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porn could be encouraging and radical under different circumstances, feeding porn’s gender dynamics undercut that potential. Even in the absence of a phallus, men are central to the eroticized dominance and submission that’s performed in feeding pornography. A “feeder” (usually male) encourages the “feedee” (usually female) to gain weight, often literally placing the food in her mouth. The ultimate (if generally unattained) goal of the relationship is for the feedee to become immobile, and this eventual incapacitation is fetishized: Feeders get off on the idea that their feedee might one day become too “satisfied”—and too obese—to move,

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To publicly eat when you’re already fat might be one of the most transgressive behaviors available to the modern woman.

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thus making them completely dependent on their feeder. It’s an extreme manifestation of the idea that masculinity in men involves eroticized dominance over women. The feeders who, off-camera, forcibly coax a female performer like Ivy to gorge posit themselves as masters on whom she is dependent for instruction and encouragement. It’s different from much of traditional porn only in the poundage: By performing a relationship of overt dependence, the men who create such videos—and the viewers who identify with them—claim the female body as a site for male domination and control; if the woman happens to enjoy it, that’s secondary. In the end, the producers and consumers of feeding porn fail to acknowledge that the female performers really are big, beautiful women, and not just big mouths to feed and big bodies on whom they can imagine perching naked with a box of donuts (as one YouTube commenter does). Feeding porn takes the frat-house idea that some women are just too fat to be fuckable to literally massive proportions. And in fetishizing consumption that makes women too big to move, the genre makes it hard to look at the pleasure on their faces and not see the violence that follows quickly behind. Jessica Hester is a student at the University of Chicago, where she studies English and Gender Studies. This is her first contribution to Bitch. fa l l . 0 9

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Smile—you’re on conservative candid camera!

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hen Lila Rose walked into an Indiana Planned Parenthood clinic last December, she was prepared with a memorized script and a hidden camera. Posing as a 13-year-old girl seeking an abortion, Rose, a conservative college activist, went to the clinic as part of a planned action to bait a clinic nurse into helping her. The father, she told the aide, was 31. The nurse replied, “You’re 13—it has to be reported to Child Protective Services. Okay, I didn’t hear the age. I don’t want to know the age.” She then let Rose know that Illinois, a neighboring state, has laxer notification laws. Rose is the founder of the organization behind the stunt, Live Action Films, which describes itself as “A New Media Movement for Life.” The group

has done six such actions, shooting undercover videos at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country to expose what they call “Planned Parenthood’s willingness to repeatedly violate mandatory reporting laws for statutory rape that protect children.” They post the videos on YouTube and Facebook, and their “fans” respond enthusiastically, contributing their own thoughts about the “profit-driven industry” of abortion provision, which they refer to as “big business” for Planned Parenthood. Live Action Films is happy to accept the enthusiasm of its supporters, but what the group really wants is criminal prosecution of Planned Parenthood employees, and the diversion of state and federal funding away from clinics. Its argument against

abortion doesn’t rely on traditional right-to-life arguments, but rather on a law-abiding pose meant to appeal to those who may not otherwise identify as staunchly antiabortion. The group’s publicity material asserts, simply, that Planned Parenthood regularly breaks laws designed to protect children. Its films bait nurses and aides, on camera, into providing care for supposedly young girls, manipulating the positive associations people have with child protection statutes to serve their antiabortion mission. It’s a savvy tactic that’s prompted one liberal Queerty blogger to ask of Rose, “Is she a menace to the pro-choice movement? Or is she a hero to young girls whose sexual exploitation is being overlooked by Planned Parenthood?” That’s an important question. There is no doubt that these mandatory reporting laws protect children; it’s their cynical deployment as an anti-choice tactic that

is problematic. In the wake of Dr. George Tiller’s murder—and the less-than-convincingly outraged response it garnered from many in the pro-life community—the motivations behind anti-choice actions seem darker than ever. Live Action Films’ cadre of conservative social entrepreneurs may use new media rather than graphic placards and clinic protests to reach a wider and more liberal audience, but even its Internet-based actions carry with them the threat of violence. And when the faces of clinic workers and abortion providers are splashed across YouTube, labeled as people who break the law in the name of reproductive rights, it’s not outlandish to fear for their safety. As actual young girls seek care, will doctors, nurses, and clinic workers be able to shrug off the threat of constant surveillance? —Mia Partlow

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ou may know her as John McCain’s cute, blonde, 24-year-old daughter, whose site, McCain Blogette, may have been the first campaign-trail travelogue to dish about its author’s favorite cosmetics and love of Tupac. You may have seen her appearances on The Rachel Maddow Show or Politically Incorrect. And you may have heard about her kerfuffle with conservative columnist Laura Ingraham, who made fat jokes about the young McCain, to which she responded in a Daily Beast column titled “Quit Talking About My Weight, Laura Ingraham.” What you may not know is that Meghan McCain is currently being shined up as the new face of Republican politics in a time when that party is grasp12 |

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ing wildly at relevance. She’s proGod, pro-gun, pro-life, and promilitary—but, as she’s constantly pointing out, pro-sex and pro-gay as well. Two writers ponder the polarizing upstart. Love her! As we all know, the Republican Party is currently experiencing an identity crisis: With no real leader since last year’s presidential election, Rush Limbaugh and the far-right wing seem to be growing ever closer to taking over the party. Moderate Republicans are feeling alienated; the party base is shrinking; and with a recession, two wars, and countless other problems, it’s time to revitalize the twoparty system. But almost no one in the GOP has been willing to challenge the

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far right except Meghan McCain. Using hip, liberal-leaning websites and youth-friendly socialnetworking platforms, McCain is reaching out to younger Republicans and confronting the ills that plague the Republican Party. In a controversial March 2009 column in the Daily Beast, McCain argued that the GOP needs to reject calls from überconservatives like Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to “purify” the party. “I think most people my age are like me in that we all don’t believe in every single ideal of each party specifically. The GOP should be happy to have any young supporters whatsoever, even if they do digress some from traditional Republican thinking.” She revisited the topic on a May episode of The Colbert

Report, telling Stephen Colbert the party needs to change its tone on LGBT issues: “I do believe the Republican Party can be a safe place for the gay community…. If you go to the basic belief of the Republican Party, if you want to keep the government out of your life, why can’t that include [gay] marriage?” And while she’s at it, MMC thinks Republicans should wise up and realize abstinence-only sex education programs just aren’t enough, writing in another Daily Beast column, “The GOP Doesn’t Understand Sex”: “If we can’t discuss birth control in addition to abstinence, and in a nonjudgmental way, kids will continue to make bad choices for lack of having access to informed, safe options.”

illustration by alyxandra jolivet

Point/Counterpoint: Meghan McCain


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Not everyone loves a political whippersnapper, but even as a liberal Democrat myself, I’m nursing a serious crush on McCain, who’s got charisma her father could only hope for. Unsurprisingly, there have been numerous calls from the likes of Limbaugh for McCain to pipe down and leave the party. Still, as right-wing politicians and pundits wring their hands and whine over the future of the GOP, McCain is emerging as an intelligent, funny, confident young woman who loves her party and wants it to succeed. If the Republican Party doesn’t want her, maybe she should start her own. —Danine Spencer shove her! You’re darn tootin’ the Republican Party finds itself leaderless right now—who wants to grab the helm of a ship adrift in a sea of shit? But yes, Meghan McCain seems pretty convinced that there is a way to marry a liberal philosophy on social issues with classic Republican ideology. The problem is, she’s wrong. Before we get to how she’s wrong, let’s explore how McCain envisions this cozy coupling of lefty-righty politics. Via various media outlets, McCain has been hammering home her I-containpolitical-multitudes message with a steady cadence. She perhaps best summed up who she is in a recent speech to the Log Cabin Republicans, in which she proclaimed: I am concerned about the environment. I love to wear black. I think government is best when it stays out of people’s lives and business as much as possible. I love punk rock. I believe in a strong national defense. I have a tattoo. I believe government should always be efficient and accountable. I have lots of gay friends. And yes, I am a Republican.

Putting aside the fact that McCain somehow equates wearing black and having tattoos with liberalism, let’s concentrate on sentence no. 3. This sentence, along with the tenets of fiscal conservatism and relying on a free market to correct social ills, embodies classic Republican philosophy. It’s commendable that McCain is vocal in her criticism of the GOP’s current incarnation, which prioritizes hellfire-anddamnation histrionics at the expense of pretty much everything else. But that doesn’t mean the party’s laissez-faire ideology is compatible with advancing the social issues—gay rights, sex education that goes beyond abstinence-only, the environment—to which McCain is apparently so attached. Gay marriage is a good hypothetical case study: Let’s say McCain gets her wish, and the GOP powers that be decide to “stay out of people’s lives,” and not give a shit who marries whom. It still wouldn’t be enough. History has shown us that rights need both enacting and protecting, and that requires legislative muscle, and that in turn requires—somewhere down the line—a government that cares enough to act. Whether or not Republicans are capable of caring about anyone other than rich white men is arguable, but even if they did, their core principles would dictate that they not act. Let the chips fall where they may, they’d shrug. The problem is, sometimes the chips fall and it gets dangerous. Back in 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard was beaten, pistol-whipped, tortured, and left for dead, tied to a buck fence. He died five days later, and his assailants used the “gay panic” defense in court, claiming they freaked out because he hit on them. More than 10 years later, Wyoming—and many other

Using hip, liberal-leaning websites and youth-friendly social-networking platforms, McCain is reaching out to younger Republicans and confronting the ills that plague the Republican Party. History has shown us that rights need both enacting and protecting, and that requires legislative muscle, and that in turn requires— somewhere down the line— a government that cares enough to act. states—has no substantial hatecrime laws. And this is what McCain doesn’t get. When violence is at hand, and when people can’t feel safe in their own country, active government is called for. That means not just passively waiting for rights to spring up out of thin air, but actively pushing for them via legislation and government involvement. The history of this country has proven it: Would the civil rights movement have succeeded without Brown v. Board of Education and its ensuing laws? Would the marchers and protesters and school integrators have survived without the National Guard troops guarding their flanks?

