N OF FEMINIS TI O TV C E O IC LL O
fword board EditoratLarge EditorinChief Managing Editor Cover Design Editor Prose Editors Poetry Editors Academic Editors Submissions Editor Publicity Chair Events Chair Blog Editor Copyeditors
Anusha Alles Rachel Seville Tashjian Serena Ghanshani Hasbrouck Bailey Miller III Morgan Privitte Ali Castleman and Kara Crutcher Janet Chow and Melissa Stangl Sarah Shihadah and Emily Gerard Kira Renta Laura Koehler Pallavi Podapati Elise Mitchell Cady Chen, Eesha Sardesai and Sarah Hendry
The Fword editorial board would like to thank the Alice Paul Center and its Associate Director, Shannon Lundeen, our faculty advisor. We are very grateful to the Penn Women’s Center, Director Litty Paxton, and Program Coordinator Shaina AdamsEl Guabli; the Kelly Writer’s House and Director Jessica Lowenthal; the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing and Director Al Filreis; and the Student Activities Council for their dedicated support over the years. This journal was also made possible with the support of Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress. Campus Progress works to help young people—advocates, activists, journalists, artists—make their voices heard on issues that matter. Learn more at CampusProgress.org.
letter from the editor
When I arrived at Penn, but a lowly transfer student from a tiny women’s college, I thought: “Feminism, schmeninism.” Of course I was one, and would say so if asked, but there was no need for me to go shouting it from campus towers or screaming at someone when they said something a little bit sexist. At my old school, there was one kind of feminism, and one way to express it, and I came to Penn believing that in the real world I could really only be that way in some places. A year after coming here, I stumbled upon a magazine whose cover’s boldness was absolutely the most rad thing I’d seen at Penn: photos of a topless girl, her arms covering her nipples with sassy precision. It shocked and exhilarated me that something so badass existed at a school that sometimes felt to me so stubbornly moderate—plus it was called Fword. I attended a meeting, somewhat hesitant, but as soon as my suggestion to make cupcakes decorated like boobs was met with gratitude and enthusiasm, I knew that the way Kathie Lee needed Regis, that’s the way I needed Fword. Now, in my last semester at Penn, I’m lucky enough to be the editrixinchief of this operation. My faith in this issue, and issues past, is founded on my belief that the message of feminism, and the way in which the Penn community expresses its feminism ideas, needs to be heard. But more important to me during my time at Penn has been my faith in Fword as an institution that has an unusual ability to bring students together from all corners of campus to express the feminism that we believe in. Our ideas may not always match up, but they are always intelligent, always powerful, and always articulate. I’m thrilled that I’ve gotten to be part of an organization that has brought me to a fuller, more meaningful understanding of feminism, and by extension, a better understanding of who I am. Fword love, Rachel Tashjian Editrixinchief
mission statement Penn has an active feminist community, a fact vibrantly illustrated by campus organizations from the Alice Paul Center to the Women’s Center to the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women. In fall 2006, The Fword came together to join this community. We found inspiration in the out of print magazine Pandora’s Box, a publication of works by Penn women for a female audience; founded a decade earlier, Pandora’s Box offered an imaginative and graceful channel for feminist thought. We began to discuss how to shape and revive the magazine. Hoping to welcome a larger, more diverse group of both contributors and readers, we set out to create a space where all students could give literary and artistic voice to their ideas on feminism, which we !"#$%&'(%)*+)($,("),-)./(0#"($&&(1+%121%3$&,4(")5$"%&),,(#0(5)+%)"( #"(,)63$&($0*&1$/1#+7(89)(:$5$;1+)(<$,(/#(!)(+#/(#+&'($(0#"3:( for feminist discussion, but also a catalyst for feminist awareness in the Penn community. We titled it, The Fword: A Collection of Feminist Voices. This is the ninth issue of The Fword. Always faithful to our “Collection of Feminist Voices” mantra, we continue to highlight works expressing myriad opinions and experiences. We have biannually published our magazine since 2006, thanks to the support of our sponsor organizations, and we have increased our distribution network by joining the Penn Publications Cooperative. Since last year we have begun to organize campuswide events, hoping to encourage the feminist evolution within our peers and ourselves. The following written pieces provide just a glimpse of the feminist thought on Penn’s campus. We are thankful for the tremendous progress feminism has made, yet we know that there is even more to be thought and said, written and photographed, captured and voiced.
Table of Contents
12 How does the Media treat Women? The Story of Julia Gillard: Australiaâ€™s First Female Prime Minister.............................................................Sarah Klein 27 Mothering Myself.......................................Rachel Tashjian 50 From Fairytales to Disney: Beauty and Goodness in Female Heroines............................................Emily Gerard
6 Metaphysical Fruits and Cherries................Ariella Chivil 7 Deposits (of Nostalgia for a Life that Wasnâ€™t Quite Ours).....................................................Allison Zuckerman 10 Your Love is Too Much for Me.......................Sarah Kirsch 24 An Older Me...................................Samantha Neugebauer 46 Collapsing........................................Samantha Neugebauer 59 Male POV - The Frat Boy..............................Ariella Chivil 60 Sea Meat..........................................Samantha Neugebauer
prose 8 20 34 48
Sandwich Sexuality......................................Monika Knapp Stray Thoughts.....................................Danielle Bainbridge Catching Smoke..............................................Taylor Cook Desk Set......................................................Rachel Tashjian
metaphysical fruits and cherries Catholic dipped and naiveté coated, only when shell melted off like chocolate in a sun of college days %1%(,<#&&)+(,/"$<!)""'("):$1+4("3!!)%("$<($+%(%)=$/)% what is special about a fruit with exposed seeds? too easy now to pick off one and collect your own little piece here are my fragile hopes and dreams chop me up with preservatives, and jar me up like jelly like wine to savor, better later a stronger, spicier taste.
deposits (of nostalgia for a life that wasn’t quite ours) My mother used the jagged seashells I brought to her as ashtrays. Left on nightstands and waxed piano tops, soft cinders still got smeared into the carpet creases on the staircase. Marking routines of contempt, you know, they’re there now. Embedded. On my ninth birthday, beneath the foldout table, rubber ,9"$-+)&(.3"&)%(3-(1+/#(1/,)&0(#+(/9)(=##"4(,9"12)&)%(&1>)($(,$&/)%( slug. A popped premature pubescent pimple. You were ashamed to know that wishes were just a child’s simple way of escape. As age etched itself into the cornerstones of your face, experience hardened your arteries. I went into the bathroom and turned out the lights, but my watch glowed in the dark and kept telling me the time. I can’t help but think back to when dog hair coated my palms instead of those damp trembles. Minty morning toothpaste mixed with the aftertaste of orange juice rode with me on the bus to school, and pollen was the only thing that could make my throat itch. It’s not that life was simpler then, Then, it just lasted longer. 7
sandwich sexuality Humming softly, she slices the tomato into thirds, her knife rhythmically dictating the nameless melody like a metronome. Three slices of tomato, three slices of bread. Check. Glancing 3-($/(/9)(.&#.>4(,9)(#-)+,(/9)(0"1%5)(%##"?#+&'(*2)(,&1.),(#0( provolone left. She hurriedly jots “deli” on her already lengthy list of the day’s menial tasks. Three slices of cheese on three slices of bread. Check. An avalanche of chaotic footsteps drowns President Truman’s voice broadcasting from the radio, not that she was ")$&&'(&1,/)+1+5@(,#(,9)(A31.>)+,(9)"(-$.)4(*+1,91+5()$.9(,$+%<1.9( <1/9(/<#(,&1.),(#0(/3">)'($+%($(*+$&)(#0(:$'#++$1,)B,&$/9)")%( bread. Three sandwiches, three lunchboxes, three napkins with a sentimental “Love, Mom” scrawled on each. Check. She breathes. “Mmmm, good morning,” he whispers in her ear. She lies still in the sleeping bag, fearing she’ll be coerced into a preemptive ")+%);2#3,4(,#(/#(,-)$>4(10(,9)("),-#+%,(<1/9(,#(:3.9($,($(:30=)%( breath. He knows her well and is quick to say, “Relax, we can save the morning sex for after breakfast.” This elicits a quiet laugh from her as she kisses him on the cheek. Eyes still closed, in a gesture of gratefulness. “Fine, but you’re cooking,” she replies, only halfkidding. Inching forward in syncopated slow motion, they eventually manage to dress themselves, he in white bell !#//#:,($+%($(=#"$&(/#-4(,9)(1+($(/$//)")%(C#&&1+5(D/#+),(/B,91"/($+%( daisy dukes hidden by a mess of tangled, sunlit hair. They crawl out of the tent and are welcomed by the swirl of mingling campers, most already stoned and surrounded by halfeaten strips of bacon. “You make the toast, I’ll roll the joint?” he inquires to her across the campground. She nods silently, smiles and walks barefoot to /9)(*")(-1/7((D9)(1,($&12)7 8
Tick tock, tick tock. Sigh. Exasperation growing. Eyes rolling. Fingers drumming. “WOMAN, get your ass in here!” he yells to the empty room. The hostility in his voice threatens to shatter the wood panels lining the wall of their uncomfortably crowded trailer. E)(91/.9),(3-(91,(-$+/,($+%(<"$-,(91,(,/1.>'(,$3,$5)(*+5)",( around a warm bottle of Bud Light. Sip. Burp. Still waiting. NBC news, E! True Hollywood Story, King of the Hill…the "):#/)(1,($+(1+,30*.1)+/(#3/&)/(0#"(91,(-$&-$!&)(0"3,/"$/1#+7(FG9)")( the FUCK is my sandwich?!” Much better. A tired tiptoe becomes a subdued entrance, and in the doorway arrives a woman—or, rather, an ornamental adjunct sitting forgotten on the windowsill, out of season and stripped of worth. In one hand she holds a plate crowned by 1,500 greasy calories; a single lit cigarette burns in the other. She has no idea who she is. I’m wearing a black tshirt and red underwear. Alone in my bedroom, I mentally rehash last night’s perpetuated stumble through Smoke’s. Remnants of mascara cling desperately to my lashes; they are the only tangible proof I have of the night’s excursion. I cringe silently as I sit up…what day is it? It’s Friday. My roommate calls my name: “Monika?” I acknowledge my existence from behind the closed door, worried he’s about to chide me for leaving that unwashed cereal bowl…and spoon, and glass, and pile of plates now bearing a striking resemblance to the Leaning Tower of Pisa…in the sink. I’m wrong. He asks if I want a sandwich. Pause. A sandwich. My male roommate is offering me—a female with whom he shares only a platonic ")&$/1#+,91-?$(")$&B&10)(,$+%<1.97((H(,:1&)4(,/"355&1+5(/#(,/1=)( my sarcastic laughter. Seriously, I could author tomes of cynical commentary about the fact that I should be the one making him a sandwich. Instead, I respond: “Alright.” Fresh spinach, sundried tomatoes and grilled chicken breast dressed in warm pesto sauce and enveloped between two slices of lightly toasted whole wheat bread. Nothing too complicated, too hard to pronounce. I thank him genuinely, retreat to my pile of pillows and decide to devote /9)(%$'(/#($(:$"$/9#+(#0(I$%(I)+7((H($:(,$/1,*)%7 9
your love is too much for me Your love is too much for me. Your ardor is suffocating. I am the deepsea diver and you are the leaden metal suit, pulling me down into the icy depths. Your affection is Memphis in August. I am drenched with $+61#3,(,<)$/4(,/1=)%(!'('#3"(,<)&/)"1+5(93:1%1/'7(J#3($")(/9)( -#1,#+#3,(2)+#:(#0($(.#!"$7(J#3"()(1+*&/"$/),(:'(!&##%7( It marches upon my defenses while I’m asleep and when the morning comes, I can’t escape the nightmare. Your yearning is a merciless serpent. I am the prey struggling in your fatal embrace. Your scales shave away my skin until I am $,("$<($+%(-3/"1%($,($(.9):1.$&(!3"+7((J#3(#00)"(3-('#3"(*%)&1/'( as an apple only to cut out my tongue after I take a bite. You are indomitable, like a maelstrom that defeats the sailor with its unabating plunge into the abyss. I am allergic to your intimacy. My immune system is rendered useless. Your devotion is relentlessly constricting anaphylaxis. I inhale molasses when you are near. Your touch evokes hives from which I will never recover. I tear off my skin to dig at that itch that echoes to my bones. Your asphyxiating kiss is the bile )"3-/1+5(0"#:(:'(,/#:$.97(H(-3"5)('#37(J#3(=##%(/9"#359(:'( throat like acid rain. You smother me like infection. You are the -)":$+)+/(,#")(1+(:'(:#3/9($+%(%1,$!&1+5(1+=3)+;$7(J#3($")( that one thing I remembered after it was too late. 10
Your sex is the strangulation of an assassin. I feel your gloved hands around my neck. You are swaddling wrapped so tight I can’t feel my hands. Your worship is a tsunami devastating my shores. I feel the dull sting of detergent as you wipe clean my thoughts and rinse my mind of purpose. Your passion is the incessant shrieking of a cat in heat. Your adoration is the caffeinated ramblings of a manicdepressive. Your desires give me whiplash. Your doting blinds me. I stare into the belly of the sun and I feel my retinas melting like radioactive sludge. You are the penetrating ringing of a supersonic alarm. Your infatuation is so blaring, I grit my teeth until they fracture and crumble out of my mouth like shrapnel falling to the ground. Your fondness is the wretched, rotten stench of biological decay. Your love is much too much for me. Or at least that’s how I imagine it would be if you didn’t just ignore me instead.
