With the advent (and subsequent global takeover) of the Twilight Saga and Team Edward/Jacob – I feel like we were left longing for a time when Team BELLA might have meant something. Or, maybe we were longing for a Bella that merited having a team to begin with….I don’t know. But, the extreme popularity of Bella and every terrible stereotype she represents (as well as shows like 16 and Pregnant) have made my desire to find a worthy role model for teenage girls & young women that much stronger.
So, when I heard about The Hunger Games Trilogy & its heroine, Katniss Everdeen, I was excited….and also a little cautious & skeptical. I finished all three books in 10 days. Moving through each chapter, getting more attached to the characters, I kept expecting some egregious misstep by author Suzanne Collins. The more I appreciated her obvious attempts to create such a worthy role model as I sought – I just kept expecting the whole thing to result in disappointment. Well, much to my utter delight, surprise, relief & joy – that moment never came.
In Katniss, Collins created a young heroine who truly deserves the respect and adoration that – up ‘til now – has been given to the likes of Twilight’s Bella. Katniss is a 17 year-old girl living in a place called District 12 (a dead ringer for the poverty stricken Appalachian region of the U.S.), a division of Panem, the remnants of the United States post global warming & civil war and about a hundred years after the latter. Without giving away too much of the story – The Capitol (which is at once a metaphor for a dystopian United States, its excesses and imperialism) has created The Hunger Games to keep the Districts (an obvious metaphor for the developing world, as well as working class America) in check after an uprising 74 years earlier. For the Hunger Games, The Capitol chooses two “tributes”, who are children between the ages of 12 and 18, from each one of the Districts, they lock them in an arena, and have them fight to the death. The one left alive is the victor. Obviously, you can assume Katniss becomes one of the tributes from District 12.
Collins’ portrayal of Katniss is that of a strong, capable young woman-hunter who is left to provide for her mother and little sister after her father passes away. Collins allows her this strength & will without the cliché of her also being emotionally distant and/or a bitch. Katniss is simultaneously self-effacing, humble and amazingly confidant. She is wise and capable of making her own decisions (and always does – unlike Bella), but also faces doubt and is sometimes haunted by the consequences of her decisions. Katniss refuses to marry or have children in a world where they are certain to face the ominous threat of The Capitol and the Hunger Games. She is the most holistic, responsible and deserving role model the media has created in recent memory.
I’ve been a fan of Megan McCafferty‘s writing for nearly a decade. I found her first book, Sloppy Firsts, in the fiction section of Borders; the lime green spine stood out amongst the shelves of hundreds of titles. I immediately identified with the story of a pessimistic, unpopular high school girl whose best friend had just moved away. The protaganist of what is now known as the “Jessica Darling Series” was progressive, strong, funny, and smart. However, the series ended last year with “Perfect Fifths”.
Her latest book takes her writing a brand new direction, envisioning a world where the MTV show “16 and Pregnant” is a reality for every teenage girl on the planet. “Bumped” centers around a fictional world where the only fertile women are teens. This leads to high school girls renting out their uterus in exchange for fame and money.
It’s the perfect time for a book like this. Across the web, concerned journalists and bloggers fret about whether young girls will get pregnant just to be on MTV, achieve fame, or to make money. “Does Teen Mom Glamorize Teen Pregnancy?!” is a frequently seen sentiment lately. It wasn’t so long ago that the scandalous story of a “teen pregnancy pact” at a high school in Massachusetts was being reported on every site, newspaper, and 24-hour news channel in the country. Abstinence only education is a frequent hot topic in the political sphere. Just two years ago, we had a presidential candidate running on a “Women’s Health” platform of overturning Roe v. Wade. To say “Bumped” is timely is an understatement.
McCafferty’s synopsis for “Bumped” summarizes the cross-section of pregnancy and celebrity in our current culture:
“The celebrity “bump watch,” has made obstetrics a spectator sport. Now any young starlet who has indulged at In-N-Out Burger can find her bloated midsection driving major pageviews on the gossip blogs.”
