Anne Sherwood Pundyk, The Revolution Will be Painted (detail), 2014, Acrylic, Latex, Colored Pencil on Canvas, 11 x 15 feet ÂŠ 2014 Anne Sherwood Pundyk.
OUR MANIFESTO INTERPRETED BY ANNE MARI BORCHERT *
Strive for the hysteria of radical openness a significant interaction between fluid shake the usual attire turn off the structure of the pressures of business and prosperity.
Hysteria is the collective burden run a race row from the feminist Internet diversity I react to the conquest of history.
I believe the hysteria this does not take all of all instances of the symptoms of control the act to crush all the struggles.
The purpose of hysteria the fight against language is that it alienated the people that have been marginalized who we stand in solidarity. I put these voices in the hysteria of center stage I support the spectrum of representation emphasis I speak to those of the first person.
Try a hysterical to expose the realities of power relations and exploitation and all of the claims of equality through continuous discussion this is assumed to be the same. Us denies to change the definition of a rigid body.
Binary key ‘risk’ hysteria is a fantastic ‘safety ‘,’ private ‘create’ public’ Focus is an oppressive structure How to commit the hysteria publications.
I know the hysteria it is for anyone of feminism this has not been reserved for the privileged few. Boundary boundary, for all of the family of transcendence, it is you, the agitation, there is a need for colonies of feminism.
Directly open the hysterical challenge capitalism by documenting the serious feminism.
Patriarchal solidarity and we betray the comfort of hysteria.
WHITENESS IN FEMINISM A PERSONAL ESSAY BY EUGENIA FLYNN
Up until my late twenties, I never called myself a feminist. For me, feminism was a ‘white thing’; it was about advancing the cause of white women. At university, when I became involved in student politics, I organised around issues to do with racism, Indigenous issues, environmental issues, neo-liberalism and general social justice, but never feminism or women’s issues. When I look back on that time, I realise that the feminism presented to me had been, in part, an extension of white supremacy. At the time I did not consciously realise this, but coming from a culturally mixed background, the Whiteness I was sensing in the feminism I encountered was causing me to react negatively. You see, I was raised by an Aboriginal father from the Northern Territory of Australia and an ethnic Chinese woman from Malaysia; I was raised in the quiet suburbs of Adelaide in South Australia and went to Catholic schools my whole life where there were probably only ever a handful of non-white people and things were pretty conservative; I converted to Islam at age nineteen, a religion often positioned as ‘the other’ in Australian JudeoChristian white society. With this cultural and religious mix, I did not identify as a feminist, because feminism was presented to me as exclusive to white women, which I was clearly not. There was nothing within feminism that spoke about the intersectionality of being both a woman and a person of colour, of being a woman and a person of faith. My experience of having to deal daily with the unique combination of sexism and racism that comes from being a woman who is Aboriginal, Chinese and Muslim was never addressed through feminism. Beyond simply neglecting or ignoring these identities, the feminism I was initially presented with treated my cultures and religion as a hindrance to women’s liberation. Despite all of this, I look back now and recognise that, despite rejecting the term, I was in fact enacting feminism in my daily life. During my university years, despite never engaging with the Women’s Room or the Women’s Office on campus, I was there in the female-only Muslim prayer room, my safe haven. Whilst I never identified as a feminist who consciously believed in my body’s rights, I was mindful of my consent and the right to choose what to do with my body, whether that was having sex or not having sex, having an abortion, wearing revealing clothing or being completely covered up, and everything in between. I was enacting feminist principles in my daily life and I did not even know it. I was enacting these principles because of how I was raised as a woman of colour with strong feminist role models. When I was in my early twenties, I fell in with a group of young Indigenous leaders from across Australia; within this group, there were strong women who were reading the works of Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, and bell hooks. I started to understand my feminist principles in a more structured way. It may have taken a few more years after this to begin identifying as a feminist, but this was the beginning of my conscious identification with feminism. I was given my first bell hooks book by my new friends and fell in love with her right away. In her book Yearning, published in 1990, hooks spoke of Black people being political by nature; she wrote about Black children gaining a political education around the dinner table and in the home because of the constant racism that they face and therefore react to regularly in America.
For me, as a child, this was how I formed my feminist principles. Before I knew what a feminist was and way before I wanted to identify as a feminist, I was raised to be a feminist by the very nature of being a woman of colour, raised by a woman of colour and impacted by women of colour around me and those who had gone before me. From the time my mother, a Chinese woman, came to Australia in the late 1960s and for the rest of her life here, she was stereotyped as a gold digger and a whore, and men wanted to treat her as a sexual and domestic servant. As a Chinese woman, she responded by rejecting these men, by working hard to be financially stable, and by instilling in her daughters strong feminist principles that would hold us in good stead for the rest of our lives. I learnt feminism from my mother through her actions of being a woman of colour in a world that sought to subjugate her. As an Aboriginal woman in late 1930s Australia, my paternal grandmother’s choices were limited to marriage or domestic service, and as was the case with many other Aboriginal women, white men often viewed her as sexual prey or as an unfit mother. Australia’s particular brand of colonisation meant that the right to choose and determine things like marriage, body consent, work, wages, and more was threatened at every turn for my grandmother. My grandmother rose above those constraints put upon her as an Aboriginal woman and chose the life that she wanted for herself. She instilled that kind of thinking into my father, who in turn instilled it into his four daughters. Whiteness demonises Aboriginal and Chinese women as either sexually promiscuous women who are unfit to be mothers, or sexual and domestic subservient beings. Compounding this, both Chinese and Aboriginal women were, and still are, presented as helpless victims who need to be saved by Whiteness—in particular by white men in positions of authority and by white women acting in the name of feminism. At some point, when Whiteness was finished exerting control over people of colour by tearing apart non-White societies and stereotyping women of colour in the ways I have just described, Whiteness then sought to exert itself in other ways, and this is through the victimisation of women of colour and presenting men of colour as aggressors to be feared. It was this presentation of feminism—that it would save me as a woman of colour from oppression by men of colour—that I rejected for so long. In my late twenties, however, I started to identify as a feminist. I had been learning these feminist principles from my family and reacting to Whiteness as a system that exerted its superiority over, and attacked, women of colour. At this point however, surrounded by women of colour who were calling themselves feminists and reading feminist literature by women of colour, I began to realise that although feminism was originally presented to me as a ‘white thing’, I could attempt to reform it, push my way in and seek to have myself represented within it. Feminism was as much a form of resistance to Whiteness and racism as it was a simple liberator for me as a woman. The fine line I walk today is the fine line I was learning about back then—feminism is about the liberation of women, whether the attacks on women come from their own or from outside of their community. It was around this time that the Australian government implemented the Northern Territory Intervention; simultaneously, Islamophobia was peaking. I had been a Muslim for some time and, as a woman, had found it to be incredibly liberating. I was invited to be involved in a project based around solidarity between Muslim and Indigenous women. With the kind of Islamophobia around Muslim women’s perceived oppression and the Northern Territory Intervention–generated hysteria around Indigenous women’s perceived oppression, Indigenous and Muslim women had a strong base on which to build solidarity.
That the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could be seen as having a similar premise as the Northern Territory Intervention was an eye opener for me, and this understanding has stayed with me ever since. You see, the idea is simple: Aboriginal women need to be saved from violent Aboriginal men, but they are unfit mothers who allow these men to prey on their children, so they needed government intervention to ensure that the abuse stops. Muslim women are oppressed by Muslim men who are violent; they are forced to marry at a young age, and forced to wear hijab or niqaab by men, so their countries need to be invaded and ‘modernised’. Similarly, Chinese women need to be saved from either a life of poverty or from Chinese men who are not manly enough for them. Saving these women involves a principle that is simple, but that has many different variations: these women must aspire to Whiteness in order to be ‘free’. If only Chinese women would marry white men, they would be better off. If only Aboriginal women would ascribe to middle-class white Australian values, they would be better off. If only Muslim women threw off the hijab and embraced Western sexual liberation, they would be better off. I have sought my whole life to be free. What started out simply as wanting to be free from oppression as a person of colour, and particularly as an Aboriginal, Chinese and Muslim woman, has changed to the struggle to be free as a woman. What has become evident through my life experience is that these two struggles are linked. I cannot be free as a person of colour if I am not free as a woman. I cannot be free as a woman if my status as a woman of colour is denigrated. If I can reform feminism so that it can stop perpetuating Whiteness, I can kill two birds with one stone: I can stop Whiteness on one front and I can also improve the rank of women, of women of colour, in society at large.
THOUGHTS ON ADOPTION AND REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE AN ARTICLE BY KATIE HAE LEO
In 2008, Minnesota Women’s Press asked me to write an op-ed considering the practice of adoption through a feminist lens. Minnesota has the largest population of Korean adoptees per capita in the United States, numbering in the tens of thousands. By the early 2000s, a generation of adoptees had aged into adulthood en masse, myself included. At the time, I had not given much thought to the connection between feminism and adoption. I was born in Korea, adopted as a baby, and raised in the American Midwest. While I had spent the better part of my young adult life forming and establishing my identity as an adopted Asian American woman, I had not yet considered the broader, historical and social context that had set that sense of identity in motion. Luckily for me, others had. While researching the article, I absorbed powerful works by historians and scholars on reproductive rights, and I interviewed a range of internationally and domestically-adopted adults. Furthermore, I had been a prospective adoptive parent myself – my husband and I had had trouble getting pregnant so we considered adoption and visited some local agencies as a result. My conclusion after this research was then, as it remains now, that as a feminist, I supported not only a woman’s right to choose whether or not to bear a child, but also her right to raise that child. That is, I viewed the right to raise one’s child on the continuum of reproductive rights or, as one of my interview subjects framed it: reproductive justice. As a feminist, I could not exercise my right to adopt at the expense of another woman’s right to be a mother. Within the complex web of global economic and social factors, I could not untangle my privilege to adopt from a child in a vulnerable context that would lead a mother somewhere to surrender her child. Poverty, patriarchy, lack of a social safety net, religious mores, societal stigma, and an entrenched
economic system that depended on adoption to survive – all these factors conspired to render women around the world, who might otherwise want to raise their children, unable to do so. And so I chose not to adopt. I did not condemn adoption outright, nor did I condemn adoptive parents. I believed then, as I do now, that adoption can be accomplished in a socially just way that honors the rights of all parties involved – parents of origin, adopted children, and adoptive parents. However, the systems that support adoption first required critique and reform. Upon publication, my article received a record number of responses for the Women’s Press both in online comments and letters to the editor. It was reposted via various agencies and literature in the adoption industry, including adoptive parent groups, adoptee groups, and individual adoptee scholars and artists. The Women’s Press decided to follow up the piece by devoting a special section of their next issue to letters from readers, as well as a “point-counterpoint” position column by two other writers on adoption as a feminist topic. Clearly the article had touched a nerve. Reconsidering it now, six years later, my stance has not changed. For this article, I would therefore like to examine three recent stories within the broader adoption narrative that have occurred in the ensuing years. These stories focus on birth mothers, also referred to as first mothers or original mothers, whose rights and viewpoints have often been overlooked. In May of this year, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed S873: a law that would grant adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, including the names of their biological parents, beginning in 2017. As part of S873, birth parents of children adopted before August 1, 2015 would have until
the end of 2016 to request that their names be removed from birth certificates. Birth parents of children adopted after August 1, 2015 would not have the option of redacting their names. Further required by the New Jersey law, birth parents would be able to give preferences for whether or not, as well as how, they may be contacted should an adult adoptee wish to do so. New Jersey followed similar laws granting adoptee access in Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, with Connecticut following suit in June of this year and New York and Pennsylvania considering their own open-record bills. How does feminism fit into the question of open birth certificates? In the words of New Jersey-based adoption activist, American Adoption Congress Board member, and birth mother Judy Foster: “[S873 is] sending a message, particularly to women like me who surrendered babies in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, that we no longer have to hide in secrecy and shame.” That is, societal bias against unwed motherhood has historically shaped adoption policy, cloaking the identities of the first mothers. By opening up birth certificates to adult adoptees, the state of New Jersey is effectively conveying to mothers (and fathers) who give their children up for adoption: “Your children have the right to know who you are.” In doing so, it indirectly helps to erase the stigma of premarital heterosexuality that historically led many unmarried women to surrender their children to adoption in the first place. Furthermore, open access laws such as this one acknowledge adoption as a process that began with a birth rather than a relinquishment. It recognizes a first mother as an essential participant in that process rather than an invisible, anonymous source to be acknowledged but ultimately forgotten. For adoptees, it opens up crucial access to medical histories as well as personal histories, helping to answer the fundamental human question, “Who am I?” For adoptive parents, it invites a shift in the traditional adoption narrative. Rather than diminishing an adopted child’s birth history, it invites a more transparent and expansive understanding of an adoptive family as inclusive of the child’s family of origin. In the realm of
reproductive justice, this openness helps elevate adoption from a consumer-based exchange grounded in supply and demand to one that humanizes all parties involved. In 2009, journalist Martin Sixsmith published his book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, which documented Lee’s premtarital pregnancy in the 1950s in Ireland, her subsequent confinement at Sean Ross Abbey, a home for unwed mothers, and the surrender of her son, who was adopted and raised in the United States. Brought to international attention by the film Philomena in 2013, Lee’s story illustrates this ‘shame and secrecy’ around unmarried motherhood that Judy Foster noted in her statement on New Jersey S873. While at Sean Ross Abbey, Lee signed a document relinquishing her parental rights to her child. Similar documents are required of birth parents here in the U.S. Philomena Lee has stated in interviews that no one coerced her into signing this document and that she signed it of her own free will. However, as I wrote in an article about her for the journal Gazillion Voices, in 1950s Ireland, out-of-wedlock births could ruin not only a woman, but also her entire extended family. There was no system for social welfare, and the Catholic Church held the reigns of a single pregnant woman’s only option. Thus, the idea of free loses its strength. Social inequality is reinforced by structural failures within systems, resulting in denied or limited access to fundamental rights, such as equal employment, education, healthcare, legal information, and yes, reproductive choice. Given the stigma around premarital pregnancy, combined with the lack of a social safety net, an unmarried mother like Philomena Lee was unlikely to choose to keep and raise her child. The popularity of both the book and film about Philomena Lee led to the creation of The Philomena Project, which funds the group Adoption Rights Alliance’s campaign to open up the nearly 60,000 files documenting those children who were adopted out of Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes. Underlying these efforts is a feminist critique of the alliance between the Catholic Church and Irish government, which utilized state-sanctioned methods for regulating and controlling women’s bodies.