how does the media treat women? the story of Julia Gillard: Austraila’s !"#$%&'()*'%+",('% minister
( H/(<$,+K/(3+/1&(L3+)(MNON(/9$/(P3,/"$&1$(5$1+)%(1/,(*",/( female Prime Minister. Although Julia Gillard’s rise to power was not exactly a traditional one, much of the media coverage she received during her campaign was very traditional in its treatment of her gender. Although some articles provided fair, nonsexist coverage of Gillard and her opposition, Tony Abbott, many others exhibited dismaying evidence of conventional patriarchic ideas. H+(-$"/1.3&$"4(/9)(.#2)"$5)($!#3/(Q1&&$"%(")/$1+)%($(0)<(%)*+1+5( themes; namely, attempts to feminize her or portray her as a “real woman”; commentary about her single marital status, her childlessness, and her relationship with partner Tim Mathieson; coverage about her parents and family; and endless remarks about her physical appearance. Indeed, the titles of the articles themselves and the vocabulary therein highlighted the oftensexist undertones of Gillard’s campaign coverage. Most often, journalists responded to Gillard’s rather “masculine” aggressive ascent to power by trying to feminize her. In her famous spread in Australian Women’s Weekly, Australia’s largest selling women’s magazine, the journalists admitted that, 12
“the idea was always to compile a portrait of the PM as a woman. Her policy stances were being analyzed and debated in newspapers and on radio and TV every day. Our job was to try to get beyond the political persona and portray the woman behind.” Although this may seem prima facie like a legitimate focus for a story, and in certain cases it may be, it also seems to suggest that a political persona is incompatible with a feminine persona; in other words, that the political and the feminine are two separate realms and must be examined as such. Undoubtedly, Australian Women’s Weekly might not be the best place to look for ungendered coverage of a female candidate, especially considering its track record: in 1998, former Labor candidate Cheryl Kernot appeared on the cover wearing a red gown and feather boa! Nevertheless, articles about the Australian Women’s Weekly spread referred to it as part of the Gillard camp’s campaign strategy to appeal to women voters. What does this say about politicians’ and political experts’ perceptions of women voters? It seems to suggest that women voters do not care about the issues, and are more interested in reading about Gillard’s partner and seeing her dolled up in makeup and stilettos. This very notion is not only infantilizing; it is also deeply insulting to women voters’ intelligence, comprehension of politics, and concern for the real issues of the day. Unfortunately, Australian Women’s Weekly did not stop its sexist coverage there. The magazine focused most of its attention on her personal life rather than her political accomplishments, becoming most intrusive in reference to her romantic partners. As one article recounted, “Clearly uncomfortable at the prospect of laying bare her past relationships, she grudgingly accounted for each of her more prominent former boyfriends… It was, we thought, of interest to our readers to get a rounder sense of the woman who had so suddenly become our prime minister and that meant delving beyond the politics and into the personal.” Why would a reader need to know the personal relationship history of Julia Gillard? The idea of a reporter asking a male candidate to list his past girlfriends seems ludicrous, and that’s because it is. However, tactics like these were repeatedly used in interviews of 13
Gillard and in stories about her, usually in a misguided attempt to uncover the “real woman” behind the politician. Another article tried to feminize Gillard by describing her as apologizing profusely when she was late for her plane. According to Deborah Tannen, ritual apologizing in conversation is a very feminine practice that is learned in childhood. Men usually avoid this type of ritual apologizing in order to avoid being put in a “onedown” position of power. In this way, by beginning the article <1/9(Q1&&$"%K,(F=3""'(#0($-#3),4R(/9)(S#3"+$&1,/(1,(1%)+/10'1+5( a traditionally feminine characteristic in order to subconsciously identify and reinforce that Gillard is a female from the getgo. On a somewhat ironic (and perhaps intentional?) note, the sentence in which this apologizing occurs can easily be seen as a metaphor for the emergence of women in politics as a whole. The sentence reads, “When, eventually, Australia’s most famous redhead bursts onto the plane and bustles her way into the main cabin, her )+/"$+.)(1,(-").)%)%(<1/9($(=3""'(#0($-#3),7R This phrase subtly 1:-&1),(/9$/($&/9#359(Q1&&$"%(9$,(*+$&&'(!"#>)+(1+/#(/9)(-#&1/1.$&( “major leagues,” she is still, underneath it all, a woman who, like all women, must apologize for and continually defend her actions. A similar approach used to feminize Julia Gillard was the emphasis on her ability and willingness to compromise on policy outcomes. One article claimed that, “she’s a big believer in shades of grey…She stands by what she says but she doesn’t insist on her outcome.” Tony Abbott, on the other hand, was portrayed as being “well known for his combative parliamentary style.” This is not surprising when we consider traditional gender roles. Throughout history, women have generally been thought of as peacemakers, $+%($")()6-)./)%(/#(!)(:#")(=)61!&)($+%(/#(.#:-"#:1,)(#+( their beliefs to make others happy. In this sense, Gillard is now portrayed as a peacemaker—or compromiser—on a national scale. ( T2)+(,#:)(#0(/9)(,-).1*.(<#"%,($+%(-9"$,),(.9#,)+(1+( the articles were used to emphasize Gillard’s femininity. When describing Gillard putting down a water balloon, one article wrote, “She gingerly laid down her weapon” (since women obviously aren’t too good with weapons, even if they are just water balloons). 14
The article also described her “throaty giggle.” Certainly a male politician would not be described as “giggling” about anything. The article further claimed that, “she listens.” Listening, like apologizing and compromising, is another traditionally feminine attribute. While men can and do undoubtedly listen to people as well, listening is generally associated with passiveness, compassion, and caring, all of which are qualities traditionally associated with women. The journalist also used the word “seductive” to describe Gillard’s ability to convince others of her leadership abilities. For most, the word seductive is sexual and even racy, highlighting Gillard’s status as a woman. Another article described her as having “softened” a policy proposal. Rarely are men described as being soft or having any connection with softness; softness and the ability to soften things are distinctly feminine qualities. Nowhere was the tugofwar more obvious than in the coverage of her relationship with her longterm partner, Tim Mathieson. Here, the struggle took two distinct forms: either Tim was portrayed as Julia’s backbone and her source of strength, or Tim and Julia’s traditional gender roles were reversed with Tim as the “wife” and Julia as the “husband.” For example, in an article entitled “Julia Gillard is P3,/"$&1$K,(+)<(U"1:)(I1+1,/)"4R(/9)(*",/(0)<(,)+/)+.),(<)")(+#/( about Gillard, as you might expect, but rather about Mathieson supporting her and praising her. The story’s subheading was, FV)<(U"1:)(I1+1,/)"(L3&1$(Q1&&$"%(<$,(,<#"+(1+($,(P3,/"$&1$K,(*",/( 27th prime minister today, watched by her partner Tim Mathieson.” It was almost as if the public needed reassurance that there was a man by her side, because a lone female in the country’s highest #0*.)(<#3&%(!)(/##(3++$/3"$&(#"(1+/1:1%$/1+57(( Another article emphasized that “Mr. Mathieson was the *",/(-)",#+(I,7(Q1&&$"%(/3"+)%(/#('),/)"%$'($0/)"(!)1+5(,<#"+(1+( as Prime Minster by GovernorGeneral Quentin Bryce. He gave her a reassuring hug and a quick congratulatory kiss.” What’s of interest here is not that Gillard hugged and kissed Mathieson in itself; it’s that he gave her a “reassuring” hug. “Reassuring” 15
implies that Gillard was weak and needed support—support that only a man could provide. In this way, the phrasing of the sentence put Mathieson in the active, strong position, while simultaneously making Gillard appear needy and weak. A third example was an article that claimed, “You wouldn’t doubt her commitment, but Q1&&$"%(1,+K/(ONN(-)"(.)+/(0#.3,)%(#+(/9)(:$1+(5$:)7((W#"(/9)(*",/( time in her life, she’s with a man who does not breathe politics.” This article was clearly suggesting that Gillard was “distracted” and not completely focused because of her partner. It seems extremely unlikely that a male politician would be described as not on his “Agame” because he was distracted by his girlfriend or wife. One example of the second phenomenon, in which Tim and Julia were portrayed as feminine and masculine, respectively, was seen in an article entitled “Gillard’s partner Tim Mathieson ‘bubbly.’” In said article, Mathieson was referred to as “a very bubbly guy.” The journalist also wrote, “He kept to himself, he’s not a gossiper.” The journalist’s choice of the words “bubbly” and “gossiper” were clearly part of an attempt to feminize Tim, since they are terms normally associated with women. The very fact that Tim is a hairdresser and that the couple met at his hair salon was also often quoted in articles, since it demonstrates some semblance of a role reversal. Another article detailed how Mathieson would cook for Gillard since, “[s]he eats out all week so it’s nice for her to come back to something healthy.” By emphasizing Mathieson’s roles as a hairdresser and cook, journalists often tried /#(F+#":$&1;)R(81:($+%(L3&1$K,(")&$/1#+,91-(!'(0#".1+5(1/(/#(*/(1+/#( a traditional, married heterosexual couple’s mold, even if that meant settling for Tim as the feminine partner and Gillard as the masculine partner. The media were willing to do all of this rather than adjust to the modern, equal partner relationship that Tim and Julia share, simply to preserve a somewhat traditional sense of normal gender roles. A similar recurring theme in her media coverage dealt with Gillard’s childlessness. Even before she was campaigning as Prime Minister, she had to deal with a barrage of inquiries from 16
opposing politicians and journalists as to whether she regretted not having children, and whether she would be able to be an effective politician without kids. One of the most famous and controversial comments made about her childlessness was made by liberal Senator Bill Heffernan back in 2007, when he claimed that Gillard <$,(+#/(A3$&1*)%(/#(&)$%(P3,/"$&1$($+%(.#3&%(+#/(3+%)",/$+%(9)"( community because she was “deliberately barren.” This comment caused a lot of political backlash, most amusingly with the creation of a blog entitled “Deliberately Barren” (http://deliberatelybarren. blogspot.com), which contains a section linking to other feminist, childless women’s blogs entitled “More barren heathens.” Comments such as these certainly did not stop when Gillard became Prime Minister. Much ado was made about the fact that, “Gillard ain’t no soccer mum.” While this was factually true, and not an inherently negative thing, opposing politicians and the media often used it against her and forced her to defend her choices. While simultaneously trying to discredit critics by saying they were oldfashioned and out of touch, Gillard also made comments “admitting” that it would be virtually impossible to be a mother and a topranking politician. While there may be some element of truth to this, it is also problematic in itself because it reinforces traditional stereotypes that women and mothers can’t be effective politicians. That sentiment also highlights the idea that Gillard would have been similarly criticized had she actually had children. In this way, Gillard was forced into a metaphorical corner where she was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t. In a similar manner, Gillard’s family, particularly her parents, were scrutinized in many media articles. One article was tellingly entitled, “Julia Gillard’s parents ‘elated.’” The entire article detailed Gillard’s parents’ reactions to her becoming Prime Minister in a way that was infantilizing, and suggested that her parents’ approval was still necessary. Another article also stressed this imagined dependence on her parents, as if she couldn’t have done it on her own. According to the article, “In many ways, she is the arrow shot from her father’s bow.” This metaphor evokes an image of Gillard as nothing but a carbon copy or a product of her 17
