“visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics.” -bell hooks feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for everyone. “if you have some power then your job is to empower someone else.” -toni morrison feminism challenges dominant narratives. “the idea that we all need to subscribe to the same theoretical understandings of history is marginalizing. we all have our own truths and histories to live.” -krysta williams and erin konsmo feminism recognizes that the personal is political. “when I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world.” -zadie smith feminism defines justice as the end of racism, cissexism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression. “it is not our differences that divide us. it is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -audre lorde feminism is respecting people of all genders, races, and sexualities as human beings. “without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place.” -cherrie moraga feminism seeks to destabilize the status quo. “without community, there is no liberation.” -audre lorde feminism is a continuous conversation. “our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society.” -yuri kochiyama feminism
table of contents 7
Inside Out L. Dan Nguyen Phan Letter from the Editors
27 Sexual Interfaces:
Understanding Human-Computer Interaction Through Digital Sex Devices Sylvia Tomayko-Peters
10 Bear Stand
11 Oliver Suggests Acupuncture
37 Excerpt from Stained Streets
16 Mix Tape
38 Ali-Yiayia's 100th Birthday
17 Come Over
39 Pronounless Love Poem
18 The Women, the Myth, the Legend:
41 Choice, Neoliberalism and the "Genderbread
Evan Elise Easton-Calabria
Cayla Lockwood Misrepresentations of Pussy Riot in Western Media Natasha Bluth
25 Pathological Grill
Nafis White, photograph by GarcĂa Sinclair
Joseph C Saunders
Christopher Thompson Lizzie Davis
Person" Darcy Pinkerton
45 Don't Take It Personally:
Legitimizing Individual Narratives in Social Justice Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste
48 Fall 2012
49 (Un)productivity in the Digital Age:
A Conversation with Mimi Nguyen Chanelle Adams, Ann Kremen, and Sophia Seawell
55 All the Kingâ€™s Birds
56 Imagining Feminist Intellectual Property
60 Mother Mirror
61 Somewhere on the Border
65 Series 6
66 The Frontier Heroine: An Interview with India's
Leading Lady, Nirupama Rao Jasmine Bala
69 The Radical Performance of the Carefree Black
Girl Patricia Epko
75 Mentalism and Mad Romanticism:
Tumblr as the Tip of the Cultural Iceberg Abby McHugh
81 Vacancies and Other Celestial Ponderings
88 Selfie 03
91 One of Many Queens
93 Lovely Sushi Rat
94 Fall of Icarus
96 Hand Fan
97 Birds in Flight
Editors-in-Chief Managing Editors Blog Managing Editors Academic Art Culture Features International Literature Politics Sex & Health
Chanelle Adams, Lily Gutterman, Ann Kremen, Sophia Seawell Anastasiya Gorodilova, Maru Pab贸n Chanelle Adams, Ragnar Jonss贸n Marina Golan-Vilella, Shierly Mondianti Jennifer Avery, Camille Coy Mollie Forman, Malana Krongelb Tanya Singh, Shreena Thakore, Jasmine Bala Melanie Abeygunawardana, Stefania Gomez Radhika Rajan, Lindsay Sovern Katie Harris, Katarah Da Silva
Andrew Beers, Elizabeth Goodspeed Addie Mitchell
Business Publicity Social Media
Felicia Iyamu, Julia Levy Ally Nguyen Joy Yamaguchi
Senior Blog Editors Blog Art Director
Kyle Albert, Patricia Ekpo Sean Simonson
Mission Statement We identify as a feminist publication and community. The four principles that guide our work are: inclusivity, intersectionality, diversity, and community. We do not try to answer the question, “What is feminism?” but rather, “What can feminism be?” We recognize that people have different feminisms and we believe in a plurality of feminisms. At the same time, our feminism is rooted in anti-oppression and anti-discrimination — in the belief that feminism is inextricably linked to issues such as race, sexuality, and class. We understand our feminism as an ongoing process that will always reflect and build upon itself. We constantly strive to do better in our theory and practice of feminism. We openly accept and encourage submissions from many different backgrounds. We aim to bring marginalized voices to the center; to consciously feature members of communities that are marginalized because
of race, color, religion, nationality, class, disability, gender, sexual identity and/ or presentation. We hope to promote and practice inclusivity of all identities and orientations. We accept work of every medium and from every genre, including: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art, video, performance, and academic writing. We work to make bluestockings a platform for engaging work on feminist issues, including those that express radical and dissenting viewpoints. We believe feminism can be a generative process that has relevant and productive ties to every other area of study. We hope to create a community surrounding bluestockings where creative production can lead to self-reflective conversations that develop into broader social impact. We believe that empathy for ourselves and others is the foundation of our mission.
bluestockings | 7
L. Dan Nguyen Phan Inside Out
issue four | 8
Letter from the Editors As a multimedia platform in 2014, bluestockings witnesses and contributes to an explosion of feminist content. By working with three distinct mediums — a print publication, a blog, and a zine — we often find ourselves negotiating the different constraints and affordances of each. But through them, we are able to engage in multiple conversations about feminism, identity, publishing, and the logistical practicalities of keeping it all running (at some times more smoothly than others). In the process of trying to take stock of our cultural moment, we notice that the term feminism is being co-opted by our bipartisan political system and propagated as a pop culture commodity. Feminism is trending; intersectionality is now a buzzword. We wonder: are people calling themselves feminists without empathizing and engaging with the movement’s complex identities, communities, and histories? Is the increased self-identification as a feminist actually productive? What are the limits of #allyship? Supposedly feminism is entering its ‘fourth wave.’ Characterized by the digital, the ‘fourth
wave’ is described as building upon previous waves of feminism by providing a more inclusive platform to marginalized voices, bodies, and identities through new media forms. We believe, however, that the language of waves is reductive. As we understand them, waves are simply place-markers to locate collective efforts and ideologies. The histories that have remained visible are increasingly being called out for their exclusion of people of color, queer identified, trans* identified, gender non-conforming, working-class and disabled folks. However, continuing to employ the terminology of waves reenacts the violence of this exclusion by attempting to impose a unified point of view on any moment in time. The idea of successive waves reinforces an ideology of linear progress, in which each wave is understood to be more inclusive than the last. We believe that this notion of progress disregards the work that marginalized groups were already doing, as well as the violent structures used to suppress their efforts. These voices were always there, just not listened to. Waves suggest an ebb and flow — a powerful surge, but also a collapse. Why
letter from the editors | 9
should we categorize feminist movements as transient and ephemeral interruptions of the status quo? To situate ourselves within the ‘fourth wave’ would be to accept a singular, prescriptive way of both understanding and enacting feminism. But outside of the ideology of this flawed framework, we grapple with positioning ourselves in a broader movement. Due to both necessity and desire, we are online and engaged with digital feminism. Through the bluestockings blog, we’ve been able to contribute to and experience firsthand a growing feeling of momentum. But in the process we are implicated in the imperatives of production required by neoliberal capitalism. The simultaneous acts of generating and being bombarded by an abundance of content adds to the feeling of being unrooted, making it increasingly challenging to figure out where we stand. A moment cannot be fully understood as it is happening. Navigating particular and self-selecting niches of the Internet, we fear that we may be operating with blinders on, unable to formulate a clear vision or measure of the impact of projects like bluestockings. How can we tell how many voices our words reach? What are the limits of our address? Still, the online feminist community has interrupted mainstream discussions, calling attention to questions about the inclusions and exclusions produced by our society at large and in feminism historically. Hashtags like #NotYourAsianSidekick and #solidarityisforwhitewomen have created spaces for
crucial conversations. Blogs such as Black Girl Dangerous have provided necessary sites for critique and productive dialogue, as well as supportive communities. Through our print publication, bluestockings wants to recognize the importance of the issues that digital feminism alone cannot speak to. We believe in the importance of working slowly and intentionally. We hope to find the time and energy to resist the propulsive speed of cultural production. In print, we archive these moments, these struggles, and our engagement with these questions. By putting our bound, square book out into the world, we can locate bluestockings. As a material object, it contributes to a tradition of the physical, emotional, and intellectual labor of independent feminist publishing. It is a testament to feminism, a movement inherently grounded in the multiplicities of experiences and bodies. We hope you will enjoy these pieces and that they will challenge you. These conversations do not begin or end in these pages, but we have collected them here to mark a particular time and place. We’re honored that you’ve joined us. In love and solidarity, Chanelle Adams, Anastasiya Gorodilova, Lily Gutterman, Ann Kremen, Maru Pabón & Sophia Seawell
issue four | 10
Shari Rubeck Bear Stand
title | 11
Oliver Suggests Acupuncture by Evan Elise Easton-Calabria Oliver suggests acupuncture and later I tell him therapy must be working because he only had to suggest it once. For 25 bucks, I get to lie on a massage chair for an hour at the community clinic downtown. An insider tip from the woman I made the appointment with on the phone means that at 8:15AM I am here all alone. Five flights up, I recline with needles in my forehead, feet and hands, listening to music that sounds alternately like a toilet running above me and rain. While resting, I turn my head towards the window and look out across the fire escape. Facing me is another brownstone with windows showing someoneâ€™s home. I find a kitchen with white cupboards and a blue bowl on a small table. Cereal, I decide. I spy the other bowl
resting beside the sink. A strangely-shaped plant tilts into view from one corner of the window. Despite being more brown than green, it seems to only be going through adolescence and so I decide it represents hope. Beside the kitchen is a room with a piano and an overstuffed green couch. I spy The Wall Street Journal on the nearest arm. A couple lives here, I decide, theyâ€™ve been together seven years this June. Two years ago they celebrated forever by adopting a striped kitten named Harvey who sleeps on their feet as they read newspapers on the couch. On Thursdays they do take-out. They still toss quarters to see who will bring the laundry to the cleaners three corners over. One of them plays the piano and sometimes, when the other
issue four | 12
man is alone, he hears the piano keys practicing songs by themselves. This means their home is never quiet. This is called companionship. I turn my head back to face the ceiling. I try to swallow but end up gulping air back in instead and cough. “Oh, oh, oh,” the acupuncturist says, moving the beaded curtains aside and making them tinkle as he enters. His English name is James and after he shook my hand he told me it makes him sad that people here can’t pronounce his Chinese one. “Like the other me not alive,” he said, “Only real inside now.” I told him I understand. Now he adjusts my arms and tells me, “Yes, pain, you. Circles no good. Energy go out, out!” He places the last needle in the soft spot of my left hand, between my thumb and index finger joints, and I am surprised I don’t feel any pain at all. “Out, pain, out,” he says, patting my shoulder reassuringly, “You alone then. Good.” He adjusts the needle in my forehead just a bit, making it oddly twinge. “Pain leaving now. I say you.” Instead of answering, I close my eyes. Softly, he leaves.
Hey, you say, aren’t we leaving now? What? I ask. I thought we were going to the party! You stand in the doorway, bead curtains pulled to one side, your arm braced to
hold them back. This is post-transition and muscles coat your arms casually. Our arm-wrestling competitions have become a thing of the past. You are wearing green suspenders over a white shirt and have a ridiculous top hat tucked under one arm. It’s 1920s-themed! you say excitedly, c’mon! A bit confused, I slide out of bed and stand up. Where? At John’s. In Williamsburg. If we hurry, we’ ll be there by ten. Here. You toss me a tube of red lipstick and start going through my dresses. Sweetie, I don’t know, maybe I just want to relax tonight. No, c’mon! It’s the party we’ve been waiting for. You know the 1920s is the only time I like to dress up for. This, unfortunately, is true. I sigh and sit back down to watch you. It is strange that I have gotten used to your short hair. You have parted it to one side now, in a comb-over, I suppose, and, although you have gel in it, it is still a deep red. Your suspenders lie flat against your chest. Since top surgery eight months ago, I have become used to this as well. At night my head lies flat against you. It wasn’t always like this. On the day you realize you finally have enough money saved for the top surgery you’ve been talking about for years, I cry. You call and make an appointment
oliver suggests acupuncture | 13
with the doctor for the final clearance, staring at me while holding the phone with one hand and picking at candle wax on the table with the other. Yes, you reply in response to a question, I had my gender marker changed in February. I’m legally male now. I realize I’ve been ready for this step of your transition until you say you are taking this step of your transition. After you call, you come over to me on the couch. I am looking down at the small hole on one of the cushions, the one I may or may not have been making bigger by pulling at the thread every time I’m anxious. After sitting, you gently pull my hand away from the hole and push the piece of thread I just picked back into it. There, there, you say, in half-joking comfort, and pull me towards your chest. After top surgery, you’ ll be closer to my heart, you know, you tell me with anticipatory satisfaction. Your heartbeats are confident and resounding, like drums in battle or feet marching on hard ground. I don’t respond for a minute, staring instead at the water stains on the wall beside the radiator. The scene looks like the carnage after a war, pools of barely-there blood next to vanquished oblong creatures reduced to broken outlines from the blasts. I try to determine what they’ve become. Water bugs, I decide. Still looking at the wall, I suddenly burst out, But I’m going to miss your breasts! I imagine, not for the first time, what it will be like when all the sports
bras in the laundry bin are mine. I feel guilty for this feeling, because I know it’s hard for you to hear, but I also know we understand each other’s transitions. That’s okay, you say, and squeeze my hand. Sometimes, though, I tell you I am jealous of your changes. I wouldn’t mind if the fat around my hips redistributed itself, too; one day I say, half-jokingly, that now I think I might want top surgery, too. Sometimes it would be pretty fucking liberating not to have breasts. No! you say loudly in mock horror, your eyes wide. You reach out dramatically and hold onto my chest. You can’t take my best friends away! Really, though, I know I am a woman the same way I know you are not. At night we make love like we always have, with you on top. In the morning you bind your 34Cs while I clasp my bra, and every two weeks you stab a needleful of T hard into your thigh. One Sunday night I sit on the bed and make you do a fake model show to track your changes. Turn around now, I say, cranking Gloria Gaynor up loud, as you roll your eyes in the middle of the room, your shirt off. After you still haven’t moved, I warn, If you don’t start turning, I’m going to put on Olivia Newton John and make you sing “You’re The One That I Want” to me! Your face turns serious for a second and I know it has nothing to do with the song. I hate the name Olivia, you say. I pause. I don’t hate anything that used to be yours,
issue four | 14
I say slowly. I restart the song and change my tone. In fact, I love everything of yours. Especially those abs, look at them! And I would love your butt, if I could actually see it. You roll your eyes again, smile, and finally turn around. We are transitioning together, although your body is the only one that changes. My feelings are a wide spectrum of colors, thrown like abstract art against the wall. The truth is, I want you to change and still stay the same. It becomes easier when I start to call your transition your alignment instead. Alignment means that this change is simply you becoming more of who you’ve always been. Still, it is hard. I love it when we shower together, because now it is the only time I touch your breasts. Although my hands move quickly, I still get to lather up soap and hold them in my hands. They are lighter than mine, and fuller, although I hate to admit it. I no longer regard you as female, but I still love the feeling of our chests pressed together as we hug. After your surgery, when I drained the tubes underneath your armpits because you weren’t allowed to lift your arms, as I gently spread thick salve over the raised skin of your stitches, we were pulled closer. It happened without words, in the days directly after, when you spent half the time groggy from painkillers, in the way
I curled my body around yours at night, in the times I bit my tongue as you lay flat on your back at 3AM and muttered that in this position you could never fall asleep. We didn’t have sex for two weeks, at least not on record, because you weren’t supposed to make your heart beat too fast. I feel like I’m old, you complain. Sweetie, I reply, leaning over to check a tube, I thought this was about you being born again. Now, eight months later, the scars underneath your nipples are pink, and almost red from the heat after you shower. I call them your half-moons, although sliver moons would be more accurate. In return, you call my breasts your full moons, and tell me how much you love them at least once a month. Oli, we are on different cycles now, I say, sometimes wistfully. Honey, you reply, taking my hand, I don’t have any cycles anymore. Testosterone has made your voice drop, and I imagine it descending a staircase, taking one footstep down your throat each month. I still don’t know where all this is leading, you know. But apparently tonight is leading us to Williamsburg, because you are already dressed and have just picked out a blue dress and a white belt for me. Do you have any pumps? you call out from inside our closet. Pumps are for grandmas, I call back,
oliver suggests acupuncture | 15
the only pump we have is for you, and it definitely doesn’t go on your feet. You know what they say about shoe sizes though... This is a trans joke and I hear you roll your eyes and smirk. Found ‘em, you say, emerging from the closet. You hold up white strappy sandals that used to be yours. Okay, beau, I say in acquiescence, holding out my hand. You pull me up and very epoch-inappropriately grab my ass. I am not used to you being so hyper. I realize that since you began your transition your happiness has been a staircase heading in the opposite direction of your voice. A slow but never-ending ascension so far. This is the answer I give people when they ask what has changed the most about Olivia. Then I tell them that’s not your name. 30 minutes later, back on the fifth floor, a small buzzer rings and James returns to check on me. He places one hand on my forehead and the other gently on my wrist. I am still so far away I don’t react at all. “Alone now,” he says approvingly, patting my shoulders again. “Circles done. Now alone.” His accent is so thick that at first I hear “cycles” and “new.” Cycles done. New alone. Ain’t that the truth, I think, No choice there. This time I swallow successfully. He takes out my needles and I turn my head back towards the window before I stand. “Bye, Harvey,” I say to the brownstone. At
the front desk we make an appointment for two weeks from Tuesday and I ask James why he became an acupuncturist. He tells me he came from China twenty years ago with his wife and children. He was a pediatrician in Fujian but didn’t have the money to redo his medical degree here completely. “No translation,” he says, pointing at the certificates on the wall behind him, “New life now. This one good, too.” I nod and say thank you. Stepping out into the sun 10 minutes later, I think of the red glint of your hair in bright light, how vividly it contrasts with the pale of your face. A cab blares rap as it hangs a left, but I imagine I hear swing. Except for the 1920s, you still won’t dress up for anything. I remember suspenders flat against your chest and the day I laughed when I found your sports bras on my side of the bed, tied with ribbon and a bow. Now, although it is silly and daytime, I tilt my head upwards and search for the moon. I imagine I see it but cannot make out its shape. I contemplate its cycles. I think of how we change.