“Bumped” won’t arrive at retailers for another six months. However, if the summary is any indication, it will be a great jumping off point for discussions of these “taboo” subjects. Expect a full review of the book on Feminist Fatale, when it arrives, April 26, 2011.
Her latest book, Bodies, maps the progress of our alienation, from a time when we took our bodies for granted to one where they are an endlessly perfectible work in progress. “When I was growing up,” she explains, “one or two girls were beautiful, but it was not an aspiration, right? We didn’t expect to be that sportsman or that beauty queen. That was OK, that was what movie stars were for. That wasn’t something that was essential for all of us.” Yet today, movie-star looks are not just an aspiration but an imperative, and ordinary people think nothing of starving or surgically enhancing their bodies in a tireless campaign to make them look as though they belong to somebody else altogether.
Just as Donald Winnicott identified the “false self”, whereby a neglected baby will blame itself for its carer’s lack of interest, and create an artificial version of itself in the hope of winning love, so Orbach argues that we are creating false bodies. Assailed by media imagery that celebrates only one type of body and one type of beauty, we assume any discrepancy between our own appearance and this digitally airbrushed “ideal” must be our fault, and that it’s not merely necessary but morally virtuous to do whatever it takes to correct our deficiency. The simultaneous rise of anorexia and obesity is not a paradox, but rather two sides of the same psychological coin – both manifestations of our panic about hunger, in which normal appetite becomes pathologised as the enemy. Crucially, whereas once we might have experienced the pressure to look different as an onerous tyranny, today we tell ourselves that it’s empowering.
“We transform the sense of being criticised,” Orbach writes, “by becoming the moving and enthusiastic actor in our own self-improvement programme. We will eagerly repair what is wrong … We see ourselves as agents, not victims. It is the individual woman who feels herself to be at fault for not matching up to the current imagery … She applies herself to the job of perfecting that image for herself and so makes it her own, not assaultive or alien.”
Orbach’s writing is closer in tone to cultural studies than to the jaunty self-help register of most contemporary books about eating, but in person there is nothing abstractly academic about her. Framed by a mass of curls, she is small, even birdlike, but her sprightly energy conveys a vivid sense of aliveness. Her accent has a faint American inflection, which can sound almost antipodean at times, particularly when her sentences end in a question mark – “right?” – and she is surprisingly relaxed, even imprecise, with her words, often letting sentences tail away unfinished. But she is very clear about where we are going wrong.
I’ve been half looking forward to the meeting, and half dreading it because, although it must be 20 years since I first read what Orbach calls “Fifi”, her work feels uncomfortably relevant to my own current state. She is the sort of woman you find yourself confiding in, and I admit to her that halfway through my first pregnancy, my overriding preoccupation is with weight gain. To my dismay, what I’m really thinking about most of the time is how I’m ever going to lose it. And right there, according to Orbach, is the source of our troubled relationship with food. Mothers transmit their own anxieties to their babies; it all begins in the family.
“The only way to solve the problem is to provide very different help to new mums,” she says briskly. “Because every mother wants to do right by their kid. It would mean training health visitors and midwives; you’d raise a mother’s awareness of her own body. This is an opportunity for both of you to find the rhythm in terms of relation to appetite. I don’t think it would be difficult to design. And it would be very cheap. And new mums would really benefit from it. But instead, they are being told to do sit-ups straightaway, and why not even consider having a C-section, so you don’t have to get that last month’s weight gain? All of that nonsense. It’s completely counter to what a baby’s mental health requires – and what the mother needs as well, actually.”
What can parents say, I ask, to a 16-year-old girl who is convinced that a regime of dieting and beautification is not self-punishing but empowering? “Well, it’s awfully late at 16. But I’d be saying to the mums: ‘Watch your own behaviour – how often do you criticise your own body in front of your daughter?’ Stop making the body the cause of the problem, or the solution to the problem. The problem isn’t how she looks.”
But surely a teenage girl would say that how she looks is precisely the problem? “But what she’d be picking out aren’t imperfections, they’re just what makes her her, right?” What if she says she’s overweight? “Well, they all feel overweight. Even when they’re tiny, tiny, tiny. But where are they getting that idea? That’s why I think the mums are doing something.”