0$/9)"@($,(10(91,(1+=3)+.)4(+#/(9)"(9$"%(<#">4(1,(/9)(")$&(")$,#+(/9$/( she is Prime Minister today. Many articles also used descriptions of Gillard’s physical appearance as a way to feminize her, or to try to portray the “real woman” behind her Prime Minister “façade.” One article made a direct contrast between these two supposedly separate spheres by saying, “On the nightly news, she is cool and composed. Yet as Bryce Corbett discovers, you only have to put our new PM 1+(,/1&)//#,($+%(%)&2)($(&1//&)(1+/#(9)"(-)",#+$&(&10)(/#(*+%(/9)( woman behind the politician.” In other words, one cannot be a cool, composed politician and a woman simultaneously. One particularly surprising example was how one article commented, “Julia teetered awkwardly in stilettos.” The phrase “teetering awkwardly” does not lend itself to descriptions of a strong, 0#":1%$!&)(&)$%)"7((X'(3,1+5(9)"(*",/(+$:)(#+&'4(1+(.#+S3+./1#+( with this weaksounding phrase, one can’t help but conjure up 1:$5),(#0($(,9'4(3+.#+*%)+/(1+0$+/(/$>1+5(1/,(*",/(,/)-,7 Even the very titles of many of the articles harbored sexist sentiments. One striking example was the informal way in which :$+'($"/1.&),(3,)%(Q1&&$"%K,(*",/(+$:)7((FX)91+%(/9)(,.)+),(<1/9( Julia,” “Our Julia,” and “Being Julia” were just a few examples of this phenomenon. It’s hard to imagine similarly titled articles for her opposition, Tony Abbott. “Our Tony”? “Being Tony?” If that doesn’t strike a chord, try imagining “Being Barack” or “Being George W.” here in the United States. This sounds strangely personal, inappropriate and infantilizing; however, let’s not forget “Hillary’s” campaign or “Sarah’s” potential vice presidency. Other titles were telling as well. One of the most striking was “Business as Usual for Gillard the Caretaker.” Although the article itself was not particularly sexist in its coverage, the title that was chosen speaks volumes. The role of caretaker, and the notion of caring in general, is historically associated with women. Thus, by using the word “caretaker” in the title of the article, the article <$,($&:#,/(")1:$51+1+5(Q1&&$"%($,(/9)(5#2)"+:)+/K,(:#/9)"(*53")4( taking care of her “children,” the Australian people. Julia Gillard’s election to Prime Minister represents 18
$(,15+1*.$+/(,/)-(0#"<$"%(0#"(P3,/"$&1$+(<#:)+($+%(<#:)+( everywhere. But media coverage of her is proof that there is clearly more work that needs to be done. While celebrating this political milestone, those striving for the feminist cause must remain aware of the subtle but highly destructive ways that sexism and stereotyping remain barriers to true gender equality.
She entered her bedroom, exhausted from the day. She could still hear the “thud” from the accident she had just passed on the street. One car had nudged the rear fender of another. The guilty party had lifted his hands, palm up, to the level of his ,9#3&%)",($,(10(/#(,$'(/#(/9)($..3,1+5()'),(")=)./)%(1+(/9)(<#3+%)%( party’s rear view mirror, “What could I have done?” “It wasn’t my fault.” “I didn’t see you.” “I’m sorry” and nothing at all. She had watched in morbid open fascination. In fact she had been so !3,'(&##>1+5($/(/9)(.$",(/9$/(,9)("$+(9)$%(*",/(1+/#($(!#'4(<9#( was also busy street watching. The contact shocked them. Their gazes skittered away, darting quickly between other passersby, buildings in the distance, the sidewalk and their own feet. Both were embarrassed to be caught so neither offered a gesture of explanation or a lackluster apology. ( X3/(+#<(,9)(<$,(9#:)7(D9)(=#--)%(9)"(!#%'(#+/#(9)"( raised bed, exhaling an awkward noise as she landed inelegantly 1+($(-1&)7(D9)(<$,()$/1+5($(-#-,1.&)7(P(.9)$-4($"/1*.1$&(#+)(/9$/( merited the diminutive name “freezie” pop. That is what she had always called them. This one was in a thin plastic tube about a foot long and tasted to her like sugar water; it was bright blue and childish. She removed her glasses, looking upwards at her hideous popcorn ceiling. Without them the pattern looked softly blurred, slightly less horrible, and, most surprisingly, more like popcorn than it did when than it did in its proper focus. She wondered again who had chosen it. She ate the freezie pop in familiar stages. First she chewed. 20
She ground the ice between her bared teeth, which had turned a murky greenish color from the dye. She always bit the ice into pieces inside of the wrapper (her teeth are very sensitive) before rolling the bits up through the tube with her tongue. Next she massaged them out of the open end and into her mouth with her lips (which were not nearly as sensitive as her teeth). She drank the leftover juice last, suckling the whole thing and watching the liquid run towards her like blue blood from an I.V. bag. She was worried about how young she felt. ( G9)+(,9)(*+1,9)%4(,9)("#&&)%(#2)"(#+/#(9)"("159/(,1%)4( laying the wrapper on the edge of the bed. She lightly placed the back of her hand on the outside of her blue mouth. Her smiling lips were understandably cold, but nonetheless the sensation surprised her, as if these cold lips could not possibly be hers, pressed against her warm hand. She began to test the edges and center of her lips with that same large and patient hand. She has always been inordinately proud of both her hands and her lips. Her hands because even though they are masculine in shape and size, they are also expressive and delicate. They can hold a lot of things. Her lips because of their plump shape and tendency to smirk quickly and mischievously when things are funny only to her, or when she feels threatened. Her frozen lips were slipping from a smile into a smirk now. She explored the alien sensation of her familiar expression on the bones, skin, and veins of the back of her hand. She allowed her smirk to blossom horizontally until her greenish teeth were exposed. Her teeth grazed the new scar she had gotten from the stove burner last year and the old one she had from cutting her hand with a knife 15 years ago. She shivered. The cold of her lips seemed to be transmitted through her skin into her blood. As the shiver trickled down the center of her body, past her chest to her pelvis, she was suddenly struck by how very amusing and dramatic this moment was. She imagined some earnest as the day is long, lovelorn, young hero walking into her room at that very moment. He would see her blueish lips; he would hear her shallow, tired breathing; 21
,))(9)"(&##,)&'(.&#,)%(=1.>)"1+5(=),9'()')&1%,7(E)(<#3&%(#!,)"2)( these things and decide in that moment to kiss her. His decision would be shaped by the stories he had heard about girls like her. Girls with permafrost blue lips and sleeping eyes and weak chests. He would put his hot lips on hers, trying to warm her, wake her. But she would be inconveniently asleep. She could not tell him to save his hot breath and lips to tell her things. Things that would be enough to wake her (although she was napping, not half dead). And if she was awake she could say things like this to him: My fortune cookie once told me to “Speak kindly and softly” but I have yet to master the art and I don’t know how to quiet my laugh in public or how to lighten the fall of my footsteps and I hung that white paper fortune above my desk so I can look at it every day to remind myself what the meaning of demure is. But let’s forget about that (if we can) and sit next to each other in companionable silence so I can hear the nervous churning of our stomachs and you can tell me all the beautiful new and profound things you are thinking that you want to give to me and that I want to share with you but let’s agree to be silent, for now. ! "#$%&'!()%*!(%!+,%#-'!#*.!/011!+,%#-!2&+$'!/011!+#3!345&! name aloud because it tastes like good food to me, nourishing and substantive, tethering me to you in public because when I call out to you and you respond it holds the most gracious welcoming, and when I say it in the silence, or when it is you and I alone it resonates with the depth of an intimacy born out of a mutual voracity. During your time to speak you can tell me sweet true things I cannot see in myself, like how I wear my clothes, and the way I touch the bridge of my nose even when my glasses are gone and how I always smooth my hand nervously over my heart when I’m $)6*-6*7!.%%,13!#*.!$)%!*%&845+!(#3!/!&59!:3!$(4!2*7%&+!$47%$)%&! because I miss cigarettes and the exact size and shape of the deep brown birthmark on the back of my left thigh. She could tell him to save his warm breath for these things. 89$/(/#5)/9)"(/9)'(.#3&%(0#"5)/(%):3")($+%(")%)*+)(<9$/(1/(:)$+,( to speak kindly and softly. But he did not know how to read her, 22
write her, speak kindly and softly to her, or about her. She was, or at least she felt, untranslatable. As she came back to herself, the outlandishness of this *./1#+$&(,.)+)(,3%%)+&'(,/"3.>(9)"($+%(,9)(!)5$+(/#(&$359(%&'( into the back of her hand. The blunt force of her sudden outburst was enough to bend her wrist, dislodging it from its resting place #+(9)"(:#3/97(C)=)612)&'(,9)(,&$--)%(1/(!$.>4(-$&:(%#<+(/91,( /1:)4(1+($(,)&0B.#+,.1#3,(3+&)$"+)%(5),/3")(#0(,/1=1+5($+%(,)&0B restraint. She laughed, controllably, until she realized that her hand could no longer feel her lips. They had slowly changed to match the temperature of her hand and with this realization the full weight of the day settled heavily around her. It settled around her face, and her legs, and her elbows, and /9)(/1.>&1,9(!$.>,(#0(9)"(>+)),4($+%(/9)(=$-(#0(0$/(3+%)"(9)"($":4( and the part of her scalp that tingles when someone is watching you. Most noticeably it settled squarely on her stomach, which at that moment was heaving upwards to meet her clenching chest. D9)("#&&)%(#+/#(9)"(!$.>4(-&$.1+5(9)"(9$+%,(,/10='(#+()1/9)"(,1%)(#0( her. She allowed herself to begin to cry, dispassionately, out of her left eye. She gave each tear its number: 1…2…3…4…She waited tensely as number 5 skidded down her cheek before settling into /9)(9#&&#<(#0(9)"(&)0/()$"7(P!"3-/&'4(,9)(,/3.>(9)"(*+5)"(1+,1%)(1/4( chasing the errant moisture, circling it around like a swimmer fresh from the ocean, trying to evacuate the salted water. She listened to the faint popping sound it made with each full rotation. This rhythmic noise slowly replaced thought until she sighed, indignant, and went to sleep.
an older me Drawn by two black cats, my chariot– /9)(=))/1+5(.#&#"(#0 glowing igneous on its cooling journey from underworld magma to !$,$&/(+)<!#"+(Y(1,(-)/"1*)% by what is to come.