Edited by Melanie Abeygunawardana
issue four | 16
Mix Tape by Marissa Castrigno
Soul crawls up out of her belly and brushes against her lips as it kisses the air around her – they call it singing. “Is your mother part magnet?” Lessons: Wednesday. Hurricane season lasts into November Thursday. Like most people I am a candle with a wick Friday. Holding hands right is like putting pop rocks and soda in your mouth at the same time Saturday. The image of her piano-keying someone else’s fingers might have inspired the crumbled folds of the human brain Sunday. Time is a helix so you can see how close you really are to the way things used to be Monday. Hips slung sideways laid out flat jigsaw puzzle pieces Tuesday. Pray for next week. Say a prayer for her legs in tights; write it down on the back of a playbill that kissed your eyes and chased away the brown bears gnawing at your innards When she giggles it feels like watching a lightning storm in July. On a balcony. In Virginia. Her penny-eyed smile is the color of my freckles. Meanwhile, my mouth is learning how to hold her name and my ribcage turns into a subway turnstile (W 4th street). She says You made me so nervous. She says Last year. She asks Could you tell? I am thinking of not too hot not too cold just right. I get a text message says I told my mom I have a crush on a girl named you. She’s makin me grin big and quiet in the back seat of my parents’ car. Dad drives Mom sits shotgun and I smile with my head against the window lookin at her face with my eyes closed: Soft baby hairs curl over her forehead. Her breath runs hot against my ear and I hear her music seeping into me and winter tries to get in but is stuck at the window ledge. We drive over the long, lean bridge that snakes across the Hudson River. There are empty cranes standing against the blue sky, unmoving, licking their lips as they taste cloud. Edited by Stefania Gomez
bluestockings | 17
Cayla Lockwood Come Over
issue four | 18
The Women, the Myth, the Legend Misrepresentations of Pussy Riot in the Western Media by Natasha Bluth “Mother of God, cast Putin out!” A political demonstration outside of one of Moscow’s most famous cathedrals made headlines for the all-female Russian punk-rock band Pussy Riot in February 2013. Still a hot topic in world news today, Pussy Riot has raised the question of what it means to be a woman in Russia. During my four months studying abroad in St. Petersburg last fall, I grappled with my understanding of the band within the body of my own experiences, trying to mentally dissect Pussy Riot under the umbrella of what this question means to me. Given my knowledge of the group before arriving in Russia, I classified
Pussy Riot as a distinctly feminist band, linking them to a worldwide humanitarian cause and to activist celebrities, like Madonna, who publicly endorsed the women of the band as her “fellow freedom fighters.” 1 After spending time in St. Petersburg, however, I was left perplexed by the incompatibility of Russian culture with Pussy Riot, a production somehow rooted to this culture. A large part of my confusion stems from the misrepresentation of Pussy Riot by the Western media. Regardless of how justified one deems the events surrounding the women of the group, their position has been made only more unfortunate by
the women, the myth, the legend | 19
Western media has appropriated the group as an international human rights cause, consequently barricading anyone outside of Russia from Pussy Riotâ€™s true context.
the decontexualization and oversimplification of their situation in the West. I was able to more effectively ground Pussy Riot in its Russian context as I interacted with a new culture myself. After about two months, I realized that living in Russia as an American woman was an almost routinized lesson on gender studies. In class, feminism often resurfaced as a topic of discussion. Before living abroad, I had not consciously exerted the feminist aspect of my identity on a regular basis. But implanted into a new sociopolitical culture, Russia provided me with an unprecedented number of opportunities to assert this facet of my being, thrown aside in the majority of my past experiences as undisputed status quo. Over the semester, I witnessed the way some Russian women modeled their
wardrobes to fit the traditional molds of male-defined beauty, and I confronted a discomfort with homosexuality in conversations with my Russian peers. One day our female Russian professor remarked that her American students tend to agree that a â€œbeautiful womanâ€? means a confident woman. We could only verify. Her subsequent laughter implied that she, one of my most vivid examples of an unmarried professional woman in Russia, did not share this philosophy. Similarly, in a group discussion, female Russian university students asserted that happiness means different things for men and women; careers provided fulfillment for men, while family and homemaking irrefutably remained in the female realm of gratification. In my mind, Russia drew itself a picture book, but instead of my
issue four | 20
childhood favorite Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it flaunted a revamped title: Kitschy with a Chance of Deeply Embedded Traditional Gender Norms. Pussy Riot’s activist message is not compatible with this “official” Russian discourse. The consequences for the group have therefore been severe. After the demonstration in front of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a 21-month incarceration followed for two of the main members, Maria Alyokhina, 25, and Nadya Tolokonnikova, 24, incriminated for “hooliganism involving religious hatred.” A third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 was arrested soon after. More recently, during the Winter Olympics last March, members of Pussy Riot spent five days in Sochi filming a new critique of President Vladimir Putin. Horsewhipped by Cossacks, a Russian auxiliary police force, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were arrested, along with eight others. They were released several hours later. Western media has appropriated the group as an international human rights cause, consequently barricading anyone outside of Russia from Pussy Riot’s true context. Having travelled from liberal New England, what startled me most about the Pussy Riot scandal was the indifference of the Russians I interacted
with the group, their message and their indictment. My conversation class was routinely asked to discuss the news, and our professor remained baffled at our unrelenting fascination with the punkrock band. The incongruity between Western avenues of broadcasting, drenched with the topic of Pussy Riot, versus the dearth of Russian news about the group is an eerie manifestation of the dangers of self-assuming media. Oversimplification has detracted from the mission of Pussy Riot by conflating it with other humanitarian issues in the global arena. Since their release in December, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have been categorized as international human rights campaigners, garnering global support for their human rights demonstration. Linked to other celebrities, the voice of Pussy Riot has been flattened to conform to the Western perception of human rights activism. The month of their release, for example, singer-songwriter Patti Smith dedicated a song to Edward Snowden and Pussy Riot, confounding and diminishing the missions of both groups in a single sweep. In February, the two women performed at Amnesty International’s benefit concert in Brooklyn, and were introduced by Madonna. Throughout their tour in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, the women have
the women, the myth, the legend | 21
enraptured the non-Russian audiences of The Colbert Report and The Times. They have inspired a global solidarity campaign on Facebook and an HBO documentary. During the interview with Alokhina and Tolokonnikova on The Colbert Report, which was fragmented by uproarious laughter from the audience, Stephen Colbert managed to ‘comedically’ minimize every viewpoint of the two members. While he did not insert his own opinion, he perpetuated the unproductive direction of the Western media on the issue with each response, a manifestation of the disconnect between two cultures. When Alyokhina explained, “Putin is about to pass a law against gay extremism,” Colbert asked, “How bad has it gotten [in Russia] with the anti-gay propaganda? Can you go anywhere in Russia without gay people turning you gay?” 2 What is at stake in how the Western world publicizes the events surrounding Pussy Riot? Media, of course, has a tendency to oversimplify, but the representation of the band is more than just distorted. The group and their stance have been plucked from their sociopolitical context and exploited as a feminist issue around the world. The West’s love affair with Pussy Riot fails to recognize that perhaps Russia itself is not prepared to accept the group. The difficulty involved in pinpointing Pussy Riot’s mission is a testament to the
selective nature of the media. Within Pussy Riot’s multifaceted body of activism, lack of free speech (especially in regards to protest leader and blogger Alexei Navalny who was first arrested in 2011), poor prison conditions, and intolerance towards LGBTQ people also play a role, but remain subdued by the forces of Western sensationalism. Pussy Riot’s undertaking is more than feminist; the women seek to move past a conservative culture long established in the country that stems from Soviet ideology. Often lost in translation is the fact that Pussy Riot is not anti-Christian, but rather opposes the government’s extensive collaboration with the Orthodox Church. More than any distinctly feminist organization, Pussy Riot identifies with the dissident movements prevalent in the former Soviet Union, underlining their anti-conservative stance. Part of the ongoing history of counterculture in Russia, the group strives to expose what they see as the dangers of discriminatory memory that continue to affect the country. “[Even] though it hasn’t been very long, now people are acting as if there never was any Great Terror nor any attempts to resist it,” Alyokhina said, linking the mission of Pussy Riot to that of earlier dissidents who used art to reveal unpleasant truths of the regime. 3 Charges against Pussy Riot echo accusations against the
issue four | 22
The incongruity between Western avenues of broadcasting, drenched with the topic of Pussy Riot, versus the dearth of Russian news about the group is an eerie manifestation of the dangers of self-assuming media. leftist writing organization OBERIU (Association for Real Art), active in the 1920s and 1930s under Iosif Stalin. Accused of “literary hooliganism,” the organization was berated for violating the dominant socialist realist framework of expression at that time in the Soviet Union, similar to Pussy Riot’s anti-conservative approach today. Diana Taylor, former superintendent of the New York State Banking Department claims that the issue of Pussy Riot’s representation in the West is one of transculturation. That it is, “not only one of meaning (what do symbols mean in different contexts). It is also one of political positioning and selection: which forms, symbols or aspects of cultural identity become highlighted or confrontational, when and why.”4
Instead of delving into the nuances of Pussy Riot’s message, a modern event in Russia’s lengthy timeline of historical dissidence, the group has been reduced to an international cultural phenomenon. The celebrity Pussy Riot has won in the global realm mutes the significance of the group and distances them from their mission. Like a brain drain, Pussy Riot cannot revolutionize Russia if the women are giving concerts abroad or being endorsed by human rights groups. The gender censorship of the perestroika era that stifled progressive impulses has only continued to caricaturize activists in Russia. It is possible that the provocative images of the balaclava-adorned musician-activists and the deceptively chosen quotes paint a skewed picture of Pussy Riot, ignorantly redefining its mission in
the women, the myth, the legend | 23
the global sphere. Just as Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina claim that their release from prison was a PR stunt by Putin to garner support for the Winter Olympics, their message has similarly been exploited, and significant portions of their overall cause have been stifled, following the age-old axiom, “all news is good news.” All news cannot be objectively good if it deprives the public of an honest story. As Sara Marcus of the LA Times writes, “the group has already succeeded in dramatizing the very repression they were seeking to expose.”5 In the same Colbert Report interview, for example, Tolokonnikova said, “[Pussy Riot has] different ideas about a bright future and we don’t want a shirtless man on a horse leading us there,” referencing the widely circulated photographs of Putin on horseback, but utilizing the rhetoric of a male-dominated power structure, which their mission strives to overcome. 6 The next step is to actually rise above the oppression they have attacked, now that awareness has reverberated worldwide. It is possible that their celebrity has distorted the women themselves. Their words have been turned into slogans, their videos gone viral on YouTube — AVAAZ.org, for instance, headlines its petition, “Free Pussy Riot, Free Russia.” Such a slogan is a dangerous reduction of the complexity of the group within its Russian context. It would not be a
surprise if the women, who rocketed to stardom as a result of their political imprisonment, see the contrived symbiotic relationship between their group and the Western media as a boost to their cause, whether this is accurate or not. One concerning issue regarding the media, as Marcus notes, is that it rushes “into print to keep up with events… [constituting] an early and provisional edit.” 7 This limitation of modern media disseminates an incomplete account of Pussy Riot to the Western public. The fact that Pussy Riot is a young and attractive bastion of female activism paints a pretty face for feminism – one that the Western world can appeal to and that Western media can sell. The “little dolls” of Pussy Riot are excessively genderized, visually contrasted to the Western media’s representation of Putin as a symbol of ultimate masculinity. Forbes magazine, for example, proclaimed Putin the most powerful man in the world in 2013, presenting an image that fits snugly into a binary system, easily accessible to many readers in the West. Pussy Riot is a microcosmic lesson: as an anti-conservative female collective, the group will remain shackled to the performative realm if the Western media fails to contextualize the group’s mission in terms of Russian and Soviet history, art, literature and political dissent. Last September, during a 22-hour train
issue four | 24
ride from Volgograd to Moscow, I had the pleasure of practicing my Russian with Sergei, a 60-something provocateur who told me “Any non-Russian cannot and will not ever understand what it means to be Russian.” With inferior linguistic skills, I attempted to explain that in my opinion, studying in a country allows one to become more acquainted with a culture, but Sergei’s position wouldn’t budge. In that moment, I felt infuriated, but I knew a semester spent in St. Petersburg did not make me an expert on Russian culture, and that the conceptual space between me and Sergei remained wide. His message is in part a consequence of transculturation. As inhabitants of one part of the globe, mutual understanding will not triumph if we continue to decontextualize and misrepresent issues intentionally or due to simple naiveté. Pussy Riot — not necessarily as an activist group, but as a broader cultural phenomenon — calls our attention to the media’s sly ability to highlight and conceal. Performances may have reached a wider audience, but Pussy Riot’s punk prayer is sung to and for Russia, not for the entertainment of the Western world. Edited by Jasmine Bala and Anastasiya Gorodilova
Endnotes: 1. Reaney, Patricia,“Madonna to Introduce Pussy Riot duo at U.S. Amnesty Concert.” Reuters. Web. 29 Jan. 2014. 2. “Pussy Riot.” The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. com. 4 Feb. 2014. Television. 3. Kan, Elianna, “Pussy Riot: What Was Lost (And Ignored) in Translation.” The American Reader. Web. 01 March 2014. 4. Ibid 5. Marcus, Sara, “‘Words Will Break Cement’ Documents the Pussy Riot Revolution.” Los Angeles Times, Tribune Newspaper, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 01 March 2014. 6. “Pussy Riot.” The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. com. 4 Feb. 2014. Television. 7. Marcus, “‘Words Will Break Cement’ Documents the Pussy Riot Revolution.”