In addition to the Mother and Baby Homes, the government operated for-profit laundry facilities out of their Magdalen asylums, which housed allegedly promiscuous or “fallen” women. However, while Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has issued an official state apology for the Magdalen Laundries, the Catholic Church has remained silent. As feminists, we should be concerned when the church and state collude to govern women’s sexuality and reproduction. More concerning still is the church’s refusal to acknowledge its wrongdoing in the face of overwhelming evidence. Since 2009, Korean Unwed Mothers and Families Association (KUMFA), comprised of single mothers, their families, and volunteers, has been advocating to change both societal views and public policy to enable unmarried mothers to raise their children in Korea. In these efforts, KUMFA has some valuable allies, including adult adoptees in both Korea and the U.S., as well as the organization Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, an American group led by the father of an adopted Korean daughter. KUMFA’s activities include monthly meetings, where members share resources and support, including holiday camps, which provide somewhere families can go during the holidays; and one-on-one mentorships for children. It also includes working with adoptee advocacy groups to pass revisions to the 2011 Special Adoption Law, which seeks to improve state support for single moms, standardize adoption procedures against corruption, and create better systems for adult adoptees to find their birth parents. Finally, KUMFA runs a guest house for unwed mothers called HEATER, which cares for up to 24 mothers and their children annually. As reported in a piece by the New York Times on KUMFA, currently about 1.6 percent of all births in Korea are outside of marriage, compared to the 40% in the United States. Of these Korean unwed birth mothers, 70% end up relinquishing their children for adoption, while in the U.S. that figure is 1%. Despite some shifts in public policy combined with societal guilt and international pressure to end the practice, Korea remains one of the top four countries sending adoptable children to the U.S. This is taking place in spite of Korea’s economy ranking at or near the top ten globally; thus, begging the question of why a wealthy country
would need to send away its children. The answer is both economic and cultural. Government support for unmarried mothers in Korea equals about half the support for families with adopted children. Perhaps even more significant, social stigma against unwed moms is deeply entrenched in Korean culture. Bias against unwed mothers is rooted in public policy that governed Korea for decades, including patrilineal citizenship laws and patriarchal family laws, all defining existence through one’s relationship to the male head of household. According to a recent government survey, only one quarter of Koreans were willing to have a relationship with a single mother, whether as a neighbor or coworker. In her book Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States, scholar Rickie Solinger draws a connection between the rate of foreign-born adoptions to the U.S., which rose between 1972 and 1973, and the case of Roe v. Wade. As American women gained control over their own bodies, the supply of adoptable babies in this country decreased. Lower birth rates and higher rates of infertility caused couples to look for children outside the U.S. in unprecedented numbers. These factors in the U.S., combined with lack of social support and societal stigmas in Korea, created a perfect storm of supply and demand for adoptable babies filtered through an adoption industry that dates back to the 1950s. In other words, while American women were free to adopt children from Korea, unwed mothers in Korea were not free to raise theirs. If one of the goals of feminism is to liberate women to make informed choices about their lives and to remove barriers for them to access those choices, then this right to choose should include a mother’s choice to raise her own child. As an adult adoptee, I often wonder what would have happened if my own first mother had had the economic and social freedom to raise me. As a woman who has experienced infertility, I understand the longing to build a family of my own. But, as a feminist, I could not personally engage in the system of adoption, knowing its effect on vulnerable women around the world and here in the U.S. That is not to say that adoption is wrong in and of itself or that all adoptive parents are anti-feminist. I have
personally known many people from all points of the adoption triad who are engaged in exciting critical dialogues, art making, and social action, and for that, I am grateful. Suggested Resources Briggs, Laura. Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transnational and Transracial Adoption. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. Choe Sang-hun. “Group Resists Korean Stigma for Unwed Mothers.” The New York Times, Oct. 7, 2009. Web. Korean Unwed Mothers and Families Association (KUMFA). “Introduction and Activities.” kumfa.or.kr/introduction. Web. Leo, Katie. “Feminist Lens on Adoption.” Minnesota Women’s Press. Nov. 25, 2008. Web. McKee, Kimberly. “Silence, Citizenship, and Gender: The Status of Women and Intercountry Adoption in Korea.” Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Korean Adoption Studies (2010) : 1-17. Print. “New Jersey Officials Make Deal on Adoption Records.” The Associated Press, April 18, 2014. New Jersey Senate Bill 873. http://legiscan.com/NJ/bill/ S873/2014. Web. O’Neill, Aliah. “The legacy of Ireland’s Catholic Church-run Mother and Baby Homes.” IrishCentral.com, July 19, 2010. Web. Roberts, Dorothy. Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare. New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2002. Sixsmith, Martin. Philomena (formerly titled The Lost Child of Philomena Lee), New York: Penguin Books, 2009. Solinger, Rickie. Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001. The Philomena goals. Web.
Screen prints by Zafire Vrba and students at Lindeparkens gymnasiesärskola, a school for intellectually challenged teenagers in Stockholm, Sweden. The illustrations are part of an ongoing project about abstract creativity. By using blindfolds when drawing Zafire and their students found a way to work around censorship and aesthetic norms. The drawings were later used for screen prints and combined with each other in a more planned way. Zafire Vrba is an artist and educator working in the fields of separatism, feminism, reproduction, trans visibility and sex education. www.zafirevrba.com →
UNHEELED A POEM BY MARIAHADESSA EKERE TALLIE
I’ts not about pain. It’s about the commitment her top lip a phoenix in mid air her bottom one a plump pouty sculpture. I swear nature was flaunting when she took her hand & molded this girl whispered cheekbones to kiss clouds shaped eyes the envy of panthers, nature said “i’ma conjure me a daughter, human calla lily gift her with growl, perfect strut tell her mama, name her Robyn Rihanna” she gould be/is my daughter. she’s talking about shoes four inch pointy heeled shoes it’s not about pain she says it’s about the commitment she is talking about shoes she could be/is my daughter I am not thinking about shoes I’m thinkging about that picture & her lover’s fist & the reconciliation & my sister who came home with black eyes once her husband’s hands turned her face into a dark planet 5 children 1 2 3 4 5 children 5 foot 2 inch mama swollen trust crashing down her cheeks it’s about the commitment says (Rihanna) my sister went back 30 years before Rihanna it’s about the commitment worry about the pain later she is talking about shoes I told you & I am thinking about my neighbor how we brought the kids to our place one unsteady father’s day tried to mediate her boyfriend’s hands stagger his tongue
“cunt bitch whore stupid bitch bitch slut” broken record of her skin dancing in the pionty four inch heels wouldn’t even allow me to stand says She crouched on tip toe worry about the pain later wouldn’t even allow me to stand crouched in purple scabs he could beat me anytime hashtags & this is about shoes & disarmed platoons of goddesses marching their split lips through a community that says “she probably had it coming” camouflage that with 50 million albums sold a closed door or shades or foundation or a pair of shoes she could be/is my neighbor my daughter my sister I want her to stand I worry about the pain now & this is about the commitment *words in italics come from 2014 Vogue interview with Rihanna about clothes and shoes
GAP-TOOTHED WOMAN A POEM BY MARIAHADESSA EKERE TALLIE
Wear the brave stockings of night black lace and strut down the streets with paint on my face. - Gwendolyn Brooks They brace themselves. I wear my gap-toothed smile, the mouth of beauty. Journeys of brave women, salty & blue. Fulani hands mending stockings, nursing strangers, stitching lives. Bleeding women of cane & cotton, forced women dreading night, blues women, salty & bleeding, surviving & black. These teeth an inheritance more inviting than lace the driver says and he knows I am his stolen sister, strut of my eyes, spaced stars in the sky of my mouth travel strands of tangled heritage, the me before these shores, these streets. They brace themselves, teeth and words aligned with what shipped them here. They paint smiles and deference on their lips. My gap-toothed rebellion is an altar. My ancestors gather They brace themselves. I wear my gap-toothed smile, the mouth of beauty. Journeys of brave women, salty & blue. Fulani hands mending stockings, nursing strangers, stitching lives. Bleeding women of cane & cotton, forced women dreading night, blues women, salty & bleeding, surviving & black. These teeth an inheritance more inviting than lace the driver says and he knows I am his stolen sister, strut of my eyes, spaced stars in the sky of my mouth travel strands of tangled heritage, the me before these shores, these streets. They brace themselves, teeth and words aligned with what shipped them here. They paint smiles and deference on their lips. My gap-toothed rebellion is an altar. My ancestors gather
back and down
in the hills of my face.
back and down
in the hills of my face.
REAL WOMAN’S SURVIVAL HAIKU #1 A POEM BY MARIAHADESSA EKERE TALLIE
Every woman’s got to know how to strum her way to afterglow
Photographer: Dominique Sindayiganza ÂŠ Dominique Sindayiganza and Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie.
STRUT A POEM BY MARIAHADESSA EKERE TALLIE
After birthing twins my friend whittled herself back to hourglass. She describes the black sand, her turquoise bikini, pride, seeing herself strut again. I will never wear one again I say. Then show. The pot, the loose skin, the lightning bolts, the rain streaks across my belly. I wear the turbulent body of a stranger. Sharp, soft until the hill of broken muscle announcing life beyond my life. I thank my bones, my broken muscles, I thank the woman I was, and the woman I am. slowly I learn to strut again.
THE WOMAN’S REVOLUTION IN KURDISTAN AN ESSAY BY DILAR DIRIK Upon the rise of the so-called Islamic State or ISIS, the world finally came to note the struggling women in Kurdistan. That women from an otherwise conservative, male-dominated society would fight and even defeat this brutal organisation captured the fascination of many outside observers. The capitalist mainstream, even its fashion magazines, were quick to appropriate and instrumentalise the legitimate struggle of these women as some kind of sexy western-style fantasy. But their sensationalist statements like “ISIS fears Kurdish women because they will not go to heaven, if they get killed by a woman” focus on superficial elements of a deeply complex issue, ignoring that there is more to this fight than armed struggle – namely, a radical emancipatory political project. To begin with, Kurdish women did not take up arms yesterday. In fact, they have a long history of both, armed and political struggle. Until recently, their fight has often been ignored, even marginalised, criminalised and labeled as terrorist. Only now the mainstream regards this resistance in a sympathetic way, because it seems to come handy in the fight against ISIS. Even though Kurdish women’s struggle is as radical as ever, it is interesting to see the ways in which the mainstream tries to sanitise and de-radicalise the ideologies and motivations behind their resistance by omitting the women’s political demands. Kurdish women face several layers of oppression as members of a stateless nation in a largely patriarchal feudal-Islamic context, and hence struggle on multiple fronts. While the four different states over which Kurdistan is divided display strong patriarchal characteristics, which oppress all women in their respective populations, Kurdish women are further ethnically discriminated against as Kurds and are usually members of the lowest socioeconomic class. Of course, the feudal-patriarchal structures of Kurdistan’s own society restrict women from living free and independent lives as well.