If Orbach were just another voice in the cacophony of finger-pointing that surrounds most discussion about weight, I would be feeling unpleasantly guilty by now. But her analysis of what she calls “disordered eating” extends beyond mothers and the family, to encompass everything from the diet industry – “which relies upon a 95% recidivism rate” – to the media, which produces glossy magazines in which “not a single image is not digitally retouched, up to hundreds of times” – and globalisation, in which a culture of “aspirational bodies is the mark of entry”.
One of the things that strikes me is the statement that “movie-star” looks were not always an aspiration or expectation. Each semester my students conduct an oral history and time and time again, women over 60 respond to questions about beauty standards and beauty norms that existed when they were girls and teenagers with the same sentiment. There was a time, before the all out media assault, when standards of beauty existed that weren’t as relentless or unrealistic as they are today. Girls and women recognized a celebrity figure as exactly that. A celebrity. A star. Someone unlike themselves.
Girls and women today are inundated with relentless messages that proclaim that they CAN look like the celebrity du-jour and that they SHOULD and if they don’t attain that image they have failed, they are without value and should try harder.
It is little wonder that girls and women see these “failures” as personal rather than recognizing the failure on the part of the mass media machine to portray “ordinary” girls and women.
Sitcoms and films from my childhood portrayed more “average-looking” individuals. Not everyone was primped and polished with the intention of looking “natural.” “Natural” beauty these days is nowhere near natural or easy and breezy. It is an all out organized campaign with a low success rate.
The popular all-American toys turn out to have been created by “a full-blown Seventies-style swinger” with “a manic need for sexual gratification,” who based their design on his favourite adult dolls, according to a new book.
Jack Ryan, whose five wives included the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, is accused of staging wild orgies at his mansion in the exclusive Los Angeles suburb of Bel Air and surrounding himself with busty prostitutes hired because of their resemblance to Barbie.
The Yale-educated executive, who died in 1991 at the age of 65, used his office at the toy firm Mattel to take calls from a local “madame,” and liked to pay for sex with “everyone from high-class call girls to streetwalkers,” including “a very thin and childlike hooker”.
In Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel, the author Jerry Oppenheimer claims that Ryan, who also created the Chatty Cathy talking doll, spent decades hiding the seamy private life that might have sullied Barbie’s squeaky-clean reputation.
More sinisterly, the book suggests that Ryan’s colourful sexuality played a formative role in the design of the doll.
“When Jack talked about creating Barbie, it was like listening to somebody talk about a sexual episode,” Mr Ryan’s former friend, Stephen Gnass, reveals. “It was almost like listening to a sexual pervert.”
I embrace sex, sexuality and sexual freedom. With that said, I have noticed a remarkable change in the proliferation, availability and representation of “normative” sexuality in pornography over the last 15 years. Mainstream, normative pornography has become increasinly aggressive and violent portraying a sexual norm and it makes me uncomfortable and concerned.
Posted on Alternet on October 21, 2008, Robert Jensen, explains why pornography has become more boring and more brutal:
Whatever the number, theoretical or routine, the discussion reminds us that pornography is relentlessly intense, pushing our sexual boundaries both physically and psychically. And, pornography also is incredibly repetitive and boring.
Pornographers know all this, of course, and it keeps them on edge.
These days there are about 13,000 pornographic films released each year, compared with about 600 from Hollywood. Not surprisingly, a common concern at the Adult Entertainment Expo each time I attended (in 2005, 2006, and 2008) was that the desperate struggle by directors to distinguish their films from all the others was leading to a kind of “sexual gymnastics.” Lexington Steele, one of the most successful contemporary pornography performers and producers, put it bluntly: “A lot of gonzo is becoming circus acts.”