bluestockings | 25
Doreen Garner Pathological Grill
issue four | 26
Nafis White (Photograph by GarcĂa Sinclair) Rhombox
title | 27
Sexual Interfaces Understanding Human-Computer Interactions Through Digital Sex Devices by Sylvia Tomayko-Peters
From the birth of computing onwards, the methods by which we interact with machines have continued to evolve and accelerate. Bodies and computers have communicated through textual command lines, graphical user interfaces and mice, touch screens, and now the beginnings of gesture recognition. In computing and design, the term â€œhuman-computer interactionâ€? is used to refer to the study and engineering of interactions between human bodies and computers. From an industry standpoint, improving human-computer interactions means making the interfaces between people and their technology more intuitive and natural, creating technology that blends seamlessly with our accustomed environment. However, when technologies are disguised, or too easy to use, we forget their
power. We lose track of how the logics and rhetorics of computing affect us. Human-computer interaction is a site of potential for knowledge on how bodies move in the digital age, but only if we remember that making a responsible interface does not mean concealing or forgetting the materiality of technology. One location to begin thinking about our interactions is the intimacy of humans and computers during sexual encounters. Teledildonic, or electronic sex toys that utilize connections to computing devices for the achievement of sexual pleasure, and other digital sexual devices, are not what first come to mind when thinking about human-computer interaction. However, analyzing how technology affects our encounters with other people, other bodies,
issue four | 28
and our own bodies, becomes highly relevant when contextualized by explorations of sexuality and intimacy. How have we designed our digital sex devices and what are their consequences, both intended and unintended? An iconic example of teledildonics is the RealTouch1 and its more recent counterpart, the RealTouch Interactive.2 Designed specifically for users with penises, the RealTouch device is reminiscent of a Fleshlight but hooks up to a computer for video-synchronized stimulation. A user can watch porn (but only videos with pre-programmed signals for the device) to feel an “interactive experience that takes you beyond sight and sound and puts you in the middle of the action.”1 The RealTouch Interactive builds on the earlier version, allowing users to connect with the company’s live, online “models” to experience what they call “true internet sex.”2 Sexual experience with RealTouch is continually framed as “true” and “real,” setting up two significant problematic delineations. First, it constitutes a judgment as to which types of sex can be considered “true,” excluding those that do not fall within their bounds. Secondly, it reinforces the divide between what is “real” and what is “virtual” in digital technologies, a rhetoric that fashions some experiences as more authentic and maintains a sharp distinction between the human and machine worlds. The RealTouch “models,” available through the website, use the corresponding “JoyStick” to pass stimulation to the user’s RealTouch device. However, aside from company “models,” it appears impossible to purchase a “JoyStick,” which makes use of the system by already estab-
lished partners impossible. The choice of the word “model” also indicates that these bodies are available for hire, and for the pleasure of the masculine gaze, as per the nature of the device. The “models” all appear as women, excluding and eliding altogether sexual encounters for anyone but those with penises who desire women. The way in which the RealTouch device connects users creates bodies that are either exclusively controlling and seeking pleasure or submissive and with services to hire. This arrangement has the potential to create an unequal playing field, further perpetuated by the devices’ inherent gender biases. Because of these biases, the RealTouch platform is not intended for mutually respectful sexual encounters. While the achievement of “authentic” touch is clearly the marketed focus of RealTouch Interactive, it is the product’s reinforcement of dominant patriarchal and heterosexual power structures through sight that makes it most troubling.3 With RealTouch, the actual interactions between humans and digital devices are less problematic than the context of the limited human-to-human interaction allowed on the platform. There are similar teledildonics that provide a less polarizing interaction, such as devices from LovePalz4 and Kiiroo.5 LovePalz are marketed towards partners, particularly those in long-distance relationships. The system consists of two devices, each linked to a computer, which are then connected through the Internet. LovePalz provides two models: the “Hera” (intended for those with vulvas) and the “Zeus” (intended for those with penises). Though they claim the different devices can be
sexual interfaces | 29
used “in every conceivable arrangement,”6 all visual promotional material on their website depicts or implies heterosexual sex. Another device under development at the moment is Kiiroo which, like LovePalz, has two models for different genitalia. Rather than facilitating sex between monogamous couples, Kiiroo is based on a social networking platform with the goal of connecting interested partners for any type of sexual encounter. In the Kiiroo infomercial, a voiceover tells us: “Technology has… changed the way we communicate and interact. Smartphones and social media platforms have brought us closer together — hyper social but at the same time increasingly less human as we seem to have lost the touch in our interactions. Being together is becoming a rarity. We are so close, yet so far away.” 7 Again, the focus is placed on physical touch, specifically on human touch. Kiiroo and other similar devices masquerade behind the idea of “real” human-to-human touch. By privileging human-to-human sexual interaction, the Kiiroo devices themselves are perceived as less desirable, a substitute for human-to-human sex that is assumed more to be authentic, natural, and satisfying. Like the Turing machine, these devices have come to be seen as imitators of the human.8 However, it is more useful, and truthful, to see the devices as facilitators, relaying human touch as machine touch, rather than to disguise them behind the rhetoric of “real” and “human” interaction. Visually speaking, the designs of the teledildonic devices are highly machinic. Kiiroo is advertised as “designer intimacy hardware”9 and
LovePalz as “modern and stylish,” with “minimalist sensibilities, adding a touch of aesthetics to your lifestyle.”10 The objects themselves have brushed aluminum finishes, clean lines, and smooth curves. They echo the sleek design of other high-end technologies, from smartphones and computers to microwaves and cars. While the humanness of touch is emphasized on the platforms, the visual realities of the devices exist in opposition. There is a division between what you see — the machine — and what you are supposed to perceive that you feel — a human body. Perhaps these design choices and the rhetoric of human touch are linked to a fear of techno-intimacy. Are we uncomfortable having sex with machines or computers? Would we rather imagine that a piece of technology cannot mediate our sexual experiences? Paradoxically, by making the device visually machinic, it is easier to dismiss it as a tool and ignore it, rather than acknowledge it as a sexual partner. Accepting that the digital device is what is touching us is key to a productive human-computer interaction, but that means breaking down the neat barrier between bodies and machines in the most intimate of environments. Digital devices also exist with a focus on sight rather than touch as the location of sexual pleasure. Not too long ago, there was significant media hype surrounding the yet to be released Google Glass app known as “Glance” (an iOS version has already been released).11 Glance records a video and transmits the feed from your device to that of another user. The object of the app is to see from two points of view at
issue four | 30
It is more useful, and truthful, to see the devices as facilitators, relaying human touch as machine touch, rather than to disguise them behind the rhetoric of “real” and “human” interaction. once: your own, and that of another person with whom you are linked. Videos shot with Glance have a limited length of ten seconds, are “not hosted anywhere,” and are deleted after five hours unless you save them yourself. Think of a cross between Skype and Snapchat.12 While there is no reason the app couldn’t be used for capturing any moment, such as the photos on their Apple App Store page suggest, Glance’s online marketing for the Glass-based application makes it clear that the device is intended for use in an intimate setting. According to the developers’ website, the app is designed to help users “experience moments more beautifully,” yet, exactly how experiences are affected is what seems most complex and potentially troubling about Glance. Rather than a substitution for genitalia, the Glance glasses and app act as an extension for the eyes. This may be why it it is more difficult to view
Glance as a sex toy than the RealTouch, LovePalz, or Kiiroo. As a piece of software, Glance deviates from the expected patterns of sex toys. Because Glance is about sight and not touch, it privileges the visual experience and its subsequent effect on moments, affect, and memory. While clips of intimate moments are surely tied to physicality, the type of information that Glance emphasizes is not about the material body but its traces in our minds (and our hard drives). Unlike other sex toys and teledildonics, Glance is an app designed to utilize a pre-existing platform; it is code, not hardware. We can perhaps understand that software is to hardware what sight is to touch; there is the perception of the physical, but the experience overall is intangible and elusive. While visual information is the focus of Glance, we yet again lose sight of the machine. Glance wants you to see bodies, both your own and others, not the device itself. Google Glass is
sexual interfaces | 31
Accepting that the digital device is what is touching us is key to a productive human-computer interaction, but that means breaking down the neat barrier between bodies and machines in the most intimate of environments. designed to be unobtrusive, to look like tools we already wear on our faces. In fact, the developers state that the 10-second videos were chosen because “you can’t enjoy the moment when you are looking at the screen all the time.”13 The idea is to use Glance sparingly — to enhance particular moments but to not let it get in the way. As software, Glance becomes even more invisible. We only see the video it provides us; we do not see the technological process occurring underneath. When the locus of experience shifts from touch to sight, so does the site where the human body is emphasized. Yet, even viewing the body through Glance seems awkward. Because of an attempt to create a seamless interface, both the hardware and software present a strange, confusing visual experience. Wearing Glass during sex, and simultaneously experiencing a moment
remediated through the lens of your glasses, could be distracting no matter how long the video clip. Glance is supposed to let users experience “both sides, in the same place” and thus “see the whole picture.”14 Yet, we have to ask, does seeing from multiple points of view at the same time actually constitute seeing the whole picture? If we presume that the typical video feed you receive from a partner will be of yourself, will this reflected image make you more self-conscious during sex, or more confident in your own sexuality? Does it appeal to voyeurism, distancing the users from their bodies and experience? It depends on the person, of course, but the tendency to be distracted when watching yourself move is often overwhelming. Who hasn’t stared at that tiny image of themselves in the corner of the screen while video chatting with someone else? While Glance’s intention is to make you “see
issue four | 32
the whole picture,” it runs the risk of allowing you to focus less on the interactions between you and a partner and more on yourself. The Glance software is also designed to have as little “computer logic” as possible. Videos shot with Glance have a maximum length of 10-seconds. This means that what you see, both live and played back later, is not a narrative but a snippet of time — a moment. Glance is all about “moments,” about recreating the idea of human memory, ephemerality, and digitized experience. In a similar gesture, the videos are saved for only five hours after they are captured. Glance videos disappear if you don’t work to save them. Presumably, the app could take arbitrarily long videos and save them indefinitely — but it is not programmed to do so. We are encouraged to see spontaneous and temporary images as reinforcing a moment, whereas the computer logic of cataloging and saving is unnatural; it does not befit intimate moments. Yet again, we see the technological disguised under rhetoric associated with the human. While there are plenty of issues to discuss concerning the design and use of digital sexual devices, it isn’t too hard to imagine the possibility of alternative technologies that could help us explore bodies in a productive, healthy way. One example of a project which shows potential for intimate body exploration is “The Machine to Be Another,” an experimental platform created by BeAnotherLab, which uses the Oculus Rift, a 3D, immersive, virtual reality device made up of a headset displaying stereoscopic video.15 “The Machine
to Be Another” is designed as “a platform for embodiment experience” that BeAnotherLab defines as “a neuroscience technique in which users can feel themselves like if they were in a different body.”16 In one installation with “The Machine to Be Another” platform, titled “Gender Swap,” two users, one with a body assigned female and the other with a body assigned male,* are positioned in a room together, each wearing a head-mounted display. Video is captured from each headset and sent to the other user, similar to the idea behind the exchange in Glance. However, users experience only the other person’s body, not their own. In the videos captured of the project, users explore each other’s bodies, touching and looking. In order to make the virtual reality experience believable, “both users have to constantly agree on every movement they make,” making participation and consent part of the interface. However, it must be noted that in “Gender Swap” we see individuals who are presented as legible subjects within a cisgender binary. Nowhere in the literature or the video is this visual dichotomy broken down or the differences between gender and anatomy addressed. It is too easy for a viewer to assume that a “swap” can exist only between the restrictive contrast of female and male. The greatest potential of “Gender Swap” stems from its ability to combine touch and * Bluestockings uses the terms “body assigned female” and “body assigned male” here because anatomy is not inherently gendered.
sexual interfaces | 33
sight. While a user is touching their own body, the virtual reality system is presenting them with the image of another body, confusing the brain into experiencing another body as their own. Rather than privileging one type of experience above the other, the platform necessitates the integration of both physical and visual body exploration in order for the experiment to work. While there can be problematic uses of the platform, the potential to learn and explore is ever present. In addition, “The Machine to Be Another” is not just about exploring the human body, it is also about how individuals interact when their movements and relations are channeled through a digital device. While “The Machine to Be Another” is still attempting to present a relatively seamless interaction with the technology, it does not try to disguise the virtual reality system as something it is not. Even including “machine” in the name of the system indicates that BeAnotherLab acknowledges the importance of the digital in the circuit of body exploration. Understanding the ways in which we currently interact with digital technologies is essential for creating better interfaces. Intimacy with technology can still feel strange, awkward or troubling at times. There are undoubtedly implicit structures and logics that shape the way we interact with technology — both on the software and hardware levels — and these will shape the ways in which our sexual encounters involving technology progress. Human-computer interaction, on any level, could benefit from analysis of the ways in which technology affects our bodies and our perception of other
bodies. When are our interactions only products of the devices we are using? When are they about the bodies we inhabit or are connecting with? Seeing all sides of human-computer interaction is key. When our interfaces are seamless and our machines are hidden, we have no idea how they operate. We have no idea how they change our experience of bodies, both human and machine, culturally, and politically.17 Human-computer interaction does not need to be about making interfaces invisible — it needs to be about creating a site where bodies and technology can work and partner together, each aware of the other. Edited by Katie Harris Endnotes: 1.