Currently, apart from the fight against ISIS and the Assad-regime, they struggle against the Turkish state – which constitutes the second-largest NATO army, and a government that advises women not to laugh and to give birth to at least three children – and the Iranian regime, which deprives women of fundamental rights. But they further fight patriarchy in Kurdistan: forced marriage, polygamy, honour killings, domestic violence, rape culture. Traditionally, women are seen as parts of the lands that men are supposed to protect. In the context of war, sexual violence is often systematically used to “dominate” and “humiliate” the enemy. As many feminists have pointed out, rape and sexual violence hardly have anything to do with sexual desire, but are tools of power to dominate and force one’s will over the other. ISIS has launched an explicit war on women through abductions, forced marriages, rape, and sex slavery. The organisation instrumentalises religion and exploits the concept of “honour”, constructed around women’s sexuality, that is prevalent in the region. This systematic destruction of women is a specific form of violence: feminicide. In the context of militant women, the aim of sexualised violence, physical or verbal, is to punish them for stepping into a sphere reserved for male privilege. So, for ISIS-members, who are promised 72 virgins in paradise for their atrocities, Kurdish women are indeed the ultimate enemy. The participation of women in revolutionary liberation struggles is not uniquely Kurdish. In all kinds of contexts, women have often played active parts in the fight for freedom. Wartime, uprisings, social unrest often provide women with space to assert themselves and to demand representation in ways that normal, civilian life would not permit. However, once the crisis situation is over, once “liberation” or “revolution” is perceived to be achieved, a return to previous antebellum normalcy and conservatism is often
deemed necessary to reestablish civil life. This often ‘democratic confederalism’, based on gender equality, constitutes the rearticulation of traditional gender ecology and grassroots-democracy. Different from other roles, which are in turn detrimental to the newly gained Kurdish parties which appealed to regional tribal status of women. Unfortunately, it is quite a common landlords and chieftains to gain power, the PKK mobilised phenomenon that women suffer a backlash in their rights the grassroots, especially the youth, women and the “after liberation”, “after the revolution”, “once our working class in the rural areas from the beginning. land is free”, even if they were vibrant actors during the struggle. The hope that once the overarching goal Not many liberation movements in national contexts, of general “freedom” is achieved, everyone in the especially in the Middle East, are known for their society will be free, has proven to be wishful thinking feminism. But Abdullah Öcalan, the ideological reprenearly everywhere. The most recent manifestation of sentative of the PKK, who has been imprisoned by Turkey this phenomenon is the status of women in the so-called since 1999, explicitly states that patriarchy, along “Arab Spring” countries. with capitalism and the nation-state lie at the roots of oppression, domination, and power: Even though Kurdish women have a long history of fighting for liberation, alongside men, they have often Man is a system. The male has become a state and been marginalised even in these liberation movements. turned this into the dominant culture. Class and sexual While majoritarian feminists in the states over which oppression develop together; masculinity has generated Kurdistan is divided often excluded Kurdish women from ruling gender, ruling class, and ruling state. When man their struggle – by expecting them to adopt the nation- is analysed in this context, it is clear that mascualist state doctrines, or by patronising them as victims linity must be killed. Indeed, to kill the dominant of a primitive, backward culture – male-dominated man is the fundamental principle of socialism. This is chauvinist Kurdish parties with very feudal, patriar- what killing power means: to kill the one-sided domichal structures – whose understanding of freedom does nation, the inequality and intolerance. Moreover it is not move beyond primitive, empty nationalism – often to kill fascism, dictatorship and despotism. silenced women’s voices as well. He further emphasises the need for autonomous and The politics behind Kurdish women’s resistance independent feminist struggle: “Women’s freedom cannot just be assumed once a society has obtained general Though mainstream media now extensively covers freedom and equality” (Öcalan, 2013, p.53). In fact, Kurdish women on the frontlines, the underlying political women at the early stage of the PKK experienced this: motivations of their resistance are often left out. The In the 1980s, when the Turkish state started destroying fighters of the people’s defence forces (YPG) and women’s Kurdish villages, many people from the rural areas defence forces (YPJ) from Rojava (West Kurdistan/ joined the guerrilla forces (Flach, 2007, p.52). This Northern Syria) – who have been fighting ISIS for two posed a demographic change to the composition of the years, gained an international reputation as ISIS’s PKK, which had previously consisted of a progressive strongest enemy, and now lead an epic resistance in university elite. The new members were strongly shaped Kobanê – are usually loyal to the Kurdistan Workers by tribal structures of the rural areas. Many guerrilla Party (PKK). Due to Turkey’s NATO-membership, the PKK fighters recall that women experienced a relapse at that is classified as “terrorist” by Turkey, the EU and the time (Flach, 2007, p.63). The guerrilla women recount US – just like the jihadists that behead, crucify, rape, their initial preoccupation with copying their male and sell humans. comrades, in order to keep up with them (Flach, 2007, p.113). Many cut their hair very short, wore loose The PKK, despite still being called a ‘separatist uniforms, and sometimes even wrapped cloth over their organisation’, long ago moved beyond statehood and breasts, in order to hide any signs of femininity to nationalism, and advocates an alternative liberation- prove that they were just as strong as men. But in the ist project in the form of inclusive regional autonomy: 90s, they decided to organise autonomously in order not
to compromise their achievements. Today, half of the PKK’s ranks consist of women and women’s liberation is a central aim. PKK cadres have to attend mandatory seminars, some of which are called ‘Kill the man inside you’ and are educated to challenge societal norms and advocate anti-machismo, anti-patriarchy, and gender equality. Anja Flach, who conducted two years of field research with the women fighters of the PKK, explains how “Men were in charge of kitchen and cleaning chores that were regarded as low status work. This positive sexism was justified by the claim that women ought to have more time available for their education and because they had done all the kitchen work in 5000 years of patriarchy anyways” (Flach, 2007, p.107). She talks about the ways in which the party education transformed men’s sense of entitlement. A male fighter named Ahmed recounts: “I had seen men baking bread once. I was shocked. Men that do ‘women’s work’! In the PKK, we learned to destroy this taboo. We learned to do our own work and to take care of ourselves” (Flach, 2007, p.107). In a report from 2008, CNN reporter Arwa Damon claimed that men in the PKK are soft-spoken and regard ‘macho’ as the biggest insult, despite being hardened fighters. Öcalan makes the connection between different institutions of power quite clear: “Socially rooted sexism is just like nationalism an ideological product of the nation-state and of power. Socially rooted sexism is not less dangerous than capitalism” (Öcalan, 2011, 16-17). He goes on to elaborate on the inherent sexism of capitalism and the nation-state: “All the power and state ideologies stem from sexist attitudes and behaviour [...] Without women’s slavery none of the other types of slavery can exist let alone develop. Capitalism and nation-state denote the most institutionalised dominant male. More boldly and openly spoken: capitalism and nation-state are the monopolism of the despotic and exploitative male” (Öcalan, 2011, p.17). The PKK enforces co-presidency, splitting administration equally between one woman and one man from party presidencies down to neighbourhood councils, and gender quotas on all administrative levels. Women’s councils, academies, shelters, parties, and cooperatives aim to change the male-dominant social order.
Inspired by this, the three Rojava cantons – in the midst of a war – enforce co-presidencies and quotas, and created women’s defence units, women’s councils, academies, courts, and cooperatives. Laws aim to eliminate gender-based discrimination. Men committing violence against women are not supposed to be part of the administration. One of the governance’s first acts was to criminalise forced marriages, domestic violence, honour killings, polygamy, child marriage, and bride price. Not surprisingly, many Arab, Turkmen, Armenian, and Assyrian women join the armed ranks and administrations in Rojava. Yet, Rojava is internationally marginalised through economic and political embargos, due to Turkey’s hostilities. Similarly, Kurdish party administrations, municipalities, and councils in Turkey are run by one woman and one man, where Kurdish women’s power in politics is now widely respected. The vast majority of women who are mayors or MPs in Turkey are in fact Kurdish, even though these areas are socio-economically disadvantaged. Even if nationalists often romanticise the role of Kurdish women in society for their purposes, it is clear that if Kurdish women enjoy a relatively high political profile now, beyond the battlefield, in movements, parliaments, municipalities, and the streets, this is the result of a constant, multi-front struggle which established a culture of resistance – not a given condition, inherent to Kurdish society. And whether one likes this or not, the leftist ideology of a party that is internationally labeled as ‘terrorist’ has played a significant role in this … What is liberation? Their experience in decades-long struggle has led Kurdish women to understand that freedom must include all spheres of life, or else they will live through what has happened to many struggles around the world: the set-back of women’s rights ‘after liberation’. Thus, we must change the meaning of liberation! In spite of shortcomings, the social transformation achieved by the grassroots-mobilisation of the Kurdish women’s movement is remarkable. By enshrining women’s liberation into ideological and organisational
mechanisms, such as quotas, co-presidencies, and women’s autonomous organisations, the Kurdish movement tries to incorporate women’s liberation into its broader liberationist project. Freedom does not come once we can freely say the word Kurdistan. Nationalism itself is a very gendered, patriarchal concept. Its premises limit our struggles for justice by default. Freedom is a never-ending struggle, a process of building an ethical, equal society. The real work starts after ‘liberation’ has been achieved. What use is a Kurdish state, if it will perpetuate rape culture, feminicide, the age-old disease of patriarchy? Are rape apologist, sexist Kurdish governors and official bodies really that much different from oppressive state structures, just because they wear our traditional clothes? Meaningful transformation can only be achieved if we do not equate our concept of freedom with just a ‘Kurdistan’. A patriarchal Kurdistan is a more insidious tyrant than the usual oppressors. Colonising and subjugating half of one’s own community in a sexualised manner, one’s intimate partners can be a much more shameful and violent act than foreign invasion. The situation of women is not a ‘women’s issue’ and therefore must not be dismissed as a specific, private issue that interests women only. The question of gender equality is in fact a matter of democracy and freedom of all of society; it is one standard by which the ethics of a community should be measured. Since capitalism, statism, and patriarchy are interconnected, the struggle for freedom must be radical and revolutionary – it must regard women’s liberation as a central aim, not as a side issue. For, it really isn’t a mere Kurdish governance, even a state, that is dangerous to the dominant system. A much bigger threat to the hegemonic structures is a politically active, conscious Kurdish woman. At the moment, ISIS not only physically brutalises women, but destroys everything that women’s liberation stands for. The Kurdish women’s fight is not only an existential military struggle against ISIS, but also a political stance against the underlying patriarchal social order. It not only fights ISIS’s rape campaigns,
but also the mentality within Kurdish society itself that rejects and blames rape survivors. The women of Kurdistan regard themselves as the guarantors of a free and just society. That is why a social revolution accompanies their existential fight. And the prospect of this kind of future is what has driven the spirit of resistance in Kobanê. It seems convenient to portray Kurdish women fighters as sympathetic enemies of ISIS without recognising principles behind their struggle. It does not help the fearless women of Kurdistan to be exoticised and romanticised, if their entire political struggle, especially in Kobanê at the moment, is not supported or only comes handy in the fight against ISIS. Appreciation for these women should not only praise their military fight against jihadists, but also recognise their politics, motivations, and visions. This is not only a fight to survive, but also a struggle for a brighter future for the peoples in the Middle East. If you truly want to honour the bravest enemies of ISIS, start by actively supporting the resistance in Kobanê, remove the PKK from the terror list, and officially recognise the cantons of Rojava!
Flach, Anja, 2007, Frauen in der kurdischen Guerrilla: Motivation, Identität und Geschlechterverhältnis in der Frauenarmee der PKK (Cologne: PapyRossa). Öcalan, Abdullah, 2011, Democratic Confederalism (Cologne: Transmedia Publishing Ltd.). Öcalan, Abdullah, 2013, Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution (Cologne: Transmedia Publishing Ltd.). Originally published by International Initiative Edition: http://www.freeocalan.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/liberating-Lifefinal.pdf
WAR IS GENDERED AN INTERVIEW CYNTHIA ENLOE & BJØRK GRUE LIDIN BGL: You argue that all wars are made up of gendered phases and women’s lives are impacted differently in each phase. The present foreign intervention in Iraq has led to yet another war-phase in the country. Can you predict some of the gendered outcomes of this phase? CE: Bjørk, first of all, let me say what a pleasure it is to be a small part of HYSTERIA. Every new feminist magazine is distinctive in the windows it throws open on to this dynamic, complex, always gendered world. Thinking about your first good question - yes, it was in the midst of trying to make sense of the 2003 – 2010 Iraq war that I realised that diverse Iraqi and American (and British, Polish and Honduran – all their governments sent troops) women’s experiences of that war were not static. Those experiences, and how diverse women interpreted and responded to those experiences, each seemed to go through distinct phases. I had been following British and American women’s diverse relationships to militarism back in the 1980s. But, really, it wasn’t until 1990 that I began paying as close attention as I could in 1990 to what was being revealed about Iraqi diverse women’s relationships to internal and external militarisms. As I came to writing Nimo’s War, Emma’s War, featuring the experiences of four Iraqi women and four American women, I realised that this discovery of apparent wartime gendered phases needed to be one of the core themes. I tried to read everything I could by feminist-informed journalists, by gender-smart scholars, by feminist-conscious NGO researchers, by on-the-ground women’s rights activists. And I was especially influenced and tutored by the work of SOAS professor Nadje Al-Ali. It was staying focused over those years, from 1990 through at least 2010, that allowed me to see that this succession of wars seemed to go thorough gendered phases. For instance, the gendered politics
of Iraqi women’s coping with the post-Gulf War international economic sanctions – especially being laid off from state jobs as the Saddam Hussein government dealt with the sanctions – had much harsher consequences for Iraqi women than for Iraqi men during the years 1991 – 2003. Also, it wasn’t until more than a year after the US/British military invasion that some Iraqi militiamen began fire-bombing Iraqi women-owned small beauty parlours. Or, think about Iraqi women’s organised political activism; it became more energised and elaborate as the Ba’athist Party’s control over the country’s political space loosened after 2003, but before the Maliki-led political party, DAWA, asserted its own grip on the state’s machinery after 2007. All this was in the midst of a violent multi-sided armed conflict. So, staying focussed, cultivating a long attention span is crucial, I think, to useful feminist analysis of anything, including of women’s diverse relationships - to men, to marriage, to paid work, to political organising, to beauty, to ethnic identity, to sexuality, to policing, to violence, to home, to schooling, to public spaces – in the midst of any war. But this doesn’t mean that any two armed conflicts will go through identical phases. So I can’t look into a proverbial crystal ball and predict what Iraqi or Syrian women will be experiencing and responding to in, say, 2017. What noticing the distinct phases that gendered politics (the politics of both masculinities and of femininities) went through for Iraqi women between 2003 – 2010 does mean, though, is that we have to avoid imagining that taking a “snap shot” of Syrian women’s diverse lives in 2011 can equip us to understand their lives in 2014. Take, for instance, those Syrian women who thought of themselves as non-sectarian and pro-democracy activists in March of 2011. That was when Syrian
