why you’ve blacked it out. You’ve stubbed your conscious mind, and you’ve put a bandage of forgetfulness on it until it recovers. Have the courage to face that terrible thing that made you forget.”

Mirage, Universal Pictures, 1965

Screen techniques, the subconscious mind, and the political messages imbedded in Hollywood film are all important tools for me as a professor of history. What the camera’s eye “uncovers” is a means for discussing how we hide historical truths, only to reveal them later in the screenplay of American culture.

At George Washington University, it’s my job to acquaint first-year college students with everything their high schools couldn’t or wouldn’t teach: scholarship on gender and sexuality. The history of slavery and segregation. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The exclusion of women from schools and jobs and athletic fields. The utter suppression of lesbian and gay lives. Usually, such unflattering pictures of discrimination in not-too-distant America were skipped over in my students’ K-12 curriculum. Too often, the history of the Other is buried–marginalized. So, how do we begin to uncover it and restore it to collective consciousness? On the very first day of class, we start talking about seeing history from the margins; from the authentic perspective of the marginalized.

It’s exciting work. Unfortunately, the rich disciplines of women’s studies/black studies/gay and lesbian studies are still reserved for college courses and advanced degrees, and kept separate from “regular” American history. The subject of American women, who today make up over 51% of the population and almost 60% of college enrollment, is still a “special topic.” That’s as problematic a marker in the academic world as “special interests” are in government. It means my classes only reach self-selecting students; no one has to take women’s history. It also means that even these committed, interested students, who may have attended progressive private high schools, are stunningly unfamiliar with the ugly side of American history. My challenge, each fall, is simply convincing these sheltered and privileged students that racial segregation and No Women Allowed actually happened, and happened right here in the nation’s capital.

“No way—that’s crazy! That couldn’t possibly be true!” is a familiar outburst in my Western Civ class.  Some want to know: am I exaggerating? Inventing? Indoctrinating? No. But encountering the unfamiliar in a humanities class lesson bewilders some students, who, moreover, are anxious to do well and to earn an A.  Teaching “from margin to center”, to use the great book title by critic bell hooks, means teaching students to see what was never made visible in their schooling before now.

What does it mean to focus our “eyes” on the previously unseen and unspoken history too often consigned to the footnotes of a page? When I ask my American students what they know about World War II, for instance, most reach for an emblematic American memory, one that sticks out from a lifetime of rote memorization. Pearl Harbor. Iwo Jima. D-Day. We won. Part of what I’m asking is for them to shift the way history is retold, in the same way they might reassess their own “life moments” as individuals. When we sift through our personal memories, we may find they are stacked top-heavy with proud achievements and celebrations, the first kiss, the winning game, graduation.  These happiest images are the ones kept in the slide-show carousel (or, updating technology a little, the personal power-point overview.) But when are we old enough to find the extra slides, the buried images that tell other stories?  This is where the film screen helps my students with recovering, and thus completing, our marginalized national memories, both good and bad.

I tell my students that what helped me was a movie called Mirage.  Directed by Edward Dmytryk and released by Universal Pictures in 1965, it tells the story of a man [Gregory Peck] suffering from amnesia. As he wanders through New York he becomes aware that men are out to kill him. He’s being followed, shot at, and threatened by a mysterious bad guy called “the Major,” while desperately trying to understand the meaning of it all: the past two years and his own career identity are a blur. A nervous psychologist, a brooding detective, and a cynical ex-girlfriend each give Peck small clues to his circumstances. Then, at last, one shard of memory floats up to the surface: Peck begins to see an image of himself in a Southwestern setting, clearly not Manhattan, meeting with the leader of a prominent peace foundation–a man who recently suffered a fatal fall from a top-story window. What does this memory reveal—or conceal? Did Peck play a role in this other man’s death? Read the rest of this entry »

|BLACK BOX| the milk: /sweet 5

In Feminism, Gender Studies, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex on December 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm

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     by Barbarism

In the spirit of Nancy Chodorow, BARBARISM presents the symbolic Breast! A physiological screen upon which one may project all one’s psychological terrors, desires and needs. Et, voila, the ultimate in Good Breast/Bad Breast splitting. It’s “…the almost dizzying continual activity involved in the projective and introjective management of inner objects and of hatred, aggression and envy that characterizes shifts in the transference–the doing and undoing, reversing good and bad, love and hate, and self and other, along with the rapid-fire shifting of affect and drive as the infant feels anger at the breast, feels the breast is angry, fears the angry breast, takes it in, fears the angry self, fears that the angry self will destroy the good breast, tries to get the good breast to soothe the angry self, worries that it has destroyed the breast, tries to restore it, and so on.”

-Nancy Chodorow, The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture

About the Author:

BARBARISM  (https://vimeo.com/user4315393) is a multimedia project developed by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch and Sarah Secunda that agitates on messianic behalf of gender-implosion, identity-expansion and balls-out psycho-social analysis! Our videos and screeds aim to put forth a no-holds-barred bundle of art as activism.