Sometimes justice requires a symbiotic effort on all fronts; neither the grassroots movement nor its governmental counterpart could have made it without the other. I’m guessing that’s not what goes through the minds of McCain and her many faithful queens in the Log Cabin Republicans. I’m guessing that, for her, it feels very brave and progressive to take on Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh via Twitter, or to assert that she’s “pro-sex” on The Colbert Report. But all McCain is really asking for is a much larger tent, full of even more people her party will be all too happy to ignore. —Jonanna Widner fa l l . 0 9

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femme farewells

Queen of the Hill

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other, writer, awardwinning substitute Spanish teacher, Boggle champion, softball pitcher, girls’ wrestling coach: Peggy Hill has embraced many roles over the past 13 seasons of King of the Hill, Mike Judge’s animated series about the small Texas town of Arlen. Peggy, voiced by actress and activist Kathy Najimy, has been an advocate for sex education, and lets her son, Bobby, experiment with unconventional gender pursuits like cooking, sewing, and playing with dolls. She’s alternately been a cattle rancher, founded her own woman-run roller derby team, played guitar with guest star Ani DiFranco, and befriended a drag queen who considered Peggy a woman of strength and substance, someone to be admired and emulated. But as King of the Hill ends its final season, we must say goodbye to Peggy Hill—the most empowered and progressive of cartoon women—with a look back at just a few of her definitive moments. As Peggy would say, “Ho yeah!” —Jennifer K. Stuller

Square Peg (1.2) In the series’s second episode, Peggy takes on the job of teaching sex education to her son’s grade-school class—against the wishes of the majority of the community and, at first, her husband. Since she learned about the birds and the bees from a book of flower illustrations given to her by her mother, Peggy herself has some learning to do and some shame to overcome. She plods ahead, bolstered by her award for substitute teacher of the year and her stalwart commitment to education. As she practices the formerly taboo vocabulary of comprehensive sex ed, she’s eventually able to drop the “hap” from the word “happiness” and with confidence move on to say both “penis” and “VaaaaaaaaaaaGINA!” Memorable Dialogue Peggy [to her sexually confident niece]: “Luanne, honey, tell me, what is it like to live without shame of any kind? Is it a good feeling?” Luanne: “Yeah, it is.”

Joust Like a Woman (6.8) The local Renaissance Faire turns out to be the site of Peggy’s most feminist acts and outrageous rebellions. Believing a Renaissance Faire is a perfect fit for a Renaissance woman such as herself, Peggy takes a part-time position as a cleaning wench. She quickly becomes interested in correcting historical inaccuracies and pay inequalities—much to the displeasure of the Faire’s owner and resident king. When she asks him to explain why “the wenches make 70 cents on the dollar, and the village idiot gets full dental,” it sets off a battle of the sexes that culminates in Peggy jousting with the king. She wins, and inspires the other wenches to file a class-action lawsuit for unfair wages and sexual harassment. “Hey, King Make-Believe,” she gloats, “you just got beat by a girl!”

Bobby Slam (2.10) Peggy takes a gig as a substitute teacher for girls’ gym, where it’s assumed by the male coach that she’s only there to teach the girls about their “monthlies.” Instead, she’s left to teach “General Sports”—which Peggy describes as “a special program that combines the thrills of wrestling with the skills of basketball.” Unfortunately, the equipment is faulty and the girls need a new basketball. When Bobby joins the wrestling team, and his girlfriend, Connie, decides she wants to as well, Peggy is forced to choose between loyalty to her son and women’s rights. Compelled by memories of the sexism she faced as a young athlete herself, Peggy enlists Luanne and Connie’s mother, Minh, to train Connie in wrestling—and invokes Title IX to get her accepted on the team.

Memorable Dialogue Peggy: “I just wish I had been born 500 years ago. I could have single-handedly saved womankind forever!”

Memorable Dialogue Connie: “Maybe sports wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I should do yearbook instead, or chess club.” Peggy: “Connie, don’t you say that. Yearbook is a shameful, squalid waste of time.”

“I just wish I had been born 500 years ago. I could have singlehandedly saved womankind forever!” 14 |

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Thank you for being a friend Thank you for being a French

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n April, we lost the awesome Bea Arthur at age 86. Classy, humble, and gracious, Arthur started her career with hopes of being a Broadway starlet. But with her nearly six-foot frame and piercing stare, though, directors considered her more fit to play second fiddle to the leading lady, as she did in her Tony Award–winning role as Angela Lansbury’s sidekick in Mame. Eventually, Arthur’s version of what it means to be a woman—smart, outspoken, commanding, and unapologetic—came to the TV screen in two indelible, career-defining roles, first as Maude Findlay on Maude, and later as Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls. With both roles, in maxi-vests and pastel, shoulder-padded blazers, Arthur took the opportunity to prove that a withering glance, a booming voice, and a cutting remark are just as fit for the ladies as they are for the fellas. She made a place in pop culture for women who didn’t fit the normative lady roles, paving the way for the likes of Roseanne, Murphy Brown, and All-American Girl. Arthur was reportedly a lot less hard-nosed than her beloved TV characters. But would it matter if she wasn’t? Arthur gave all us tall, somewhat masculine gals the go-ahead to be ourselves, and it’s that, in addition to everything else she gave us, that makes it hard to say goodbye. —Ashley Brittner

arilyn French’s The Women’s Room was published in 1977, when the author was almost 50 years old. But though the novel—which traces the lives of a group of women who cut short their educations and careers in the 1950 to get married, and what happens 20 years later when they’re coping with divorce and realizing what they left behind—was a bestseller that came to be a lasting addition to the feminist canon, French was primarily an academic, publishing scholarly tomes on James Joyce and Shakespeare, as well as later works like Beyond Power: On Women, Men, and Morals and From Eve to Dawn: A History of Women in the World. French, who died this past May at the age of 79, described herself as an “angry writer”— “using that anger,” as her friend Fay Weldon recently wrote, “to change the world.” A lifelong feminist, her radical ambitions for women’s lives and potential were often frustrated by the slow pace of actual change. She once stated that “my goal in life is to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist world.” French left behind a world that has only partly changed, often with the one-step-forward, two-steps-back pace lived by the characters in The Women’s Room. But her dreams, and the history

she both chronicled and helped to create, can continue to serve as inspiration. —Andi Zeisler

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lost (& found) in transition

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Sayers, Joe Sayers, Joey Sayers, Joey Alison Sayers: These are the names variously used by the comic artist whose strip Thingpart is printed in weeklies including the Portland Mercury and the San Diego Reader, and whose other comics have appeared in publications like The Best American Nonrequired Reading. Her changing name, it turns out, signals her changing gender identity. In Just So You Know #1, published earlier this year, Sayers chronicles the hilarity, heartbreak, and, ultimately, happiness she experienced during her recent transition from male to female. While Sayers’s comics normally feature crying ghosts, fratty robots, talking mitochondria, frisky geometric shapes, dead cod, and a levitating cube known as God, Just So You Know is autobiographical. In one strip, “Flab,” she rejoices at the way female hormones have softened her arm muscles, but still longs for a bigger butt; in another,

Sit-down comedy

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miling mischievously, Adelina Anthony announces at the start of a performance, “Many of the jokes tonight will go over your head.” In the following 90 minutes, Anthony mocks Bill O’Reilly’s panic over “lesbian gang epidemics,” deconstructs The L Word’s depiction of Latinas (“It’s like Hollywood wants to represent all Latinas from the East Coast to the West Coast in one pinche character.”), and laments her own inability to get a date on a Sunday night. Anthony even squeezes in a lesson in colonialism and indigenous history, by 16 |

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the simple act of sitting during a stand-up show. (“Don’t you know your history? Chicanas don’t stand up. We do sit-ins.”) Anthony’s pieces—like the three-part dramatic performance The Xicana Xronicles, as well as her comedy—work in the spirit of her mentor, Chicana feminist heavyweight Cherríe Moraga, with performances that celebrate queer Chicanas even as mainstream culture demonizes or ignores them. But this much-needed representation is only part of her aim. Despite her effortless hilarity, Anthony is less interested in relaxing her audiences through laughter than in reminding them to agitate for a more just world. Audiences who witness her captivating stage presence will find it difficult to say no. —Erica Lies You label your comedy shows as both stand-up and solo performance. What’s your reasoning behind using both terms? I’m an absolute teatrista, working with body, voice, character, and story; so even if an overall piece is couched in the stand-up comedy form, I’m not just standing up

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she’s excited to be identified as a “man-lady” by a small child. And the book’s recurring feature, “Am I a Bitch Now?,” finds Sayers grappling with post-transition hormonal highs and lows. In the last installment, Sayers decides that the word is just a “pejorative” used to “reframe women’s strength and power in a negative way.” But fear not, there’s nothing preachy about this collection of comics, as Sayers ends each strip with a winning punchline. And it’s educational: At the end of the book, Sayers includes a handy glossary of terms explaining “transgender,” “transsexual,” “crossdresser,” and “transition.” One of my favorite Sayers comic book, Teen Power!, combines two of her previously printed “five-minute comics”—meaning each strip was drawn in less than five minutes—about awkward adolescence and improbable superheroes. In one of them, a crowd stares out from the page at the reader, declaring in unison, “You are the only one who masturbates!” Slightly more sober but with just as much of a silly streak, Just So You Know is a winning, brave revelation. —Gabriela Salvidea

in front of a crowd and delivering one-line jokes. What effect do you think it has for queer Chicana audiences to be able to laugh about their experiences in a group setting? Making queer Chicana experience comedic affirms our pains and glories—hijole, just the fact that we exist and thrive. If I flip the dynamic around and poke fun at whiteness or heterosexuality, that’s the work of resistance, because I’ve inverted the paradigm and I’m using comedy to laugh at those same power structures that work to make us invisible. Since I’m writing with a queer Chicana audience in mind, it’s meant for us. We recognize the stereotype[s]—even how we sometimes play into them ourselves. If I poke fun at lesbians of color (with a progressive agenda, of course), then it’s the work of healing—and that’s the best effect of laughing in a group setting. The roar of the audience on some jokes points to that collectivity of experience and culture. When did you come into your identity as a political artist, as someone who (as you joke) engages in “political putiando”? Some might assume I was born and bred as a hard-core Xicana from day one. In fact, I was a typi-

cal Hispanic girl raised in Texas. But in my early 20s, around the same time I was coming into my queer sexuality, my ethnic identity really started to matter to me. Probably because I was surrounded by whiteness and knew it not to be my entire culture, and knew that if I was ever going to do something of value in this world, I had to honor where I/my family really came from—and that’s connected to the history of Mexico, of colonization, and of the Southwest. So I read Chicana literature and other ethnic literature like a wolf. Those pivotal works by Moraga, Anzaldúa, and Lorde saved my life. Committing to a queer Xicana experience means being the Pablo Nerudas of our lives—we have to find the poetry in our existence, witness it, document it, and then create art from it meticulously and passionately. My artistic freedom is intricately connected to my liberation as a lesbian Xicana-Indígena. [Our community] has to believe that the details that mark us as queer Xicanas actually make our renditions of our experiences palpable and fresh.

