March 13, 2010

"Sometimes, I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one….

In college I was a Sociology major. 77% of Sociology majors are women, and 99% of the classical theorists that a Sociology major will study….are male. Except for one. Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She was a breath of fresh air on a hot, windy, Weber-filled day. Not that I didn’t love Weber, and I had a brief, slightly disturbing love affair with Marx, but as a woman hearing the voices of women in history is invaluable, so hard to find, and wholly validating. So, here is Gilman…a 19th century woman working and thinking amongst all…those…men.

Gilman was a Utopian feminist, sociologist, poet, novelist, editor, activist, she created and published her own magazine “The Forerunner,” and was incredibly politically and socially active. Though a great deal of Gilman’s works are difficult to find now, Gilman’s most famous work  “The Yellow Wallpaper”  (1892) is still widely read in Women’s Studies, Literature and Sociology classrooms. It is partially autobiographical as it chronicles Gilman’s own experience with severe post-partum depression. She struggled to convince her doctors of what she knew was the problem, and truthbe told, some women still struggle with the same social and psychological ignorance (a la Tom Cruise vs. Brooke Shields).

Gilman was prescribed “the rest cure.” During which time she was restricted from leaving her room, ate very high fat foods, was only allowed an hour of “intellectual activity” per day and was instructed “never to touch a pen, brush or pencil as long as you live.” These “treatments” only further tormented her already fragile state. Her experiences turned her into a lifelong advocate for women suffering from post-partum depression, and she admonished the medical community for its avid use of the rest “cure.” Gilman mailed a copy of “The Yellow Wallpaper” to the physician that prescribed the rest cure for her! In the story, she has delusions of women behind the wallpaper in her bedroom.

Here an obvious and stirring analogy for the social state of not only the women suffering from these issues, but all women in the 19th century:

“The front pattern DOES move – and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.”

Again ahead of her time, Gilmanwas an advocate of euthanasia for the terminally ill. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1932, and in 1935 she committed suicide. Gilman wrote in her suicide note that she “chose chloroform over cancer.” She passed away on August 17, 1935. She died a sheroe (to borrow Melanie’s new favorite word!), and a icon for women struggling to live what they believe.

October 11, 2008

Book Spotlight: Feminism and Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler

Co-founder of Bitch Magazine, Andi Zeisler‘s most recent book, Feminism and Pop Culture (Seal Press) continues Zeisler’s focus on the realm of popular culture as an important area of analysis in considering the symbiotic relationship and influence of contemporary feminism and the media industry:

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.

September 11, 2008

Don't Know Much about (Womyn's)History

The Los Angeles Times and numerous other outlets featured photographs of supporters carrying signs with Sarah Palin’s head superimposed over that of the iconic feminist symbol of Rosie the Riveter. I received countless emails and comments from outraged women in the last 24 hours.  The Feministing community posted a comment that expressed the reaction that so many of these woman, including myself, felt upon seeing this bizarre merging of images that are so diametrically opposed.

Any person that knows anything about womyn’s history knows full well that Sarah Palin does not embody the core beliefs and values that guided the fearless suffragettes during the first wave of feminism, the line workers during WWII or their feminist sisters of the second wave or any of the women that recognize their struggle within the larger stream of women’s issues that has persisted for centuries.

I find it outright insulting and appalling to see the face of a woman that is blatantly anti-women’s issues photo shopped on an icon that represents female solidarity and strength. Rosie the Riveter and the women that worked in the factories experienced new levels of freedom and independence.  Sarah Palin does not support the freedom of choice for women of any social supports that would bolster their success in the workplace.  The woman that Rosie the Riveter represents defied conventional gender norms while Palin benefits from feminism but seeks to reproduce and support all of the traditional gender constraints that have impinged on women’s ability to benefit in the ways Palin has.

The foundation of this country and the heart of feminism is freedom.  Plain and simple.  Palin represents the  repression of freedom.  The fear tactics the Republicans spew sends the mainstream public running for order.  As the woman were sent back into the home after the men returned from WWII, the gendered constraints tightened and provided order in an unstable war filled with foes, enemies, McCarythism and the Red Scare.

Sound familiar?

Most people don’t know the names of our fore-mothers in the endless struggle for women’s rights.  The icons and symbols are vapid and empty.  The Riot Grrls were co-opted by The Spice Girls and the collective movement was transformed into a meaningless slogan without solidarity or group force.

Girl Power.  Sarah Palin.

Vapid. Empty. An image/slogan that is sold to a public that has lost it’s sense of collective history.  A rich history that is mired in collective amnesia.

The only connection I can make between Sarah Palin and Rosie the Riveter is the fact that both images are propaganda.  Yes, Rosie the Riveter is a true icon but, at her inception, she was used as a tool to recruit women to work knowing full well these women would get the boot once they had served their purpose in the war cause.

Sarah Palin is a similar tool used to lure in votes and then kick those individuals to the curb once the right-wing agenda has been served.