“RealTouch.” Adult Entertainment Broad-
cast Network. http://www.realtouch.com/. 2.
“RealTouch Interactive (BETA).” Adult
Entertainment Broadcast Network. http:// www.realtouchinteractive.com/. 3.
Sight has long been a site of power strug-
gles for cultural theorists and psychoanalysis alike. Introductory works on the structuring power of the gaze include, Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Pantheon, 1977), Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967), and Mary Ann Doane’s “Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator,” (Screen 23.3-4, September/October, 1982). 4.
“LovePalz Connecting Lovers.” Love-
Palz.com. https://www.lovepalz.com/. 5.
“Kiiroo: The first social platform with intimate
touch.” Kiiroo Technologies. http://kiiroo.com/.
issue four | 34
“Features.” LovePalz.com. https://
“Kiiroo IndieGoGo Infomercial.”
YouTube. Kiiroo, Jan. 17, 2014. https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=RXXOfsHs070. 8.
Alan Turing developed the idea that computers
could act as universal imitators, simulating the logic of any other algorithm. Indeed, he suggested that computers could learn to simulate human intelligence.
a number of seconds (see http://www.snapchat.com/). 13. “How We Designed Glance.” Glance. http://glanceapp.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/ how-we-designed-glance/. 14. “Features.” Glance. http:// www.glanceapp.info/#features. 15. “The Machine to Be Another.” BeAnotherLab. http://www.themachinetobeanother.org/. 16. “Gender Swap – Experiment with The
In one of his hypothetical experiments, a subject must
Machine to Be Another.” BeAnotherLab. http://
distinguish between a human and computer, when
presented with only typed responses to their questions. Here, Turing begins to blur the lines between
17. For those interested in further discussion on the intersection of bodies, machines, and gender,
bodies and machines (see Turing, A. M. “Computing
I recommend looking at Donna Haraway’s classic
Machinery And Intelligence.” Mind LIX.236 (1950):
essay “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and
433-60). Those interested in the relationship between
Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”
Turing’s concept of imitation and gender, or bodies and
as well as Jack Halberstam’s book How We Became
machinery, should look at Jack Halberstam’s article
Posthuman (The University of Chicago Press, 1999).
“Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine” published in Feminist Studies Vol. 17, No. 3 (Autumn, 1991): 439-460. 9.
“KIIROO: The first social platform
with an intimate touch.” Indiegogo. http:// www.indiegogo.com/projects/kiiroo-the-firstsocial-platform-with-an-intimate-touch. 10. “Features.” LovePalz.com. https:// www.lovepalz.com/features. 11. “Glance – see both views, seamlessly.” Glance. http://www.glanceapp.info/. 12. Skype is video chatting and instant messaging software, allowing users to communicate textually, verbally, and visually over long distances (see http://www. skype.com/en/). Snapchat is a smartphone application which lets users capture images using their phone’s camera and send them as messages to others with the app. Photos on Snapchat are, in theory, ephemeral and deleted after
title | 35
Fucking by Michelle Marie
Is fucking a bad thing? It’s raw, basic, unedited—all good things. It has a beautiful universal appeal. Anyone can fuck. So I am told. But can I? That’s another question. I might have missed the fucking train when I became true to myself and acknowledged the perplexities of my sexuality. These days, making discoveries long delayed, I use a patchwork of terms to describe myself: fluid, gray asexual, pan-erotic queer. However, each term in this shifting narrative of self-actualization remains deeply flawed. They all lack the power to declare anything official. And I have yet to find a “community” online or IRL. The term that feels most authentic is autoerotic. But it conjures up images of autoerotic asphyxiation, taking me far off course.
issue four | 36
In a perfect world it would simply suggest an intense erotic interiority. I’ve had the power of having multiple orgasms since a young age. Sex is my beloved, my art, my ode. I eroticize the world and what lies within: books, clichés, fingerprints, a smiling photograph. I am in an erotic relationship with myself, but I love and need the idea of others. I am a chronic masturbator, clinging for inspiration to the dance of form. I don’t make up my sex, I masturbate from life. I open my shirt and call out to you. Like Hélène Cixous’s Promethea you come, full of breath, full of life, and fling yourself at me. I am not celibate or nonlibidoist or touch avoidant or inherently sex-averse. The lines of my sexuality are not ruler straight but queer like my needs. Needs that are concentric, floating above the walls of convention, as the voice of imagination draws circles of jouissance around me, allowing me to divide, to break free of my subjectivity. I let go of myself. Full of flight, sensing unknown powers, I desire more than orgasm, more than satisfaction. I want a merging of worlds, of the erotic, the mystical, the political. I want metaphysical fulfillment from deep within. So I reach for myself, extending a hand into the night, going to the source. My erotic life and its physical expressions emerge like a liquid moon, internal, physically independent of human form, orbiting a world affixed to my desire without fear or reproach.
I have endless freedom to be turned on. And the invisible labor of my imagination makes sure the glory of being alone is never lonely. Yet I am convinced that somehow, since I do not desire genital intimacy with others, I have never truly fucked. Repudiating ciscentric PIV (penis in vagina) and grappling with most forms of penetration, except orally under certain conditions, means for me the unmitigated physical rawness of fucking is not a part of my life. Penetration is a society-wide fixation that curbs our erotic potential and strains our sexual selves against our creative selves, so I can’t say I miss it. And certainly it is not the only way to fuck. I fuck myself all the time. But have I fucked others? Or been fucked? I don’t know. I don’t know if I ever needed to.
Edited by Katarah Da Silva and Katie Harris
bluestockings | 37
issue four | 38
opposite page: Joseph C Saunders Stained Streets (zine excerpt) this page: Christopher Thompson Ali-Yiayiaâ€™s 100th Birthday
title | 39
Pronounless Love Poem by Lizzie Davis Edited by Stefania Gomez
issue four | 40
title | 41
Choice, Neoliberalism, and the “Genderbread Person” by Darcy Pinkerton In workshops about gender, sexuality, and transgender issues, such as those on Brown’s campus, the figure of the “Genderbread Person” is a well-known teaching diagram. The figure diagrams a diversity of gender and sexual identities, including “gender identity,” “gender expression,” “attracted to,” and “biological sex,” that supposedly reflect the many components of gender and sexuality. The image claims that gender “isn’t binary” nor “either/or” and attempts to open up “infinite” possibilities for the personal embodiment and expression of gender and sexuality.1 The Genderbread Person is a neoliberal expression of self that appears to open possibilities for individual freedom; but in fact, it erases racial and class differences and strips away power structures that inform and confuse biological sex, gender identity,
gender expression, and sexual orientation. It emphasizes the fluidity and multiplicity of gender and sexuality; however, it makes no effort to locate these elements in a schema of power. By conceptually excluding systems of domination, the image offers up a vision of an agential individual who can freely choose their gender and sexuality. As a teaching tool, this image cannot descriptively account for many people’s lived experiences. The fundamental flaw of the Genderbread Person is its propagation of an unattainable ideology of choice with respect to gender and sexuality — categories which are always inflected with the power and violence of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Although the image attempts to divide “gender identity” and “gender expression” from sexual orientation and biological sex,
issue four | 42
anthropologist David Valentine asserts that these categories may not be so neatly separated. Writing about the development of transgender identity, Valentine argues that the distinction between gender and sexuality is a relatively new concept that reflects ideological work on the part of institutions such as social service providers, gay rights advocates, and public health organizations. When the Genderbread Person presents gender and sexual identity as discretely experienced parts of personal identity, it ignores that those categories do not always capture lived experiences.2 The image locates gender in one’s mind and sex in one’s genitals — a reductive representation of the complicated ways
people’s selves and self-presentation relate to gender and sexuality. Feminist descriptions of gender and sexuality as systems through which power and domination flow are also bypassed by this simple graphic. The image of the Genderbread Person presents gender and sexuality as neatly divided parts of personal identity, rather than complicated, personal and political categories that are always implicated in systems of domination through which power secures gendered privileges and oppressions. The Genderbread figure fails to relate gender and sexuality to race. The image shows a yellow cookie figure onto whom gender and sexuality traits can be “added.” Although
choice, neoliberalism, and the “genderbread person” | 43
both race and class are read from people’s bodies and presentation, the Genderbread Person is not obviously racialized. In framing the “infinite” ways that the Genderbread Person could define one’s gender and sexuality, the image neutralizes the basic ways that race (and/or class) inform the cookie body and have an impact on its gender and sexuality.3 As many scholars of gender have remarked, gender and sexuality as categories are informed by colonization and U.S. empire.4 For example, because systems of imperialism, colonialism, and racism have historically relied on feminizing depictions of Asian men in comparison to white men, gender is interpreted from the bodies of Asian men differently than from white men’s bodies. This racialized way that gender and sexuality function is belied by the presentation of choice in the Genderbread Person. The erasure of racial difference and rigid separation of gender and sexuality both depend on the asexual and ungendered baseline of the Genderbread Person. The image frames gender and sexuality as emerging from baselines of nothingness, using arrows to explain one’s potential progression from agender to masculinity and/or femininity and from “no [sexual] attraction” to attraction to men and/or women.5 Many feminist and queer theorists have discussed compulsory heterosexuality as the assumption of straightness that gender-normative men and women experience, arguing that being straight or gay have differential social pressures and consequences.6 Being gay entails
social disadvantage and discrimination, but, in a more basic way, heteronormativity functions to discourage people from identifying themselves as gay. The image of two arrows progressing from no sexual attraction to hetero and/or homosexuality does not reflect the way heterosexuality often functions. By positioning “asexual” as a starting point from which people assert other, differing sexualities, the image equates privileged identities with oppressed identities. More gravely, it fails to relay how compulsory heterosexuality creates heterosexuality as the baseline from which other, non-heterosexual identities emerge (including the identity of “asexual”). Which is to say, people do not exist as ungendered bodies who take up sexual and romantic attractions devoid of social context; heteropatriachy subsumes people into sets of social relations and identity categories long before they can be asserted differently. Representing gender and sexuality as freely chosen, independent parts of identity is part of the neoliberal project of the Genderbread Person. The image tells readers that they can build gender and sexuality for themselves. Even the identities reflected in the image are only examples of “infinite… possible plot and label combos” that constitute personal identity. Setting aside the fact that subjectivity consists of much more than graphs and labels, the idea that individuals can choose their genders and sexualities reflects anthropologist Margot Weiss’s definition of neoliberalism as a “form of governmentality” 7 that creates and authen-
issue four | 44
ticates subjects who understand themselves, and their relationships to the world, in terms of democratized markets. By framing elements of identity such as sexual attraction and gender expression on sliding scales, in a colorful palate that proclaims infinite possibilities, the Genderbread Person represents a neoliberal celebration of free choice and individual agency that deliberately avoids considering systems of power. The concept of choice is central to the emotional appeal of the Genderbread Person, upon which the success of the image’s ideological project relies. The image of the Genderbread Person generates positive but false feelings of agency by representing gender and sexuality as personal choices freely taken up by ungendered, non-sexual, and unraced bodies. By presenting gender and sexual identities as separate, non-coerced choices undertaken by bodies and selves devoid of social context, the image elides the way race informs and limits the potential expression of gender and sexuality. It further creates a framework of individual choice that cannot take into account systems of domination such as colonialism and sexism. The rhetoric of choice in the image functions on an ideological level to prevent critical examination of systems of domination that thus ensure their continuation. The image of the Genderbread Person represents people as fundamentally ungendered and asexual beings who can progress to any identity they freely choose, ignoring the coercive social context in which gender
and sexuality are formed and negotiated. The success of the Genderbread Person relies on the sentimental appeal of agency, which creates positive sentiments around an illusion of freedom and choice. Beyond its descriptive failures, the image promotes an insidious ideology of choice in the service of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. In generating an asexual and ungendered agential person, the Genderbread Person produces ideas of gender and sexuality as choice without context, obfuscating the reality of violence and domination.