For more on Adelina Anthony, check out adelinaanthony.com.


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Riki, Please lose my number Not exactly new, not exactly now

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any a feminist critique has been made of Bret Michaels’ VH1 reality series, Rock of Love, and for good reason. The women who compete on the show are encouraged to wear ever-morerevealing outfits and perform ever-more-degrading tasks (two words—vagina shots, and I don’t mean photographs) in order to win the “love” of the former lead singer of a band that was popular when most of them were in diapers. It was never a beacon of feminism, or even a match flare, but if reality TV has taught us anything, it’s that the sexist envelope can always be pushed a little further. The latest installment in the Rock of Love series is the spinoff Daisy of Love, in which the gender roles are flipped and men compete with one another to win the affections of former Rock of Love contestant and current model/singer/actress/personality Daisy De La Hoya. It’s The Bachelorette, but with more leather and eyeliner. Following nearly the same format as its male-centric predecessor, Daisy of Love could have been filed under tired-genderroles-as-usual if it weren’t for one new addition: Riki Racht-

man. The fortysomething former Headbangers Ball host and L.A. rock-scene lifer serves as De La Hoya’s cohost, creepy father figure, and inept translator. He advises her before each elimination, and speaks on her behalf to the male contestants (after asking her to leave the room to protect her delicate sensibilities, of course). He also repeatedly tells the contestants (and the camera) that De La Hoya has been hurt by men in the past, and that she needs him there to protect her from potential further harm. Why is this irritating guy, whose biggest claim to fame is that he jumped through the cake in Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” video, crowding De La Hoya out of the frame? Is the message that while Bret Michaels needs no consultant in his search for, er, true love, a woman (or at least this particular woman) is incapable of carrying the show on her own? Apparently even the constructed world of reality television is too dangerous and complex for a woman like Daisy to navigate without a father figure, even if that father figure comes in the form of a greasy-haired, eyeroll-inducing hair farmer. Shove it, indeed. —Kelsey Wallace

Apparently even the constructed world of reality television is too dangerous and complex for a woman like Daisy to navigate without a father figure.

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hat do Britney Spears and Gossip Girl housekeeper Dorota have in common? They were both honorees at this year’s NewNowNext Awards, a presentation of Logo TV that purports to honor all that’s cool and queer in pop culture. Logo, in case you’re just tuning in, is the home of queer programming and very possibly an attempt on the part of MTV Networks to atone for two decades of heterotastic Real World episodes. But don’t think that the channel’s progressive bent makes it immune to MTV’s penchant for sweeping generalizations. The second-annual NewNowNexts were touted as “tongue in cheek,” but it’s hard not to feel that the show’s overabundance of glittery, fierce fabulosity was hiding the fact that the awards were not nearly as edgy as they wanted to be. There was a Best Lesbian Kiss category, but no Best Gay Kiss counterpart, for instance; and, strangely enough for a show hosted by RuPaul, no category honoring drag queens or kings. (Maybe Ru just didn’t want the competition?) The Brink of Fame award for acting went to Nelsan Ellis, True Blood’s vampire blood–dealing Lafayette, but the honor apparently rested less on his thespian skills than on, according to the NewNowNext website, “those shirtless scenes.” And then there’s the ’Cause You’re Hot Award, which went to model (and lesbian) Jessica Clark, who, aside from modeling and dating ladies, is actually doing work to prevent eating disorders in the fashion industry. But if you didn’t already know that, you wouldn’t have learned it from the broadcast. Few of us look to any awards show to serve much purpose other than giving us an opportunity to ooh and aah at celebrities, and it’s probably safe to say we expect even less of an awards show airing on any MTV network. On its website, Logo explains the NewNowNext Awards by saying, “Well, we were sick of watching boring awards shows, constantly being disappointed with who won or who wasn’t even nominated.” But with nominations that have little to do with queer culture to begin with (The Real Housewives franchise? New Moon?), it’s hard to see how NewNowNext is much different from any other popularity-contest awards. And in a culture where many of the same people cheering Katy Perry for kissing a girl still think gay marriage is eww-gross, it’d be nice if onscreen smooches and shimmering six-pack abs weren’t more revered than the actual badass things going on in the real-life queer sphere. —A.B.

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Female Trouble

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tsy.com Peddles a False Feminist Fantasy,” blared a headline on Double X. Author Sara Mosle’s article, however, is less a hard-hitting exposé than a bitter—and incredibly sexist—diatribe against the virtual crafty marketplace. Calling Etsy a thriving “female ghetto” orchestrated by “three men in Brooklyn, a haven for macho DIY-dom,” Mosle claims these mustachiotwirling villians have viciously fostered pitiable delusions in women too naive to recognize—though to men, of course, it’s transparent—that Etsy is not a viable single source of income. More than 90 percent of Etsy sellers are female, yes. But Mosle ignores the company’s origin story: Founder Robert Kalin started the online business after searching for an online storefront for his own work. She also brushes aside the fact that more than 80 percent of Etsy sellers say they’re occasional or part-time artisans—in other words, hardly giving up their day jobs to make bottle-cap sweater clips and owl-printed aprons. Mosle’s piece starts from a place of shoddy logic and inadequate research—since when has it been every feminist’s fantasy to crochet her way to workfamily balance? And why is she measuring the value of Etsy by men’s participation?—and continues with hyperbole, describing a “false promise” fed to women who dream of harmonizing domesticity with careers. The true fantasy seems to be Mosle’s: Who promised Etsy sellers anything? Well, no one, her article makes clear, but why let reality hamper her hypothesis?

It seems ironic that Mosle attacks Etsy from a platform that is, let’s just say, problematically gendered itself. Slate launched Double X this past May as a stand-alone site spun off from Slate blog The XX Factor. Like another Slate site, The Root, it’s got a specific demographic (women) and ads that cater to them. Though the site boasts a number of excellent writers, it launched with a spate of feminist-baiting articles and op-eds, as if to say, “Yeah, Slate gave us women our own site with lavender display type, but that doesn’t mean we’re all, you know, into women’s stuff.” And given that Slate itself seems happy to continue assigning nearly all its main-page feature coverage to male writers, Double X looks more and more like the “women’s pages” of old media. As Ann Friedman put it in an American Prospect piece about the new site, “When publishers create separate sites dedicated to women or to black people, they are signaling that they don’t see a need to have their main site serve these people as core readers. They are, in essence, saying, ‘We want the ad revenue associated with your readership, but we don’t create our homepage with you in mind.’” So maybe it’s worth asking: Which is the real female ghetto: Etsy? Or Double X? —G.S. & A.B.

Since when has it been every feminist’s fantasy to crochet her way to work-family balance?

The name Double X: Lady chromosomes! Etsy: Apparently it’s a secret, though various staffers happily spin fake etymology. Beginnings Double X: Spun off from Slate, which was started by New Republic editor Michael Kinsley under the ownership of Microsoft. Now owned by the Washington Post Company, with Jacob Weisberg the chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group. Etsy: Started by Robert Kalin, Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik, and Jared Tarbell. Former NPR exec Maria Thomas is now the company’s CEO.

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The tagline Double X: “What women really think.” Etsy: “Your place to buy and sell all things handmade.”

Advertisements Double X’s “sponsored links”: “Top 3 Diet Solutions 2009”; “1 Rule of a Flat Stomach,” teeth-whitening tips. Etsy: No ads.

Representations of feminism Double X: “How I Got Bored with Feminism,” “Yes, Virginia, Feminism Really is Dead,” “Feminists Don’t Understand Muslim Women.” Etsy: Sweatshirts screenprinted with images of Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Charlotte Brontë; Rosie the Riveter flask; uterus stuffies.


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Etsy staff: 36 male, 28 female

Slate contributors: 23 male, 10 female

slate stats: July 7, 2009

5/5 5/5 172 32

news stories written by men

arts stories written by men

stories for the week

written by women (19%)

on adult rompers From a Double X story on adult rompers: “She looks like a slutty toddler.” Number of adult rompers listed on Etsy on that day: 4

Because 19th-Century PAtriarchy isn’t scary enough

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omeone please explain this trend to us: First Jane Austen’s Bennetts and Darcys are beset by the undead in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In the new Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, the Dashwood sisters are menaced by giant lobsters, grabby octopuses, and sea serpents. And in a whole glut of books coming out this fall and winter, P&P’s Mr. Darcy is reconceived as—wait for it—a vampire. Besides Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, there’s Darcy’s Hunger: A Vampire Retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Bites Back. Harlequin romances are even getting in on it with an anthology of “paranormal novellas” based on Austen’s ouevre. Seriously, what’s up? Did the originals really need to be improved upon with monsters? Is this some post-Twilight world where nothing’s interesting anymore unless a vampire’s involved? Are publishers hoping to meet their bottom lines by sneaking these books into high school literature curricula disguised as the originals? What? —B. Helen Carnhoops fa l l . 0 9

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Bitch In: Libby Spears

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tories about the child sex trade usually feature farflung locales: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam. But as writer and director Libby Spears set out to make a documentary about sex trafficking, her focus soon turned from Southeast Asia to her own backyard. During an interview with Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Spears learned that more than 300,000 American children have been forced into the sex trade in the United States, and the top destination for Americans seeking child sex tourism is not a remote Asian city but their own country. “I didn’t have a clue what was happening here,” Spears says now. “I think people have more of a grasp of the issue internationally than domestically. Part of it is the stigma: It’s not a topic people want to see.” Spears’s film, Playground, debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and its stories and statistics are heartbreaking. She interviews several young women who were forced into prostitution in their early teens, and the film grapples with the U.S. criminal justice sytem’s persistent flaw of treating children forced into prostitution as criminals rather than victims. But Spears’s efforts to help sexually exploited children go beyond

Libby Spears’s Top 5: P.S. Arts psarts.org P.S. ARTS fights for arts education in Southern and Central California’s public schools by providing yearlong, sequential arts programs to those in need: More than 75 percent of the program’s young students (from kindergarten through fourth grade) live below the poverty line, making the classes in dance, theater, music, and the visual arts even more essential to help foster creativity, academic success, and confidence.