mixed-gender civil society went into full blossom. That was before the Assad security forces’ violent repression. That was before any of those women’s male comrades in Homs or Aleppo or Damascus decided to form armed militarised opposition groups. Today, three years later, as the war drags on, the number of masculinised armed groups have multiplied. While all are male-led and all militarise the presumptions of their armed participants, they have increasingly widening differences in their goals, each with deeply gendered implications. Some are secular in their vision of the new Syria. Several are explicitly theocratic in their own vision. Secondly, as the violence has continued over these three years, more and more Syrian women active in independent groups have felt compelled to prioritise urgent humanitarian work. This has made it increasingly important for them to broaden understandings of what constitutes “political action” and “civil society.” These activist women have been talking about this. Furthermore, as the violence has spread, more and more women – many now as heads of households – have become displaced internally or have had to flee across national borders, usually as the chief caretakers of dependent children; this has made the gender politics of refugees far more pressing for those same pro-democracy activist Syrian women than it was in 2011. All this time, from 2011 through 2014 (and next year and the year after), patriarchy will keep morphing. Women will have to keep analysing their places in it, their uses of it and their ways of challenging it in every one of its new guises. BGL: The Kurdish Peshmerga’s women fighters battling IS have been applauded by the Western war-leading nations and one-sidedly portrayed as heroines while the same nations are demonising the IS female fighters, one-sidedly portraying them as Jihadists. In both cases women are seemingly prescribed ‘agency’ and assigned a different gendered role than that of ‘victim’. What drives this narrative and what gendered implications does it have on the concept of ‘security’? Moreover, it is striking that the women portrayed as heroines in British media live and fight outside the
British borders and many of the Muslim women portrayed as Jihadists - and thus a security threat - live within the British borders. How do we make feminist sense of this? CE: It’s true that many male journalists, editors and producers for generations have been entranced with/ horrified by the images of women with guns. And so, too, have many of us, their readers and viewers. In fact, often those media decision makers give us only the eye-catching image, as if that told the “whole story.” But, of course, in reality, women’s historical relationships to guns – and to gun-wielding organisations - need to be explored with a sharp, steady curiosity, with feminist questions asked and energetically pursued. That’s what your good question about the current British media’s apparent contrast between the “good” Pesh Merga Iraqi Kurdish women and those “frightening” women inside some of the Islamist fighting forces provokes for me – questions, curiosity. I’m always trying to learn more about how all sorts of femininities become militarised. I also try to remember always to ask questions about any weapons-wielding institutions’ gendered divisions of labour (who is assigned to search women at the check points, who is trained to handle the grenade launchers, who does the nursing, who does the strategic planning). And then I try to stay curious about the big picture: What are the causal relationships between the wielding of violence and the effective challenges to patriarchy – or reinforcements of patriarchy? A photograph with a short caption or a ten second film clip will not answer any of these questions. An image that cuts short a feminist quest and that silences feminist questions is, I honestly think, a very dangerous image. To think more clearly and usefully about women’s roles inside either of these male-led militarised groups, then, we need to not see those women as weird or exceptional or heroic. I confess, personally am totally turned off by the warrior goddess! It is an icon that explains nothing. And it flattens out women’s complicated relationships to violence and militarisation. Instead
of icons, I hunger after nuance and dynamic complexities playing out over time. Not exactly the stuff of Tweets or sound bits, but a lot more interesting! Women have been recruited (usually by male leaders) into all sorts of militarised forces – think of those Nicaraguan women who joined the Sandinistas in the 1970s. Think of the North Vietnamese women who enlisted in the North Vietnam Army and the South Vietnamese women who joined the Viet Cong in the 1960s and 1970s. Think of the Eritrean, Mozambiquan, and Zimbabwean school girls who fought in their respective countries’ insurgent forces. But also think of women who have served in state militaries for instance, in today’s British, Russian, Fijian, US, Canadian, South African, Israeli, Australian, Norwegian, New Zealand and Japanese state militaries. Sorry to burden you with this long list - it could be a lot longer! Making this partial list, though, reminds me of all that dozens of feminist researchers have taught us over the last forty years about women’s unfolding experiences as members of male-led military organisations. We’ve learned from their work that some women have felt empowered by being accepted as the “comrades” of men inside a masculinised fighting force. We’ve learned that some of those same women have experienced let-down, even betrayal, at the end of the war, when they were cast aside, often treated as “un-marriable” by their own fellow citizens, as the insurgent-army-turned-statearmy became officially masculinised. We’ve learned that some women have struggled against homophobia inside the ranks in order to continue soldiering. We’ve learned that some women have taken pride in becoming a post-war “veteran,” while others have scarcely told the younger generation about their fighting experiences, leaving the men to tell the “war stories.” So, thinking about those women who have been or now are in the Iraqi Kurdish Pesh Merga, we should be asking serious questions: are their assigned duties identical to those of Kurdish Pesh Merga men – if not, how not, and with what consequences for patriarchy? We should also widen our lens and ask whether the Kurdish Iraqi civilian women’s rights activists have found common
cause with the women inside the Pesh Merga – over what issues especially? We can also try to discover whether acts of violence against women in the Kurdish-controlled northern communities of Iraq has been rolled back due in part to women’s participation in the community’s fighting force. And that’s just the beginning. And there are just as many questions to ask if we are really serious about (not just titillated by) those women – both Iraqi women and Syrian women, but also those women recruited from overseas – who have joined ISIS. We know from Iraqi feminists (for instance, Hanaa Edwar) that ISIS male leaders have been targeting Iraqi women professionals – lawyers, teachers, doctors – for execution in some of the towns that ISIS has occupied. Just last week an Iraqi women’s rights activist who was running as a candidate for her town’s council was executed by ISIS fighters. So clearly, we all need to be curious about the actual experiences of any women once they have joined ISIS forces. For instance, if we are serious, we should be trying to find out whether women who have voluntarily joined ISIS have married ISIS male fighters. Marriage politics are always relevant to investigate if you are interested in any militarised organisation! The ISIS-expressed ideology seems to place a heavy emphasis on a masculinity proven in both wielding violence and entering marriage; so how has that affected women who have joined ISIS of their own accord? We could also try to discover whether women inside the ISIS organisation have been assigned by male leaders to enforce codes of behaviour of local women, and with what results? And this would prompt us to find out what have been the foreign women recruits’ relationships with the local Iraqi and Syrian women in the towns controlled by ISIS. What were each woman’s original aspirations and how has she interpreted the match between her hopes and her experiences? I know these are tough questions to pursue. None of them will be reliably answered by any journalist or editor – or any reader or viewer - who imagines women to be mere cartoon figures. One thing I’ve learned is that we can’t take short cuts or be lazily satisfied with mere images if we are really serious about doing feminist investigations of this world.
Sama Alshaibi, Minaret at Death Row, 2008, Pigment Archival Print, 30” (h) x 20” (w) © 2008 Sama Alshaibi.
SWEETENING THE PILL AN EXCERPT BY HOLLY GRIGG-SPALL Old myths as new fictions In the 1800s doctors would advise that women who were difficult, argumentative or too overtly sexual should be given an ovariectomy. The removal of the ovaries was believed to cure women of these problems. They became, as Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English describes in For Her Own Good, “orderly, industrious and cleanly.” An ovariectomy was referred to then as female castration. The pill is essentially a modern version of this procedure; its aim is to “shut down” the ovaries. The aim of preventing pregnancy is brought about through crude and aggressive means. The ovaries are shut down long-term even though women are fertile for just a few days of each month. The highest level of synthetic hormones necessary to shut down the ovulatory process in all women is used. It is a one-size-fits-all method of treatment, just as an ovariectomy was considered a cure-all because it combated a whole variety of singularly female ailments.
practitioners believed that the uterus worked in competition with the brain. These two organs could not function harmoniously. The uterus prevented rational and logical thought and caused mental and intellectual weakness. This fundamental problem within their bodies caused women to become sick. Therefore all women were inescapably, inherently ill as a result of their own biology. Femaleness was a mental illness that required constant management. However, the medical industry was faced with a dilemma of their own making by this diagnosis. Women were required to be pregnant, but could not if they were deemed sick. The concept of hysteria became the answer to this quandary. If a woman could be proven hysterical rather than truly sick she could continue to have children. At that time children were the main focus of the medical field and the act of raising a child was elevated to the highest level of social importance.
Child rearing became so important in fact that it The ‘rest cure’ was also often prescribed for women needed to be taken out of the hands of women. A pregnant perceived as difficult during this same era. In the woman, it was believed, was under the influence of the Victorian-era there was an epidemic of “sickness” in “horror of being female,” a psychosis that made her women. Middle class women were prevented from working, untrustworthy and dangerous. reading or learning. All attention was placed on their bodies. The fainting, weak and child-like woman With this reasoning, doctors could justify intervention was held up as the standard of attractiveness: imagine in the child rearing process although it had previously it to be the ‘heroin chic’ of the 1990s. Women would mainly been the domain of midwives and female relations. actually drink vinegar and arsenic in order to make themselves sick and achieve this level of beauty. Later in the 1950s, as Enrenreich and English describe, when the consumer economy took hold, women had a certain Ehrenreich and English speculate that women were aware power as the most influential consumers. The economy that they could avoid being forced to bear more children is driven best by the manifestation of traits of selfif they took to their beds with sicknesses for long ishness, ruthlessness and individualism. Yet women were lengths of time. Being sick could be manipulated to be relegated to home life where they took care of their a woman’s source of power and control over her situation. children and undertook their wifely duties with an apparent selfless sense of purpose. These women did not The uterus was understood to be the central controlling fit into the boundaries of the capitalist-inspired view organ for the rest of a woman’s body. Medical of human nature. To explain the conflict, medical
authorities branded women masochists. It was masochism that drove them to sacrifice their independence to their family. Self-denial in an economy thriving on instant-gratification and consumption was a disease. Sex hormones were discovered in the 1920s but synthetic hormones were developed in Nazi Germany, as Barbara Seaman first highlighted. Bayer Schering Corp – now Bayer – developed synthetic estrogen and experimented on Jewish prisoners in the hope of sterilizing them. They found that although women stopped menstruating they were not made permanently infertile. This became an important part of the process of developing the pill. The medical industry in the 1950s blamed menstrual problems and infertility on “incomplete feminization.” If women were unhappy in their prescribed role they were “rejecting their femininity.” Menstrual cycle and fertility issues were therefore purely psychosomatic. Women were told that if only they embraced the femaleness of their biology they would not experience problems. Misogynistic medical understanding of female biology was used as justification for women’s oppression. Embracing this view of female biology required embracing and accepting the oppression. Women were likely to do anything to avoid being confronted by their own femaleness when it was defined in such limited and negative terms.
and are still in circulation today. When the pill was released it provided the opportunity to silence these rationalizations that had plagued women for so long. The pill shut down the troublesome organs. Without these organs weakening their bodies and minds the argument for keeping them out of the workplace and the realm of men had shaky foundation. It became a necessary part of the progress of women’s liberation that women deny female biology. Women were needed to work for the economy by this time and instead of overthrowing the misogynistic medical understanding of women’s bodies, women took the pill that provided an easy answer to the conflict. Without their ovaries intervening women could be viewed as “industrious.” They could be seen as more like men. The pill helped women fit into the male-dominated social structure and economy. Far from being a revolutionary moment in history, the invention and prescription of the pill fit very neatly into the developing consumer-based capitalist economy. To sustain consumption women also needed to work and make money. The medical establishment had proclaimed women incapable of working alongside men, but the pill gave them an escape route. In 1969 feminist writer Clare Boothe Luce said, “Modern woman is at last free, as a man is free, to dispose of her own body, to earn a living…to try a successful career.”
It could be said that women were rejecting the concept of femininity presented to them by society, a concept “Dispose” is a critical choice of word. By one definition they had no part in creating. Their unhappiness with it is saying women could arrange their bodies in an their standing in society was protest and not pathology. orderly fashion; by another it is saying women could Menstrual health issues and infertility were not transfer control of their bodies to others, and by a self-inflicted and psychosomatic, although such issues third definition it is saying women could “deal” with may have been worsened by chronic stress. By blaming their bodies conclusively. All three actions are achieved women the medical establishment was divorcing women by taking the pill. from their own bodies and making the female body an object of and a source for fear and oppression. If they Women were, of course, working already and effectively had physical health issues women were told to blame using condoms or the diaphragm to prevent pregnancy, themselves and their faulty, weak bodies. but the pill gave that needed push towards social acceptance of this new course of life for them. The The “psychology” of the ovary and uterus was a ration- medical industry still believed that female biology alization for the social inferiority of women to men. incapacitated women both physically and mentally. The These ideas were still very much alive in medical invention of the pill was not a sign of the medical journals and doctor’s practices when the pill was created industry working in the best interests of women; it
was a demonstration of the misogyny at the foundation of their practices. Equally, women’s acceptance of the pill was not a sign of their liberation but an illustration of the internalization of this misogyny. Women were happy to medicate themselves, because they had been told for so long that they were sick. If that sickness was their responsibility then it was their responsibility to cure it, by taking the pill. Women would still bleed during their week off of the pill every month. The medical cycle was planned out as a marketing tool. It was also necessary for men and society at large to accept women taking the pill and a fake period made the pill appear more natural. Women could be equal in society, but not too equal. The fake ‘period’ would not be incapacitating but it was a reminder of women’s inherent weakness. In the present day, we have no need for such a marketing tool. In this way, the pill is a rejection of femaleness. In swallowing the tablets women are swallowing the negative connotations that are attached to female biology.
kitchen quickly and quietly. The fact that women had proven themselves to be equally capable was suppressed. She suggests the debate about the negative impact of PMS or ‘unpredictable’ hormones on women has resurfaced since then at the most opportune times. In comparison, in contemporary society PMS is blamed for all manner of female-defined emotions. Recent research argues that women could experience PMS symptoms at any time during the month, not just before menstruation. A woman is said to be PMSing if she is disagreeable in any way. Dr Dalton argued in her book that although PMS caused problems for women it also cost American society eight percent of the total wage bill. When experiencing PMS women could not be trusted with the simplest tasks, not even taking care of their children. A woman’s menstrual cycle was everyone’s business. Women’s emotions were seen as a threat to society. Just as hysteria was a threat to the continuation of society in preventing women from having children, PMS might cause women to harm children.