Twentytwo, I stand astride the dray’s semicircular framework, unafraid of the open back. Testing the tectonic plates, <1/9(-"1:#5)+1/3")(.#+*%)+.)4 I am pulled through the conditions of time to a holding cell, called Oak Hill or Apple Meadows or Maple Grove, the same monikers of summer camps, yet the babies put here are neither tanned nor canoeing; these places are the hors d’oeuvre before cemetery, where America keeps her rotten parents. 24
And in the window, under a black nurse’s thumb, is a woman I already pity, and fear. Edging nothingness, she is me times a billion mouthfuls of water, a million Facebook logins, a thousand fucks, two loves; she spoons nonexistence every night and makes memory her bridegroom. Inside her graylaced bones, her mediocrity accumulates and =$"),(&1>)(,1&2)"'(-&3/#+13:7 With sudden decision, the dark felines pause and lick their noble paws unconcerned, and the chariot hardens to rock. It is all done for me; I am inside with my older self and she tells me to stop. I try to stop. But the clockless forces me to her. I meld into her; my unlined forehead, my young girl breasts, my verdurous ambition, becomes wrinkled, sagged, goblinfooted. 25
I cannot run or type or see or hear and my mouth drips with drool I cannot feel. I am no longer able to produce children nor passion in myself or others. As the old, I am never old; only an impounded young woman, with the human sentence watching the cats slink away from the pasture.
mothering myself ( H(,-)+/(:'(*",/(/<#(')$",(#0(9159)"()%3.$/1#+($/(X"'+(I$<"( College, a tony women’s college on the Philadelphia Main Line. It’s easy to see how the college, nestled in a suburban ivory tower, with collegiate gothic buildings gently dotting its hilly &$+%,.$-)4(#+.)(9$%(/9)(")-3/$/1#+(#0($(9159B.&$,,(*+1,91+5(,.9##&( where you might learn a thing or two about art and literature. But the pendulum has swung forcefully in the opposite direction. As a former Marwter (the nickname is a wry nod to our ceaseless dedication to academic pursuits), I can attest that the school is now a hotbed of feminist zest. Class discussions buzzed with the question of “what this means for us.” Dining services constructed their meals around what was nutritionally best for women: foods that were calcium and proteinrich, with free Luna bars for all. Even social activities usually centered on celebrating our power as a group of brilliant women: the year’s most popular event was the Bra Dance, in which we gathered in the school’s Oxbridgeesque Thomas Great Hall to dance in just our bras and underwear. Yet something was always lurking uncomfortably on the edge of all this exuberant feminism. Next door was Haverford College, the quietly quirky liberal arts school that had once been our male counterpart. For twentysome years it has been a happily coed Quaker commune. They were as selfcontained and cheerfully moderate as we were passionate and romantically revolutionary. And when the bicollege consortium brought us into classes together, I saw our Bryn Mawr philosophy fraying at the seams. 27
The combined student makeup of the consortium meant that the male to female ratio hovered around 1:3. Skewing the ratio further was the fact that I was an English and Art History double major, meaning that I was usually in classes whose numbers tipped heavily in the femme direction. But an unsettling phenomenon permeated my two years there. The small, intellectually curious atmospheres of both schools meant that all students were eager class participants, and I was continually impressed by my classmates’ observations and thoughts. Yet even with a consistent female majority, there was always one guy who was the expert. In my Literature of 1950s Conformity Culture course, for example, there was Isaac. Dweeby with thick glasses, he had a ,)):1+5&'()+%&),,(,3--&'(#0(ZDDC(S#>)(/B,91"/,([0"#+/\(FP/(*",/( I was Russian”; back: “…but then I started Stalin”). He had an intellectual barb for every thought his mostly female classmates produced. If one of my fellow Mawrters pointed out that On the Road was a sexist and insular boy’s club, then Isaac asked if we’d ever considered that Kerouac was just using sexism to mask his fear of his homosexual attraction to Neal Cassady. A classmate might come to the defense of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’s X)/,'(0#"(9)"(3-,)/(1+(/9)(0$.)(#0(9)"(93,!$+%K,(1+*%)&1/'4(!3/(H,$$.( pointed out that we might consider her continual support of her husband despite his mistakes progressive, and their marriage a model of equality. I was never annoyed with him or felt any ill will. In fact, I found his observations exciting and challenging. Women made these kinds of points in our Bryn Mawronly classes all the time, myself included. But somehow we didn’t have the balls to do it when we had someone with real balls around. ( D#(<)(<#:)+(!).$:)(/9)(1+/)&&)./3$&($*.1#+$%#,7(]&$,,( was an exercise in pursuit of what we believed the professor might be thinking. And we did all the mental reps necessary to get there (rigorous though those reps were). Meanwhile, the Isaacs of the bicollege challenged our assumptions and chipped away at our conclusions. In other words, the guys became the experts. 28
After two years, I decided to leave Bryn Mawr. The classroom dynamics weren’t the main reason by far. But after I left, I noticed that the phenomenon wasn’t just a bico one. It almost seemed like a fact of life. Consider this advertisement from 1960s England:
“The Chef does everything but cook—that’s what wives are for! I’m giving my wife a “Kenwood Chef.” The wife cooks—she follows a recipe, a list that tells her exactly what to do and when—but the Chef, a handless mixer, does everything: it’s a machine, it’s expensive, it’s powerful, and it’s )0*.1)+/7(J#3(>+#<4(:$+(,/3007(^0(.#3",)4(/9)(-3".9$,1+5(-#<)"( lies with the man, so he’s the one who gets to make the decision to buy. Even though he’ll never be the one using the damn machine, he gets to pick it. It’s his kitchen standin. Of course the social newsprint of this ad is yellowing. It’s hard not to crack a smile at how outdated it seems. But its -"1+.1-&),(,/1&&(9#&%(*":(/#%$'\(<#:)+($")(_+$/3"$&&'K(5##%(cooks who are expected to whip up healthy dinners for the family, but men are chefs, who are gastronomically inventive as the heads of restaurants. This dynamic extends far out of the kitchen and the 29
classroom. The public relations agency at which I interned a few ,3::)",($5#(<$,4(&1>)(:#,/(.#::3+1.$/1#+,(.#:-$+1),4(*&&)%( with women. But the teams were usually headed by male vice presidents. My humanities courses at Penn are dotted with men and dominated by women, but most of my professors are men. My creative writing courses are packed with women. And according to a 2007 Associated Press poll, the average women devours nine !##>,($(')$"(<91&)(:)+(")$%(S3,/(*2)71 But bestof list after list reveals a gender distribution so biased it’s disturbing: Publisher’s Weekly’s list of the 10 Best Books of 2009 infamously included zero women authors.2 The Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels of all time has only 12 women (with no Joyce Carol Oates, no Mrs. Dalloway, no Toni Morrison!).3 NPR’s 2009 list of the best novels of the twentieth century has just six (Morrison is here, but Oates, Margaret Atwood, and Eudora Welty are just a sampling of the uninvited).4 As Cate Marvin, founder of Women in Letters and Literary Arts, told The Guardian in response to the Publisher’s Weekly snub, “It continues to surprise me that literary editors are so comfortable with their bias towards male writing, despite the great and obvious contributions that women authors make to our contemporary literary culture.”5 So if our talents are clearly equal, what’s keeping us in the proverbial kitchen when we’re up to the task of heading the three Michelin star restaurant? Of course, the reasons are many. The western subjugation of women is an institution so old that no single feminine mystique or female president or burnt bra will end it. It will take years and decades more to untangle. With the responsibility of raising children still falling primarily on females, the intelligence and academic success of young women making college admissions all the more competitive, and the pressure to be attractive ever mounting, being a highachieving female can be a hardknock life. But a recent study hints that there may be something more insidious contributing to the problem. In October 2010, British 30
parenting site Netmums released the results of a 2,672person survey revealing that mothers are twice as likely to criticize their daughters as their sons.6 Furthermore, mothers were more likely to describe their sons in a positive light—as “funny,” “cheeky,” “playful” and “loving”—and their daughters in a negative one: “eager to please,” “serious” and “argumentative.” To me, this survey does not seem to reveal fundamental gender differences between males and females. Females, after all, are incredibly affectionate, often more so than males. And it is the males in my life—my brother, my father, my male classmates (like masterofthecounterpoint Isaac), my male professors and the very trope of the ‘rebel’—who I would describe as “argumentative.” Instead, it indicates a parenting bias. Females are not more worthy of parental criticism—mothers are just more willing to dish it out to them. Of course, this is a British survey, so the application of the survey results across cultures, even one as similar to the UK as United States is, can’t possibly be seamless. But a 1998 study, published by Bates College gender studies professor Emily W. Kane, suggests that the high degree of contact between American men and women means that women usually develop ideas $!#3/(5)+%)"(,/"$/1*.$/1#+4(-$"/1.3&$"&'()6-&$+$/1#+,(0#"(5)+%)"( inequality, that are similar to men’s.7 In other words, it’s not a stretch to say that American women might describe their male and female children in a similar way, because they may be taking their views on gender differences from the guys. So how does this bring us back to Isaac and us girls in the classroom? Psychotherapist Crissy Duff, one of the survey’s analysts, told the BBC that women’s “experience of receiving more negative reinforcements for stepping out of line than their male counterparts can lead women to view themselves as more needing of censure.”8 And in the classroom, the most interesting ideas are often the most iconoclastic ones. It’s more enriching to challenge the professor than to guess what he or she is thinking. Men’s rebellious acts are often overlooked—the survey stated that 1 in 5 mothers admitted to letting their sons get away 31
with things they would punish their daughters for—and in fact they are often rewarded for them. Meanwhile, the girls are punished for similar acts, our desires to challenge suppressed or written off as “argumentative.” As Duff says, “women in particular seem to carry the feelings of parental disapproval and negative typing into their adulthood,” meaning that the female reticence in the classroom, kitchens, workplace, and beyond could very well be a byproduct of mothering. But I do not want to say that the fault lies with the mothers, because that would be blaming the woman, and what a tired fairytale that is. Instead, the power lies with mothers. How mothers treat their children, and how all of us treat those younger than us, is crucial in helping women gain the foothold on classroom discussions, the workplace and popular culture that they deserve. I#/9)",($")(/9)(:#,/(-#<)"03&(1+=3)+.)(#+(%$359/)",(/#(9)&-(/9):( 5"#<(1+/#(/9)(%'+$:1.4(.#+*%)+/4(,#:)/1:),(")!)&&1#3,(,9#),( made for them. My mother heaps as much praise on me as she does my brother. It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable challenging Isaac and the ideas of my other classmates (male or female) because of some error my mother made. After all, I was sent home in second grade 0#"(>1.>1+5($(*0/9(5"$%)(!#'(<9#(<$,(/)$,1+5(:'(!"#/9)"?$+($./( :'(:#/9)"(9159B*2)%(:)(0#"($0/)"(/$>1+5($<$'(:'(X$"!1),(0#"($( week. She has nurtured the rebellious spirit in me. But no one mother can do everything. So it is my responsibility to continue to nurture that spirit, to be daring in the classroom, at work, and elsewhere, knowing that it can lead to something greater. I need to mother myself.