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P:ear Mentor Program pearmentor.org Portland, Oregon’s P:ear Mentor Program reaches out to local homeless and transitional youth, offering a safe space where street kids ages 15 to 24 can participate in recreational programs (like nature outings), art classes in everything from photography to sculpture, and individualized instruction (including cooking classes, help with earning a GED, and beyond). Greyston Foundation greyston.org Community development is the mission of Greyston Foundation, which provides jobs, workforce development, healthcare, and educational programs for lowincome families in New York’s

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Playground. Inspired by the six years of research that went into the film, Spears founded the Nest Foundation, a California-based nonprofit organization with a twofold aim: to raise public awareness about the child sex trade in America and to provide much-needed long-term care for its victims. “There was the immediate realization that we’re going to have to do more [than just make a film],” Spears says. “We need to look at this as a longer-term endeavor.” In conjunction with the film, Nest and its community of supportive artists have written and filmed PSAs about local sex trafficking, and Spears hopes to get the word out further by partnering with like-minded local organizations. The foundation hopes to build youth shelters in several major cities and create the country’s first long-term residential academy that provides former exploited children with everything from safe, stable housing—according to Spears, facilities nationwide currently have fewer than 50 beds available for long-term stays—to counseling to a formal education. Long-term plans are, thanks to the current economy, on hold, but Nest is partnering with established shelters to foster therapeutic care by way of art. “A lot of our support base is artists,” Spears says; cult favorite Yoshitomo Nara provided the often haunting illustrations in Playground. But Spears says that getting the public to simply acknowledge the problem (even getting a distributor for Playground) has been surprisingly difficult. “Even if we could find the funding, I underestimated the amount of work it’s going to be getting the film out there,” she says. “The awareness is something that’s hard to describe to people. It’s not tangible. And [the problem of child exploitation] is not going to change unless people realize it’s happening.” —Erin DeJesus

Westchester County. By using local entrepreneurship (including the now-famous Greyston Bakery) to hire and teach those often considered “hard to employ,” the foundation looks to change impoverished communities by improving the lives of the people within them. Urban Assembly School of Music and Art uamusicandart.org Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly School of Music and Art is the only arts-focused public high school that does not require a formal application. Its founders believe that every student, regardless of “talent,” can benefit from creative-based learning. The school is just one of 19 public schools run by New York

City’s Urban Assembly program, a nonprofit organization that ensures students from lowincome neighborhoods receive a quality college-prepartory education. Architecture for Humanity architectureforhumanity.org Communities from Moshi, Tanzania, to New Orleans, Louisiana have benefited from the work of Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit design services firm that encourages sustainable living. With more than 40,000 professional designers on its roster, the organization’s members donate their time and talent to needy communities unable to pay for professional design services.


on the phone by Bree Kessler | Illustration by Dani Crosby

control womb

Are iPhone apps the new fertility specialists? Want to get pregnant? There’s an app for that. Want to not get pregnant? There’s an app for that, too (and no, it’s not condoms). Want to know why you’re so damn moody? There’s—yep—an app for that. They could be considered the Our Bodies, Ourselves for the tech-savvy women of the 21st century: iPhone applications that inform women about the workings of their bodies without actually engaging with flesh and blood.

Currently, there are more than 20 applications available to users either anxious to conceive or hoping to avoid being the next featured woman on TLC’s I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant. Period Tracker Lite (free) enthuses that “[it’s] the SIMPLEST period-tracking app and now, it’s CUTER than ever!” FemDays ($6.99) “stores all your womanly observations in one place.” iPeriod (currently on sale for $1.99) markets itself as perfect for “a busy woman.”

And iMensies ($1.99) bills itself as a “stylish app” that allows women to “look at an entire year of your menses, moods, and symptoms with the touch of a finger.” The apps generally work like so: You enter the date of your last period and your estimated cycle length. A calendar appears with a series of markings and codes, depending on which app you’re using, as well as places to note your flow, temperature, mood, and even “love connections.” spring.10

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(It’s unclear if this last is a euphemism for sex or just for making eyes with someone at a bar.) Petals ($1.99), whose parent company, eNATAL, is an Internet-based prenatal care system used in many U.S. hospitals, organizes your information with fallen petals to indicate menstruation and a full bloom to let you know you’re ovulating. iPeriod uses hearts and stars to designate where you are in your cycle, and yellow faces with smiles or frowns to guess how the hormonal shifts have you feeling. (The mood-awareness features of the apps, it’s worth noting, don’t allow for the user’s personal descriptions—rather, you’re prompted to pick from a list of options, including “angry,” “exhausted,” and “weepy.”) These applications are essentially all technologized versions of the Fertility Awareness Method (fam), one of the oldest forms of family planning. Instead of using pills, patches, or rings, with fam women count the days of their cycles with cycle beads (check your mother’s—or grandmother’s—closet) and/or charting on a calendar changes including cervical position, mucus, and basal body temperature. fam offers numerous advantages: It’s nonhormonal, can be used by individuals with religious concerns about contraception, and—perhaps most important—makes women aware of their fertility patterns. (That said, fam has disadvantages, too—charting cycles requires significant time and effort, and it doesn’t protect against stis.) So are these friendly, smiley-faced, flower-bedecked technotools

a women’s-health revolution on par with the Pill, allowing us to manage fertility cheaply and easily? In theory, maybe. But there are several practical and theoretical drawbacks, starting with functionality. When I downloaded an app called Fertility Friend, for instance, it crashed my iPod Touch (the non-AT&T-user’s iPhone) and refused to open for three days, leaving me guessing where exactly I was in my cycle. It then returned as Free Menstrual Calendar, which perhaps should indicate something about its usefulness as a fertility friend. Futhermore, for the applications to be as accurate as possible, a woman needs to know the length of her menstrual cycle and luteal phase (the second phase of the menstrual cycle, which occurs after ovulation). Several apps, including iPeriod and Period Tracker, assume a luteal phase of 14 days; though that’s the average, for many women it can range from 10 to 16 days. Thus, if your luteal phase is shorter or longer than the app’s average, the ovulation days it predicts won’t be correct. The only way for a woman to truly know the length of her luteal phase is to understand things like basal body temperature and “egg-white” cervical mucus— assessments that, at least for now, are best taken with a thermometer and a clean finger, respectively. And indeed, apps that claim to offer “everything you need!” for charting and tracking your cycles are awfully quick to shrug off their technical shortcomings. Nurtur, which is happy to be a “fast and efficient” program that “won’t get you bogged down with details,” nevertheless disclaims that its fertility predictions “should be used for educational purposes only.” None of which is likely to tamp down the enthusisasm of users like MillvilleMom, who gushes in her review of Free Menstrual Calendar, “I love this app. Got pregnant in two cycles with it.” It’s as though the application itself was responsible for her pregnancy, and she’s relinquished her own agency in the process. Nor are the inherent technical shortcomings likely to stem the tide of menstruation-predictor apps that have an entirely different audience: men. Yes, there’s a whole new crop of apps that use the mood-predictor features of menstrual apps to clue men in on just how whiny and irrational their ladies will be at any given time. Though PMS Buddy is marketed to men and women, its tagline (“Saving relationships, one month at a time!”) is a clue as to its target demographic. Co n t i n u e d o n pag e 2 3

are these friendly, smiley-faced, flowerbedecked technotools a women’s-health revolution on par with the pill, allowing us to manage fertility cheaply and easily? 18 |

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on language by R.F. McCann

Lavender Menaced Is “lesbian” going out of fashion? After the National Equality March wended its way through the nation’s capital this past October, the New York Times ran coverage of the event under the headline “Gay Rights Marchers Press Cause in Washington.” A year earlier, in the midst of California’s Prop 8 battle, American Apparel debuted its “Legalize Gay” t-shirts, which were scooped up by supporters of gay rights, gay marriage, gay adoption, and gays in the military. After Prop 8 passed, comedienne Wanda Sykes came out. She was very proud, she said, to be “gay.” At the risk of seeming pedantic or quibbling, one might pause to wonder what ever happened to the word that once seemed to march so firmly hand-in-hand with “gay.” Whither “lesbian”? It makes sense that the straight public and mass media have latched onto “gay” as their go-to term; it’s short, largely inoffensive, and widely understood, making it ideal for

headlines, soundbites, and voluble public discourse. While “homosexual” is overly formal (not to mention long) and “queer” strikes some as harsh, “gay” is perky, conveniently monosyllabic, purportedly genderneutral, and certainly less racy-sounding than “lesbian,” with its silky “zzz” sound. But why exactly has the nonstraight population allowed “gay” to slide so comfortably into ubiquity? Surely the lesbian—scratch that—gay female community could put up a fight if it wanted to. But it doesn’t seem to want to. Are women bored with the word? Do they dislike it? Have labels simply become less relevant? Consult the sapphic elite, and you’ll hardly get a clear consensus on the issue. Asking women to reflect on the word “lesbian” is a bit like administering a smeary Rorschach test: You get little sense of the literal blob in question, but a good sense of where the blob-watcher is coming from. Many agree, however, that women’s increasing use of the word “gay” is in part a reflection of the lgbt

population’s efforts to present a united, palatable front as they make the case that they’re “normal” enough to merit the freedoms taken for granted by the hetero mainstream. Buy into a widely accepted term, the thinking seems to go, and things will go a lot more smoothly. As cultural critic Camille Paglia observes, “There’s been a real suppression of anything that makes gays different…. The new thing is normalcy.” Paglia, notorious for her acclaimed (and often contentious) writing on feminism, queerness, and sexuality, stands firm on this particular linguistic issue: Despite the word’s ebbing popularity, she’s a self-described lesbian. Speculating on reasons for the ascension of “gay,” Paglia cites the streamlining of interests within the queer community. She recalls the radical activism and lesbian separatism of the 1970s, the aggressive partying and aids crisis of the ’80s, and the New York drag scene of the ’90s, all of which frequently placed lgbt summer.10