Even if women were rightfully angry to be relegated The pill allowed for doctors to extend their interven- once again to the sphere of female work, their anger tion from child rearing to fertility, and medicate was quickly reduced to a symptom of this syndrome. women from their teenage years to menopause. Feminism has established itself as a reaction to the assertion Psychologist Paula Caplan remarks that this diagnosis that biology is destiny. This reaction is founded on amounted to the medical authorities saying to women – the acceptance and internalization of the misogynistic “We’ll believe what you women tell us about how you’re medical ideology. In 1953 Dr Katherina Dalton identified feeling but you’ve got to let us call you mentally ill.” and coined the term premenstrual syndrome or PMS as a hormone-related phase of health issues experienced Within this narrative the pill could be understood as during the fourteen days before menstruation. Published freeing women from the tyranny of their troubled in 1978, her bestselling book Once a Month: The emotional states and allowing them to become more Premenstrual Syndrome Handbook claims that PMS consistent and stable. Yasmin and Yaz were promoted as “threatens the very foundations of society.” Decades cures for anxiety, moodiness and PMDD. later Karen Houppert, author of The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation, suggested Stabilizing moods is even more prevalent in the pill that during World War Two the inherent weakness of promotion today than when it was first released. women was played down purposefully. Biological, physical and mental consistency and stability were considered important requirements for entry into Women were required to take over traditionally male the working world with its repetitious, rigid schedule jobs when men were drafted to fight. Yet when the men and myriad unrewarding roles. There are parallels and returned, women needed to be hustled back into the intersections between the development of the feminine
hygiene industry and the progression of the pill. The tampon hides the period, but the pill gets rid of the period altogether. Our relationship to the pill is inseparable from our relationship to menstruation. Brands of the pill such as Seasonique and Lybrel are promoted on the basis of letting women have just four fake periods a year. They are first and foremost menstrual suppressants with the added benefit of pregnancy prevention. These brands were advertised heavily on US television channels like Spiked that are directed towards men. Women are asked by their doctor how many times a year they want to have their period and many respond that they never want to have another period, without knowing what they are throwing away. Menstruation and ovulation are not connected in this dialogue. Menstruation is subsumed by the fake period, which can be easily disregarded as purely an old-fashioned marketing invention. Ovulation is presumed unnecessary unless a woman wants to get pregnant. For the pill to gain more of the women’s health market negative views on menstruation had to be perpetuated and elaborated. The feminine hygiene and the pharmaceutical industry did not have to create this issue, only draw on ideas already present in the ideology and repackage them for new generations. As the popularity of the pill increased, and therefore more women had shorter and lighter fake periods or no fake period at all, the feminine hygiene industry developed new problems that could be solved by their products. Women
should not sweat, urinate, blow their noses or emit any bodily secretions, but especially menstrual blood. The development of sanitary pads for daily use and not just during menstruation is one illustration of the strategy. The cervical mucus produced during the cycle that can be used as a clear sign of the window of fertility, or be a marker of infection, is drawn into a bleached pad and treated as a dirty secretion. As Houppert reports a sign on the wall of the foyer of theTambrands factory reads, “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.” The Nelson Pill Hearings made women implicit in their medicalization. Women demanded that the pill be improved and they demanded that information be provided in inserts. The pharmaceutical companies had to approve the improvements if they were to keep selling the pill. Just as women had supported the development of drugs to ease pain during birth, they supported the development of the pill. After this, women’s support of hormonal contraceptives only increased. A relatively brief period of suspicion gave way to women taking the pill inhigher numbers than ever before. Do we feel the same way now about hormonal contraceptives as we did then? If we can accept that the release of the pill was a necessary social event, we can consider that it has now outlived that necessity. We could agree that the pill has no place in modern medicine.
Cindy Rehm, from the series Fragments of an Analysis, 2014, collage on punctured paper, 5”x7” © 2014 Cindy Rehm.
Daphne ÂŠ 2014 Agata Cardoso.
Daniel Regan, 09.07.2008, from the project Fragmentary, 2014. C-type print & medical record, 20x30â€? ÂŠ 2014 Daniel Regan.
SALOME KOKOLADZE A POEM AND PHOTOGRAPH
i was born i was i was i [?] i was born faceless your eyes drop down to find mine
my face is
i was inside someone else
no my face is not in there who has been talking all this time who has who whowho
i was born i live [?] with my insides pushed around with your hands
youi iwasi [?] face less
Bernadette Louise, from the series Maternal Blood, 2014. Performative photograph. ÂŠ 2014 Bernadette Louise www.BernadetteLouise.com
MENSTRUAL MAGIC A RITUAL BY MENSMAGI ”To create is to be shameless! Therefore we create and we create with our menstruation!” The Menstrualmagic Manifest
During late summer 2013, we founded a group of women, which we later named Mensmagi. We knew we wanted to change or transform our lives so that we could be more creative. So we started organising gatherings where we would discuss various ways to break patterns of behaviour that limited us as women. We wanted to find a way to break with historical, structural and individual patterns of behaviour, and ways of thinking that limited us individually and collectively. Alejandro Jodorowski’s method Psicomagia (psychomagic) became an important inspiration and guide when performing our acts and rituals. The foundations of the method are traditional psychology (psychoanalysis), shamanism, and theatre (a
metaphoric act). When you combine these elements, you get in touch with your subconscious traumas and that is when you are able to break with them -or to transform them into something else. The menstrual blood became the foundation for our artistic expression because it is the foundation of human life and therefore, a symbolic liquid that we metaphorically employ in our performances. It is a liquid that represents all women and women’s bodies that also generates life. But for various reasons, it is surrounded by shame and considered a taboo in our society. So we use it in order to challenge and break
both individual and societal taboos. All of us group members made rituals with our own menstrual blood. The rituals that we performed have been the key to opening the door to a world of creativity and the menstruation was the tool that we used to overcome our fears and to strengthen our self-esteem. It was a process of empowerment as we worked with our bodies, on our own terms, in a respectful and healing manner through the Psychomagic-inspired acts. We also saw our process as a political act in a society where the historical and structural power imbalance between women and men remains a fact. Even though we had done our utmost to realise our dreams, we had been limited and hindered from achieving our full potential. The psychomagic-inspired acts were a way to challenge this. The process took many months of discussions between all seven women in the group. The conversations came to be about our relationship to creativity and individual expression, and about how to realise our dreams as artistic beings. We discussed why our minds, our expressions, and our faith in ourselves had been limited. We wanted to broaden our horizons and our thinking, and to become more open-minded in the process. The next step was to discuss our personal traumas in order to access and identify deadlocks that we had buried in our subconscious. We spoke about the traumas that we felt limited us in our development, difficult things that previously had been too taboo to share. They were complex topics that we never had dared to grasp on our own because they had been too difficult and incomprehensible. We pondered upon why we had not talked about them before. We questioned whether or not they were related to men’s dominance over women on a structural level. We also questioned our relationship with men and how they have affected our femininity. We further wondered why we were still carrying these traumas, as it has turned out that we had been carrying them for years. We felt the need to localise the specific traumas that we felt most limiting as part of our personal healing and our personal development. We started to
uncover our memories and our respective histories and to identify our mental situations. It could be feelings of abandonment, disappointment, sadness, etc., but also relationships with key individuals in our lives. We also talked about love-related traumas, sexual/ incestuous traumas, and systematic societal traumas. We decided that we wanted to do acts or rituals with our menstrual blood because we believed in the affect and power the blood has when working with it in relation to the subconscious, to break our patterns through these rituals or acts. We felt that this would help us let go of/get over our traumas and strengthen our self-esteem, but also strengthen our view and our potential as women. Our individual traumas or blockages are of course very private to each one of us. One of us had to forgive her mother for years of abuse in her ritual to be able to heal. Afterwards, she felt as if she went through years of psychotherapy within the 30 minutes that her ritual lasted. Another one of us felt that her creativity was blocked, and that her dream to be able to create music needed a ritual. Her ritual was about loving herself first and foremost, and to believe in herself so that she could let loose of her fears. What actually happens when you do a ritual with your own menstrual blood is that you shock your brain when you use the blood in a totally different context than the one you are used to. You use theatre, the metaphoric act, as a tool to reprogramme your subconsciousness. Psychoanalysis addresses some sort of subconscious trauma you want to treat – theatre and menstrual blood are the basis for facilitating this healing. All these elements together make magic happen. It worked for us, and we encourage all women to try it out. More information on: www.mensmagi.com
Ritual Zoca Morend, photographer: Carolina Johansson © MensMagi.
ZIBA KARBASSI A POEM
Yox yuxuda Topuğuma çatmışdi Böyrümdəki sənə yaraşan qolçaq Aslanmışdi Islanmış ağaclar tərsə göydən o gün Çiyrimişdi bağrım Bir az aynadan Bir azda sənnən Göz yaşı yer salmışdı göz altında Ağlamışdı yarım güman dolvu gözlər əlimi tutub görsətdin boş cəmaəətə güldülə dedim göyərib gövərçin əllərim soyuğdan qızdırdın dodağlarıvnan ağardi beş dəfə söyürdün məni yox yuxuda. In Tarizi Turkish
ZIBA KARBASSI A POEM
ﻧﺎﻣﻪﮫﻫﮬﮪھﺎﯼی ﺧﺼﻮﺻﯽ ﺑﻬﮭﺎﺩدﺭر ﺩدﺭرﺍاﻧﯽ ﻭو ﺁآﻫﮬﮪھﻮ ﺣﺴﺎ ﻧﯽ 57 ﺯزﻳﯾﺒﺎ ﮐﺮﺑﺎﺳﯽ ﭼﺎﮎک ﭼﻮﻥن ﺻﺒﺢ ﮐﻦ ﺍاﺯز ﻋﺸﻖ ﮔﺮﻳﯾﺒﺎﻧﺶ ﺭرﺍا ﺳﺮ ﭼﻮ ﺧﻮﺭرﺷﻴﯿﺪ ﺑﻪﮫ ﻫﮬﮪھﺮ ﮐﻮﭼﻪﮫ ﻭو ﺑﺎﺯزﺍاﺭرﺵش ﺩدﻩه ﺻﺎﺋﺐ ﺗﺒﺮﻳﯾﺰﯼی ﻗﺴﻢ ﺑﻪﮫ ﺳﮓ ﮐﻪﮫ ﺑﻬﮭﺘﺮ ﺍاﺳﺖ ﺑﻪﮫ ﺩدﻧﺪﺍاﻥن ﻧﻴﯿﺸﯽ ﮐﻪﮫ ﺗﺎﺯزﻩه ﭘﺮ ﮐﺮﺩدﻡم ﺑﺎ ﺍاﻳﯾﻦ ﺷﻘﻴﯿﻘﻪﮫ ﻫﮬﮪھﺎﯼی ﺳﺮﺥخ ﮔﺮﺩدﻥن ﺑﺮﻳﯾﺪﻩه ﺍاﺯز ﻁطﻨﺎﺏب ﺟﻤﻠﻪﮫ ﻫﮬﮪھﺎﯼی ﺷﮑﺴﺘﻪﮫ ﺩدﺭر ﺩدﻫﮬﮪھﺎﻥن ﻣﺮﺩدﻩه ﻫﮬﮪھﺎﻳﯾﯽ ﮐﻪﮫ ﺍاﺯز ﺍاﺳﺘﺨﻮﺍاﻥن ﺑﺎﻻ ﺯزﺩدﻩه ﺍاﻧﺪ ﺭرﮒگ ﻫﮬﮪھﺎﻳﯾﯽ ﮐﻪﮫ ﺍاﺯز ﮐﺎﺭرﻭوﻥن ﮔﺬﺷﺘﻪﮫ ﺍاﻧﺪ ﺗﺎ ﺗﻨﻬﮭﺎ ﺑﺮﮔﯽ ﺑﺮﺍاﯼی ﺗﻬﮭﺎﻝل ﻣﺎﺩدﺭرﻡم ﺑﺒﺮﻡم ﺳﭙﺮﺗﺮ ﺍاﺯز ﺳﻴﯿﻨﻪﮫ ﺭرﻭوﯼی ﺩدﻭو ﭘﺎ ﺍاﻳﯾﺴﺘﺎﺩدﻩه ﺍاﻡم
H A N* A POEM BY YONG SUN GULLACH
Hun ses af Han Hun læser en bog for Han Hun sender en ensom mail til Han Hun bruger Han til at komme over ham Hun bruger Han til at skabe liv for ham Hun ser flatterende fragmenter af Han Hun vugger sit kommende Han-barn Hun græder efter længsel efter Han Hun agter aldrig at møde Han Hun glemmer Han
Han glemmer hende Han skaber et offentligt rum Han glemmer ensomt hvad Han er Han bruger hende som undskyldning Han skyder sæd ud i rummet mod hende Han græder over hende Han bor med Han vugger sin kommende Han-krop Han har for længst forladt hende Han agter kun at møde hende Han glemmer ikke hende
Hun ses ikke af Han Hun ser Hans bog i et privat rum Hun ved ensomt hvem Han glemmer Hun lader Han forsvinde undskyldende Hun sidder alene i et rum uden Hans sæd Hun græder Han-fragmenteret længsel Hun vugger sin ensomme Han-tanke Hun ved hun skal forlade Han Hun agter at forlade mødet Hun glemmer ikke Han
*Han er et koreansk kulturtræk, der optræder både i den koreanske shamanisme og folkloredigtning. In Danish
RADICALISM LOST IN TRANSLATION A POEM BY SALOME KOKOLADZE
talking with a stranger: you don’t even have to ask about my views, i am all ready to talk listen i am anti: capitalismneoliberalismwhitesupremacypatriarchyheteronormativityhomonormativityracismfoodindustrycolonialismimperialism…. i am anti you name it! i can say more more even more because this language butters my mouth and words like sexuality gender vegina sex gender queer glide out. yes, yes i can say more in this language (to forget about fear). (wordless) conversations with my mom: my mother calls me and asks me how i am. i have become more and more reserved. i find it hard to speak to my parents in the language that is not ინგლისური (inglisuri) i find it hard to write a poem in ქართული (qartuli) as well without hiding my “provincial” აქცეენტი(aqcenti). mother, maybe you know what my silence stands for.
does it point to the part of me that longs for presymbolic? does it point to the part of me that is apolitical? does it point to the part of me that is still ashamed of the “provincial”? i am sharing on social network stories about ferguson, discussions about racially exclusive gay rights campaigns... you name it! but i am unable to speak up for my neighbor whose husband shouts at her. i am unable to comment on a picture of my seventeen year old relative’s wedding. i am unable to comfort my mother with the kind of solidarity i advocate for. and i wonder the next time i go home if i find ways to stand up for my own rights will it be silence still that will speak for me? and i ask(in english), are my facebook posts, my poems radical enough? are the demonstrations i attend turning the world into the better direction? but my mother calls me… and i keep thinking, why radical matters if my activism cannot distill my words into a smile for those for whom i need to be fighting in the first place.