Endnotes Weiner, Eric. “Why Women Read More Than Men : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. NPR, 5 Sept. 2007. Web. 23 Oct. 2010. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story. php?storyId=14175229>. 2 “Best Books of 2009.” Book Reviews, Bestselling Books & Publishing Business News | Publishers Weekly. Publisher’s Weekly, 2 Nov. 2009. Web. 23 Oct. 2010. <http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/print/20091102/26073best booksof2009.html>. 3 Modern Library. “100 Best Novels.” Modern Library. Modern Library, 2008. Web. 23 Oct. 2010. <http://www.modernlibrary.com/top100/100best novels/>. 4 Meyer, Dick. “100 Years, 100 Novels, One List : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. NPR, 7 May 2009. Web. 23 Oct. 2010. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story. php?storyId=103869541>. 5 Flood, Alison. “Fury after Women Writers Excluded from ‘books of the Year’ | Books | Guardian.co.uk.” Guardian.co.uk. The Guardian, 5 Nov. 2009.Web. 23 Oct. 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/nov/05/womenwriters excludedbooksoftheyear>. 6 “Netmums Gender Survey Netmums.” Parenting Advice and Information in Your Local Area Netmums. Netmums., 4 Oct. 2010. Web. 23 Oct. 2010. <http://www.netmums.com/homelife/Netmums_Gender_ Survey.5486/>. 7 Kane, Emily W. “Men’s and Women’s Beliefs About Gender Inequality: Family Ties, Dependence, and Agreement.” Sociological Forum 13.4 (1998): 611637. 8 “BBC News Mothers ‘harder on Daughters than Sons’, Poll Suggests.” BBC Homepage. BBC News, 5 Oct. 2010. Web. 23 Oct. 2010. <http://www.bbc. co.uk/news/education11476561>. 1
catching smoke California was in New York and nothing was what it seemed. She was sixteen but people called her eighteen so that they could get what they wanted. The buildings were tall and dark, and ')/($/(+159/(/9)'($&&(&1/(3-(&1>)(*")<#">,4(!&$;1+5($+%(,.#".91+5( against the smoggy sky. She had never had a nickname – not Cali or Nia or anything, not anything, she hadn’t ever had a nickname – and yet her face was on the magazines and always it said Carly under it. California didn’t know anyone named Carly. What she knew was that she had started walking down the "#$%(0"#:(9)"(`)&(I$"(9#3,)(<9)+(,9)(<$,(*0/))+4(531/$"(,/"$--)%( over her shoulder and her arms around herself despite the sticky, ,<)&&1+5(9)$/4($+%(/9$/(,9)(9$%(,&)-/(9)"(*",/(+159/(#+(9)"(#<+(1+($( bus station with bruises ringing her wrists and an old leather cord around her temples. She knew the train fare from one end of the country to the other, and how long she could subsist on coffee alone, and how likely it was to earn some cash from hopeless banging on a stolen acoustic. She knew that toadinthehole eggs and bagel was the cheapest road food from Canton, Oklahoma to Atlanta, Georgia. She knew that words were worth less than the two bits thrown into her lap on street corners and she knew that she couldn’t go back home. In Phoenix, while she was walking down a torrid street with 34
the sun burning in her eyes and her coppery hair limp and snaring her neck, California was waved down by a man with a low hat and a slow smile. He had a camera around his neck and his hands were in constant motion, framing everything he looked at in black and <91/)7(E)(9$%(0#".1!&'(,/#--)%(91,(.$"4(/3"+)%($"#3+%4($+%(=$55)%( her down. “You’ve got the perfect face,” he told her, framing her in 91,(*+5)",7(E1,(/93:!+$1&(<$,(#2)"5"#<+($+%(')&&#<7( California barely had time to ask him what for when he pushed her up against a brick wall and started snapping. She stared dumbly at his lens, hands skeletally clutching the air, still raised in halfdefense from when she had seen him homing in on her. She’d seen that look too many times already. She would see it too many times more before she reached the east coast. He gestured impatiently and her hands dropped, their :$"1#+)//)K,(,/"1+5,(,+$--)%7(E)("1--)%(=#<)",(#3/(#0($(,9#-K,( hanging basket and shoved them in her hands. Daisies: wilted and browning in the oppressive heat. Their pure white petals stained on the outside, the taint slowly creeping in. “Do something,” he barked at her. ( D9)(%"#--)%($&&(!3/(#+)(#0(/9)(=#<)",(9)K%(512)+(9)"($+%( ")$.9)%(3-7(]$")03&&'($+%(%)&1!)"$/)&'(,9)(/<1+)%(/9)(*!"#3,(5"))+( stem around her headband, snaking it over and around the soft and weathered leather. She didn’t know what it looked like when ,9)(<$,(*+1,9)%7(89)")(<$,($(!&$+>(,-$.)(1+(9)"(:):#"'(!)/<))+( &)//1+5($&&(!3/(/9)(#+)(=#<)"(%"10/(/#(/9)(,1%)<$&>($+%(,/"$159/)+1+5( herself for the camera after she was done. The only thing she recalled was the anxious clicking of the camera. The whole thing could only have taken ten minutes. It felt like an eon to her before he let the camera hang unmolested. He came up to her and ran his thumb with its revolting nail under her .91+4(,:1&)%(A31.>&'4(/))/9(/<1,/)%($+%(<1/9(5#&%(=$,9),(+),/&)%( amongst them. He tucked money into the waistband of her jeans – how much, she couldn’t tell. “What was your name again?” 35
“California,” she said. But he was already walking away, shaking his head, onto the next project. He got in his car and left. She pulled the wad of bills out and counted them: all singles. Fool’s gold. In New Mexico, the sun was going down on a red road. She was between two tiny towns and she was walking barefoot because her thong had broken about a mile or so back. Both ,$+%$&,(%$+5&)%(0"#:(9)"(*+5)",(+#<4(9$"%&'($(9$1"K,(!")$%/9(0"#:( dropping to the ground. Her eyes were blank and the soles of her feet were hard and black, caked with earth. The dry wind stirred her tired hair around her face. The guitar bumped a hollow into her back as she walked, the steady rhythm of it like the bass chord of a song she couldn’t play. A rattling Cadillac whined far away, where the next town must have been. She and it moved toward one another. The man driving slowed the car to a stop and leaned out the passenger side window. She looked at him from across the baked earth road and he grinned at her under the shade of a cowboy hat. He didn’t look like a cowboy, didn’t look at all like the Marlboro I$+7(E)(&##>)%(5")$,'($+%(,):1B#&%@(#+(/9)(2)"5)(#0(*0/'4(:$'!)7( “Want a ride, darling?” he asked, drawling darling like some weed straight out of Mississippi. California stared at him for a minute. He sighed deeply and made a show of opening the glove compartment to pull out a fold #0(.$,97(E)(9)&%(1/(3-(!)/<))+(/<#(*+5)",($+%(%"3::)%(91,(/93:!( impatiently on the steering wheel. Eventually, she crossed the road to his car. A bus ticket would be worth it, she decided, as would a new pair of thongs. In the bus station four hours later, California sat on a sticky seat and looked at the ticket in her hands. She looked down at the sandals on her feet, creaky and hard and uncomfortably new. A man brushed past her inadvertently in the crowded aisle and she shuddered, even though he hadn’t looked at her, even 36
though the touch was barely more than just that. Nothing was ever worth it. There was a boy in Texas. He had green eyes and a light %3,/1+5(#0(!"#<+(0").>&),(#2)"(91,(/$++)%(0$.)7(E)(<#")(=$++)&( and worked on a ranch and he was nineteen. His name was Travis. ( 8"$21,(1+(8)6$,(<$,(*&&1+5(3-(91,(0$/9)"K,("3,/'(-1.>B3-(1+($( gas station when he met California, whose dinner was potato chips and a Coke from the shoebox convenience store behind the pumps. Her guitar was across her knees and her jeans were stained with motor oil that she didn’t realize she was sitting in. ( E)(<$/.9)%(9)"(.$")03&&'($"#3+%(91,(/"3.>($,(9)(*&&)%(91,( tank, scoping her out, trying to decide what her story was. After 9)(,.")<)%(!$.>(#+(91,(5$,(.$-(<1/9(*2)(.&)$+(.&1.>,4(9)(:$%)(91,( choice and walked over. “You’re sitting in oil,” he said, stretching out a knobby *+5)"7( She felt the heat of embarrassment rush through her. California had kept away from it for the vast majority of her trip so far. She had tried to leave it back at home, back with her ,/)-!"#/9)"(a)21+($+%(91,("#$:1+5(*+5)",4(!$.>(1+(9159(,.9##&( with its sinuous tendrils of rumors and gossip. She didn’t want to be reminded that she hadn’t escaped it totally. Travis held out his hand to her. His palm was weathered $+%("#3597(D9)("3!!)%(9)"(*+5)",($5$1+,/(/9)(0$%)%(%)+1:(#0( her wellworn jeans, the grease from the chips soaking into the patchwork of stains she had collected on her travels. She took his hand without question. “You play?” he asked, gesturing at the guitar she slung over her shoulder. They walked to his truck and he opened the door for her. She climbed inside. “No.” Sitting in his passenger seat, she arranged her hands over the name carved into the side of the guitar. She stayed in his hayloft for two weeks: secret, a hidden treasure. He had three more brothers and a sister. One of the 37
brothers was older, two younger. California buried under a horse blanket in the hayloft when any of them came in, and passed the /1:)(1+(/9)(,/1=1+5(9)$/(!'(-&'1+5(/9)1"(-)",#+$&1/1),(0"#:(/9)1"( conversations. Dan, the oldest, was bossy—a prick. Sam was a whiner and a shirker. The youngest, Ben, wasn’t disillusioned yet. He had childish enthusiasm even for the dreariest of chores. And Travis. Well, Travis was compliant and easy, strongbacked and longsuffering, bending to Dan’s will but contesting Sam’s. He picked up slack and doled out compliments and let the waves of the others’ bickering roll off of him like water. California liked Travis the best. At night he would sneak out into the barn among the .91"-1+5(#0(/9)(."1.>)/,($+%(/9)(=$,9(#0(/9)(*")=1),(/9$/(]$&10#"+1$( could see through the slatted walls. They made love in the golden hay, his hands covering her body, running her up and down like he’d never had a woman before. He couldn’t get enough of her. She liked the roughness of his ragged palms on her smooth skin, and the burn of his green eyes in the inky blue darkness. One morning they stayed up until four and fell asleep. They slept too late, passed out, tangled up in each other, and Dan came up to pitch hay to the horses and found them. As California ,/"355&)%(1+/#(9)"(.&#/9),4(+3:!(*+5)",(.3"&1+5($"#3+%(/9)(+).>( of her guitar in her haste to escape, Dan was tugging Travis’s head back by his hair and whispering wanton threats in his ear. California made it to the bus station and to Louisiana and all the way to New York City without getting caught by Travis’s brothers or his hulking Bluebeard of a father, whom Travis had only spoken about in the hoarsest of whispers. She halfexpected in every city to turn a corner and get belted into a coma even months after her breakaway. She also halfexpected that Travis would sneak up behind her, kiss her neck, run his hands up under her shirt and groan in her ear like the green thing he was. There were more boys, later, and men, too, but she always liked Travis best. 38
She had this conversation with a little boy on the train to Oklahoma: “Do you play that guitar?” “No.” “No songs at all?” “No.” “Are you gonna learn any?” “No.” “If you don’t know any songs and you don’t wanna learn any, why do you have it?” “I just do.” “Did someone give it to you?” “No.” “Then how’d you get it?” “I took it.” “From who?” “None of your business.” “Well, why’d you take it?” “Because he took something from me.” In Tennessee, just outside Knoxville, California’s bus broke down on the side of the road. It was blisteringly hot: the gift of an Indian summer. The passengers poured out of the narrow door and lounged around on the asphalt. California stood with her arms crossed over the guitar strap that lay between her breasts and stared out at the green country all around her. The sky was overcast and forbidding. Without warning, it opened up, and a warm downpour of latesummer rain was unleashed. The passengers scrambled back onto the bus in a crush that blocked the door. California walked away from where they were crammed, her arms falling to hang at her sides. She tipped her head back and looked up at the streaked sky, blinking at the raindrops in her eyes. The wind blew through the rain – a low, quiet keening. California closed her eyes and started walking down the road, the 39