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“lesbian” is a word with a lot of cultural baggage—lesbians as lumberjacks, lesbians as granola-eaters, lesbians as porn stars, gym teachers, commune dwellers, goddess worshippers. for some women, that’s been enough to turn them off the word entirely. men and women at odds, if not with each other, then certainly with social norms. Now, though, “We’re kind of post-aids, post-hedonism, post-everything, and I think it could be that gay men and lesbians have more common ground.” And the past four decades have witnessed a shifting in terms as well as politics. In 1970, for instance, the New York Times reported on “Thousands of Homosexuals” gathering for Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. In the mid-’70s, womyn-lovin’ folksinger Alix Dobkin was dropping tracks like “The Lesbian Power Authority” around the same time that women were leaving the Gay Liberation Front to found the Lavender Menace (later the Radicalesbians), which famously issued the document “The Woman-Identified Woman.” In 1983, cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes To Watch Out For” debuted, and in 1987, the category listing homosexuality as a psychological disorder was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres appeared on the cover of Time, announcing, “Yep, I’m Gay.” So now “gay” is the umbrella word, the common ground. Candace Walsh, editor of the forthcoming Seal Press anthology Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women, views that common ground as tremendously important. “The party line,” Walsh says, “has been that we all need to identify with the word ‘lesbian’ because there is strength in numbers. There are more numbers, however, if we identify as ‘gay,’ or ‘queer,’ and throw in our lot with gay men.” But by throwing in one’s lot with the group one runs the risk of sacrificing individual concerns, as prominent queer theorist Judith “Jack” Halberstam points out. A professor at the University of Southern California, Halberstam recalls that in decades past, “you had to say ‘gay and lesbian’ just to recognize that women had different issues [than] men. But when everyone is just ‘gay,’ all the issues surrounding feminism in gay and lesbian communities go out the window.” As does race. With its strong connection to (and history of usage by) the white male community, “gay” glosses over gender and race differences. Does its growing popularity signal an implicit waning of sensitivity to those differences? And what is the queer community

based on, if not difference? But back to Halberstam: The author of Female Masculinity considers “gay” a “cop-out word” and speculates that the term has proven attractive to queer women for its associations with the glammier side of gay male nightlife and its distance from whatever images of Birkenstocked stridency the word “lesbian” conjures up. Still, Halberstam doesn’t rush to the defense of “lesbian,” either, pointing to the limited scope of the word and its exclusion of transgendered, transsexual, and genderqueer people. Halberstam initially came out as a lesbian, but now identifies as “transgender butch.” Halberstam’s preferred all-inclusive term is “queer,” a word that the author admits might be difficult for a larger audience to understand, given its other, less-savory meanings. But Halberstam doesn’t mind those other meanings. “When I see [queer] used in literature, it doesn’t mean ‘perverse’ so much as ‘odd’ or ‘strange.’ And I don’t mind having that association. I prefer it to the associations that ‘lesbian’ has, which are always sort of dowdy and unsexy. ‘Odd’ and ‘strange’ seem appealing after that.” “Lesbian” is a word with a lot of cultural baggage—lesbians as lumberjacks, lesbians as granola-eaters, lesbians as porn stars, Catholic schoolgirls, gym teachers, cat owners, commune dwellers, braless separatists, goddess worshippers. For some women, that’s been enough to turn them off the word entirely. Trish Bendix, a writer for AfterEllen.com, identifies as a lesbian, though she’s careful to use more inclusive descriptors like “out” and “sapphic” when writing. Some AfterEllen readers, she says, object to the use of certain words that have a history of negative associations, like “queer” and “dyke” (the James Dean, one might say, of lesbian terminology—definitely troublesome but totally dishy). “Because ‘lesbian’ has served as such a specific term over time, it has almost become a dirty word, following in the sad footsteps of how ‘feminism’ has garnered a negative connotation,” observes Bendix. “That’s why so many lgbt women—especially younger ones—prefer to give themselves a different label, or no label at all.” Those who’ve stuck with “lesbian” despite its disadvantages are, it Co n t i n u e d o n pag e 2 3

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by joshunda sanders & diana barnes-brown illustration by ana mouyis

priv-lit and the new, enlightened american dream.

summer 10

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for decades, self-help literature and an obsession with wellness have captivated the imaginations of countless liberal Americans. Even now, as some of the hardest economic times in decades pinch our budgets, our spirits, we’re told, can still be rich. Books, blogs, and articles saturated with fantastical wellness schemes for women seem to have multiplied, in fact, featuring journeys (existential or geographical) that offer the sacred for a hefty investment of time, money, or both. There’s no end to the luxurious options a woman has these days—if she’s willing to risk everything for enlightenment. And from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert to everyday women siphoning their savings to downward dog in Bali, the enlightenment industry has taken on a decidedly feminine sheen. It will probably take years before the implications for women of the United States’ newfound economic vulnerability are fully understood. Present reports yield a mix of auspicious and depressing stats: The New York Times, for example, reports that more than 80 percent of the jobs that have evaporated were held by men, and the proportion of married women who made more than their husbands rose from 4 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 2007. That’s not much of a gain, though, considering that U.S. Department of Labor statistics from 2008 show women still only making roughly 75 cents for every dollar made by men. Yet even as reports on joblessness, economic recovery, and home foreclosures suggest that no one is immune to risk during this recession, the popularity of women’s wellness media has persisted and, indeed, grown stronger. “Live your best life!” Oprah Winfrey intones on her show, on her website, and in her magazine, with exhausting tenacity. Eat kale. Lose weight. Invest in timeless cashmere. Find the perfect little black dress. But though Oprahspeak pays regular lip service to empowerment, much of Winfrey’s advice actually moves women away from political, economic, and emotional agency by promoting materialism and dependency masked as empowerment, with evangelical zeal. As Karlyn Crowley writes in the recent anthology Stories of Oprah: The Oprahfication of American Culture, Winfrey has become the mainstream spokesperson for New Age spirituality because “she marries the intimacy and individuality of the New Age movement with the adulation and power of a 700 Club–like ministry.” And not surprisingly, it was the imprimatur of Oprah’s Book Club that made Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia the publishing phenomenon it now is. More than 5 million paperback copies of the book are currently in print, though the first printing of the book, in 2006, was a modest 30,000 hardcover copies. The Wall Street Journal estimated that the book would make more than $15 million in sales by the end of 2007, and the book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 155 weeks. 30 |

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Eat, Pray, Love detailed Gilbert’s decision to leave an unsatisfying marriage and embark on an international safari of self-actualization. (Publisher Viking subsidized the “unscripted” yearlong vacation.) Gilbert ate exotic food, meditated in exotic places, and had exotic romantic interludes; both culture clashes and enlightenment ensued, as did Gilbert’s ham-fistedly paternalistic attempt to buy an impoverished Indonesian woman a house. The book could easily have been called Wealthy, Whiny, White. It’s hardly reasonable to demand that every woman who wishes to better her life be poor, or nonwhite, or in some other way representative of diversity in order to be taken seriously. But Eat, Pray, Love and its positioning as an Everywoman’s guide to whole, empowered living embody a literature of privilege and typify the genre’s destructive cacophony of insecurity, spending, and false wellness.

let them eat kale Eat, Pray, Love is not the first book of its kind, but it is a perfect example of the genre of priv-lit: literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women’s hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial. Should its consumers fail, the genre holds them accountable for not being ready to get serious, not “wanting it” enough, or not putting themselves first, while offering no real solutions for the astronomically high tariffs—both financial and social—that exclude all but the most fortunate among us from participating. The spending itself is justified by its supposedly healthy goals—acceptance, self-love, the ability to heal past psychic wounds and break destructive patterns. Yet often the buzz over secondary perks (weight loss, say, or perfect skin) drowns out less superficial discussion. Winfrey, again, is a chief arbiter of this behavior: As Stories of Oprah contributor Jennifer L. Rexroat points out, Winfrey presents herself as a “de facto feminist” with a traditional American Dream background who refuses to succumb to wifedom and enjoys pampering herself. Sometimes that involves espousing the works of spirituality writers Gary Zukav or Eckhart Tolle, who both appear regularly on her show. Sometimes it means talking about weight gain and self-loathing. Sometimes it necessitates buying a diamond friendship pinkie ring. It’s no secret that, according to America’s marketing machine, we’re living in a “postfeminist” world where what many people mean by “empowerment” is the power to spend their own money. Twenty- and thirtysomething women seem more eager than ever to embrace their “right” to participate in crash diets and their “choice” to get breast implants, obsess about their age, and apply the Sex and the City personality metric to their friends (Are you a Miranda or a Samantha? Did you get your Brazilian and your Botox?).