OF BLOOD, BODIES AND THE LIMITS OF EMPATHY, OR THE POTENTIAL HAZARDS OF WELL-MEANING MAKE BELIEVE TOWARD SOCIAL CHANGE AN ESSAY BY CHRIS BOBEL Since I study feminist activism, I think a lot about in another. What if non-menstruators2 , her male colhow we generate awareness about social issues, a leagues, in particular, experienced this too? she mused. necessary first step to mobilizing change. Borrowing What would they feel? Like this? What would their art from Cynthia Enloe, it is our job to “take [the lives look like? What would the world look like? So, for her, of the marginalized] seriously.”1 The methods we deploy “Menstruation Machine” is as much a playful glimpse to generate this awareness run the gamut, of course. into a cyborgic future as a shout into the void: Hey! For example, an ethnographer explores the lives of I am hurting over here. Do you see me? Do you hear me? their “informants” through participant observation of Pay attention! people in situ. An Investigative journalist conducts interview upon interview with the people at the heart This piece can easily be construed as feminist theatre, of the story. A creative writer publishes a poem that a kind of ‘take a walk in our shoes’ menstrual edition. helps us ‘see’ a problem in a new way. Each approach, Put on my bloody panties and see what it’s like—then striving toward social justice, aims to capture the maybe, just maybe, the non-menstruators among us will voices and “lived realities” of those disadvantaged get a clue at what it means to have a period. (though that is often too mild a word) by social inequality, calling attention to the experiences that the Now in my 38th menstruating year, I can relate though dominant society often ignores, trivializes or distorts. I am left wanting. Of course, “Menstruation Machine” is not the whole package. While the device delivers As an antidote to cold detachment, these cultural pro- cramp-like shocks and includes a tank that holds and ductions enable a glimpse into the life of someone dispenses blood, the blood does not drop, in unpreelse, typically someone cast as ‘other.’ When we imagine dictable patterns, into your panties, soiling your – even feel – the life of those oppressed, we cultivate favorite ‘tonight’s the night’ pair. And there’s no empathy. And this feeling state can stretch us outside hormonal fluctuations. But even if “Menstruation Machine” ourselves, setting the stage for outrage and then, were somehow modified to better simulate the monthly hopefully, action. periodic shedding, it still only captures half the reality. While menstruation is a biological process, For the last 10 years, my area of interest has been how we, as a culture regard the ebbs and flows of the menstrual health and politics. So when I heard about menstrual cycle is deeply gendered. In other words, we British/Japanese designer and artist Sputniko’s can take the menstruation out of the girl, but we can’t “Menstruation Machine”, I sat up. “Menstruation Machine” as easily take the girl out of menstruation. is a curious metal device equipped with a blood-dispensing system and electrodes that stimulate the lower I want to be clear here: We have bodies – messy, smelly, abdomen; thus, replicating the pain and bleeding of a sensual, imperfectly perfect vessels –but we need not five-day menstrual period. be defined by them, even though we often are. Indeed, Sputniko’s aim is to help us see a near future in which Sputniko explains that as a student soaring high at our biological processes are split off from bodies the esteemed Royal College of Art, she felt like “super- whereby our flesh is not a cage. Where our gender identity woman” brought inelegantly back to earth each month by is released from bones, organs, skin, hemmed in only her period –the pain, the mess, the inconvenience, the by our imaginations. What a thrilling hack.3 body pulling in one direction while the mind pulled
SPUTNIKO! Menstruation Machine, Photography: Rai Royal ÂŠ SPUTNIKO!
This is where it gets tricky. How can we work toward such a wide-open world while still acknowledging that our embodied reality is so much more than hearts beating, feet moving (or staying still), food digesting, uteri contracting. It is because, as we know, embodiment itself is socially constructed. More specifically, the menstrual experience is shaped by an enduring taboo, norms of strict containment and a mandate of secrecy and silence—all of which reflect hegemonic femininity. The consequence of these forces is a kind of hush that suppresses a rich and necessary menstrual discourse. There’s PMS jokes. There’s shame exploiting tampon and pad ads. There’s menstrual education (1 hour in grade 5. Anatomy and supplies, little more). This dearth of menstrual talk inhibits body literacy and empowered living. For better menstrual health, we need to be heard. Hey! Pay attention! Because “Menstruation Machine,” the shock-inducing blood-dripping machine only delivers the partial experience, the wearer may THINK they ‘get it’ when in fact, they do not. They may even feel entitled to speak for those whose menstrual lives are so much more than a monthly uterine event. They may feel authorized now to speak, more generally, as lived menstruators. This is a hazard. A big one. In fact, I think ‘imagine the other’ exercises – what I suppose is not far from the ‘make believe’ games we played as children – can actually put more distance between us. It can diminish empathy and ultimately, undermine our success as activists. Buddhist nun Joan Halifax identifies three enemies of compassion: pity, moral outrage and fear.4 I add a fourth enemy: entitlement. I lose my empathic connection when I pity you, when I judge you, or when I see your world as a threat to my own. And I lose my empathic connection when I speak for you. The world I (and maybe you, dear reader) live in, that is, the post industrial, neoliberal late capitalist global North (and especially my particularly messed up corner, the USA) is especially hostile to empathy for two interrelated reasons. For one, here, we place a
very high premium on individualism, inspired by our 18th century enlightenment roots and perfected par excellence through norms of masculinity, among other things – that is, our identities are based on what makes us each unique, about what we can do as hardworking, rugged individuals. But we don’t stop there. We like to cast ourselves in opposition to others. The boundary between you and I is rigid and we hold it up like a shield against the unknown.5 And it limits empathic connection. This context enables us to see how certain attempts to create empathy may, in fact, produce a particular disconnection—both on interpersonal and emotional levels. I want to proceed by looking at a few examples of design intent on enabling empathy, examples like “Menstruation Machine”, but slightly different, too, such as Blind Cafes, “Crip for Day,” the Empathy Belly, and so. These “experiments” are not new, of course. Take for instance John Howard Griffin’s 1961 Black Like Me. Griffin underwent a series of injections to darken his skin then rode Greyhound buses for 6 weeks documenting his life in the Southern US, passing as a black man. The book that resulted was a shocking exposé of what it meant to be black in the 1960s in USA. In 2011, the US blockbuster hit, “Real Housewives of New Jersey”’s Melissa Gorga donned a fat suit for the TV show, “Entertainment Tonight.”6 It was another tired publicity stunt disguised as, according to the network “special report on fat, discrimination” and famewhoring.” At best, contrivances like these produce a series of quaint realizations that black people and/or fat people have been lamenting and research has been documenting for decades. We don’t need a white man to speak for people of color. We don’t need a thin woman to speak for fat people. We need to listen to those who experience race and/or size discrimination every day, speaking their truths, demanding an end to racism, to fat oppression, to social injustice based on identity or shape or size or color. After all, a day of experience, a quasi experience at best, is not the experience. The very temporality is
a limit. You know it will end. You know you will soon get your life back. And, especially when the switch is to a less privileged reality, from able bodied to disabled, from white to black, from thin woman to fat, when the exercise concludes, you feel lucky, maybe blessed, and perhaps, if you are honest, relieved. Whew! Thank god I am not black! Thank God I am not fat. But isn’t some access to another’s reality better than nothing? When the attempt is to see into, to feel into, the life of someone marginalized by what sociologists call their social location, into a human space socially disadvantaged by identity or experience, or both, it is already hard enough to be heard (and that’s usually because the powerful aren’t listening). But the remedy is not your voice...The fix does not mean I want you to explain me to someone else. And I certainly don’t want you to explain me to ME. Here’s a final example. As part of a piece he wrote for Vanity Fair in 2008, Christopher Hitchins subjected himself to waterboarding. After 16 seconds, he withdrew. It was too much. He titled his piece, “Believe Me, Its Torture.” Believe YOU, Mr. Hitchins? Did we need to believe YOU to justify our outrage at state supported torture? Wasn’t the word of torture victims enough? Why do you— or anyone else- need to embody such atrocities in order to take them seriously? Would I feel differently if Hitchins endured a longer session? 24 seconds? 2 minutes? Would I like it better if he did not have the option of withdrawing at all? No. I don’t want to chase better and better simulations and rely on them as a means to close the gap between us. I don’t want to live in a world where embodiment of the other is a requisite for empathy. Imagine that world. I don’t feel what you feel, so I don’t care. I don’t want to live there. Do you? Before I became a professor of Women’s & Gender Studies,
I served as the director of a campus Women’s Center, and as part of that job, I designed and delivered sexual assault awareness trainings during college orientations. In those trainings with new students—most of them pretending to be too cool to acknowledge their vulnerability – I’d ask the students to picture the four women closest to them. “Today, about 1 of out 4 women experience sexual assault at some point in their lifetime,” I’d explain. Dramatic pause. And then I’d go in for the kill: So which of the 4 women in YOUR life will be sexually assaulted? I shudder at that exercise now. Sloppy science aside, I don’t do that exercise anymore. Because I don’t want to perpetuate the notion that something horrible has to visit our own lives for it to matter. Isn’t it bad enough that somebody’s girlfriend, sister, mother, aunt is raped at such alarming rates? Isn’t rape bad enough regardless of the biography of the victim? I am not arguing against seeking empathy, against seeking connection. Rather, I join my wise friend menstrual warrior David Linton who suggests that we aim for accepting and respecting the embodied other – that we strive to appreciate our own selves in relationship with others. This is quite different that casting ourselves against “the other”, the one we pity, we judge, we fear, the one we dismiss because we think we understand. The one we try and fail to speak for. When a non-menstruator wears Sputniko’s “Menstruation Machine”, the experience is partial but we might mistake it as total. What’s missing is the experience beyond the biological, the cultural construction of the bodily process which in most cultures boils down to deep shame about the unruly undisciplined body. It is this shame that puts menstruators on constant leak alert and why our menstrual products are called sanitary PROTECTION. “Menstruation Machine” might help someone “feel the pain” but it fails to enable that same person to “feel the shame” Thus, maybe we are better off without the tools, the thought experiments, the “imagine if...” exercises. Maybe we increase our chance at connection when we
strip down to our vulnerable, raw, unmediated humanity. Perhaps it is enough to encounter each other, and say, with the utmost sincerity, I hear YOU. I see YOU. I AM paying attention.7 1. Enloe, C. H. (2013). Seriously!: Investigating crashes and crises as if women mattered. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2. My language is intentional here. Not only women menstruate and not all women menstruate. Hence, menstruator. However, this fact does not elide the fact that the menstrual discourses are not shot through with gender. This makes the menstrual experience even more challenging for, say, transmen who menstruate and pre menopausal ciswomen who do not. 3. And I want to thank Sputniko for provoking me to think out loud in this way. This essay is neither a criticism of her nor creation. Conversely, it is a testament to “Menstruation Machine” achievement: to spur conversation about bodies, gender, technology and the potential of transcendence. 4. https://www.ted.com/talks/joan_halifax 5. I’ve heard this cultural love affair with contrasts labeled DICHTOMANIA, though I can’t trace a source. We are dichotomaniacs when we exaggerate the distance between two things, often two parts of a larger whole, and then, we typically use that distance to justify oppression.... man / woman, white /of color, straight /queer. It’s a trick that ignores tremendous human diversity, not to mention potential 6. http://www.melissagorga.com/video/melissa-gorgas-fat-suit-transformation/ 7. This essay is an adaptation of remarks I gave in April 2014 during a Design and Violence Debate at The Museum of Modern Art, NY, NY http://designandviolence.moma. org/design-and-violence-debate-ii-designing-empathy/
THIS BLACK WOMANâ€™S PURPOSE A TESTIMONY BY THOLA ANTAMU
I have spent the past two years trying to figure out what to call myself. What to call my profession, when asked. It has taken me two years to find a term that I am comfortable with. I am a theatre producer and freelance solo performance artist. I produce emersive theatre, performance art theatre and exhibition theatre. I have learnt to use all the best parts of myself, and sometimes the worst, to create a product and name that people will be willing to recognise. I struggle with terms, names and formalities. I have always made sure to allow room for change and reformation. As 2014 ends and 2015 begins, I am learning to live with the name that I have given myself, Thola Antamu, theatre producer and solo performance artist. From as far back as I can remember, I have been a poet and storyteller. Now, as an adult, I feel a responsibility to perform and tell the stories of those who are unable to tell them themselves. As a black South African woman, I am still one of few who is educated, well spoken and treated in a way that I have come to expect to be treated. I have chosen to tell, illustrate and perform the stories and lives of other womewn, who look just like me, but were and are not awarded these luxuries. Through poetry and performance, I hope to give these often forcefully silenced women a voice, a chance to speak of their suffering, endurance, strength and pain. I hope to give these women a platform and give others the chance to hear that they are not alone. In my country, South Africa, on my continent, Africa, education is something only the rich are able to truly use. Through theatre, I hope to bring power back to the African people through education and the historical form of storytelling. I believe in women, I believe in Africa and I believe that by breaking the invisible chains of oppression we can come together through a common medium: speech, suffering and strength.