Edited by Marina Golan-Vilella and Shierly Mondianti Endnotes: 1. Killerman, Sam. “The Genderbread Person v2.0.” It’s Pronounced Metrosexual. 2012. https://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/03/the-genderbread-person-v2-0/ 2. Valentine, David. Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007. 3. Killerman. “The Genderbread Person v2.0.” 4. Schaeffer, Felicity. Love and Empire: Cybermarriage and Citizenship across the Americas. New York: New York University Perss, 2013. 13. 5. Killerman. “The Genderbread Person v2.0.” 6. Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985. New York: Norton, 1986. 32. 7. Weiss, Margot. Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011. 18.
title | 45
trigger warning: sexual assault
“Don’t Take it Personally” Legitimizing Individual Narratives in Social Justice By Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste
Black/African-American, female, 18-25. It is only fair to the reader that I begin this conversation with the demographics I have to check off in every census, application, survey, or questionnaire. I am a young black woman in America. I am not one of the three, two of the three, but all of these three identities. Often times, there is a tendency for black women’s issues to become a summarized subtopic in greater conversations on race or gender. Perpetually placed in the category of “either/or” in terms of identity, the politics and history behind being black and a woman in America is rarely analyzed, nor appreciated by mainstream media. Before coming to Brown, my education of feminism only underlined the impact of white American women within the first and second waves. Never did we speak about the
impact that black feminism, specifically black women who were involved in Civil Rights organizations, had in laying the foundation of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Even still, I have little knowledge of what feminism means out of the context of the American narrative. Instead, like many other American students, I had the high school experience of having Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique drilled into my head as the feminist canon. Granted, Friedan’s work on describing the “problem that has no name” was groundbreaking to bringing the impact of gender double standards into the mainstream. However, this narrative is filled with only testimonials of white female college graduates. In essence, its impact further cemented in history a restricted image of who dealt with the “problem”: suburban, middle-class white women.
issue four | 46
And that’s okay. I can begrudgingly accept that. I can’t change history. I can’t change the past. Racist frameworks did play into the branding of the first and second waves of feminism, the members of which benefited from this framework the most. The Feminine Mystique is a narrative of feminism worth telling within academic circles. My issue here is why in the third wave of feminism, the movement that is heralded to be more “inclusive”, we are still lacking in diverse personal narratives legitimized in mainstream academics, journalism, media, and even on this campus? Outside of Brown’s Africana Studies Department, there are very few times where I have been able to have a conversation on the intersectionality of race and gender in the classroom, with either my classmates or my professors. I’ve had a peer condescendingly ask during class why the issue of race matters in literature. I’ve had a professor circle the instances I’ve written intersectionality in my paper and ask me whether or not was a real word. Microsoft Word still has not acknowledged it as one either. Despite the countless times I have tried to “Add” it in my dictionary, completed essays tend to end up looking like a rough draft with incredibly poor grammar and spelling. I’ve had white male students condescendingly ask me at a pre-game what it means to be a black woman in America, as if I could speak to the experience of an entire race, and then shut me down when I respond with my personal experiences. I’ve had multiple argu-
ments with editors of popular publications on my campus about the lack of content written about black women and how when anything is written at all, it coming from a person who doesn’t even hold the identity. You know who you are. Do better. I’ve had men approach me with the pick-up line: “ I have a thing for women of color.” Over the summer, this was the last sentence I heard right before I was groped and thereafter almost raped. At times, when I felt safe enough to finally delve into my past and speak on all of this, I’ve only gotten a reaction, in facial expression and words, “poor you.” As if my experiences of being fetishized doesn’t relate to a greater history of objectification and dehumanization of the black female body. As if my dealings with academia at Brown and publications on this campus doesn’t speak to the greater silence mass media holds on black women’s issues. It was once said to me that this silencing of black women is even more dangerous than the presence of conversations that propagate social injustice. In my opinion, our society balances on the deadly line between both: absence in conversation and the presence of one that belittles and distorts lived experiences. When a seven-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis was called a “cunt” by a mass media outlet and the only critique and backlash came from black feminist blogs, it is more than an isolated incident of inappropriate humor. If of anything, it is a testament to the
don’t take it personally | 47
larger narrative on media’s hyper-sexualization of black women, and the nonchalance to not think twice of defaming a young black body. No one would have dared to call a five-year-old Shirley Temple such a word at the time of her child stardom. Hypothetically, if Shirley Temple were to be called a “cunt,” the type of media attention it would garner, would bind it forever to the feminist platform. When Lupita Nyong’o confessed to her deep-rooted feelings of self-hate as a dark-skinned black woman during her “Black Women in Hollywood” acceptance speech, it is not exclusive to only her sentiments and self-esteem. Her speech is a personal note of colorism – the social practices of prejudice compounded with socioeconomic and legal discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. My preconceived notions of the Brown community were that I would no longer hear the sigh under my classmates’ breaths when I brought up my narrative and the other narratives of race, class and gender. That I wouldn’t need to feel that my narrative is only “legitimized” in a room of the Third World Center or in a blog post on Black Girl Dangerous. That I could have the full autonomy to embrace my identity beyond the pockets of black feminism. Or have to constantly be subjugated to explain what black feminism is. That I could finally find a space in my life to fully embrace my skin, the darkness of my skin, and the greater narrative it feeds into. Sometimes, I wonder whether black
women of the next generation will have to face the same issues of having their stories legitimized in conversations about social justice and theory. I wonder if they too will hope to God that their story clings on to some level of consciousness held by non-black women. That being a black girl doesn’t feel so dangerous all the time or so damn incomprehensive to the media or the academic fields they inhabit. That they can have the freedom of knowing and embracing that they’re not alone. It’s not only personal. Editor’s Note: The critique of the Feminine Mystique as an articulation of white feminism is drawn from bell hooks’ second book, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.
Edited by Jasmine Bala and Radhika Rajan
issue four | 48
Kah Yangni Fall 2012
title | 49
(Un)productivity in the Digital Age a conversation with
Mimi Thi Nguyen by Chanelle Adams, Ann Kremen, and Sophia Seawell Mimi Thi Nguyen is an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign as a Conrad Humanities Scholar. She is the author of The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages. Nguyen has also been involved in punk and zine communities since the early 1990s. She is responsible for organizing and distributing the compilation zine Race Riot in the late 90s, and is a collaborator in the POC Zine Project. Sophia Seawell: How do you inhabit both the spaces of the academy and activism, and in particular, an activism grounded in the politics of punk, given that these are often constructed as dichotomous and antagonistic?
Mimi Nguyen: The work that I do in the academy on war and empire first developed out of my politicization in punk. My exposure to the idea of the United States as a liberal empire – though not then described in those words – happened when I encountered the longest running punk magazine Maximum Rockandroll in the 1990s and learned about the Ronald Reagan administration’s covert military operations in Central America, waged in the name of freedom. I hadn’t put that together with being a refugee from the US war in Viet Nam until I encountered punk and radical politics, which then informed my academic work. At the same time, my academic work has also shaped my zines, my punk writing. I was a Gender and Women’s Studies major as
issue four | 50
an undergraduate, and what I learned in the classroom definitely informed my zines. So I’ve always understood my intellectual work in punk and the academy as not necessarily distinct. The disjuncture then comes when I consider how we are encouraged to carry ourselves in the academy. I feel a lot of pressures to professionalize, and the prescriptions for professionalization often run counter to my way of being in the world. I also struggle with the directive that I am supposed to professionalize my students. I don’t hold with the idea that I should train students to be better workers,
because the content of “better” — more obedient, more efficient, whatever — runs counter to what I want to teach. In my feminist theories courses, I say, “Yeah, I just gave you assignments with deadlines! But I also want to say to you, what’s so great about work? Why do we believe work is supposed to be edifying? Should we always have to be productive? Why do we imagine work as something that gives us dignity? What if it’s just wearing us down?” My history in punk totally informs these attempts to practice other ways of being in a classroom, and other ways of being a professor.
(un)productivity in the digital age | 51
SS: Are there frameworks or approaches you got from punk that you’ve brought with you to other spaces? MN: What I got out of punk is an unwillingness to accept what I am told is “good” as true or obvious. Punk gave me words and gestures for once inchoate feelings about the cluster of promises that comprise what Lauren Berlant calls a cruel optimism — the state and capital are on your side! The ring on your finger is a sign of love and protection! So, if I am told, “This is what you should be doing, it’s for your own good,” my first impulse is usually — on the inside these days — “Fuck you!” And then “Why?” When I was thinking about the so-called gift of freedom – this notion that the United States is invested in granting to others who don’t have it the gift of freedom — I want to know: How is this thing that so often arrives in the form of waging war a gift? Why is this the shape that freedom should necessarily take? This skepticism definitely informs my feminist and queer politics as well. Why should anti-violence campaigns rely on the police or the prison to protect us? Why is the present ceiling of LGBT politics marriage rights? Why are these things given to us as necessary social goods? And, what are they doing beyond what they claim to do? Chanelle Adams: Your zine Race Riot came at a time when there were not race discussions happening in the punk scene. How did you go about organizing support and a
network for that? Did that network already exist? Did you meet resistance initially? MN: In the late 1980s and 1990s, there was a semi-silence about race and racisms in punk and punk-adjacent scenes. What anti-racist discourses or practices circulated within punk tended to boil down to “Fuck Nazis,” which was a real problem in punk scenes at the time. I know plenty of older punks who rumbled with Nazi skinheads, and much respect to them — but I wanted more. While neo-Nazi skins were absolutely present as threats, what other conversations could we have about say, swastikas as ironic racism or racist cool? Or, about people of color or non-Western peoples in histories of punk sounds, aesthetics, politics? The impetus for Race Riot came when a columnist at Maximum Rockandroll wrote about his Asian fetish, suggesting that Asian women’s eyelids look like vulva, and that their vulva might be also horizontal. It is an old imperial joke — there are all kinds of imperial jokes about how racial, colonial women’s bodies are so inhuman that their genitalia might reflect this alien state. I wrote a letter to Maximum, cussing and citing postcolonial feminist theory. He then wrote a lengthy column in response about how though I’m Asian, because I’m an ugly feminist, he wouldn’t want to fuck me anyway. There was a discussion at the magazine about whether or not to publish this column because the magazine had a policy — no racism, no sexism, no homophobia. But the coordinator and
issue four | 52
founder of the magazine decided that this column qualified as satire, and so it was acceptable. It was really infuriating for me to be 19 years old, totally invested in punk and politics, to be attacked under the guise of racist cool in the punk magazine. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m quitting punk.” But I figured I should do something, to leave something behind as a practice and as a document, to reach other punks of color who might feel as isolated as I did in the aftermath. There wasn’t yet a broader discussion about race or about people of color in punk, and we didn’t have the Internet at the time in the way that we do now! I sent postcards out to other punks, to the few people of color I knew in punk, to hand out at shows. It was all word of mouth, plus a massive physical flyer campaign. The relative ease with which punks — and especially queer punks, punks of color, feminist punks — can find each other online, and share histories, photographs, music, and more, was just not possible when I made the first Race Riot. CA: Since you’ve been active in the POC zine community for years, how do you think about the transformation from material forms like zines to digital ones like blogs and Twitter? How do you respond to pressure to immediately respond through social media platforms? Do you find it hard to take the time to have a contemplative feminism?
MN: While these concerns are not part of my scholarship, I have thought about these questions a lot. New technologies have produced expectations that we now have more democratic access to more knowledge, and that we must accommodate ourselves to an accelerated sense of time. But I am wary of this internalization of capital’s rhythms for continuous consumption and openended production. I hate feeling obliged to produce a post or tweet on a timetable. It makes me anxious. There is value in being about to respond quickly to an object or event, of course, but I also want to hold out for other forms of temporal consciousness, including untimeliness and contemplation of deep structures, sitting with an object over time to consider how it changes you, how the encounter with it changes the nature of your inquiry. SS: The digital is such a generative space for building connections and communities, yet, at the same time, it is characterized by its speed and ephemerality, and it can often be unsafe. In what ways do you see the logics of digital media and the Internet affecting the way that communities organized around social justice form online? MN: We live in a moment during which we have internalized surveillance and security cultures to such a degree that perhaps we also assume others can be rendered into units of knowable data — their avatars, their tweets or their posts. But I would want to
(un)productivity in the digital age | 53
What does it mean to measure impact and influence through these viral measures, which with evidence of political movement?
push against the premise that a stranger is knowable from their observable data. How do we recognize evidence of being a person under neoliberal capital? Do you exist in the absence of a selfie, or a tweet? What about all the commitments and histories you can’t account for solely through the digitized self? I am not at all saying selfies and tweets are bad, but I am saying that these are the conditions under which we find ourselves complicit — and even locate pleasure — in our surveillance, and in surveying others, and upon which access to capital, love and other forms of sociality increasingly depend. Our surveillance apparatus and the security state also depend on our becoming trackable entities. This runs deep, so that even on social justice Tumblr or Twitter — which are often platforms through which marginalized persons might articulate a desire for
freedom — recognition and validation comes in the quantifiable, trackable form of likes, favorites, reblogs, and retweets. The more we produce, the more we circulate, the more recognition we receive, and that recognition becomes translated as approximating justice. It is impact, absolutely. But what does it mean to measure impact and influence through these viral measures, which collapse quantifiable recognition with evidence of political movement? Is community the consequence of success on the market? Ann Kremen: You mentioned forms of recognition coming as retweets, reblogs, or likes. How do these ways of measuring impact change the way that organizing is conceptualized? What changes do you see in the language being used, even within social justice movements, to describe processes and successes?
issue four | 54
MN: Corporate and creative-speak now converge through a language about originality and intellectual property: each individual’s capacity for creativity can and should be encouraged in order to create intellectual properties for a corporation or institutional entity. Our claims to originality and intellectual property are commodified as forms of labor that we voluntarily donate and circulate as “user-generated” content for multibillion-dollar corporate platforms such as Twitter, which are meanwhile accumulating and privatizing massive political and financial capital. Consider Twitter or Google in San Francisco, and the acceleration of evictions displacing the racialized poor and the evisceration of social services in the city as a direct consequence of its powers. Can we or should we separate Twitter’s emergence through these structures of global capital and racial violence from the platform’s claims to facilitate a true public sphere, to embed democratic principles of inclusion, participation, and identification into its code — which frankly is a decades-old claim for digital media! — and then again from our usages of that platform? What happens to the even more marginal, the obscure, the slow, the incommunicable, and the unproductive under such metrics of relevance? CA: What are ways that we can continue to exist within the system but also subvert it in a way that is useful to ourselves, sustaining ourselves and providing self-care?
MN: In considering self-care, I would challenge the ideas that work is good for us, that we be productive or measure other persons and things by their usefulness to us, and that we engage in constant calculation about value. What might constitute radical self-care under conditions of neoliberal capital? — which is a very predatory capital that, as Lauren Berlant puts it so well, aims to wear our bodies out and commit us (differentially, of course) to slow death. Maybe it means refusing to be productive, useful, transparent, accountable in computational or compensatory forms, or even valuable according to prevailing measures. Such refusals could inform self-care — like maybe I just want to sit by this beach, and it doesn’t have to be made meaningful as a revolutionary act! — but also a more unpredictable, imperfect politics under contemporary conditions of power and knowledge that aim to render each of us as knowable bits of data. That’s why I am making zines again, because these shape a different relationship for me to creative and intellectual labor. I am not compensated for my labor-time, I don’t receive quantifiable forms of recognition in terms of numbers in circulation or for professional promotion. That’s why the Race Riot zines are still the best things I’ve ever made. No matter how numerous the copies or readers are, its impact is unquantifiable, discontinuous, and untrackable.
bluestockings | 55
Kerri King All the Kingâ€™s Birds
issue four | 56
Imagining Feminist Intellectual Property by Tatum Lindsay
Feminist epistemology seeks to provide ways of creating new possibilities and new realities â€” it does not seek to present a simple defined answer, but instead to pose more, perhaps better, questions. Mobilizing feminist epistemologies alongside intellectual property laws permits serious investigation of current conceptions of the United Statesâ€™ legal system, and, more specifically, concepts of ownership and property rights. A feminist theoretical framework deeply challenges intellectual property regulations and laws by interrogating established concepts of what constitutes an idea and its origin. It opens the space to ask: What is knowledge? And how can we regulate it?