Such marketing, and the women who buy into it, assumes the work of feminism is largely done. Perhaps it’s because, unlike American women before them, few of the people either making or consuming these cultural products and messages have been pushed to pursue secretarial school instead of medical school, been accused of “asking for” sexual assault, or been told driving and voting were intellectually beyond them. This perspective makes it easy for the antifeminism embedded in the wellness jargon of priv-lit to gain momentum. And an ailing economy makes this thinking all the more problematic. “Splurging on luxury is a real no-no in this crap economy,” a blogger at YogaDork wrote in a post titled “The All-Inclusive Vacation for the Recession Torn (The Acceptable Splurge).” “But what if it’s for a self-helpy learning experience?” Pondering the importance of health over penny-pinching, the blogger suggested that if “yogis and non alike” thought a retreat worth scrounging for, they should get on it. And indeed, if self-helpy is on the menu, people seem to be buying it, or at least buying into it. In fall 2009, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece about well-off women (and some men) leaving their full-time jobs to meditate in seclusion for three years, to the tune of $60,000 a year. Another feature on young, female selfhelp gurus (their exact qualifications for guruhood remain murky) charging hundreds of dollars an hour to advise other women on spirituality and eating well was granted prime real estate on the front page of the New York Times’ Style section. Sarma Melngailis, a New York restaurant owner who writes about eating raw and organic food on the blogs welikeitraw.com and oneluckyduck.com, promises her readers—most of them women—that if they can just give up their Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and replace it with her $9 coconut water and $12 nut-milk shakes they, too, can be happy and healthy. (She’s very consistent about plugging her products’ ability to combat hangovers and sexify one’s appearance, too.) The now-famous Skinny Bitch cookbook franchise plumbs even more sinister depths in its insistence that women can stop nighttime snacking with the oh-sosimple fix of hiring a personal chef with vegan culinary training. Actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s web venture, GOOP, uses catchy, imperative section headings (“Get,” “Do,” “Be”) and the nonsensical tagline “Nourish the inner aspect” to neatly establish a rhetorical link between action, spending, and the whole of existence. Even Julie and Julia, the blog that became a book that became a hit movie, is complicit in spreading the trend. Julie Powell’s story—that of an ennuiridden professional whose journey of self-discovery involves cooking her way through Julia Child—features one-meal shopping lists whose cost rivals standard monthly foodstamp allotments for many American families.

priv-lit has transformed virginia woolf’s “room of one’s own” into an existential space accessed by way of a very expensive series of actual rooms—a $120an-hour yoga studio, a cottage in indonesia, a hip juice bar on manhattan’s lower east side.

Priv-lit perpetuates several negative assumptions about women and their relationship to money and responsibility. The first is that women can or should be willing to spend extravagantly, leave our families, or abandon our jobs in order to fit ill-defined notions of what it is to be “whole.” Another is the infantilizing notion that we need guides—often strangers who don’t know the specifics of our financial, spiritual, or emotional histories—to tell us the best way forward. The most problematic assumption, and the one that ties it most closely to current, mainstream forms of misogyny, is that women are inherently and deeply flawed, in need of consistent improvement throughout their lives, and those who don’t invest in addressing those flaws are ultimately doomed to making themselves, if not others, miserable. While priv-lit predates the current recession by at least a few years, the genre’s potential for negative impact is greater these days than ever before. Today’s “recessionista” mind-set promotes spending quietly over spending less. summer.10

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Priv-lit takes a similar approach: Hiding familiar motives behind ambient lighting and organic scented candles, the genre at once masks and promotes the destructive expectations of traditional femininity and consumer culture, making them that much harder to fight. As Jezebel.com blogger Sadie Stein noted in September 2009, “nueva-Bradshaws have hung up their Manohlos [sic] and retired their Cosmos...and are pursuing banality differently...it’s pink-hued, candy-coated girly spirituality.” The blog entry, which mentions Eat, Pray, Love; Skinny Bitch; and The Secret, is a response specifically to the odious “new gurus” article from the New York Times, but the point can also be seen as a cutting and accurate criticism of priv-lit as a genre.

in dreams begin responsibilities? Perhaps priv-lit is a manifestation of how we love to fantasize about things we don’t—or can’t—have. In the case of priv-lit, the fantasy has turned on its makers. Rather than offering a model to aspire to through consistent attainment of progressive, realistic goals, priv-lit terrorizes its consumers with worst-case scenarios and the implication that self-improvement is demonstrated by “works” of spending. Of course, it is the right of any woman who works hard for what she has to spend her money to make her life better. But the pressure to obtain happiness by buying a certain book (like Eat, Pray, Love or, more recently, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project), attending a yoga retreat, or hiring a guru moves women further away from themselves, the simplicity espoused in positive psychology literature, and the type of careful reflection necessary to maintain inner peace in the long term. The story priv-lit tells is that true wellness requires extreme sacrifices along economic, family, and professional lines, but those who make them will be rewarded and attain permanent enlightenment of one kind or another. (The best recent example is Gilbert herself, since she was rewarded twice over for her globe-trotting victories in her spiritual memoir—she married a hot Brazilian man and landed another bestselling book, 2010’s Committed, as a result.) Unfortunately, that story is a lie: As one purveyor of highend life-coaching services (who, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous) comments, “In our line of business, we have a saying: ‘Don’t fix the client.’” Once mentors teach clients to attain freedom and enlightenment, they can say goodbye to the high premiums they earn by telling clients they need more help. “One of the brilliant parts of the self-help genre as a whole is that there are these various contradicting threads or themes, all woven together, and emphasized differently at different times,” says Dr. Micki McGee, a sociologist and cultural critic at Fordham University and the author of Self32 |

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Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life. “Selfimprovement culture in general has the contradictory effect of undermining self-assurance by suggesting that all of us are in need of constant, effortful (and often expensive) improvement. There is the danger of over-investing in this literature not only financially, but also psychologically.” McGee, who in researching her own book spent five years immersed in self-help literature, is quick to point out that this tendency toward spending for self-improvement is long-standing. But in the current economic climate, the real financial implications for those who do, or try to, invest in these ways may be worse than in healthier economic times, while the spending itself may be growing all the more fetishized. Since the late 1960s, economic phenomena such as wage stagnation combined with the increasing costs of housing, medical care, and other basic necessities have meant that, for most Americans, time really does equal money. “Increasingly, people who actually have the money to take a year off and travel in India or go to a thousanddollar yoga retreat are in short supply,” notes McGee. “In the context of the recession, we’re seeing an emphasis on simplicity and frugality, but embedded within that emphasis is a subtext of consuming more”—imported, she points out, from contemporary self-help literature of all kinds. McGee links the persistence of these counterintuitive ideals to the phenomena of social stratification written about by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In his landmark 1984 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Bourdieu explained that cultural and aesthetic preferences both indicate and shape class stratifications, because trends in these preferences seemingly map individuals’ positions in social hierarchies. As McGee puts it, within status-quo class systems, “Taste and other types of cultural capital are emblematic of both status attained and status putatively deserved.” So those who pray at the altar of priv-lit operate under the false assumptions that 1) investing concretely ensures attainment of elite socioeconomic status and 2) having invested demonstrates the deserving nature of those who do. In times of financial stress—when those who want exist in even greater proportion to those who have—this feedback loop may be intensified, because the desired is that much more unattainable and the consequences of failure, namely the implication that those who do not get their lives together according to the prescribed boundaries of priv-lit will end up being so utterly screwed up that they risk losing their jobs, houses, or independence, among other things—seem that much worse. Priv-lit has transformed Virginia Woolf’s “Room of One’s Own” into an existential space accessed by way of a very expensive series of actual rooms—a $120-an-hour yoga studio, a cottage in Indonesia, a hip juice bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The genre is unique in that it reflects an inversion


of its own explicitly expressed value system: Priv-lit tells women they must do expensive things that are good for the body, mind, or soul. But the hidden subtext, and perhaps the most alluring part of the genre for its avid consumers, is the antifeminist idea that women should become healthy so that people will like them, they will find partners, they’ll have money, and they’ll lose weight and be hot. God forbid a dumpy, lonely, single person should actually try to achieve happiness, health, and balance for its own sake. It’s the wolf of the mean-spirited makeover show or the vicious highschool clique in the sheep’s clothing of wellness.

turning the tide The truth is that many of us are barely holding on to the modest lives we’ve struggled to create, improving ourselves on a diy basis, minus the staggering premiums, with every day we get up, go to work, and take care of ourselves and our families. Priv-lit is not a viable answer to the concerns of most women’s lives, and acting as though it is leads nowhere good. It’s high time we demanded that truer narratives become visible—and, dare we say it, marketable. The priv-lit tide shows few immediate signs of ebbing. The Eat, Pray, Love movie (shot partly in that most gentrified of neighborhoods, Brooklyn Heights) hits theaters this summer, and the Sex and the City film sequel and its many shoe-shopping-as-therapy metaphors will hit theaters in late spring. As for Oprah, her talk show is slated to end in 2011, but with an entire television network on the way, her empire and its anointed leaders could be with us for decades. But the future also holds brighter possibilities. Paige Williams, whose story can, somewhat ironically, be found on Oprah.com, was depressed to the point of debilitation, clinically obese, unemployed, and broke when she began her efforts to change her life. Living with her mother and often too sick to get out of bed, she clearly was not living her “best life.” Williams postponed taking a job to spend two months regaining control of her body, mind, and life via an intensive, 60-day Bikram yoga regimen. Parts of Williams’s story fall well within the range of self-help and priv-lit tropes: She waxes poetic about squeezing into a pair of skinny jeans, and many would argue that merely having the resources to get a medical diagnosis of depression and obesity (to say nothing of the Bikram regimen itself) is solid proof that our protagonist is more comfortable than the average American. But the frank admission that any such intervention is a sacrifice, and a risky one at that, is evidence of both a more genuine voice and of a protagonist who cares about being healthy overall rather than demonstrating class membership or pursuing mainstream ideals of beauty, marriageability, and general worthiness. And the fact that her story appears in such a mainstream context means that more women are being exposed to this comparatively toned-down

approach. Maybe not a solution to the problem of priv-lit, but a good step toward finding one. Even better are movements like The Great American Apparel Diet. Not to be confused with a food plan sanctioned by American Apparel ceo Dov Charney, that iconoclast of modern American misogynists, GAAD is actually a movement started by a group of American women who decided to go a full year without buying a single new garment of clothing. Since its inception in September 2009, the group has grown to represent members from 17 states and six countries. “Some are sick and tired of consumption in general while others are concerned about consumption and the environment,” notes the group’s web page. “We all have our reasons for embarking on this project but it all gets down to this…who are we without something hip and new in our closets? We shall see.” The admission that many of these women feel intense anxiety in the absence of the materialism that has for so long been tied to ideas of what makes women successfully feminine is a crucial and revolutionary first step that more women should feel safe taking. And not buying is, by definition, free, meaning that anyone with motivation enough and a desire to say no to the status quo can participate in this form of soul-searching. (Though, of course, the project operates under its own assumption—namely, that not spending money is a choice rather than an absolute necessity.) Williams’s tale and the clothing embargo are evidence of a progressively nontraditional movement of women committed to replacing elitist, consumption-based models of spiritual salvation and existential peace with genuine bids to do a lot with a little, and to stop listening to top-down directives for how to have good lives. If more women become willing to put aside their fears, open their eyes to cost-free or inexpensive paths to wellness, and position themselves as essentially worthy instead of deeply flawed, priv-lit could soon migrate to a well-deserved new home: the fiction section. And once that happens, we might just succeed in showing that for every wealthy and insecure woman who can pony up to reach great heights of self and spending, there are thousands more whose lives are comparatively uncharmed, who are happier working with creative and healthy alternatives instead of spending on what they’re terrorized into wanting, and whose stories will, someday, be valued for the strength they communicate, not the fantasies they sell. Joshunda Sanders is a religion reporter in Austin, Texas. She has been obsessed with self-help literature since sixth grade. Diana Barnes-Brown is a writer and sandwich enthusiast living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her favorite self-help interventions are pit bull foster care and yelling at the television.