‘Exhibit S, Ode to Saartjie Baartman by a Black South African Woman’, photographer: Nicole Clare Fraser’ ‘Exhibit-S, Ode to Saartjie Baartman by a black South African woman’ is a poetic performance piece inspired by misrepresention, art and the story of a young woman. Born exactly 200 years before me in 1789, Saartjie Baartman was a khoikhoi woman from the Eastern Cape. Like me she was also orphaned as a child. She lived to be only 24 , after a life of seemingly neverending struggle and lies. She was bought as a showpiece by an Englishman and smuggled to England never to set foot on her home soil again. She was supposedly well treated, paid, housed and respected by her “owners.” This is her story fused with mine and told through, speech, skin, and movement.
LET ME TELL YOUR STORY. A POEM BY THOLA ANTAMU For she who never had the chance to cry out Was beaten, hard for the tears that rocked in the curve of her soft eyelids For she who was bound and chained, cuffed and muzzled by the customs and beliefs of her own flesh and blood. For she that wore the history of her skin like a diamond entrusted crown never took it off even though it cut and scarred her delicate, beautiful face. For she that did not have the words Could not find the ear Was never given the time LET ME TELL YOUR STORY For those who suffered without knowing so For those who tolerated for religion and tradition For those who kept secrets in places no woman should have to go. For those who found in the knowledge of death a freedom and peace
that had never been given to them in life. For those brave enough to fight But not fast enough to run. LET ME TELL YOUR STORY I promise to tell it over and over again I will tell it until my voice no longer sounds like the voice that I know. I will tell it until my tears cease to flow. I will tell it and I will tell it and I will tell it â€˜till someone listens I will tell it until the world listens and when they are listening I will tell it again. LET ME TELL YOUR STORY.
ONE WOMAN, TWO CONFLICTS A STATEMENT BY MAISAM ABUMORR
Being a woman has always been a challenge in itself; a natural status that was ultimately moulded by various patriarchal systems throughout the humanity’s history. She was mostly viewed as being weak and dependent, incomplete on her own, submissive and subordinate. No family can survive without her massive contribution to its creation and well-being, yet this contribution is solely determined by a greater power: the masculine power. Over the decades, a number of organised and spontaneous liberation movements, or I would say liberation battles, have been conducted by women and their sympathisers in order to both improve their conditions and defy the ageing social roles designed by patriarchal systems in power. The results of such battles did not necessarily touch every woman’s life on every spot of the earth. While some are applying the finishing touches on their age of golden equality, many others are still fumbling their way out of the outdated-yet-persistent social expectations that are leaving little, or no, space for their quest for independence and creativity. It is a reality where ‘different’ and ‘bad’ are absolute synonyms. I was born in 1989 on the stairs of a UN Health Centre in Gaza because, as my mother says, my timing was bad. I decided to kick my way out not knowing that my city was under a tight curfew imposed by the Israeli Occupation. It was almost impossible, even for emergency cases, to be in the streets during such a time. But how would I know? My super grandmother would eventually find a way to get my mother to this refugee health center, which was overcrowded with young men who had been injured in clashes with the Occupation forces. That is how I ended up being delivered on the stairs. My mother says that I had a big head. Which later proved to be a source of virtual pain for my family as well. My grandmother, on the other hand, was not very
pleased to see that I was born a girl, or, I would say, not a boy, and she probably secretly regretted all the trouble she had to take on to get us to the health center. The circumstances of my birth, as well as the joyful welcoming I had as my extended family received the second female newcomer in just about two weeks, laid the path of my upcoming life. That my existence will be defined by two struggles: a struggle for freedom and national identity, and a struggle to find my own self, my very soul. I grew up with a distinct tendency toward reading and languages. And, most importantly, an acute willingness to question and challenge the status quo. Reason enough to turn my life from a mere story of existence into a restless journey of facing-the-odds. Many consider, and rightly so, that a woman with a brain can be a very dangerous creature, simply because she has the ability to be a serious threat to the kingdom of male dominance’s very foundations. Knowledge gives her the strength to break free from all the unjustifiable chains aimed at defeating her will for change. What, then, is the suitable approach to address this issue? The human factor is the answer. It is this that we need to fix, rather than the creation of a new set of institutions, of new kinds of policies, and of the acquisition of more advanced tools and devices for change. As much as those steps are important, they do not come first. Rather, to see the desired effect, we must work on the human soul and mindset. I know, for sure, that my work will not be more effective than digging a tunnel with a nail file. I know it will not be easy. I know that I will have to make many sacrifices. But I also know that wherever strong belief and high ambition exist, impossible is never in sight. Gaza
Erin Solomons, selection from Everything That Rises Must Converge (II), 2013 ÂŠ 2013 Erin Solomons.
FREE GAZA - THE SAMIA GALLERY A STATEMENT BY LYDIA COHEN AND SAMIA MALIK
LYDIA COHEN Free Gaza The Samia Gallery SAMIA MALIK FREE GAZA FUND RAISER AT SAMIA GALLERY Martin Luther King: ‘NONE OF US ARE FREE TILL PALESTINE IS FREE’ Over 2000 killed and thousands of civilian of Palestine injured during Operation Prot ective Edge in Gaza. In August 2014 we ran Gaza fundraiser artshow in gallery for four weeks. The exhibition featured works from many different artists who were selected by Samia and myself on the basis of open submissions. The works varied from 3D printed gun and bullets, to a Facebook conversation between myself, and a Palestinian in exile in Egypt. Lydia and I were in conversation in August 2014, at the start of Operation Protective Edge. At the time I was attending pro Palestine demonstrations in London. These demonstrations were an exhilarating experience, with a reminder of the importance of endurance; seeing an uprise in human solidarity in large scale. Witnessing, being part of demonstrations including more than 10,000 people; so far has been some of the most inspiring moments in London. I felt for the first time in my life people power can lead to change for good. These protests were hopefully t he start of a m ove m ent t hat will free Palestine. Samia and I both came together in our political activism in support of the Palestinians as the latest attack of Gaza began in August of this year. We wanted to make an art exhibition, which created awareness of the war crimes Israel was committing but also a space, which facilitated discussion both with artists and with the local community in which the gallery was situated.I have connections with Palestinians both in and out of Gaza and understood that money raised through donations would not only support these people financially but emotionally, as support is strong both in Europe and Latin America. The cause was particularly important for me as my father is an Israeli Jew, after spending time in Israel I wanted to understand what was meant by this term ‘conflict’, we in the West hear so much about. After spending time in The West Bank (Palestine) I was able to understand exactly that this is not indeed a ‘conflict’ but a sixty-seven year long oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people. Through conversation with Palestinian friends in Palestine, I was given insight into their direct experiences. In August 2014 we ran Gaza fundraiser artshow in gallery for four weeks. During these four weeks, Lydia and I faced our fair share of persecution for openly supporting Gaza. We were both scrutinisd by several Zionists in London. Every week during this show, I was dealing with new obstacles in gallery related to Gaza artshow. For security reasons in writing I cannot explain all unexpected obstacles that took place. In the last week of artshow, responding to the last threatening email regarding Gaza show, I made a decision to leave the gallery. Next week we were in contact with the PA of the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, who helped to improve the security of the shop. We ended up
moving out of the gallery in early September 2014, our landlord was not as supportive as we hoped she would have been.This period was an eye an opening experience, and gave us a tiny taste of; what it might be like to be a Palestinian who’s threatened and oppressed for every move they make.
Israel/is/a/terrorist/state/supported/by/many/developed/countries/ Israel’s/two/strongest/allies/are/UK/and/USA//This/results/in/mass/scale/ propaganda/when/national/news/channels/such/as/the/BBC/in/UK/supply/ bias/news/mainly/showing/coverage/of/attacks/by/Hamas/in/Israel//BBC/ also/showed/limited/coverage/of/national/demonstrations/for/Palestine/ in/London/several/of/these/demonstrations/took/place/right/outside/the/ B B C / P o t l a n d / P l a c e / i n / L o n d o n / / One of my Palestinian friends asked me ‘if people in London know about what’s going on in Palestine, do they have any concern’. I assured him: many people in London want nothing more than to see Palestine free. And this I did not share with him: unfortunately many people do not know the r e a l ity and far too m a ny people are complicit. Complicit attitude eq uals hu m an suppression, Palestine needs every single persons h e l p.
Julia Maddison, Humanity, 2014 ©
David Turner, Crayola Bullets, 2014 ©
2014 Julia Maddison.
2014 David Turner.
ARTIST LIST: Phil America, Shaheen Ahmed, Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Vanya Balogh, Nadia Ballen, Frank Black, Bill Cilbery, Lydia Cohen, ihtgw Continent, Ashley Scott Fitzgerald, Glenn Fitzy Fitzpatrick, Laura Gabe, Eldar Gantz, Maria Teresa Gavazzi, Max Gimson, Nikki Hare, Dannielle Hodson , Marie Holyhead, Hülya Küpçüoğlu, Andie Macario, Julia Maddison, Paul Matosic, Katie McDougall, Safeena Razzaq, Rebecca Scott, Megan Schwartz, Martin Sexton, Barrie Sharpe , Andrew Stys, Ro m an Taher, David Turner, Mark Woods, Hassan Vawd a, Markrobla
ECONOMICS, THE WEAKEST OF ALL SOCIAL SCIENCES AN ESSAY BY DEA GJINOVCI
Economics, as an academic discipline, is taught through a neoclassical lens allowing economists to come up with theories, explanations and concepts that would, perhaps, be applicable in another world. But not this one. The grounding idea in neoclassical methodology is that through the ‘economic man’, a rational and autonomous actor, we can define a clear and objective representation of the economy. The economic man never acts irrationally, never falters: his decisions are motivated, solely, by his reason and desire to maximise utility. This “objective” representation is used as a methodological tool in most studies and research. The outcomes of a study are based on the rational decisions taken by this mysterious actor. Independent, self-interested and rational, he is what we all strive to be, or as economics explains, are. It is time to reassess this assumption. The non-existence of this economic man is pretty blatant. An everyday person would certainly not read this description and say “yes, that’s definitely who I am”. Economists are pretty smart as well, they figured out that this representation of the economic man is not very congruent with the description of most human beings. Nonetheless, it is still the representative that neoclassical economists rely on the most. There are many factors that make him a misleading economic representative; I will cite some here. Firstly, he is a man. When the discipline of economics first emerged, the times were really not favourable to women. Economists theorised economics as taking place in markets where rational actors would interact with each other and the market. As men were considered the sole agents acting in the market, this representation took a male form. Economists of the time, also, did not account for the “private sphere”
as part of the economy. The role of women in households was simply ignored. The role of women at work was also mainly ignored. Indeed, during the early years of industrialisation, women, as well as children, worked similarly to men as it was an economic necessity. It is from the beginning of the 20th Century, when the economic standing of people developed that women were more regularly confined into households. It is now no surprise that the economic description of the rational actor does not suffice. Obviously, because women make up more than 50% of the world’s population. But also, because gender roles are now not so stringently narrow. Secondly, he is rational. Logical, sensible, reasoned; he always makes the right choice. This has never happened in the history of humanity; a human that has only made rational decisions their whole life. If we think of logic and rationality as analytical tools, they are one of the many ways we choose to understand the world around us. One of the many drivers behind our decisions. Indeed, there are plenty of other approaches: we make decisions with our emotions, with our intuition, our belief system, our morals, our compassion, our stupidity? A host of factors make us act the way we do. If we choose to act rationally, there are a great deal of biases that we have to confront: self-serving biases, confirmation biases, optimism biases and other general biases. For instance, if I go buy a cookie for £2.50 from the coffee shop next to my university instead of Sainsburys 20 meters up the road, which sells 3 tastier cookies for £1.50, economically, this decision does not make sense. I do not maximise the utility/satisfaction I will get from this purchase as I only get one less tasty cookie instead of three for less money. This purchase could not be explained by a rational economic agent. But it does happen, I have bought a cookie for £2.50 instead of three for £1.50. Now, if we take into consideration other factors, I might have gone to the coffee place because I like the service there, because I wanted to keep warm or
because I needed to use the wifi. There were other components that made me choose the coffee shop instead of Sainsburys. And this happens everyday, in more dire situations, bad economic decisions can be explained because of the circumstances. In actuality, studies show that poverty leads to bad economic thinking. Studies have also shown that religion and values/beliefs can push poor voters to vote for candidates that are unfavourable to them economically. Thirdly, the environment also undermines the use of a rational actor in the field of economics. The environment you live in and are influenced by is hugely important when thinking of the economic decisions a person makes. A recent study effectively showed that the strongest indicator of social mobility was your parents. It showed that living in low-income single-parent households is one of the strongest factors for social immobility, that children being born to wealthy parents would be 80% more likely to go to university, that the area you lived in would most likely provide the opportunities you get or don’t get.
that do not only pertain to the use of the rational economic agent. These issues are also the products of a neoliberal agenda that aligns itself on universal solutions supposedly applicable to all kinds of societies and circumstances. Similarly, the male rational-decision maker is portrayed as a universal representative of the multitude of existing economic agents. Economics, in its current shape, pushes for policies which are detrimental to society as a whole. It enforces patriarchal gender roles, it does not “objectively” represent the economy (far from it), it does not take into consideration a multitude of factors which influence people’s daily decisions. For the past decade or so, there has been a push for a heterodox academic curriculum making economists more apt to deal with the real economy and the “irrational” behaviour of economic agents. For instance, some of these efforts focus on the increased use of quantitative and qualitative data in research methodology.