The American legal tradition, especially in intellectual property, privileges the inventor, the individual. What is excluded from this system is the recognition of communally constructed knowledge. Currently there is no recourse within the American legal framework to protect by law such communally produced knowledge. If invention is inspired by a community experience such as a dinner party, or by collectively determined solutions to a catastrophe or trauma, how can we explain that a single person can hold a monopoly on the manifestation of that idea? By using feminist epistemological tools and perspectives to discuss the challenges and rewards of applying a feminist critique
imagining feminist intellectual property | 57
of intellectual property, I propose four new possible fields of vision: 1) An elimination of intellectual property laws altogether, 2) A set of intellectual property laws that will eliminate royalties and specific protections to individuals, but not the law itself, 3) An ideological shift in the law that would allow communal and affective knowledges to be afforded equal protections, 4) A quota system that would ensure that all people are equally represented as owners of intellectual property in the world. It goes without saying that the outright eradication of intellectual property laws would cause drastic changes. Its subsequent disassociation with the current economic system in the United States, a capitalistic system that relies on individual property, would be greatly altered. For example, pharmaceutical companies, which hold many patents in the United States, would no longer hold exclusive rights to those products and would inevitably cause many brand-name drug prices to plummet. This would perhaps enforce the appropriate compensation of indigenous communities upon which much pharmaceutical knowledge is based. Feminists should be interested in considering such an eradication because it
completely and directly deconstructs the notion that products of the mind can and should be regulated, protected, bought, disputed, and commodified. By privileging no oneâ€™s intellectual property, we can effectively privilege all â€œintellectual properties.â€? Creative artists, who work outside of the realm of dominant power frameworks (read as: straight white male), can rarely obtain rights to their works because the current legal system does not provide a means for them to do so. Only recently has the labor of choreography been deemed copyrightable in the United States. In contrast, circuit boards, software, and pharmaceutical drugs are not only copyrightable and patentable but have historically been protected to the fullest extent to the law. Unfortunately, many people have consistently been excluded from the processes and protections of intellectual property at every stage: from creating and registering, to commodifying works and collecting royalties on them. Dissolving intellectual property laws and protections would be one way to privilege all forms of creative knowledges. The second vision seeks to eliminate royalties to intellectual property holders. Eliminating royalties and specific protections to individuals challenges the logics behind intellectual property laws, redefining the structuring logic for participation in a system that privileges a white, masculine construction of global economics: capitalism and exploitation. Intellectual property laws attempt to stimulate a robust capitalistic
issue four | 58
free-market by providing a competitive marketplace. They incentivize creativity, not as an ends in itself, but instead as a means to make profit by giving creators rights to the products of their creativity. Intellectual property laws also ensure, and seek to expand, public access to creative products in a competitive marketplace. Through intellectual property laws, Americans participate in the process through which they gain acceptance to the system of neoliberal capitalism. Eliminating both royalties and the individual as patent or copyright holder opens the possibility for new cultural attitudes to emerge. For example, current intellectual property laws do not have the ability to effectively deal with sites of knowledge production. Wikipedia may have “solved” their intellectual property problem with Creative Commons licensing, but what structures are in place for everyone else to protect collective knowledges and experiences? Can marginalized groups successfully protect their works within our current legal system? It is hard to say. The third idea that I suggest is to work within the existing framework of the law and re-write these laws to include provisions for group-based work. Provisions in the current law allowing groups to have joint-authorship do exist, but these provisions are not the form of protection that a feminist epistemological framework seeks. Patricia Hill Collins, an inspiration behind feminist standpoint epistemology,
proposes that actual lived experience is an important site of knowledge production. To expand on her initial formulation, one could imagine a world in which feelings, traumas, biographies, oral histories, and social events are perceived as valid sites of knowledge production. Collins’ transformative work on feminist epistemological thought challenges the construction of intellectual property laws by questioning the underlying authority and origin of ownership: who has the rights to ownership? Where does ownership come from? Does it have to be written? Published? In a society that was built on patriarchal values and privileges patriarchal constructions of the law, feminist epistemologies like Collins’ seek to dismantle the ways through which knowledge (and intellectual property) is produced and regulated. Cultural intellectual property, a topic that has been widely written about in feminist communities, exemplifies our current legal system’s inability to privilege group or communal knowledges. Cultural capital produced by a culture or an ethnic group, such as fables or parables, traditional crafts, canning, and moonshine recipes are all examples of what a feminist epistemology investigates. It asks how these cultural productions and interpretations of knowledge (therefore intellectual property) have been appropriated. How were they created? Do cultures want to have rights to communally produced work(s)? How can we know? The rainbow flag, for example, has represented the LGBTQ community since
imagining feminist intellectual property | 59
the 1978 assassination of San Franciscoâ€™s first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk. Originally designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978, the flag has gained substantial status as the trademark, so to speak, of the LGBTQ community and it was used to commemorate Milk in the 1979 Pride Parade. The International Congress of Flag Makers now recognizes the flag. Although the community has not trademarked this image, could they? Even among those who may share similar histories and may identify with a group, such as the LGTBQ community, there will always be individuals who may not feel as closely aligned with a community or movement, which will ostensibly conflict with the goals of communally produced intellectual properties. The fourth, and last, vision for a feminist future in intellectual property is to establish quotas for all people to be equally represented in patent, copyright, and trademark registration. While this idea is impractical and defies the theoretical underpinnings of Constitutional law in the United States, it could point to a long-term solution. This vision would allow for everyone to be recognized as productive and contributing members of the creative economy. There is no time like the present to begin thinking of new ways to protect or produce intellectual rights legislation. While women have made significant advances in the sciences and in creative arts, they are still underrepresented as registrants of patents and copyrighted works. Pursuing
more female registrants of intellectual property does not necessitate a feminist vision of intellectual property law, but it is an important starting point. When women become the center of intellectual property (and not just a simple majority of registrants), the traditional male power structures established by our Founding Fathers are challenged. The nomination of Michelle K. Lee to Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the office that regulates and manages all patent and trademark registrations in the United States, is a step in the right direction, but is representation in leadership the only way to fulfill this feminist fantasy? A feminist framework can provide new avenues to reimagine intellectual property law. By drawing from the intersectional vision of the feminist movement, one can begin to conceive of many diverse interpretations of intellectual property. I have provided a limited number of solutions, but I want to also point out that there is no one â€˜rightâ€™ feminist way. Hopefully, intellectual property law in the United States will adapt to address these issues related to the complex process of naming, regulating, and judging what constitutes knowledge in the 21st century.
Edited by Marina Golan-Vilella and Shierly Mondiati
issue four | 60
trigger warning: self-harm
Mother Mirror by Tyler Vile Do you see through my stubble? Do you forgive my eyebrows? The shaking hands that paint my eyelids arenâ€™t here today. Iâ€™ve been drinking with the frat boys, covering rusted crutch cuffs with duct tape, and not making as many excuses after I pass out at 5 a.m. I never cut my wrists, I was smarter than to give my teachers, doctors, physical therapists, and friends a peek at the color of my blood. I was falling on the bus, sputtering in class, walked in with a red handprint on my face. I was happy when my zits were bleeding, who gives a shit about acne medication?
Edited by Stefania Gomez
title | 61
Somewhere on the Border by Kate Holguin
March 13 It begins here for me, at the El Paso International Airport. But it begins 13 miles and 118 years away for Julio Martínez, the father of the mother of my father (read: great-grandfather) in 1896 and the Segundo Barrio of El Paso. All I know about Julio is on his gravestone: June 9, 1890-December 16, 1960. CA Pvt Co G 163 Inf 41 Div WWI. One day, a year and a half ago, I woke up, sat up, and told my boyfriend I wanted to break up: “I’m just a corpse now, don’t you see? I’m a skeleton, a shadow of who I once was. And I’m fading fast. Barely anyone can see me now, and soon enough, no one will see me.” This began the night before, when I confessed I would rather fade out of existence than be an outline of what I once was. The
next day, I silenced a new confession: there was no “what I once was.” I had already been a shadow – an outline of a human but with no substance – all my life. March 14 When I was nine, my family spent a day on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. We walked down Massachusetts Avenue NW, passing over fifty embassies. My father told me embassies did not abide by American laws so being on embassy property was like being in a different country. My younger sister and I turned this into a game, jumping from the sidewalk to each embassy’s driveway and then back to the sidewalk. Each time, my father exclaimed: “Now, you’ve been in Greece!” or Japan, Estonia, and so on. Then
issue four | 62
I planted one foot in an embassy driveway and the other on the sidewalk. I asked my dad what it meant if half of me was on embassy property and half of me was on the sidewalk. “It means you’re in two countries at the same time,” he said. I asked if that was even possible and he said sure, but I didn’t believe it. I look over the U.S./Mexico border wall in El Paso to the other side, to the Mexican city of Juárez in the state of Chihuahua, where thousands of jacales are scattered across the Sierra Madres, all uniform in shape and size but distinguished by their varying bright green and blue and pink paint jobs. On the face of one mountain, there’s an enormous message painted in white for all of Juárez and El Paso: La Biblia es la verdad. Léala. Between 1890 and 1925, an inflow of Mexican refugees and political exiles turned El Paso into the center of la Revolución. By 1896, Mexicans accounted for 60 percent of the city’s population. The same year six-year-old Julio Martínez ran with his family from their ancestral home of Saín Alto in Zacatecas through the northern Mexican mountains and deserts to El Paso. They settled in Segundo Barrio and Julio set out to make his life there. In 1915, he married Josefina Alonzo from Jalisco, who gave birth to their only child, Rebecca, in 1918. By this time, Julio was a successful businessman in the Segundo Barrio, owning and operating a general goods store, a cantina, and (probably unbeknownst to his wife) a brothel. El Paso is effectively segregated. Chihuahuita and Segundo Barrio, adjacent and closest to the border, are neighborhoods exclusively populated by people with roots in Mexico. From here in the 1890s spawned the first fronterizos, a group of
people with their feet in two countries, Mexico and the United States, who did not completely belong to either one. They are, literally translated, “people on the border.” Some see fronterizos as part Mexican and part American, a system of two sides forever in opposition, but they do not have this kind of dual identity. Rather, fronterizos build a hybrid identity. They are their own kind – simultaneously wholly Mexican and wholly American. They are fluent in both Spanish and English, and because of this, fluent in both nations. Fronterizos are unclassifiable so both nations reject their hybridity: it is either la Patria or the land of the free; there is no land de los libres. March 15 The only way a Mexican could enter El Paso’s grand Hotel Cortez in the 1940s was in a service position or as part of a mariachi band sent to entertain guests. A photograph of one such mariachi band still hangs in the hotel’s lobby today. I study the charro suits and china dresses in the photograph while my father tells me that the only time my grandmother Rebecca returned to El Paso was in 1942, the same year this photo was taken. She spent her wedding night here, a luxury that was possible only because of her fair skin and my grandfather’s rank in the Air Force. I always tell people my mother’s parents raised me. They lived with us in Los Angeles, and though they came to America nearly sixty years ago, they never learned English and do not know much about America outside of who is President. In the house that I grew up in, I lead a sort of dual life. Outside of the house and upstairs, where our nuclear family of four resided, my life was fully
somewhere on the border | 63
“Julio Martínez with extended family in his Segundo Barrio grocery store, c. 1917.”
America: English, private school, In N’ Out, AOL, Kim Kardashian, Disneyland. Downstairs with my grandparents, though, it was Mexico: Spanish, Sabado Gigante, Cantiflas, a constant debate over buying norteño flour tortillas vs. corn tortillas del sur, buñuelos para la Navidad. “Mexico downstairs” and “America upstairs,” my father called it. In the fall of 1917, Julio left Segundo Barrio, consumed by the seemingly never-ending Revolución, to serve in the United States military in World War I in exchange for American citizenship. He returned in 1919 to an embittered, xenophobic El Paso. For decades, Mexicans had crossed freely between El Paso and Juárez, but now the U.S. built bathhouses, where “dirty” Mexican immigrants were taken through a “de-lousing” process. Hydrocyanic acid, more commonly known as “Zyklon B,” was used to disinfect the immigrants’ clothes and shoes. As angry Mexican-hating mobs roamed the El Paso streets of 1922, Julio attempted to enroll his young daughter Rebecca at El Paso’s white elementary school, in order to avoid the separate, underfunded and overcrowded Mexican “prep” school. He went before the El Paso school board, emphasizing the American-ness of the Martínez family: their citizenship, fluency in English, fair skin and European features. He had no luck, not surprisingly, since all five elected members of the school board were also Ku Klux Klan members. At best, they might have seen him as an “uppity Mexican” and at worst, as their next potential lynching victim. March 16 We returned to the Hotel Cortez lobby for a second visit. This time, my father adds that my
issue four | 64
grandmother spent her wedding night alone. My grandfather disappeared after the ceremony, presumably in Juárez drinking and consummating instead with Chihuahuan prostitutes. One day, a year ago, I was lying naked in bed with my boyfriend and he laughs and tells me that my nipples are the only Mexican part of me because they are pretty large and fairly dark in comparison to my small, pale breasts. To him this “only Mexican part of me” is not really me; it’s just a funny little quirk of mine. I smile and laugh, and tell him he is probably right. All my life, people have seemed to enjoy telling me exactly what parts of me are Mexican and they do this, I think, because all I do is smile and laugh and tell them they are probably right. I always thought it is easier this way because even though it is not 1922, it is still the same story of feet in two countries and everyone trying to calculate how much I don’t belong in either. Julio, Josefina, and Rebecca left El Paso in 1923, settling in Southern California. Julio took a job with a construction company. With the money he earned, he invested in new businesses, a gas station and a cantina. Rebecca, with her unaccented English and fair skin, entered the local white elementary school. Julio became “Julian” and forced Josefina to go by “Josephine” (a source of extreme tension between them for the rest of their lives). Spanish was forbidden both in and outside of the house. Julio told everyone Martínez was a Spanish last name and everyone thought them Spaniards. Julio thought if he left El Paso, he left life on the border. But this is affirming the consequent. Life on the border continued for Rebecca at the Hotel Cortez in 1942 and then in Nebraska in 1955, where Rebecca and her family were only served in restaurants because
her husband was in full military uniform. Life on the border could not be left behind, but it was muted. It was muted in 1961 when my father was ordered not to tell neighbors about his Spanish-speaking parents or his grandparents’ origins – their welcoming all-white neighborhood might not be so welcoming to those truths. It was muted in 1968 when my father, unsure of whether he should (or could?) tell his first girlfriend that his last name was not quite “Spanish,” said nothing. It is muted as I smile and laugh and tell everyone “you’re probably right.” My last stop in El Paso is for la misa at the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús church, where Julio and Josefina were married and where Rebecca was baptized. Julio would be furious with me, his great-granddaughter, returning to the Segundo Barrio. After trying to leave the border, “Julian’s” efforts to destroy “Julio” were in vain; three generations of Martínezes later, we still live on the border. I am still somewhat lost in this border life, but I am not out here alone. Maybe we’ll all keep smiling and laughing and saying “you’re probably right” as we’re made to be outlines without real agency, real substance. But our substance is only muted, not erased. Someone will always tell us how Mexicano we are or how Americano we are not, because to see us as a duality is to see us made of two fragments that can be picked apart. We are unclassifiable and because of that we are rejected, but we are not skeletons – we are hybrids. And our hybridity is constant because it is not two parts but a single, indestructible unit. Fronterizo is our substance, is my substance, and it is the whole of it.