 

Why Don’t You Come Up Sometime and Queer Me?: Reclaiming Mae West as Author and Sexual Philosopher

In Feminism, Foucault, Freud, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Masquerade, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory, Transvestite Souls, Uncategorized on November 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm

  by Chase Dimock

  

We know Mae West as an actress, a sex symbol, a cultural icon, a comedienne, a master of the one liner and the double entendre. What we don’t think of Mae West as is an author. It has been largely forgotten that Mae West got her start on stage, in a series of salacious plays she wrote for herself in the late 20s. West was by then a veteran of the Vaudeville circuit appearing mostly chorus line gigs and bit parts. But when she grew tired of waiting for the right part and her big break to come around, she decided to write her own roles. With early plays such as “Sex” and “Diamond Lil”, West invented the vamp persona that defined her career over the next five decades. If we think of Mae West as playwright and an author that wrote the character that she ultimately became, then we can view her iconography as its own meticulously plotted text and her careful crafting of figure and image as a finely formulated semiotics of the body. If we think of Mae West as an author, then her pithy one-liners and double entendres transcend the ephemera of comic relief and reveal her as one of the most astute observers of sexual and gender politics of the modernist era. If we think of Mae West as an author, a quote like “I’m no model lady. A model’s just an imitation of the real thing”, becomes an insight into gender performativity. Her quote “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution”, becomes a critique of the state’s power to enforce heteronormativity through marriage. And finally her quote “If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning” becomes a post-modernist play on the endless veils of irony and metaphor that obscure and inflate every day speech. It is this Mae West as author and sexual philosopher who put her text into her curves, that I want to recover and illuminate.

While West marketed herself as an object of heterosexual desire, she not only understood her appeal to a gay audience, but she also engaged with the newly emerging gay community in her plays. Thus, I want to also think about Mae West as queer theorist—as an interpreter of queer sexuality who saw the newly visible figure of the homosexual in society as a product of power relations—a figure determined by the interplay of institutional powers, medicine and the law, and his own creative power to define himself. For this, I turn to her 1927 play, “The Drag”, a text centered on the question of the male homosexual’s position in society. Unlike her previous play, “Sex”, which launched her into notoriety and stardom on Broadway, “The Drag” was not a vehicle for self-promotion as an actress. Mae West did not write a role for herself. Instead, “The Drag” sought to cash in on what contemporary scholars have called “The Pansy Craze”, a period in the 1920s when female impersonators appeared in mainstream stage shows and the Jazz age youth went slumming at gay bars and drag balls. The “pansy”, often known as the “fairy”, was a figure that created gender confusion; a male that interwove signifiers of masculinity and femininity on his body. He paraded feminine mannerisms, walked in high heels with a swish, and even used feminine pronouns, but he was not a trans-woman. The fairy became the dominant image of what was termed the “invert”, before “gay” hit wide usage two decades later; a biological male with the soul of a woman on the inside.

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The Erotics of Melancholia: Natalie Clifford Barney’s “The One Who is Legion: or A.D.’s Afterlife”

In Feminism, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Poetry, Transvestite Souls on June 8, 2012 at 10:18 am


by Chase Dimock

In the author’s note for her 1930 novel The One Who is Legion: or A.D.’s Afterlife, Natalie Clifford Barney writes: “For years I have been haunted by the idea that I should orchestrate those inner voices which sometimes speak to us in unison, and so compose a novel, not so much with the people about us, as with those within ourselves, for have we not several selves and cannot a story arise from their conflicts and harmonies?” Culminating in one of her few works in her native English tongue, this American ex-patriate’s “haunting” of multiple selves serves as a model to conceptualize an identity and lifestyle that had as of then not been granted an adequate discourse to describe it. As an unapologetic lesbian writer, Natalie Clifford Barney and her Parisian salon from the turn of the century well into the 60’s defied the heteronormative conventions of her era. She dared to write explicit love poems to women so as to ward off the “nuisance” of male admirers, she promiscuously romanced the great lesbian writers of her time from Liane de Pougy to Djuna Barnes, she created an alternative academie des femmes against the male dominated academie francaise to promote female authors, and she hosted theatricals based on Sapphic rituals in her own home garden.

For Barney, these “multiple selves” stand in for an identity that blurs the lines between masculine and feminine, heterosexual and homosexual and penetrates to the depths of the human psyche and soul where desire is multi-form and multi-directional. As a literary project, The One Who is Legion embodies Barney’s vision of the erotic possibilities of a psyche and society unmoored from the constraints of binary categories and stable, self-same identities. In the aforementioned author’s note, Barney outlines the basic plot of the symbolist novel: “A.D., a being having committed suicide, is replaced by a sponsor, who carries on the broken life, with all the human feelings assumed with the flesh, until, having endured to the end in A.D.’s stead, the composite or legion is disbanded by the One, who remains supreme”. Barney’s summary of her novel is as confusing as the novel itself. The novel not only evades a sense of a stable plot or characterization, but it purposefully leaves the genders, sexualities, and even the number of individuals inhabiting singular bodies ambiguous. The “One”, the name Barney gives the spirit that resurrects and relives AD’s life on earth is in fact a legion of selves inhabiting a single body that refer to the body as “we”. The novel reads more like an extended prose poem, choosing to explore detours of philosophical musings and poetic contemplations rather than telling a linear or consistent narrative.