rain pattering and pebbling on her skin, cool and refreshing, and the wind blowing over her. There were three sisters in Atlanta – Kat, Jack, and Charlie, short for Katarina, Jacqueline, and Charlotte – who had a club. They had a house, too, a house with an attic that California lived in for a couple of weeks. She met them while she strummed absently on the stolen guitar at the train station, busking for fare, New York or bust. They were dropping off a friend and stopped in front of her, all three brownhaired, browneyed, curious, intent, with matching thoughts haloing their heads. “You keep playing the same couple of chords over and over,” Jack said. “And not very well.” “So?” California shrugged. She set aside the guitar and counted her spoils. Bent over the tin cup she’d used for collection, she hoped to deter the three of them, give them a signal that meant no entrance, no passing zone. She meant for them to leave and leave her alone. “We could teach you a little bit, if you want.” This was Kat. Tall, magnanimous, a benevolent force of nature, and the one who would also offer California the room that evening. The oldest, naturally. She wore gold hoop earrings. “We meaning me, because I’m the only one out of the three #0(3,(<9#(-&$',4R(]9$"&1)(*+1,9)%7( California scraped the money into a beadworked wallet she’d bought on a reservation in Arkansas. It was on the end of a thong that she pulled over her head. “I don’t want to learn. I want to earn money.” “Maybe you’d get more if you were better,” Charlie snidely observed. So Charlie taught her, impatiently and quickly, the most basic songs she could think of. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Happy Birthday, Row Row Row Your Boat. “Nobody wants to hear these,” California told her two days !)0#")(,9)(<#3&%(&)$2)7(E)"(*+5)",(,/3:!&)%(#2)"(merrily merrily every time. 40
Jack called from where she was restocking the bar with green glasses, “Well, you’re not playing Stairway to Heaven any day soon, so get over it.” It wasn’t until she was standing on pure white sand on a steely grey South Carolina beach that she saw the pictures. They were on the cover of W, with a headline, some kind of hook like ;)%&%!)#8%!$)%!<4(%&!=)61.&%*!74*%>!Or 1975: Are We That Far from ’69? Someone had fallen asleep on a striped blanket with it next to them. California bent down and looked at it and saw her face in startling clarity, blackandwhite, eyes dark and circled with smudgy shadows, hair frizzy and frazzled. In tiny print, the caption said Carly Phoenix, model. California in Phoenix became Carly Phoenix. Just like California in her mother’s house became California on the road, and California in her stepbrother’s care became California the runaway. She looked at the cover, her cover, of W, and wondered if her face was on milk cartons. The bus driver had the radio on as they crossed from South to North Carolina. In her sleep, California was building a stairway to heaven, and her footprints on the steps were green. In North Carolina, on white sand by the grey water, California held her guitar and watched the sun set in the west. She imagined what her mother was doing at that moment, and knew the answer was nothing. She imagined what her stepbrother was doing at that moment, and knew the answer was nothing. If her spirit was crying, it wasn’t for leaving. She went to the water and plucked a shard of green glass from the sea. She knelt down on the sand with the guitar and slowly, methodically scratched out Kevin’s name from where he had childishly carved it. She made it illegible, crossed and crossed $+%(."#,,)%4($+(1+*+1/)(!&3"(#0(&1+),7( The soft wood of the guitar glowed gold in the setting sun. 41
Someone came up to her in Baltimore with her magazine cover clenched in their hand. Their eyes were wide like saucers, &1>)(%1++)"(-&$/),4(&1>)(:161+5(!#<&,7(E)"(0$.)(#+(/9)(=1:,'(-"1+/B paper: mouth slightly open, halfdead daisy twining around her /):-&),7(H/(>)-/(*+%1+5(9)"7 California pushed past them without a word. California sat on a pier in Atlantic City and stared out at the .9#--'(5")'(<$/)"4(0#"(/9)(*",/(/1:)(<1,91+5(,9)(<$,(!$.>(#+(/9)( west coast. It was only good for its bluegreen water —aquamarine, azure, all those silly colorwheel shades and tints that made Malibu worth all the money. She held the guitar in her lap and strummed her thumbnail over a chord Charlie had settled her hands in a thousand times before she got it perfect. California played it and the song echoed long and lonely over the empty ocean. Behind her, casinos racked up debt and cotton candy dispensers hawked their wares. Fake prospects and fake food. Atlantic City was a town of pretenders. A woman walked up next to her, feet bare on the splintery wood. She was wearing a white dress that rippled in the strong !"));),(.#:1+5(#00(/9)(<$/)"7(E)"(")%(9$1"(=3//)")%(&1>)($(/$//)")%( =$5($+%(9)"(!#+'($":,(<)")(."#,,)%(,/"#+5&'4(%)*$+/&'7(E)"()'),( were strangely bright and painted with liquid black. “You’re not old enough to gamble,” she said to California. She wore a gold chain studded with emeralds around her wrist. “No, I’m not,” California agreed. She squinted at her hands on the guitar and picked out another of the nursery rhyme songs she had learned in Atlanta on the taut strings. “I’ve seen you in W.” When California still didn’t look up, she said, “I’m Olivia Reisner. I’ve been a model for ten years now, and yet I’ve never been in W.” California stood up abruptly, slinging the guitar over her shoulder. It thudded against her back with a sharp familiar pain. 42
“I’m not a model.” “Then what are you?” Olivia called after her as she walked swiftly down the jetty, away from the ocean, away from the empty wind. California didn’t know how to answer the question. She didn’t have a label for herself. She was a runaway, a rent girl, a busker, a hitcher. She was a shitty guitar player and a sometimes model, a survivor and an escape artist. She was a sixteenyearold girl who had had her birthday alone on an Indian reservation in Arkansas and was making everything up as she went along. Somewhere in the future, though, California thought she could see a faint image of what she wanted to be. In Newark, a man offered to take her the last little bit of the road to New York if she slept with him. She told him no, so he said he’d throw in a pack of cigarettes if she changed her mind. She still said no, so he slapped her face and fucked her in the side street of an apartment building and didn’t give her the lift or the cigarettes. Another man taking out his garbage to the Dumpster a hundred feet from where she lay, prone and not in the mood to collect her clothes and scattered things just yet, noticed and came #2)"7(E)(5)+/&'(/3"+)%(9)"(#+/#(9)"(!$.>($+%(/#3.9)%(91,(*+5)",( under her chin to her skittering pulse. She blinked up at him and he drew in a breath, hissing in Spanish. He gathered up her clothes and her belongings and put an arm around her back, sitting her up gently, gingerly. He was wearing a cross around his neck that had a green stone in the middle of it and he spoke English in the caressing cadence of Spanish, his words round and rich. He helped her get dressed and alternately switched between the two languages, the fall of his dark hair obscuring his eyes while he wriggled the buttons on her jeans closed. ( F]#:)(3-,/$1",4R(9)(,$1%(5"30='4($+%(,/##%(9)"(3-7(D9)( teetered on her feet and decided not to contest his will. She let him ,3--#"/(9)"(3-(,)2)"$&(=159/,(#0(,/)-,(/#($+($-$"/:)+/(/9$/(,:)&&)%( like rich spices and rice, with orange walls and warm red rugs and 43
a yellow couch. A pregnant woman was stirring a pot on the stove absently as she read aloud to herself from a cookbook. She glanced up at the two of them without much surprise. At the sight of him, several cats slunk out from behind furniture and under tables, creeping slowly forward, all looking patched and ragged. “Another stray?” the woman asked, equally droll and amused. “She was hurt.” He led California to a couch and lowered her down, fragile like porcelain. A cat nimbly leaped onto her lap and settled down. “Felix…” The woman trailed off, evidently not feeling that 1/(<$,(<#"/9(/9)(*59/7 “There’s enough for three.” On the coffee table rested a copy of W with California’s face on it. The picture was crinkled and torn and stained, but, invariably, it was still California. She walked in New York aimlessly until she came upon a payphone. A battered Yellow Pages hung from an industrial ,/")+5/9(.#"%(#+/#(/9)(,1%)<$&>4(&)$2),(#0(1/(=$--1+5(1+(/9)(!"));)7( California felt tinges of green spring in the wind as she bent down beside it, even though winter was only weeks away. Flipping through, she randomly opened to a page of modeling agencies. Their addresses and phone numbers marched in a neat line down column after column. Without thinking, California tore the page out of the book and folded it in eighths. She walked up and down streets and $2)+3),(3+/1&(,9)(0#3+%(/9)(*",/($%%"),,(#+(/9)(&1,/7(D9)(<)+/( /9"#359(/9)(%##",($+%(3-(:$+'(=159/,(#0(,/$1",4(/#($(").)-/1#+( desk with a woman who was dressed stylishly, her hair freshly cut, lashes caked with forests of black mascara. She had painted black around her eyes, just like Olivia. The woman’s penciled eyebrows rose as she took in California’s ragged copper hair, her discolored jeans, her frayed blouse, the leather cord around her temples and the guitar strapped 44
to her back. “Can I help you?” she asked. “I’m looking for a modeling job,” California said. She said it strongly, like Charlie had taught her how to play, and she stood with her back straight, like Felix had helped her to sit. There were framed photos behind the desk, famous shots of men and women she knew but couldn’t name. One of them looked like a little like Travis. “Where’s your portfolio?” The woman cocked her head to one side, snail of a smile unfolding slowly across her tight face. California reached into her back pocket and tossed the copy of W on the reception desk. It was permanently curled to accommodate a jean pocket, with stains to match those she bore herself, tears and rips but still wholly whole. Still California. There was still time. “Right there,” she said. ( 89)(<#:$+K,()'),(=1.>)%(/#(9)"4($+%(/9)+(!$.>(/#(/9)( :$5$;1+)7(D9)(=1--)%(A31.>&'(/9"#359(1/($+%(0#3+%(/9)($"/1.&)( accompanying the headline. Four more pictures of California, arranged as overlapping portraits, sidled up next to the text. The receptionist looked back up at her, lips pursed. California smiled. She would turn everything to gold yet.
If you ever feel embarrassed, remember: you are smaller than a supernova, quieter than a black hole, $+%(&),,("$%1$+/(/9$+($(=1.>)"(1+($(<91/)(%<$"0K,()')7 That is why it is okay to say to someone I love you, do you love me too? because a million things already do not love you, and none of that matters. So, if the answer is no, instead of collapsing in pain, pile it on the heap of things that you love that do not love you back: every beautiful landscape you have ever seen, all your material possessions, including the phone beside you your favorite book, movie, and actor, the food you are digesting. If the answer is yes, tell this person now. Do not hesitate and think we can save this for later,
after the smoke from the volcano leaves, after you are old enough to know better, after you lose twenty pounds. You will forget why you didn’t, and the collapse will be unavoidable, it will feel as big as the sky.