Edited by Maru Pabón and Tanya Singh
bluestockings | 65
Jenna Marsh Series 6
issue four | 66
The Frontier Heroine an Interview with India’s Leading Lady, Nirupama Rao by Jasmine Bala
Nirupama Rao is India’s former Ambassador to the United States. Starting in January 2014, Rao will be spending one year at Brown University, as a Meera and Vikram Gandhi Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies. She will be conducting research on the relationship between India and China. Prior to her assignment as Ambassador, Rao held the post of foreign secretary, the highest position in India’s foreign services department. She is the second woman to have ever held the post. Rao is also the author of a collection of poetry entitled Rain Rising. Rao spoke to Jasmine Bala, Bluestockings Magazine’s International editor.
Jasmine Bala: Tell us a little about your background and where you come from. Nirupama Rao: I was born into the matrilineal Nair community in Kerala. Kerala is a state that has always encouraged women’s education and women’s rights. It is a stand-out state in India that I consider a trailblazer when it comes to the role of women in Indian society. Since my father was an army officer, I grew up all over the country. We were not always Kerala centred, but lived in many cities such as Bangalore, Lucknow and Wellington. I went to Bangalore for undergraduate studies and to Aurangabad for my graduate studies.
the frontier heroine | 67
Secretary, the highest post in the foreign services of India, from 2009 to 2011. That, for me, in many ways was the pinnacle of my career as a diplomat for India. JB: What did your work as foreign secretary entail?
JB: You’ve come a long way from being a student in India to taking charge as Indian ambassador to the United States. How did you reach where you are today? NR: After my studies, I took the civil service examinations to join the foreign services, which I had wanted to do since I was twelve years old. I always wanted to be a diplomat. I joined the foreign services when I was 22 and it really is the only career I have ever known. I studied English Literature, History and Sociology in college, but I grew into a diplomat with the training and exposure I received working in foreign capitals all over the world. I started my career in Vienna, Austria and also spent a few years in Sri Lanka. After that I served as ambassador to China, the only Indian woman who has held that post so far. I was the spokesperson of the foreign ministry, also the only woman who has held that post. And I was India’s ambassador to the United States until last November. I was Foreign
NR: I was handling relations with India’s neighbors, including China, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan. I handled multi-lateral issues, such as India’s ongoing effort to be a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, climate change, disarmament and relations with the p5 countries*, including the United States. To me that represented the best job one could dream of having as a foreign services officer. JB: You have also written a book on poetry entitled Rain Rising. How did you take up poetry? NR: I have always loved language and words. I was a student of literature. Unfortunately, my professional commitments left me with little time to pursue my poetic inclinations. My poems talk about the mosaic of my experiences as a woman, the places I’ve been to, and the people I’ve met along my journey. I enjoyed writing my book of poetry and I’m looking to publish a second one! * Refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – U.S.A., Russia, China, U.K., France, and Germany
issue four | 68
JB: Is there anything about your experience that can be conveyed through poetry but not through prose? NR: I believe poetry is very expressive. Poetry enables you to invoke images from your imagination that no other form of writing enables you to do. Poetry has always had a special appeal to me. JB: In your work in the foreign services, you were given many positions that have not traditionally been held by women in India. What do you think is the biggest challenge that women face and how can it be overcome? NR: There are very entrenched attitudes in society about women and about the role they can play given their aptitudes and their capacity to fulfill responsibility. This situation is global and isnâ€™t endemic to one country, or to one society. Through history, women have been repeatedly asked prove their ability. India is a very tradition-bound society, binding women to serving their families. However, with the advent of independence and the opening of India to the rest of the world, more women are able to access education and enter the workplace. Television and movies help amplify the visibility of women and show that they can excel in any field of their choosing. That has proven to be a force multiplier. We still have violence against women and women still face risks in the open
world. There will have to be radical changes in the manner in which men are conditioned to accept women in the workplace. That will change with education and with democratic debate. JB: How do you see the future of women in civil services and politics? NR: I see the need and the opportunity for more representation for women. India needs adequate representation of women, not only in these two fields, but also in other fields such as medicine, engineering and legal services. When it comes to politics, women can make a big difference in parliament when laws are being framed. If you have a consolidated, visible and united presence of women, it could really help ameliorate female-centered causes such as gender violence in society. We need to remove discrimination against women everywhere. The struggle has just begun. JB: How do you think adequate representation for women can be brought about? NR: Representation has to involve receptivity on the part of men in society. Within families themselves, women must be encouraged to be educated and to become articulate citizens of the country. This can only be enabled if there is an environment that recognizes that womenâ€™s rights are human rights.
title | 69
The Radical Performance of the Carefree Black Girl by Patricia Ekpo The Carefree Black Girl (CFBG) is in its most simple definition, a user-produced and circulated portraiture of black women being happy. This concept and practice has roots in Tumblr1 and has been written about on Refinery292 as well as on Jezebel.3 These images depict black women smiling or laughing, often in natural settings such
as fields, woods, or bodies of water. CFBGs often depict women with natural hair, as these images stem from an embrace of the eclectic and convey a â€œhippieâ€? aesthetic with head wraps and beads. They sometimes feature women with multicolored hair and non-traditional sartorial choices such as suits or mismatched prints. Many times they
issue four| |7070 issue four
Photo Credit: Harperâ€™s Bazaar. Julia Noni. via http://mydamnblog.com/
the radical performance of the carefree black girl | 71
manifest in the form of selfies showcasing new hair and beauty choices, but are more often pictures of black women doing leisurely activities such as riding bikes, dancing in the street, or lying happily in bed. An important aspect of the Carefree Black Girl is unchoreographed, unmitigated, exuberant motion. Sometimes these movements may appear languid, but they are always full of life. The key here is freedom: freedom of expression, emotion, and presentation. When discussing CFBGs, it’s important to acknowledge the historical underpinnings of this phenomenon. Much has been written on the phenomenon of the selfie4 and recently about how young women’s use of selfies challenge traditional beauty standards.5 Though the Carefree Black Girl stems from this tradition of self-produced and circulated images, the idea is also couched in a specific kind of black women’s history. It is a direct and public rebuttal of traditional stereotypes and caricatures of black women as constantly angry, unusually aggressive, and always strong. The use of the identifier of “girl” in the CFGB rather than “woman” suggests that black women can and do exist in states of childlike happiness and joy. It does the work of combating historically rooted images and perceptions of black girls as never truly being able to be children because of automated roles as laborers, servicewomen, and Mammies. The CFBG is a burgeoning trope that combats these pervasive narratives of black women in the media.
issue four | 72
The image of the CFBG revels in the complexity and multiplicity of black womenâ€™s experiences and identities, but notably not for the edification of others. These images are intimately self-referential, and it is clear that they exist most importantly for black women to see themselves as happy, whole (at least having fun), carefree (but not careless), and simply, just to see themselves. The importance of the visibility of different possibilities of the self in media and in the world in general cannot be overstated.6 To see someone in a wide range of emotional states who looks similar to yourself and traverses the world in a way that you do is a deeply humanizing experience. At the same time, the Carefree Black Girl is more than just image and representation, but also a practiced and embodied performance. As with many modes of visual production via social media, such as selfies or mirror pics, the CFBG often involves the performative act of taking or posing for a picture. The selfies most often involve hair, makeup, or styling choices that the subject sees as deviating from normative images of black women. I have encountered Carefree Black Girl images that feature naturally or un-naturally textured hair that is dyed purple, or pink, CFBGs with braids or locs past their waists, or with springy teenie weenie afros. These stylistic choices as well as the labeling of them as carefree by other black women involve a performance of self that is both created and fantastically imagined. Images of CFBGs frequently include
the radical performance of the carefree black girl | 73
issue four | 74
those of singer Solange Knowles, Janelle Monáe, and various black models in outfits and poses that communicate their comfort with their bodies and their happiness being themselves. When a black woman labels an image of herself or another black woman as #carefree it is not merely a comment on an image that could be described as looking cheerful, but a radical act of owning the state of being and becoming free. She is enacting, reenacting, and embodying an affective state that was never supposed to be hers. Queer scholars such as José Muñoz have argued that aesthetic productions play an important role in imagining hope for the future of marginalized populations. The circulation and production of images of Carefree Black Girls creates an inhabitable present that looks towards a future in which black women are recognized as fully human by society as a whole.
Edited by Kyle Albert
Endnotes: 1. Carefree Black Girl. http://carefreeblackgirls. tumblr.com. 2. Johns, Jamala. “Who Exactly Is “The Carefree Black Girl”?” Refinery29. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. 3. Crosley, Hillary. “So, What’s This ‘Carefree Black Girl’ Thing All About?” Jezebel. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. 4. Day, Elizabeth. “How Selfies Became A Global Phenomenon.” The Observer. Web. 14 July 2013. 5. Bennett, Jessica. “With Some Selfies, the Uglier the Better.” New York Times. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. 6. Such as the importance of the new line of stock images by Getty Images’ “Lean In Collection” featuring more than 2,500 photos of female leadership in contemporary work and life.
title | 75
Mentalism and Mad Romanticism Tumblr as the Tip of the Cultural Iceberg by Abby McHugh
Elements of a hip “teen girl wasteland” culture saturate the Tumblr dashboards of many young millennials. Images of disinterested-looking models posing in trendy ensembles, accompanied by quippy and biting quotes, promote a blasé attitude in conjunction with a carefree yet curated style. Common posts contain glittery GIFs that flash “not my problem” or “I tolerate you” beside photos of young, dark-lipsticked women who seem to embody these sentiments. However, some bloggers tread into darker, more problematic territory when their posts include pastel odes to teen suicide à la The Virgin Suicides, satirical quotes pasted on images of so-called celebrity breakdowns,
and context-less stills from films such as Girl, Interrupted. These blogs combine fashion, celebrity worship, and the concept of the breakdown into a social media phenomenon that callously builds on structures already promoting the practice of mentalism; that is, discrimination against people who have or are perceived to have mental health conditions. The perpetuation of this aesthetic on Tumblr reveals society’s underlying preoccupation with romanticizing and rubbernecking the visible manifestations of severe psychiatric episodes. On “Crazy” and Mentalist Semantics The word “crazy” is often used without
issue four | 76
harmful intent. For example, in Britney Spears’s popular song “You Drive Me Crazy,” she sings of her experience as a 90’s lovestruck teen. In “Crazy in Love,” Jay-Z raps about his feelings for Beyoncé, describing what friends say about his behavior: “Crazy and deranged/They can’t figure him out/ They like hey is he insane.” Jay-Z speaks to feelings of losing control, feelings he hopes his listeners will empathize with. However, “deranged” and “insane” are historically loaded words, heralding from a time when the mentally ill were treated worse than criminals. They also do not correlate with the experiences he describes. The fact that he equates “deranged” and “insane” with the comparatively inconsequential act of falling in love reflects one way that firmly rooted cultural ideas of “crazy” can be repackaged and made acceptable in some contexts while used as a tool of oppression in others. Tumblr users or popular culture figures are not the only ones guilty of these semantics. Besides using words like “crazy,” “psycho,” or “basket case” to describe both those who experience mental health conditions and those who do not, public figures and news sources use diagnostic labels such as “bipolar” or “schizophrenic” in discussions that have nothing to do with medical issues. These diagnoses are never used in a positive way. In 2010, Senator Lindsey Graham referred to President Obama’s State of the Union address as “a little schizophrenic at times.” He went on to “urge the President to be more consistent in his tone.”1 Here, “schizophrenic” describes an erratic way of forming and
communicating one’s thoughts in a political speech and has nothing to do with the experiences or actual symptoms of schizophrenia. In a 2012 article reviewing Nicki Minaj’s album “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded,” journalist Spencer Kornhaber writes, “Nicki Minaj isn’t crazy, but she acts like she is… When rapping, she caterwauls from valleygirl scoff to Count Chocula bellow. When singing, she veers from competent croon to a purposefully incompetent karaoke warble. But Minaj’s new album is getting labeled “bipolar” and “schizophrenic” for none of these reasons. Yes, she, as usual, feigns crazy, but the really disconcerting thing is the breadth of the record.”2 By comparing the elements of a Nicki Minaj album to these disorders and thus attempting to line up her singing styles to certain kinds of perceived symptomatic highs and lows, the description only perpetuates ignorance on what these conditions involve. A person with bipolar disorder doesn’t flip moods from moment to moment, nor do they solely experience intense emotion. This review draws on metaphoric conclusions between the imagined or exaggerated symptoms of these conditions. Misguided semantics only underscore the lack of knowledge and sensitivity around mental health conditions in the media and in public discourse at large. Obsession with Celebrity Breakdowns Employing the word “crazy” truly enters mentalist territory when one uses it to characterize someone struggling with a mental health condition. The words “break” and
mentalism and mad romanticism | 77
“breakdown” will be employed here for ease of use, though they are extremely problematic terms. Just because one experiences a severe psychiatric period does not mean a person “breaks down,” and does not reflect on a person’s strength or wholeness in any way. Britney Spears’s highly visible—and summarily mocked—mental issues surfaced on and off between 2006 and 2008. She went to rehab several times and, in January 2008, Spears was placed on a 5150 psychiatric hold. A 5150 is a California state involuntary hold “stating that the officer, member of the attending staff, or professional person has probable cause to believe that the person is, as a result of mental disorder, a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled.”3 Using “crazy” to mock a person experiencing a severe mental health condition (such as one that requires a 5150 hold) serves as a sanist slur. Stories that rabidly report on celebrities’ mental conditions are rampant throughout the media, and often become part of the star’s public image. Many articles mentioning Catherine Zeta-Jones point out her bipolar diagnosis, even when it is not relevant to the article’s content. Tumblr posts aesthetically rebrand the stories of younger starlets and images of celebrity “breakdown darlings,” such as Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Amanda Bynes. All of these celebrities have experienced various kinds of in-patient psychiatric treatment for issues including substance abuse, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. They are represented online in
forms of collages, photos, or kitsch. Sharing images of t-shirts, iPhone cases, and “art prints” which depict human beings in the throes of a mental health struggle reaffirms a societal acceptability to gawk and jest about symptomatic manifestations. By gossiping and posting, individuals mock the severe real-life struggles experienced by millions of Americans.
issue four | 78
A few examples include:
Bynes was diagnosed as having symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Tumblr users pounced on the opportunity to create images idolizing Bynes’s struggle as a piece of apathetic kitschy tableau. Users continue to reblog these images today, well after her diagnosis.