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reviews

Queers on the run

An interview with Eric Stanley and Chris Vargas By Yasmin Nair | illustration by Aidan Koch

Filmmakers Eric Stanley and Chris Vargas met at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2005 in a class on film, video, and gender where Stanley was the teaching assistant and Vargas a student. Both were radical activists on issues of prison abolition, queer antiassimilation, and trans justice, and both were heavily influenced by revolutionary 66 |

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feminist and political films like Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames and Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 The Battle of Algiers. Naturally, it wasn’t long before the two began collaborating—their first film, Homotopia, was released in 2006. The 26-minute film had a simple plot but a substantive critique. Main character Yoshi hooks up with a cute stranger in a park bathroom for a hot sexual encounter, followed by a long conversation. Enamored of his new f ling, Yoshi sets out to see him again, only to find the man sitting at a café table, making arrangements for his big gay wedding. Crushed at having been taken in by the very kind of gay man he despises and horrified at the thought of yet another moment of assimilationist politics taking shape, Yoshi and his friends plan a queer takeover of the impending nuptials, their conversations abounding with trenchant zingers. Walking down the streets of San Francisco, one friend wonders if gay marriage isn’t sometimes justified: “What about people who get married for health benefits and stuff?” Another replies, “Why should only married people be allowed to live?”


screen The film reflected Stanley and Vargas’s disillusionment with the recent concerns of gays and lesbians in the political sphere. Gone are the days when queers actively and openly resisted heteronormativity; gone are the many prisoner-solidarity projects that Regina Kunzel describes in her 2008 book Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality; gone is the grassroots fervor of past queer organizations like Gay Liberation Front and ACT UP that militated against state invasions of queer lives and politics. In their place are groups like Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who actively set about courting D.C. politicians on same-sex marriage. Instead of arguing that everyone needs health care, mainstream gays and lesbians are now insisting that an unfair system should be extended to include them. And the emphasis on marriage is accompanied by support for hate-crimes legislation. Where they once saw the prison-industrial complex as the problem, given how they were blatantly targeted by it for “deviancy,” mainstream gay and lesbian activists today often agitate to put more of their fellow citizens in jail. Vargas and Stanley, like many queer radicals, share a suspicion of the pic and its encroachment upon all aspects of American life, in particular the way the bodies of trans and female sex workers that do not fit requirements of “normalcy” are violated by the state. The new film Criminal Queers is the pair’s second attempt to confront the rapid mainstreaming of gay politics. Along with a bevy of radical and enthusiastic friends and lovers, they’ve made a sequel to Homotopia that finds the wedding crashers on the run. One of them, Lucy Parsons, languishes in jail after being denied bail, her gender identity—while she claims female pronouns, her state identity card marks her as male—throwing the state into confusion. Drawing upon the same visual repertoire as Homotopia, Criminal Queers is a mixture of satire and political critique, wrapped up in a classic prison-break narrative. The presence of perhaps the most famous prison abolitionist of our time, Angela Davis, lends weight to the film’s rumination on the prison-industrial complex. Yasmin Nair caught up with Stanley and Vargas to talk about the pic, the HRC, and feminist film in a genderqueer world. Had you always planned to make a sequel to Homotopia? Eric Stanley: Touring with Homotopia, we were reminded of the need for radical queer film. We kept running into people who would either say, “I never thought about the prison-industrial complex/the gay movement in that way” or “I thought I was the only one who thought this way.” That really inspired us to continue our work. Chris Vargas: Yes, and more critical positions like ours get silenced and/or eclipsed in the overwhelming visibility of gay politics around issues like marriage and the military. How does the film’s style fit with your critique of the prisonindustrial complex? CV: Queer and transgender people of color have been disproportionately targeted by the pic. The politics of prison abolition is not new, but the emphasis on incarceration is so culturally pervasive that it is hard to talk about dismantling prisons without getting people anxious that a killer will knock down their door if prisons don’t exist.

That’s where our diy and camp aesthetic works in our favor. The movie, I hope, is so ridiculous and entertaining to watch that even if the ideas we present are radical, they can be digested, examined, and talked about without force or intimidation. ES: We wanted to entertain, instigate, educate, and include the voices of people that had spent time in prison and jails. Angela [Davis] has been active in prison abolition for the last 40 years, and the specific insight she offers is almost unmatched. Her scene is a bit dialogue-heavy, but [it’s] an interesting contrast to the visual mayhem of many of the other scenes. CV: Her presence gives legitimacy to the message of abolition. People that hold radical politics run the risk of being dismissed and condescended to, but there is no dismissing Angela. Criminal Queers makes deliberate connections between the mainstream gay movement and the expansion of the PIC . CV: We point out that Matt Foreman, the former executive director of the NGLTF, was for 10 years a prison administrator at Rikers Island—that serves as a great clue that these liberal gay agendas may be in direct opposition to the safety of the most vulnerable segment of our lgbt community, mainly poor people and people of color. ES: When we toured with Homotopia, people would ask us, “If gay marriage isn’t the fight we should be fighting, what should we be doing?” Working toward the abolition of prisons seems to be a good start. You don’t generally show your films at festivals. Why? ES: Queer film festivals don’t offer much of the cinematic experience. They’re also self-contained, aesthetically and politically. Our films are disruptive of what has become a standard queer aesthetic; we don’t see them fitting into standard “queer cinema.” I mean, every standard gay film out there has the words “equality,” “freedom,” or “marriage” in its title, and a plot [about] gays and lesbians fighting against all odds to [gain] acceptance/adopt a baby/enter and win The Amazing Race. I’m thinking of films like Freedom to Marry or the more recent Swedish film Patrik 1.5. We once had someone come up to us after a screening and say, “I thought I was going to see another coming-out film.” [Laughs.] We believe in the context of the entire performance of the film, which includes us presenting it and initiating discussions of the film and its issues. We could YouTube it or just send out our dvds. Instead, we create a situation where the screening is just one iteration of the film. Radical queers haven’t yet figured out how to use film as politics; we’ve done it with performance and spoken word, but not with film. The assimilationists are winning the war because they’ve learned how to use film as propaganda by wrapping their message in the preferred discourse of civil rights. Criminal Queers abounds with gender transgression. Lucy, for instance, makes no attempt to hide the fact that she has a male body, even as she insists on using female pronouns. How do you connect gender insurrection and the PIC? CV: We show a complete disregard for passing, in order to play with and throw off track the audience’s expectation of what particular identities—trans, lesbian, gay—look like. Gender selfsummer.10

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screen determination plays a huge part in the politics represented in Criminal Queers, which holds the real pic accountable to its threats against all individuals and communities who exist outside of dominant ideologies and identities. How would you link Criminal Queers to feminist film? ES: Queer politics and feminist politics are inseparable. When I think of feminism historically, I think of a nuanced understanding of gender and gender roles and an interrogation of them. But the lesbi-gay movement today is so bent on policing gender identity and representation—we’ve got lesbian bars and festivals kicking out trans people, for instance, and the same is true of gay bars. And then there’s the prescriptive gender coding that’s prevalent in the mainstream trans community, where everybody has to “look” perfectly like their newly assigned gender. On a larger level, we have to think about and account for all the ways lgbt movements reproduce dominant frameworks. If you look closely at the HRC scene [in the film], you’ll see a copy of anti-trans “feminist” Janice Raymond’s infamous book, The Transsexual Empire. We are not interested in the debate over whether or not Raymond is a feminist, but rather in showing how her transphobic politics align with [those] of the HRC. HRC, in 2007, supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act even though it specifically excluded gender identity. We don’t necessarily think ENDA is the best solution to discrimination, given that it mostly protects people in the middle-class job sector and won’t do a thing for, for instance, sex workers. But it says a lot that HRC was willing to be so blatantly exclusionary about trans bodies. We try to make hypervisible the connections that people don’t always see. How did you access the public spaces featured in Criminal Queers, given your resources? CV: We generally shoot on the f ly since we can’t pay to rent locations, and we’ve had some luck with that. But in this movie we had quadruple the locations, and therefore more opportunity to get thrown out of places, which we did. There are always going to be haters, but we were surprised [at] who those were. We had no problem shooting at Alcatraz, for instance, but UC Berkeley’s Dwinelle Hall and a cafeteria that the Gay Straight Alliance rented for their youth empowerment gathering were big no-nos. ES: The scenes we thought were going to be the most dangerous, like filming on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, ended up being the easiest, in terms of harassment. In contrast, scenes like filming in one of UC Berkeley’s bathrooms got the police called on us. When we’re approached by someone who looks like they might be some kind of authority figure, we often try to convince them it’s a “school project.” That can often get you out of trouble. Speaking of getting thrown out, how did you—or did you— actually shoot inside the HRC store? ES: A lady never tells her secrets. Yasmin Nair is a Chicago-based writer whose work has

appeared in make/shift, Discourse, and the Windy City Times.