The next day there seemed to be no change. But when he <$&>)%(1+(/#(/9)(#0*.)(/9$/(:#"+1+54($+%(,$/(%#<+($/(91,(%),>4(1/( was all different. His desk should have seemed a dreary mess of paper and supplies and tedious machines and objects to aid tedious tasks, because it was. But instead, as he sat in his buttersmooth swivel chair, he did not feel the need to become frustrated. He gazed tenderly at the delicate postits, and the paperclips .3"&)%(3-(&1>)(/1+'(%#5,($"#3+%(&)//)",(-"1+/)%(#+(")&1$!&)(a1%(*+1,9( paper. Binder clips were yearning for the magnetic strip in the .#"+)"(+)$"(/9)(Q$"*)&%(%$1&'(.$&)+%$"($+%(/9)(,3"5)(-"#/)./#"7(E1,( hands covered his mouth as he realized the power of the desk lamp with its tiny teacup of a shade, and he almost shuddered when he realized the light would someday burn out. With shaking hands that he wished were gloved, he turned #+(91,(&$:-(<1/9(/9)(,3!/&),/(#0(<"1,/(=1.>,7(E)(1:$51+)%(/9#,)(/<#( little wires plunging electricity like God’s hand in Blake’s “Ancient of Days,” and gasped, pleased at his desk now lit up, like a lover’s face more beautiful without makeup. Now he could see the pulpy streaks in the thick, expensive paper, the small chips in the paint that left the oldest of his bright blue paperclips dalmationed with age. And the pens! In the light, now, his cheap plastic pens, with the imperfect molded caps chewed from previously familiar boredom, were no different from their rotund silver cousins that made even “milk” scribbled on a scrap seem more important, stately. “In” and “Out” boxes had new poetry now, too: the 48
snipped gait of “in” and the relative passagiato of “out.” And the black, satiny Swingline stapler, on top of it all—on top of paper $+%(-#,/B1/,($+%(*&),($+%(-)+,($+%(.&1-,($+%($(/9"))B9#&)B-3+.9( sunken beneath it all—that stapler like a black ship moving in for a glorious desktop armada. Suddenly his hands were endowed with a divine power he was sure da Vinci and Mozart and the daintiest of needlepointing <#:)+(>+)<(<)&&7(E1,(*+5)",(:#2)%(&1>)($+($--"$1,)"4(-1.>1+5( 3-()$.9(<$1=1>)(-#,/B1/($+%4(!).$3,)(9)(<$,(/##(,)+/1:)+/$&( to dispose of them, he stacked them neatly, next to the manila folders lying like a loaf of sliced bread, and the stapler and three holepunch docked in the corner; and the clips were reinstated to the magnetic strip, which now looked sequined next to the conservative and underused surge protector, and it was when his hands picked up his pens like so many wands and ordered them with such beautiful precision that he realized he was no longer .#+/"#&&1+5(/9):7(W#"(<9)+(9)(*+1,9)%(9)("#&&)%(91,(,<12)&(.9$1"( back just a bit, and realized his supplies had spelled out “LOVE.” And he looked up to the sky, which was a predictable cardboard tiled thing, and moaned slightly, because indeed, it was love. He had love, he loved, he loved her. And maybe she had made that mess on the desk that morning, for him, though this was doubtful because he remembered making it the day before, but maybe she dreamed it, so that he would create it one day, and clean it the next, in the most precious of ways, dedicating it to his sentiment, like an offering, rooted in the most commonplace of objects, yet lifted by the staplebright shine in her eyes, and the creamy elegant Kid *+1,9(#0(9)"(,>1+4($+%(9)"(!#%'4(.3"&)%(3-(+)6/(/#(91,(&1>)($(.#;'( paperclip. He went home.
from fairytales to Disney:
beauty and goodness in female heroines Fairytales have historically been used to teach children what society expects of them, and for women, this has often meant to look pretty and be submissive to men.1 The more cautionary tales, such as “Little Red Riding Hood,” help to objectify and frighten young girls, and therefore keep them in a subordinate societal position, but these themes can be seen in milder forms in nearly all fairytales. In these stories, good girls meet happy endings, and bad ones are punished. But what does it mean for young girls to be good or bad? In fairytales, to be good is to be obedient and kind, and beauty always ,)):,(/#(!)(/9)(9159),/(21"/3)\($(")=)./1#+(#0(/9),)(:$5+$+1:#3,( inner qualities.2 Likewise, if female characters are ugly, they can be counted on to be disobedient or even evil. Physical beauty as a sign of virtue and success applies in fairytales to men, too, but traditionally these men take on adventurous active roles, while female characters who are beautiful are consequently passive and submissive. Fairytales make cultural associations between beauty, goodness, and passivity quite explicit, indoctrinating young girls in certain mandates that will continue to inform their sense of identity throughout their adult lives. More recently, Disney princess movies have replaced fairytales in serving the social purpose of conveying gender roles and stereotypes to young girls, which are preserved and 50
propagated through characters beloved by children all around the globe. In their current reincarnations, the female heroines of fairytales remain curiously unchanged: while other cultural values have shifted, the same ideals of beauty and goodness have been $%$-/)%(1+(/9)(0#":(#0(-"1+.),,),(1+(`1,+)'($+1:$/)%(*&:,4($+%( thus perpetuate the old mandates. The Disney Princess brand [.#:-"1,)%(#0()159/(-"1+.),,),(0"#:(`1,+)'(*&:(.&$,,1.,b(1,(/9)( most successful branch of Disney Consumer Products, and brought $4 billion in global retail sales in 2007.3 But although the brand— and ostensibly, the characters—are global, the standards of beauty to which the Princesses conform are strikingly narrow. But for a few (minor) variations, they embody a classical Greek beauty ideal of being fair, buxom, and thin. In their actions and their physical appearances, the Disney Princesses continue to uphold the notion that inner character can be discerned from outward appearance, and that beauty thus indicates inner goodness. Young girls internalize that these are both imperative in order to be lovable and live “happily ever after.” The literary history that equates beauty and goodness can be traced back to eighteenth century Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen fairytales such as Cinderella and The Ugly Duckling, which “exemplify the beauty mystique, and socialize children into the cosmic value and practical utility of beauty.”4 Fairytales play a pivotal role in “shaping the selfimage and belief system of children,”5 since they are a “major means by which children assimilate culture,”6 and have systematically institutionalized the tenet that to be ugly is to be unlovable. These stories consistently reinforce the notion that beautiful people are good, and good people deserve to have good things happen to them. They are also an effective way of codifying heterosexual gender roles, placing a particularly high premium on female passivity and beauty, and acting as “gendered scripts that serve to legitimatize and support the dominant gender system.”7 In this context, not being beautiful puts a female at a great disadvantage both in love and in life (which is why so many industries today exist in the service of creating beautiful women). 51
In fairytales, beauty plays an important role in determining female characters’ personalities that makes them either heroines or villains.8 In stories like Cinderella, beauty is seen as a physical manifestation of inherent “goodness,” while ugliness is a sign of evil. Female characters can rely on their looks to save them, for proactive male characters will rescue a beauty whose situation is +#/(*/(0#"(,#:)#+)(#0(9)"(-9',1.$&(.$&1!)"7(D/3%1),(/9$/()6$:1+)( !)$3/'($,($(,/$/3,(.9$"$./)"1,/1.(.#+*":(/9$/(F0#&>&#")($+%( intuition tell us it is fortunate to be beautiful and unfortunate to be ugly.”9 Society rewards attractive people over unattractive ones in ways both subtle and dramatic, although these choices can be ,3!.#+,.1#3,4($+%(+3:)"#3,(,/3%1),(,9#<(/9$/(/91,()2)+(1+=3)+.),( women’s success in the workforce.10 An interesting result, for women, of this premium on attractiveness is that they are expected to be more successful in life than their unattractive counterparts, but simultaneously expected to devote even more resources to striving towards the unattainable goal of physical perfection and maintaining their youth and beauty. “Snow White” provides an 1+,/"3./12)()6$:-&)(#0(/91,(.#+=1./\(3+&1>)(P3"#"$(0"#:(FD&))-1+5( Beauty,” who remains beautiful and unchanged by age in her slumber, and thus eternally attractive to the prince who must save her, the Wicked Queen in “Snow White” is devastated by her aging and subsequent loss of beauty, for her worth as a woman is rapidly deteriorating. Her loss of beauty correlates with her loss of goodness, and she becomes evil. This paradoxical attempt to preserve youth and beauty is what leads to her cruel actions towards Snow White, who is still beautiful and good. But these pressures do not only affect older women: they also manifest themselves in various ways for young girls. In a 2005 study by Girls Inc. girls “overwhelmingly reported a paralyzing pressure to be ‘perfect’: not only to get straight A’s and be the studentbody president, editor of the newspaper and captain of the swim team but also to be ‘kind and caring,’ ‘please everyone, be very thin and dress right.’”11 The modern cliché of the woman who “has it all” gets her start as a younger version that is under equally as much pressure to make everyone else happy. This pressure has 52
its roots in fairytales that make a deep connection between being beautiful, thin, kind, and caring, and other more active markers of success. For instance, the character of Cinderella comes from a humble, orallytransmitted fairytale,12 but was immediately hailed as a “classic heroine of the screen”13 when she became a Disney U"1+.),,(1+(OcdN7(P,(!)*/,($(!)$3/103&(-"1+.),,4(,9)(1,(0#"5121+5( <9)+(,9)(5)/,(9)"(%3)($/(/9)()+%(#0(/9)(*&:4(1+,/)$%(#0(!)1+5( vengeful towards those who have done her wrong: “in her hour of triumph our heroine is completely magnanimous. Not only does she pardon them [her wicked stepsisters] ‘de bon Coeur’; promptly after her marriage to the Prince, she lodges them in the palace and marries them [to other courtiers].”14 Cinderella thereby proves “that she really is a princess at heart,” instead of allowing herself to be “spiteful or ungenerous.”15 But would it really have been so ungenerous not to reward her tormentors? Or is it just a socially ingrained notion that young women have to be pleasing to everybody, no matter what? The one instance in which Cinderella is confronted with an obstacle in her quest to act as “benevolent mistress to all creatures”16 is with the evil character Lucifer, and even in this circumstance she strives to be loving. Despite evidence of Lucifer’s purely evil character, Cinderella cheerfully announces that there “must be something good about him”17($+%($//):-/,(/#(%1,.#2)"(1/7(P(*+$&(+#/)\(&),/( we get inspired that Cinderella met a happy end (what we think someone so beautiful and nice deserves), and give her undue credit or agency, we are reminded that “however deserving she might be, for her success the fairy godmother was indispensable.”18 Cinderella thus dramatically upholds the tenet that beautiful girls must be kind, loving, and forgiving no matter what, and her move from fairytale to the big screen preserved the social messages woven indelibly into the story. And she is not alone: “Since the invention of cinema, the visual representation of fairy tale characters has been dominated by the Disney version of these tales. Not only does the Disney version provide visual images for the fairytale it is depicting, these images are then translated into 53