“Gonzo” is the pornographic genre that rejects plot, character, or dialogue, offering straightforward explicit sex. Gonzo films are distinguished from “features,” which to some degree mimic the structure of a traditional Hollywood film. According to the top trade magazine: “Gonzo, non-feature fare is the overwhelmingly dominant porn genre since it’s less expensive to produce than plot-oriented features, but just as importantly, is the fare of choice for the solo stroking consumer who merely wants to cut to the chase, get off on the good stuff, then, if they really wanna catch some acting, plot and dialog, pop in the latest Netflix disc.” [“The Directors,” Adult Video News, August 2005, p. 54.]…
Pornographers deliver graphic sexually explicit material that does the job, but to do so they must continuously increase the cruelty and degradation to maintain profits.
Gonzo producers test the limits with new practices that eroticize men’s domination of women. Less intense forms of those sexual practices migrate into the tamer feature pornography, and from there in muted form into mainstream pop culture. Pornography gets more openly misogynist, and pop culture becomes more pornographic — many Hollywood movies and cable TV shows today look much like soft-core pornography of a few decades ago, and the common objectification of women in advertising has become more overtly sexualized.
Where will all this lead? How far will pornographers go to ensure their profits, especially as the proliferation of free pornography on the internet adds a new competition? How much eroticized misogyny will the culture be willing to tolerate?
When I ask that question of pornography producers, most say they don’t know. An industry leader such as Lexington Steele acknowledged he has no crystal ball: “Gonzo really always pushes the envelope. The thing about it is, there’s only but so many holes, only but so many different types of penetration that can be executed upon a woman. So it’s really hard to say what’s next within gonzo.”
What’s next? What comes after DPs and double anals? What is beyond a “10 Man Cum Slam” and “50 Guy Cream Pie”? I can’t claim to know either. But after 20 years of researching the pornography industry as a scholar and critiquing it as part of the feminist anti-pornography movement, I know that we should be concerned. We should be afraid that there may be no limit on men’s cruelty toward women. In a patriarchal society driven by the predatory values of capitalism, we should be very afraid.
China’s booming economy means that factories are popping up all over the country. Makeshift cities emerge around these factories for the poor villagers that stream in looking for work.
“It’s chaos,” says author Leslie Chang, who explores life in these cities in Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China. “And the most striking thing is that everyone is young.”
As Naomi Klein notes in No Logo, not only are most of the workers in these factories young, they are young women. Young women that moves hundreds and thousands of miles from their home provinces lack the support networks and are more easily intimidated and controlled as they work under intolerable conditions for low wages so that the industrialized nations can but cheap shirts at Walmart.
bell hooks has been an inspiration to me for a long time. I’ve seen her speak over four times and I leave feeling invigorated and awake each time. She speaks in a language that is clear, intelligent and accessible. I appreciate her ability to speak to women and men within and outside academia and spread the word about sexism, racism, homophobia and classism.
To me, she has created that important bridge into the mainstream and has committed herself to becoming not just a scholar but a public intellectual.
I have many favorites from the prolific bell hooks but I find that Feminism is for Everybody truly exposes the multifaceted heart of feminism in an accessible and engaging way.
From chapter 1: Feminist Politics
Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism exploitation and oppression.This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago.It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use.I liked this definition because it did not imply men were the enemy.By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter.Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult.It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism.As a definition it is open-ended.To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.
From chapter 2: Consciousness-Raising
Feminists are made, not born.One does not become an advocate of feminist politics simply by having the privilege of having been born female.Like all political positions one becomes a believer in feminist politics through choice and action.When women first organized in groups to talk together about the issue of sexism and male domination, they were clear that females were as socialized to believe sexist thinking and values as males, the difference being simply that males benefited from sexism more than females and whereas a consequence less likely to want to surrender patriarchal privilege.Before women could change patriarchy we had to change ourselves; we had to raise our consciousness.
We’ve tried to get people to see that pop culture is a critical locus of feminism. Most young girls are not reading Ms. They’re watching “The OC” or “Veronica Mars.” It makes sense for us to talk about those pop-culture products, because those are the conversations that girls are having among themselves. They’re not talking about how many seats women have in Congress. They’re not talking about public policy.
TV and mass media in general are the conduit by which most people get their information and form their opinions. We are such a mediated society.