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The Runaways Director: Floria Sigismondi

{apparition films}

Before “Rebel Girl” and RockrGrl, there were the Runaways—the first aggressive, all-female rock band, and the training ground for future MTV guitar goddesses Joan Jett and Lita Ford. But The Runaways is the story of Jett (Kristen Stewart) and lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), tracking both in their teenage ascent from gawk to rock. It opens on the teens in acts of self-creation: Leather pants transform Joan Larkin into Ms. Jett; Currie cuts her blond locks into a Bowie shag. When Jett approaches record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) with her dream of an all-girl band, he sees a commodity and asks Currie to audition, saying, “We love your look.” Captured with a grainy ’70s aesthetic by music-video veteran Floria Sigismondi, The Runaways, like many rock films, is half origin myth and half denouement, with little

story in between. What sets the film apart from other rock biopics is its window into gender and rock at a time when girls didn’t use amps. From idiot guitar teachers to a pedophilic road manager, the ladies encounter a sexism that today looks both ridiculous and sadly familiar. So when Jett pisses on the instruments of a headliner who pushed her around, it’s a savory victory. Fanning captures Currie’s vulnerability offstage, but her portrayal of the singer’s Bowie-Bardot onstage persona is regrettably more bombshell than bad-ass, especially since the script relies heavily on visuals alone. Shots of a corset-clad Currie snorting drugs off the floor and later shacking up with the tour manager convey her descent into drug addiction and exploitation, but gloss over the extremity and endurance of her problems. Stewart looks far more comfortable playing tough as Jett than cowering in the Twilight franchise—particularly when crooning “I Love Playing with Fire.” It’s got f laws, but The Runaways is entertaining enough to send you looking for vintage vinyl—and with any luck, it’ll encourage Stewart’s fan base to enroll in Girls Rock Camp. —Erica Lies See it in the theater: When Jett’s teacher says, “Girls don’t play electric guitar,” you want a roomful of people to boo with you.


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Food Party: Season Two

{IFC} For those of you lucky enough to have caught Food Party when IFC first aired it last year, consider yourselves even luckier: It’s back for a second season of puppet-filled fun that promises to be just as weird and wonderful. And if you haven’t seen the show yet, fear not: All you need to enjoy Food Party is a love of creative snacks and a disregard for sense-making. The brainchild of artist Thu Tran (who is also the show’s charmingly strange host), Food Party is like a miniature version of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse on msg. The 10-minute episodes usually take place in Tran’s magical kitchen, where she interacts with various puppet friends like Perv Corn and Monsieur Baguette and makes bizarre foods like a buffalowing wedding cake (eaten at the wedding where she married herself) and strawberry shrimp cocktail (created when Tran learned she possessed magical strawberry-spitting powers). Though the food she makes is rarely appetizing, Tran’s upbeat demeanor and dark sense of humor combine for some seriously delish entertainment. If a show with episodes about a guy with a peanutbutter beard named Peanut Butter Jerry fighting off the evil Grape Jenny, a baguette having illicit (and graphic) sex with a hamburger bun, and an amateur chef harvesting shrimp from the inside of a whale whilst wearing a plastic swimming helmet doesn’t sound like your bag, you might want to avoid FP altogether. If those synopses whet your appetite, however—and you think you can handle things getting even weirder—then this is one

party you don’t want to miss. — K el s e y Wa l l ac e And they called it puppet love: Tran’s main squeeze Dan

Baxter, a founder of the offbeat plush toy company Kreepy Doll Factory, also makes puppets for Food Party.

My Year Without Sex Director: Sarah Watt

{Hibiscus Films}

Wry and sharply observed, Sarah Watt’s My Year Without Sex is a marvelous slice of feminist life. Told from the perspective of Natalie (the round, middle-aged Sacha Horier), a suburban wife and mother whose aneurysm prevents her from straining her circulatory system for a year, the film pits sexuality against health, family life against the spiritual, and the altruistic fulfillments of friendship against the sometimes-narcissistic struggles of romantic love. As Natalie negotiates memory loss, depression, and sex-starved irritability, her husband, Ross (a baby-faced Matt Day), avoids romance at work and learns to engage in his children’s lives. But as our heroine drifts away from her husband and quite literally hits the jackpot—a casino-game windfall offers a metaphor of giftedness without any deus ex machina artificiality—it’s her relationship with a female Episcopal priest that ends up grounding her.   As the film unfolds, Watt creates a naturalistic world whose killing detail and lush color infuse the clutter of a middle-class lifestyle with beauty beyond its plastic materialism. Directing from the heart as well as the head, she deftly and beautifully employs locations to split the screen between text and subtext, us-

ing very wide angles to paint a broad canvas wherein the characters appear tiny—a comment on the oppressive and disorienting man-made environments that continually foreground what “ought” to be in the background. And the gorgeous interiors and wardrobe are evidence of a production team guided by a director reaching the top of her game. — L i s a M o r i c o l i L at h a m See it with: Someone you love, or someone you’d like to make love to.

Tiny Furniture Director: Lena Dunham

{Tiny Ponies/Submarine Entertainment} When Aura returns home from college in Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, she has a broken heart, a hamster named Gilda (indeed, after Ms. Radner), and a heavy dose of postcollegiate malaise. While her artist mother and precocious sister are happy to see her, they can’t even bother to pause and greet her at the door, or tell her where in the house to find a lightbulb. (“It’s in the white cabinet,” her mother, Siri, says, pointing to a wall full of white cabinets.) Caught between childhood and the terror of nascent independence, Aura’s overprivileged self-centeredness and confused vulnerability make her simultaneously insufferable and sweetly poignant. Aura reconnects with her childhood best friend, Charlotte (a hilarious Jemima Kirke), and goes on what “might be” a date with Jed, who’s famous “in an Internet kind of way.” She also lands herself a dead-end job as a restaurant hostess, something she considers far beneath the station of her film-theory

degree, although it affords her the opportunity to f lirt with a sous-chef who’s as dickish as he is cute. As she embarks on reckless non-romances with Jed and the chef, Aura encounters the disappointing gap between her dreams of adulthood and its sad reality. Dunham wrote, directed, and stars in the largely autobiographical film, which displays a subtle humor and a self-obsessed neurosis reminiscent of Woody Allen’s best relationship comedies. Aura is far more sympathetic than Alvy Singer, however, and even when she’s at her most intolerable, the effect is a wry self-critique. Tiny Furniture is an unromantic comedy with no preciousness about it. Its cinematography has a beautiful simplicity, and Dunham’s precise dialogue proves her a keen observer of the ways people reveal themselves. As an actor, Dunham plays her own persona, but she

Pondering abstinence in My Year Without Sex, above. Below: Food Party’s Thu Tran with some of her plush pals.

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Despite Ree’s refusal to repeat the things she learns, the real currency in her world is talk. And ultimately, fear of the local gossip mill saves her more than once. Jennifer Lawrence sits tight in Winter’s Bone.

shows a willingness to sacrifice pride for the sake of a joke—a trait from which many aspiring performers should take a cue. One of Siri’s very first lines is “Regret is a complete waste of time. I never think about my twenties, and I absolutely don’t look back.” Having won the narrative feature competition at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, let’s hope that Dunham doesn’t look back either, because she’s about to star-burst into something very, very special. — E . L . Watch it with: Annie Hall fans, so you can catch their faces when they see Mr. Allen’s challenger a-comin’.

Veiled Voices Director: Brigid Maher

{typecast releasing} In recent years, Muslim women have become a sort of canary in the coal mine of global politics. Typically, we see them depicted one of two ways: the 70 |

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perceived-as-oppressed hijabi or the enlightened feminist apostate. But what about the majority of female followers of Islam, who fall somewhere in between, advocating both for a firm adherence to the Qur’an and for the equal standing of women? Veiled Voices introduces us to three women who elude narrow representation. Ghina Hammoud is the founder and president of the Al-Ghina Islamic center in Beirut, Lebanon, an organization that provides material and spiritual support to working-class women in the form of food and weekly teaching on theology and Islamic law. A divorcée and survivor of domestic violence, Hammoud advocates for women refusing to accept abuse, especially when men improperly use Islam to justify their cruelty. Then there’s university professor and media personality Dr. Su’ad Saleh, who hosts Cairo’s weekly television

r e s p o n s e t o p o p c u lt u r e

program The Woman’s Fatwa, on which she dispenses social and spiritual advice to other Muslim women. The headstrong Saleh has fought to gain the formal position of mufti, a religious scholar with the ability to interpret Sharia. Though she holds the title informally, she has been unsuccessful in gaining the voting support of the all-male group responsible for granting it formally. Finally, there’s Huda Al-Habash, who teaches Islamic lessons for women in the al-Zahra Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Whip-smart and open-minded, Al-Habash believes that following the Qur’an must be a freely made choice—otherwise, the learning is inauthentic. It is clear from the interviews with her students, some of whom are not strict in their adherence to Islam, that Al-Habash practices the acceptance she preaches. Though Veiled Voices isn’t an overtly feminist film, it is

a celebration of the often overlooked power and self-determination of devout Muslim women. As the title of the film implies, all the women featured see veiling as an obligatory part of their religious doctrine, though the narrative avoids explicitly addressing the doctrine itself or placing it under scrutiny. Instead, Veiled Voices places the women themselves at the center and shows how their faith has enriched their gendered lives. — M a n d y V a n Deve n Not Without My Daughter:

The women’s impassioned daughters, also interviewed in the film, will pull on the heartstrings of even the most skeptical viewer.

Winter’s Bone Director: Debra Granik

{Down to the Bone Productions}

Director Debra Granik’s sophomore feature, the mystery Winter’s Bone, will no doubt be called gritty, raw, real, and— that naughtiest of all critical descriptors—authentic. Adapted from the Daniel Woodrell novel of the same name, Winter’s Bone is the story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), who stands to lose her house unless she can locate her methdealing father who posted the family farm as bond and then promptly disappeared. Within the gothic setting of the rural Ozarks, Granik’s film exceeds the aforementioned labels; it’s a dark and gripping tale that portrays a maligned culture with honest tenderness. A determined heroine, Ree already has plenty of responsibility on her shoulders. She teaches her two younger siblings


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