beliefs children hold about status in relation to notions of good, !$%4(-")//'4($+%(35&'($,(")=)./)%(1+(/9)(*&:,7R19 ( H+(MNNN4(`1,+)'(]#+,3:)"(U"#%3./,(:$%)(/9)(*,.$&&'( savvy decision to package a mix of both old and new heroines (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan and Pocahontas) under one royal collection… and there are now over 25,000 Disney Princess items.20 Although this was the *",/(/1:)(`1,+)'(9$%()2)"(F:$">)/)%(.9$"$./)",(,)-$"$/)&'(0"#:( $(*&:K,(")&)$,)4(&)/($&#+)(&3:-)%(/#5)/9)"(/9#,)(0"#:(%100)")+/( stories,”21 it became the fastestgrowing brand Disney has ever created, and executives predict “it is on its way to becoming the largest girls’ franchise on the planet.”22 The princesses are not friends, however: to preserve their respective, separate “mythologies,” they “never make eye contact when they’re grouped: each stares off in a slightly different direction as if unaware of the others’ presence.”23 ( 89)(,1+5&)(:#,/(1:-#"/$+/(%)*+1+5(.9$"$./)"1,/1.($+%( “consistent requirement”24 of a Disney Princess is that she is !)$3/103&7(H+(/9)(`1,+)'(*&:,($,(1+(/9)(0$1"'/$&),(0"#:(<91.9( they got their heroines, beauty is the key ingredient that characters either possess or lack, making them either good or bad, respectively. However, although we live in a world in <91.9(/9)")($")(1++3:)"$!&)(%)*+1/1#+,(#0(<9$/(1/(:)$+,(/#(!)( beautiful, this franchise puts forth only one. The Disney Princess universe is “the material realization of a binary vision of the world where the existence of what is good is selfevident and always opposed to what is bad.”25 This selfevidence is manifest in the physical representations of the princesses, who are uniformly “beautiful” by today’s Barbiegirl standards: “Disney Princesses adhere to a common set of feminine beauty norms, regardless of their individual ethnicity: hourglassshaped body, glossy hair, longlashed eyes, and heartshaped face; hair color and style are emphasized as the primary distinguishing feature. From their glitterencrusted tiaras to their iconic colorcoded satin gowns, they are swathed in a seductive aura of wealth, sweetness, and glamour.”26 Although in recent decades Disney put forth Jasmine, 54
Mulan, and Pocahontas in a halfhearted attempt to represent a “broader” and more ethnic view of beauty, the eight princesses still look almost identical, save their hair color. Another indication of the narrow type of beauty put forth by the classic Disney Princesses is that they are all fair (or at least lighterskinned than evil characters, like Jasmine who is the fair est among her Arab peers). This has had dramatic consequences on children’s identity formation. In particular, the “acculturation and socialization”27 within this rubric of “associating white with goodness and black with evil”28 can have especially damaging effects on children of color. For instance, when young girls in a 1999 study were asked to draw the heroine of a story they had just been told about a Black princess, they overwhelmingly drew her as fair regardless of their own race; one black girl said she “drew her yellow haired…because…she was good, so I wanted to make her pretty.”29 This indicates that children believe that good people must be pretty, but may also expose damaging beliefs about race that are beyond the scope of this paper. But certainly, the images that Disney has put forth exhibit “a meaningful lack of diversity and difference”30 despite supposedly different cultural backgrounds, and consequently, “the implications that most children, including children of color, see ‘White’ as good, living happily ever after, and pretty, are disturbing.”31 Other messages about identity conveyed through the Disney princess characters communicate “gendered expectations”32 $!#3/(9#<(51"&,(*+%(9$--1+),,(#"(,$&2$/1#+4(17)7(9#<(/9)'(,9#3&%( behave. “The princess ideal is the archetype in a pervasive cultural norm of feminine beauty. During princess play, the importance of being pretty is clear: girls focused on achieving beauty ideals and rejected play scenarios that stretched stereotypical male/ female roles.”33 In addition to this preoccupation with beauty, these feminine ideals are also dependent on passivity. With Princess dolls, studies found that girls faithfully replicated the “beautiful, archetypically passive princess”34 persona—the doll is already beautiful by Disney standards, so she must have all the inner qualities associated with such an appearance. Sleeping Beauty 55
can be considered the most extreme example of this passivity; its heroine is literally unconscious and is brought back to life by her prince’s kiss. While this is only the most overt example, the “central theme of prince as heroic rescuer and princess as comatose victim”35(/$>),(2$"1#3,(0#":,(1+(/9)(#/9)"(`1,+)'(U"1+.),,(*&:,($,( well. In their modern manifestations, the princess characters are -)",#+1*.$/1#+,(F0"#:(%$:,)&B1+B%1,/"),,(0$1"'/$&),(<1/9(-"1+.),,( victims and princely rescuers, a classic trope in children’s literature and play that prepares the ground for the insertion of the little girl into romantic heterosexuality.”36 Showing that passivity is a feminine and beautiful quality reinforces a gender binary in which only males have independence or even agency: “The Disney animated fairy tales reduce heroines to happy homemakersin waiting. For example, girls are often portrayed as dependent and innocent (with sexual undertones) ingénues waiting for a royal 93,!$+%($,(&10)K,(03&*&&:)+/7R37 If older women are present in the story and represent powerful, autonomous characters, “they are 21&1*)%($,()21&(0)::)(0$/$&),(#"(35&'(9$5,7R38 Even the modern crop of Disney heroines who are initially somewhat independent are ultimately just passive princesses in the old manner by the time they end up with their savior princes: “the construction of girls as objects of display and boys as subjects with power [ends up ensuring that] gender expectations are repeated.”39 For instance, in “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel is a curious and unusually disobedient female character, but after defying her father, she “becomes demure and silent on land in her prince’s world.”40 It is as if she is being punished for her transgression and put back in her rightful place, and “in this way, emphasized 0):1+1+1/'(#-)"$/1+5(/9"#359(!)$3/'(1%)$&,(#!S)./1*),(/9)(-"1+.),,( as the prize.”41 Similarly, in the story of Aladdin, Jasmine is “so !)$3/103&(/9$/(P&$%%1+(0)&&(1+()(<1/9(9)"($/(*",/(,159/7R42 Notice that the female’s role is to be (beautifully, of course) while the male’s role is to act, again reinforcing the link between beauty, passivity, and desirability. Not only does being beautiful mean you are good, but it will also bring you love (provided that you are 56
acceptably passive). A study that examined how young girls played with Disney Princess dolls showed that “the girls found anticipated identities associated with discourses of emphasized femininity ,1:3&/$+)#3,&'($--)$&1+5($+%(.#+*+1+5R43—but still upheld them. The fact that feminine beauty ideals permeate nearly every fairytale that survives today shows how pervasive they are, and how early on we indoctrinate young girls with the tenet that they should strive to be beautiful, passive, and good. It would be problematic not to carefully examine the Princesses as vehicles through which ancient stereotypes have become modern cultural clichés, for “Disney’s signs are neither innocently conceived nor haphazardly constructed.”44 And beneath their enchanting veneer, the Princesses are powerful signs indeed, meant to drive girls, “through desire, toward the imaginative actualization of a possible world of unrealized childhood hopes, wishes, and dreams in the name of innocence, fun, and purity.”45 As it stands now, this “actualization” will result in yet more generations of passive girls preoccupied with being pretty above all, since everything else— admirable inner qualities and romantic success— will follow.
Endnotes Zipes, Jack, Don’t Bet on the Prince, Routledge, New York, 1986 Bacchilega, Cristina, Postmodern Fairytales: Gender and Narrative Strategies, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997 3 Wohlwend, Karen E. Damsels in Discourse: Consuming and Producing Identity Texts through Disney Princess Play, Reading Research Quarterly, International Reading Association 2009 4 Synott, Anthony, Truth and Goodness, Mirrors and Masks Part II: A Sociology of Beauty and the Face, page 57 5 Hurley, Dorothy L. Seeing White: Children of Color and the Disney Fairy Tale Princesses, The Journal of Negro Education, 2005, page 221 6 BakerySperry, Lori and Grauerholz, Liz. The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales, Gender and Society, 2003, page 713 7 The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales, page 711 1 2
Seeing White, page 229 Webster, Murray and Driskell, James E. Beauty as Status, The American Journal of Sociology, 1983, page 140 10 Beauty as Status, page 147 11 Orenstein, Peggy, ;)#$0+!;&4*7!(6$)!?6*.%&%11#>!New York Times, 2006 12 Don’t Bet on the Prince 13 Berg, Louis in “This Week” January 1, 1950 14 Foley, Louis, A Princess and her Magic Footwear, The Modern Language Journal, Blackwell Publishing 1954, page 412 15 A Princess and her Magic Footwear, page 412 16 Damsels in Discourse, page 61 17 Damsels in Discourse, page 61 18 A Princess and her Magic Footwear, page 413 19 Seeing White, page 223 20 ;)#$0+!;&4*7!(6$)!?6*.%&%11#>! 21 ;)#$0+!;&4*7!(6$)!?6*.%&%11#>! 22 ;)#$0+!;&4*7!(6$)!?6*.%&%11#> 23 ;)#$0+!;&4*7!(6$)!?6*.%&%11#> 24 Damsels in Discourse, page 74 25 Trifonas, Peter, Simulations of Culture: Disney and the Crafting of American Popular Culture, University of Toronto Press, 2001 26 Damsels in Discourse, page 75 27 Don’t Bet on the Prince 28 Seeing White, page 223 29 Seeing White, page 222 30 Simulations of Culture, page 23 31 Seeing White, page 222 32 Damsels in Discourse 33 Damsels in Discourse, page 65 34 Damsels in Discourse, page 65 35 Damsels in Discourse, page 66 36 Damsels in Discourse, page 59 37 Damsels in Discourse, page 60 38 Damsels in Discourse, page 60 39 Damsels in Discourse, page 65 40 Damsels in Discourse, page 70 41 Damsels in Discourse, page 71 42 Seeing White, page 224 43 Damsels in Discourse, page 78 44 Simulations of Culture, page 24 45 Simulations of Culture, page 27 8 9
()*'%+-.%/%$0' frat boy You taste like easy. a combination of the drink I bought and inhibitions you haven’t lost (yet) I’m not a creep. I just know the words that slide down zippers, coat your lashes so your lids dim and anticipate my lips I’ll spin you because you like that and the dizziness will counteract the thoughts you have about heading home with your friends vibe with me, and this music that’s played every week you forget as you cutely mumble along lyrics halfcorrectly A dip to show I can catch you the equivalent of a trust fall at some retreat you once went to A challenge please? 59
If my memories are not your memories, forgive me if I invent love over again. Google alert never tells me anything I really want to know. The exact moment you will meet her. The exact moment I become what I will become: second, nice, another. On his deathbed, Klimt whispered, Bring me, Emily– 91,()(9)(+)2)"(,$/1,*)%Y I used to get off on stories like that like this not anymore. G91&)(/9)(*+)"(-$"/(#0(:)()61,/,(#+&1+)4 my body surrenders to a midden of memories as deep our island’s former oyster hills. Everyone’s away message is for someone, even someone they don’t know yet.
Then, there is our night on Pearl Street– before independence before roads, towns, and taverns before the Dutch before the Lenape sold land they didn’t know they were selling– when we slept on a bed too small. There, eaten raw and folded '#3"(*+5)",(,:)&&)%(&1>)(:)7 tasted like me. Such thoughts are as damaging as sea stars when they are taken on the deck /9)1"(*2)($":,(9$.>)%(#00(+$12)&' only to have each severed part become its own monster once back in the water. Honest, did you know your sea meat is grown from suckling the life from the vulvaly oyster? But this is only my memory threading to the nearest bottle you can see it as surviving if you must $,($&&(*",/,(*+%($(*")7
f word board