Folks at Society6 call this an “art print.” All of these celebrities have experienced various kinds of in-patient psychiatric treatment for issues including substance abuse, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
mentalism and mad romanticism | 79
These posts and stories promote the cultural commodification of people with mental health conditions, especially when those sufferers are women. In a society where gawking at people with mental health conditions is a widespread phenomenon that many do not view as problematic, these stories sell magazines and kitsch, or attract viewers to blogs. Here mentalism and sexism intersect and play on the essentialist notion of female-identified people as being naturally prone to more extreme emotional behaviors. The concept that irritability and delusional behavior stems from one’s gender identification reinforces gender binaries, and suggests that femininity itself is a kind of illness. Examining the intersectionality of sexism and mentalism through the example of celebrity breakdowns is complicated further when one turns to male celebrities. Nineteen-year-old singer Justin Bieber was recently charged with drunk driving; a toxicology report revealed a mix of alcohol and prescription drugs in his system.4 Many talk show hosts and newscasters have mocked his behavior, saying, “boys will be boys.”5 Bieber’s behavior suggests potential issues with substance abuse, but figures in the media brush away the severity of these concerns. In discounting the possibility of substance abuse issues, the media in this example characterizes male substance abuse as a non-event that both demonstrates the harsher scrutiny that female celebrities receive and invalidates male experiences of mental illness.
In combing through sites like Tumblr or even various news sources, I found it more difficult to locate images and discussions of mental health conditions and women of color. Why is there an absence or erasure of the mental health struggles of women of color? Could the visibility of white celebrities’ issues, despite being examples of mentalist oppression, also suggest a degree of privilege? These white, wealthy women could afford expensive care and the ability to take time off from work, a luxury most people who struggle with their mental health cannot afford. Romanticizing Hospitalization and Suicide The popular treatment of psychiatric hospitalization has become aestheticized, and the patients have been reduced to stock characters and caricatures. Tumblr images idolize the fallen starlet, the misunderstood grunge girl, and any number of “troubled” female teen/twenty-something tropes (and these being generally straight, white, cis women). One such example comes from a Tumblr account titled “Teen Suicide Superstar” (teensuicide.tumblr.com). Accounts such as this one focus on certain aesthetics associated with individuals with mental health conditions as they appear in paparazzi photos and film stills from movies and novels like The Virgin Suicides, or Girl, Interrupted. A post from thestylecult.tumblr.com references the bracelets that a character from The Virgin Suicides wears over bandages from self-inflicted harm. The caption to the
issue four | 80
post reads: “Here are some totez rad DIY bracelets inspired by The Virgin Suicides, one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s pretty self-explanatory, just some basic preschooler beadwork. They’re super 90z and you’ll be looking kewl when you’re rocking a piece of Cecelia Lisbon’s accessory collection.” By focusing on the “cuteness” of these troubled, bejeweled virgins, Tumblr posters situate themselves outside of the reality of suicide. In 2013 in the U.S., 38,364 people committed suicide, and 713,000 people went to the emergency room for self-inflicted injury.6 In focusing on the “grunge” aesthetic of characters played by Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted, visible effects brought on by a mental health condition are painted as a form of style. In this film still of Jolie posted on Tumblr, the hashtags “beautiful, grunge, crazy, and pale” sum up a superficial view of a mental health condition, punctuated by mentalist linguistics. These examples illuminate the dearth of knowledge amongst a general public that both admonishes behaviors associated with mental health conditions and idolizes them as a foundation for a #beautiful or #grunge look. Furthermore, by focusing on young white waifs and celebrities experiencing psychosis, we never fully explore the rampant nature of mentalism in our society, nor how mentalism interacts with other forms of oppression.
mentalism and mad romanticism | 81
Moving Forward Perhaps these posts reveal a yearning for cultural catharsis. Or perhaps bloggers feel completely disconnected from the conditions and experiences their posts portray. Some users may be employing romanticism as a strategy for working through their own experiences. Whatever the case may be, this reverence for a sarcastic grunge-girl culture both romanticizes and subtly mocks lived experiences of severe mental health conditions. This trend demonstrates entrenched sanist or mentalist attitudes in a mass society abound with insensitivity, stereotypes, and ignorance regarding people with mental health conditions. These attitudes leave little room for the public to examine sociopolitical structures of mentalist oppression in conversation with those who experience them. Not all discussions of mental health on Tumblr (or the internet at large) are detrimental. Blogs and message boards can facilitate empowering conversations, opening up dialogue among those with mental health conditions, as well as the community at large, on how to better address this stigma. However, when we gawk at, laugh at, or even glamorize experiences of mental health struggles, we perpetuate stereotypes, essentialize people according to their diagnoses and other social identities, and move away from discussing true experiences of living with mental health conditions. We cannot begin to move forward in dismantling mentalism as a form of structural oppression if we continue to dwell on the outer
aesthetics of what we think people with mental conditions look like instead of who they are, the intersecting identities they hold, and the real experiences they have.
Edited by Mollie Forman and Malana Krongelb Endnotes: 1. Goldsmith, Brian. “Political Players: Sen. Graham Sees A “Schizophrenic” State of the Union.” TheAtlantic. Web. 29 Jan. 2010. 2. Kornhaber, Spencer. “Did Nicki Minaj Just Kill the Album?” The Atlantic. Web. 04 Apr. 2012. 3. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 5325; 9 C.C.R. § 865.2 4. Deerwester, Jayme. “Justin Bieber’s Mounting Legal Problems Could Endanger Travel.” Free Detroit Press. Web. 01 Feb. 2014. 5. Cooper, Anderson. “Justin Bieber’s Latest Legal Trouble.” CNN.com. Web. 29 Jan. 2014. 6. Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury.” Cdc.gov. Web. 30 May 2013.
issue four | 82
Vacancies and Other Celestial Ponderings by Emma Ruddock There is a difference between bodies. There is a change or a divergence. Math had always made me feel helplessly insufficient. I found it too inaccessible. It seemed like a mysterious mystical way to find the difference between two states of being.
A Brief Explanation for the Relevancy of Blonde Hair: My hair used to be a true honey blonde when we were young. When I first sensed your crush. I recall that in middle school all of the cool girls got their hair highlighted and bleached blonde, painting warm summer evenings, two pieced string bikinis that never fit, lip smackers cherry vanilla chapstick, and boys boys boys into their hair. IMPOSTER, I thought. Their hair is darker than mine,
vacancies and other celestial ponderings | 83
which was now a dirty blonde. Your hair is plain and girl-like. It is sandy knees and lunch packed by mom. Your hair is hands dug deep into the dewy grass and into the clay that stretches across each suburban yard. Your hair is legs locked together like two wooden chopsticks before the waiter snaps them apart, and rubs them together, shedding off the tiny splinters that cling to the sides. Then my hair turned brown and curly. I recently decided, however, that I should have blonde hair again. First it was rusty orange, then a lemon yellow, and then even paler. Now it is a silvery white. Two hundred dollars later, I feel sick. I feel as if I have betrayed my thirteen-year-old self. For the following two weeks after I bleached my hair, I could smell the sweet burning scent of peroxide in the thick steamof theshower. Small molecules of water adhering to the glass shower door in a way that I could see my own faint distorted reflection in the damp sheen. I feared the peroxide would collect on my skin and strip it of its natural pigments.
The window has a shimmery smear of condensation in the upper right hand corner, looking out on the space between two buildings. Wasted space. Each droplet glows like a gemstone adhered to the glass. Itâ€™s a picture instead of a change of the physical state of gas to liquid. There is a warm breath that must be clouding the window, or maybe the collective breath of the entire room clouds the space in between two buildings.
issue four | 84
The dictionary states that, “condensation commonly occurs when a vapor is cooled and/or compressed to its saturation limit when the molecular density in the gas phase reaches its maximal threshold.” This is interesting because I am fairly certain my breath on your forearm did the same. I tried not to kiss you because you did not want me to, but I was actually pressed so closely against you that I couldn’t move my head, my silvery blonde strands brushing your chin. No longer appealing. I was positioned in such a way that I had slipped in between that space. Lips against your skin, I breathed the condensation.
“Outer space, or simply space, is the void that exists between celestial bodies…It is not completely empty, but consists of a vacuum owing to the low density of particles.” When we were young we used to play a game. I would clench my hands into two fists and line them up side by side. Next I would press them together as hard and as firmly as I could and you would count for sixty seconds. After the time was up I would slowly drag my fists away from each other. It felt as if they were latched together by some phantom celestial force outside of my body. I felt this way. By separating into a space we could form some impossible void that, owing to a tired vacancy, would snap us back together with even more force. You can also play this game in reverse. Have your friend clamp your two hands together, and then try to pry them apart for sixty seconds. When your friend releases your hands the opposite will happen. Your fists feel like two giant wrong-sided magnets. It will feel like the two poles of the earth, or the gravitational pull of the moon, or the centrifugal spin of the planet is pulling you apart. It will feel as if you cannot bring these two bodies back together.
vacancies and other celestial ponderings | 85
“Syzygy” is the only word in the English language with three y’s. There are several definitions: 1. The conjunction of two organisms without loss of identity. The separation between the organisms might be imperceptible. Any one of the segments of an arm composed of two joints so closely united that the line of union is obliterated on the outer, though visible on the inner, side. I find the italicized part to be particularly interesting. It suggests that the seam between individual organisms can be invisible externally. But if you were to turn us inside out we would be composed of an infinite amount of fissures and divides belying our continuity. 2. Conjunction and opposition of two heavenly bodies, or either of the points at which these take place, especially in the case of the moon with the sun (new and full moon). Similarly, this suggests that there will always be a reverse and opposing force to a union between two separate things. Two separate bodies. If two bodies are nearly inseparable; if there exists a vacuum between the wasted space; if they are woven together by the fleeting existence of transparent skin and rigid bone; if they exist in relation to each other by means of incremental change…then draw me this line of separation.
I have been told before that I lack sufficient boundaries, that I cannot tell where I end and where someone else begins. I have been reminded that we do not partake in the same icy deep spring of thoughts buried beneath the earth from which I extract and construct my conscious self. But perhaps we all lack these boundaries; some of us are just more interested in the bodily vessel and that fallible space in between than others.
issue four | 86
You think that I cannot possibly understand this space because we have not shared all experiences. But I know the feeling of claustrophobia.
We are these creatures dressed in clothing. You are a strange body.
A simple reordering of a phrase can create a chasm between two people. I overheard a conversation between two people about the phrase “I love you, but” and “but, I love you.” That simple conjunction, that three letter word can dissolve the earth between two people. Neither means I love you. One is a revision and the other is a plea. How can a three-letter word move bodies?
Two years before, you exhaled the stars into the hollow of the night. They were not beautiful or sparkling or existential or older than the earth. They were just a sign that you were still breathing, clouding the navy dome of the sky with your magnetic glowing sadness. I wish I could say that I saw this, unfurling outside on the lawn in front of the lazy housing complex, curled against the humming rasping soil. Instead it was viewed from the narrow skylight in the ceiling of your bedroom, with worn white sheets so tight that we were bound together. I stayed, not because I could not extricate myself from the small space left between two unmoving bodies. I stayed because I feared that if I left, the stars would be extinguished. I feared that if I left, you would gasp the night sky right back into your trembling lungs and I would be left with no stars to guide me back out of that empty house. I know I left, but I do not recall how.
vacancies and other celestial ponderings | 87
To the blonde haired girl: did you emerge gasping for air, breathing in but never breathing out? Did you rake your hands, clawed hands, through the stagnant space, piercing the circles and circles: lashing through into the night? blonde blonde blonde blonde You canâ€™t see blonde in the dark.
We stuck our hands into the stainless steel industrial dishwashing station. I wanted to take each of your hands in mine and then pin them to your sides. I wanted to yank your small frame onto the floor and stack on top of you, the heaviness of the stars and the moon, beneath the bitter well of thoughts that are carefully stored in boxes in my basement. Lie face down on the ground. I want to see the rise and fall from above this time, from my towheaded perch. I would stay to give you company, but only until I could dispose of the tangled trail of space that hovers between us, only until I could dispose of that part of my self. There is a space between two solid buildings where time condenses. A separation. A sliver of vacancy. Yet, on more than one occasion, I have wondered if you and I are not the same person. Perhaps the body is nothing more or less than a fleshy frame or a feeble static boundary that lies in between everything else.
Edited by Melanie Abeygunawardana
issue four | 88
Hannah Fyffe Selfie 03
bluestockings | 89
Jodi Goodnough 36,835
issue four | 90
GarcĂa Sinclair Untitled
bluestockings | 91
Kat Knutsen One of Many Queens
issue four | 92
Camila Pacheco-Fores Latinidad
bluestockings | 93
this page: Tom Deininger Lovely Sushi Rat opposite page: Goldie Poblador Fall of Icarus
issue four | 94
bluestockings | 95
Cheyenne Sophia Untitled
issue four | 96
Claudia Norton Hand Fan
bluestockings | 97
Marcela Sierzega Birds in Flight
mag.com contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
friends of bluestockings is made possible in part by grants from the Brown University Creative Arts Council and Generation Progress. The Creative Arts Council supports undergraduate or graduate student projects involved in the study, critique, or production of the creative arts. Generation Progress provides funding, training, and resources to a diverse network of print, online, and broadcast media on college campuses across the county.
Brown University Queer Alliance Feminists @ Brown Findy and Watermyn Co-ops The Pembroke Center Sarah Doyle Womenâ€™s Center Yellow Peril Gallery Ana Cecilia Alvarez Todd Baker Rhonda Beck-Edwards Ivan Bernier Amara Berry
P. Butler Tony Castrigno Kristy Choi Bridget Ferrill Joan Gilbert Andrew Gutterman David Gutterman Nicole Hasslinger Barrett Hazeltine Amy LaCount Leopold Lambert
Joann Owen Coy Louise Pitt Anna Reed Alison Scott The Seawell Family Robert Self The Shack Sackler Family Kirsten Thys van den Audenaerde Tuong Vy Nguyen And our anonymous donors
t r w
same theoretical understandings of history is marginalizing. we all have our own truths and histories to live.” -krysta williams and erin konsmo feminism recognizes that the personal is political. “when I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world.” -zadie smith feminism defines justice as the end of racism, cissexism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression. “it is not our differences that divide us. it is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -audre lorde feminism is respecting people of all genders, races, and sexualities as human beings. “without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place.” -cherrie moraga feminism seeks to destabilize the status quo. “without community, there is no liberation.” -audre lorde feminism is a continuous conversation. “our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society.” -yuri kochiyama feminism is a lived practice. “if we aren’t intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks.” -kimberlé crenshaw feminism is both an intellectual framework and a political movement. “why am I compelled to write? because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear.” -gloria anzaldúa feminism validates the inclusion of lived experience and emotion within the theoretical. “the revolution against injustice needs creativity. without creativity, we can not revolt.” -nawal el saadawi feminism is a creative and generative process.
The fourth installment of the bi-annual feminist publication, bluestockings.