Natalie Clifford Barney with Renée Vivien

Yet, the novel is somewhat autobiographical and deeply personal. The suicided poet A.D. bears resemblance to one of Barney’s greatest loves, the poet Renee Vivien, whose self-destructive behavior, anorexia and drug and alcohol abuse caused her early death in 1909. Informed by this tragedy, Barney’snovel reads as a meditation on grieving the loss of a lover whose voice and presence remained fixed in her psyche 20 years later. Thus, I argue that Barney’s experience of grief is not aimed at successfully getting over loss, but instead she willfully submerges herself in the state of loss itself and perpetuates the existence and memory of her lover through exploring the dynamics of melancholia. Barney’s novel re-imagines melancholia as an erotic experience through which death does not diminish the memory of the lost love, but in fact amplifies the impact of its presence as it echoes in her unconscious and comes to inform and guide her desires.

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Psychoanalysis and Feminism: The Bathetic Sorrow of One Woman’s Attempt at Commingling!

In Feminism, Freud, Gender Studies, Masquerade, Mythology, Politics on May 21, 2012 at 9:33 am

by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

It’s true! I am that woman! A woman with a dream… a dream that has been realized so many times before… of combining my two favorite philosophical frameworks: feminism and psychoanalysis. Who has yet realized this dream? Nancy Chodorow, Laura S. Brown, the good people at York University, that lady who wrote Feminism and its Discontents: A Century of Struggle With Psychoanalysis (I really should read that already) and all those on-top-of-the-game social psychologists. Still, in my humdrum daily life, I find the attempt at synthesis terribly demoralizing.

I wrote a note to self during my Gender Studies course this year: “Under the necessary guise of social inquiry and challenge to gender essentialism, my ultimate interest is in personalities.”

I mean, really. People interest me in a way ‘movements’ and ‘masses’ do not, but movements and masses create the “reality” that people accept and I don’t like what passes for “reality” (when it’s male-or-female, us-or-them dichotomies and arrogant non-relativism) so I have to fight my little fight to change it. Meanwhile, my interest in individual psychologies lays low on the sidelines, waiting for the world to get some better sex ed., empathetic humility and stop displacing all its shame and self-hatred onto countless innocents and grow up already! Down with the oppression! So I can psychoanalyze without guilt that I should have been agitating for revolution!

Whenever I’m with lay (non-psych) folks whose conversations lead me to believe they’re unconsciously buying in to all the mainstream media defamation of that weird, “unknowable” category ‘woman,’ (atop gay, black, old, what have you) I find it a political, staving-off-killing-myself necessity to talk about feminism. But whenever I’m with cool, collected, hip-to-the-jive feminists with their unassailably agenda-justifying facts and stats, all I want to talk about is their childhood traumas and unrealized dreams. It’s so much more interesting… If only I lived in an utterly equitable world, then I would have the luxury to do what I really want to do: Psychoanalyze! To the extent that I have the ability!

But psychologically plumbing the depths is so dissatisfying on its own. Divorced from social context, without accounting for institutionalized sexism, homophobia, elitism, etc. inherited from Freud-era psychoanalysis, the psychoanalysis we get (and the psychoanalysis recognized as such by my feminist colleagues) is your basic benighted biological reductionism. No wonder so many modern young politicos think psychoanalysis is oppressive. There aren’t enough visibly politically engaged psychoanalysts (though Ken Corbett comes to mind: So Awesome) to upend the regressive stereotype.

But I hate because I care. I love the tenets of psychoanalytic theory so much that my disappointment with little lapses of investigative integrity accumulate easily into intense anger! If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t expend the energy to hate. But I hate because I love its potential and realization (when Freud + his successors stick to focusing on internal processes, defenses and coping mechanisms, the many variations on secure and insecure attachment, childhood development and its innumerable roadblocks, sexual fixations unrelieved) that all the stupid pockets of egregiously unrecognized sexism/heterosexism/racism/classism/entitled thoughtlessness boils my blood! How could you, psychoanalysis! When you’re great, you’re great! When you’re stupid, you’re like a brainlessly unquestioning (though potentially well-meaning) right-winger!

I just wish I could focus all of my energy on grilling my brain and exploring my fantasies but it’s hard to justify when I think of how little access the vast majority of the population has to this kind of luxurious self-inquiry. But this is a bad world and feminism problematizes simplistic hierarchies and essentialistic dualisms of power. I need feminism because it verbalizes the wordless frustration of injustice, but I don’t love it—it’s necessary. It shouldn’t be. I wish I lived in a world where it wasn’t.

I tell myself psychoanalysis is a much weightier endeavor, a much more frightening, fascinating and noble exercise—to have the guts to look into the hypocrisies, desires, needs and hatreds within your own psyche. What ho! But I can’t sensuously revel in it guiltlessly for long as so many people who need it either have no way of accessing it, are afraid of self-examination or aren’t even aware such a discipline exists (and as we know, so many assholes in power need psychoanalysis to ideally stop their killing/raping/enacting blindly hypocritical legislation/insert your oppression here).

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