More than that though, economics needs to forget Overall, these factors are rarely taken into account about arbitrary ideologies. As one of the biases I when economists conceptualise the economic agents in cited, economists suffer most from a confirmation bias. their studies. Most economic studies are pursued in The confirmation bias leading them to believe that their binary terms: what is the utility-maximising outcome research and theories must be right because they were and what are the opportunity costs of pursuing this ‘objective’, ‘scientific’ and ‘quantitative’. None of this alternative over another. By only selecting these is true, by omitting the importance of external variables specific variables such as utility-maximising choices that affect human beings, we are not being ‘scientific’. based on a rational actor, economics is currently blind We are not being scientific as these theories are not to the many consequences that economic policies have supported empirically. Rationality does not create on the rest of society and especially on women. objectivity. By only looking for information that will confirm what has been entrenched in an hypothesis, we In particular, when thinking of austerity measures are not being objective. which have been applied, in times of crisis, with the only aims to reduce national deficits and on the long Let’s stop teaching ideologically-based economics term to bring higher growth to the economy (measures to students. As any other social science, theories in which have shown to actually have catastrophic conse- economics need to be debated, discussed, critically quences for the economy). Cuts are hence made to health thought of and sometimes just disregarded as inapplicare, education and welfare services. In our patri- cable to the real world. So please, no more wishful archal society, this means that the “caring” part that and idealist thinking that economic behaviours can be was provided by the state will now be expected to be explained on the basis of the rational and autonomous taken over by women. In households, mostly women will man. take care of the elderly, of the children, of homework, of household chores, all of this being unpaid work. Obviously, these issues are part of a greater problem
I SPEAK A POEM BY AYO AYOOLA-AMALE
i speak, i speak,
i speak, i speak, i speak like my flesh
i speak by the glow of the moonlight i have learned to smell burnt words. Where is that nonsense?
that hit upon my heart
Where is that sense?
yet my face laughs like hyena
I was born when the sun sang And yours like a drain I saw starkly like an open flower before the heat came down my mind came down.
sitting in the sky as blue as a swimming pool
i speak, i speak,
My sense runs nowhere
i speak words like waterfall
I speak, i speak
and the days go blind,
I speak like the sunrise
and hearts go deaf The earth is my body, so i worship bubbles and waited for a blissful undisturbed sense.
At dawn, life is on the whole
Who is that nonsense?
Sense and nonsense
Who is that Sense?
and at dusk nothing absolutely nothing.
You know it, because you are in it.
My head ran everywhere and sang till the river dried up in all places.
I speak, i speak,
i speak, i speak I speak like a god i speak like the morning waken from her dream
there’s a rose in my heart
What is nonsense?
and stink in the sink.
What is sense? i saw sense in nonsense and nonsense in sense.
I’ve had enough
And leaned where the sun ran no longer welling up and out
I can’t find my head.
I never quite know... but I have learned to keep my two clay heads. I speak, i speak i speak like nature I sang my mind out like tulips. My sense runs everywhere.
THE STIGMA OF AFRO HAIR AN OBJECTION BY YASMINE AKIM
Shaving the heads of slaves before setting sail was one of the steps towards dismantling their African identities. Slave masters demeaned the slaves’ hair, referring to it as ‘wool’. In order to not ‘offend’ their white masters, house slaves were encouraged to straighten their hair. To this day, hair straightening is common within the black community, and is often seen as a way of broadening one’s horizons in terms of employment and respectability. From a young age, girls with Afro hair are led to believe that their hair isn’t worthy due to societies’ standards of beauty. There are hardly any black women in the media without a weave or relaxed hair, perpetuating this ridiculous delusion that Afro hair isn’t admirable. Why is it that we can’t embrace what we were born with, rather than replicating a ‘European’ look? Women from all ethnicities like to experiment and change the texture of their hair, but no other ethnicity goes to such an extent that black women do. I started to relax my hair when I was about seventeen. I thought that it would be much easier to manage - which was a huge misconception. Within a year, it would have been necessary to wear a weave to cover up the damage done. I feel empowered now that I have gone ‘natural’, since striving towards this impossible goal of straight hair resulted in an identity crisis. It made me feel inferior in terms of appearance; I wanted to look white subconsciously. I believe that this desire to change the texture of Afro hair is a sociological, political and cultural survival mechanism passed on through generations. In order to regain cultural pride - It is up to the new generations of mothers to abolish the stigma of Afro hair! Hair Shop, Peckham © 2014 Yasmine Akim
HAIR: TO WHOM DOES ITS MEANING BELONG A COMMENT BY AWA KONATE
Last year, I had the pleasure of having my account “Hair is Political” published with HYSTERIA. It was a painful yet self-relieving account of my path towards discovering what hair meant to me. In the account, I tried to use my own experience and relationship with my hair to highlight the ways in which hair is highly political. And here I stand almost one year after I wrote the account. Black hair remains a complicated subject of reflection and analysis. Finally, however, black hair, along with any other, non-Caucasian hair textures, has found its political space and slowly, has become a politicized subject in some conversations. But as with most subjects with complicated histories that gain a “bigger” momentum, one should be critical of how it is spoken about. We need to ask ourselves: is hair a reflection of one’s social status or simply an expression of beauty that isn’t complex? In the African community, hair has always been an integrated part of the individual identity: a reflection of economic status, ethnic belonging or simply an expression of aesthetic beauty. Historical influences have not managed to disrupt the significance of hair in the African community. As a black woman who on several occasions has been confronted by the politics of her hair, I take great pride in being natural. But I have to point out that as much as I agree with my fellow naturalistas on some of their criticism of a chosen ‘non-natural’ hair style, our criticism needs some self-reflection and contextualization. A shift in consciousness has slowly occurred which has led parts of the Black community to reject the standardized and white dominated notion of ‘beauty’ -that of course has meant a greater unity amongst Black women as Black hair signifies another shared experience, which I as an Ivorian woman and naturalista is proud to be apart of. But I feel an urgent need to address an issue that’s often dismissed in conversations about Black hair. For too long, I have heard negative remarks amongst naturalistas like myself about Black women that either straighten, relax, or wear a weave or extensions in their hair. It is often implied that their hair is psychologically chained by the idea of white beauty being superior to the blackness of their kinks. It is assumed that their hair is not authentic enough. It makes me want to ask: in which ways is hair a reflection of one’s social character? Why do the non-natural hairstyles automatically imply that a woman isn’t comfortable with herself or that she doesn’t carry her Blackness with pride? I don’t relax, perm or wear weaves/extension in my hair and that’s a personal choice. But I resent the notion that choice of hairstyle “defines” every black woman’s psychological state of mind. Allowing a notion like this to go on unchallenged is counterproductive because what it does is exclude and divide Black women rather than accept and understand the complexities of the politics of hair for Black women. Our redefinition of beauty shouldn’t lead to the exclusion of fellow Black women. We need to acknowledge that having ‘non-natural’ hair isn’t necessarily a confinement to oppressive beauty standards.
DON’T GET A GRIP AN OPINION BY AMANDA SCHWARZ-NIELSEN
It is only good if feminism seems divided and in disagreement for it is in criticism (also the internal criticism) that feminism has potential for change. Feminism in agreement is dead feminism.
You may read feminist journals, websites and blogs, or go to feminist presentations and events. In that case, you’ll soon get the impression that feminism seems to be clouded in internal disagreement and essentially divided. Whether it’s Emma Watson, Beyoncé, prostitution or pornography – you can be assured that the feminist praise that Emma Watson’s speech gets on the internet will be matched by equal amounts of feminist criticism. You may have tried to find “safe” feminist issues – issues where you can find clarification, consensus and direction on which “all feminists agree”! But feminism is no ordinary dinner party. Even in your eyes, innocent phrases about the weather can be met with a violent storm from fellow feminists. Is it because there are certain camps in feminism jostling for the same space? Seemingly not. You can’t easily identify two camps, three camps or eight camps in feminism. There is probably rather somewhere between one and infinitely in counting. And there is not always a comprehensible link between saying one thing and another. It may look as if there is no system and direction in feminism. It might seem confusing. Are we even talking about the same thing here? It can take courage and frustration to identify as a feminist. Just as you feel comfortable in a feminist argument against prostitution or the like, you’ll get hit by a shit-storm of arguments against it by someone who similarly identifies themselves as feminist. And no matter what is argued, there is always a fierce feminist, non-Western criticism that puts everything to the wall! In many other respects, internal disagreement and confusion seem like a weakness, and especially in
political contexts. For example, if a political party seems divided, the party is slaughtered in the media. It seems frivolous and unprofessional to disagree. And when we generally participate in a discussion, is it not with the purpose of convincing others to agree with us? And if we see someone trying to convince others of something without succeeding, would we not consider the arguments as not being “good enough”? We expect that there must be something wrong with the inner mechanics of a system if it is characterized by controversy. We think we will have to fix it first before we can get along. But feminism doesn’t need control, and feminism is not in a crisis, nor is it weak due to internal doubts and criticism. Doubt and criticism, even internally, is feminism muscle power to challenge the world, not its Achilles heel. A constant flow It is not foreign to most feminists to perceive feminism as a movement attempting to change gender power relations. The feminist approach is very often to question the existing gender order – questions about whether certain gender orders can be called natural, whom they benefit, how power relations work, how the gender order is developed, etc. And through questioning, we can reveal conditions we take for granted and thereby claim other sides of life. But feminism is not an issue where one settles with simply one answer. It should be seen more as a procedural development where uncovering one power relation just reveals another. You close one door behind you just to find yourself in a new room with new power relations to understand, uncover or question. Feminism can never be satisfied. A content
mode is simply to be satisfied with power relations that you may not have identified yet (or prefer, for some reason, not to question). It can quickly give the impression of paranoia whereby feminism actively searches for problems everywhere. But it’s not a bad thing to turn every stone. The problem arises when criticism only leads to constraining and disabling. It’s hard to imagine any such criticism since most criticism will more or less bear a progressive potential for either breaking something down, rearranging or moving ideas and concepts around and thereby, producing new meanings. To give an example of what I would conceive as “negative” criticism would be one that targets language in pettiness. Language might be limiting and create simplifying and damaging categories for one’s identity, but criticism of that sort can quickly turn into an obstruction. Another example is criticizing men, white people or the like, in never really having the grounds for a true understanding of their own privileges and the conditions that women or black people have to face. These criticisms are not necessarily good or bad, true or false. The question is, however: where do they lead us? They might create a small ground for rearranging and constructing new ideas, but they also blow up huge negative spaces, which we cannot address or access, and that we constantly have to push around in front of us, obstructing and limiting other ideas. With these examples, you are already “wrong” as soon as you speak, and some people would already be “wrong” before they even formed a thought in the first place. It can also be called to stay within a “boundary of negativity”. Where this boundary lies, no one knows, and it is most likely flexible to all sorts of variable conditions. Looking at feminism as a process of critical thought Feminism’s recent development is a good example of internal procedural criticism driven by investigative, critical questions. Put very simply: in the beginning, when feminist criticism of society was aimed at gender equality and the contemporary power relations, it quickly raised several other feminist-critical questions about the underlying premises which define the conditions of equality. Should it be based on the current
appearance of the genders, or should gender be thought of as departing from biology? It led to a flow of feminist thought that was committed to understanding sex thoroughly. For example, feminists started to circle around the concept of sex and gender categories as something separate, whereby sex was to be understood as the “biological sex” and gender as it is “cultural sex”. But again, these ideas were once again met with more feminist questions and critique. Best known is perhaps Judith Butler’s criticism of the constant search for a kind of “gender core”. It was problematized that if we continue imagining a natural or biological core of gender, we will continue to have a rigid and limiting expectation of how gender should be. And it is such expectations that we would consequently impose on others. So feminism works by constantly tuning into new areas. Both by criticism and questions aimed at the outside world but also, perhaps even more importantly, internally. This does not mean however, that each single part in this feminist process of ideas, opinions and so on are less feminist or necessarily bad, just because they can be met by some kind of criticism. This can be illustrated with another example, which is also debated heavily by feminists at the moment: whether Beyoncé is a feminist or not. Thinking in these terms, the question gets rather pointless, and can easily be answered with yes, she’s a feminist. She points to several gendered subjects. She stirs, in her own way, gendered power relations. One should rather ask: “How is she a feminist?” Or, if one were to discuss it very critically, how much her feminist approach is actually daring and contributing. As criticism can become negative and not very contributing when it surpasses the “boundary of negativity”, so too can criticism have only little to offer if it stays too safe and fears approaching the very same boundary. Or, in other words, you can also jump off the train of the feminist process of critical thoughts too early for it to get really exciting or reflective. I wouldn’t say that this is the case with Beyoncé. Far from it. But if I were to discuss the topic, it would be on those terms, and not whether she’s a feminist or not. The same goes for Emma Watson’s
speech and many other feminist topics. And anyway, understanding feminism as a process or line of critical thoughts implies that there will never be a perfect feminist argument or a perfect feminist in the first place. Also it is difficult to realize the potential input feminism loses each time something or someone is labeled as “non-feminist”. Indeed, it can be a very costly exclusion. But it is a fair discussion – how going beyond or staying too far away from a “boundary of negativity” both imply their own sets of problems: How going beyond the boundary end up obstructing and constraining, and how staying too far from the boundary doesn’t imply very much feminism! Is this suggesting that you cannot be a feminist if you do not think there is something “wrong”? Something, however tiny, which is not worth criticizing, questioning or being reflective about? I would say yes, because there is nothing inherent in being a feminist. It is not like being a person with brown eyes, which inherently means that your eye color is brown. You cannot be born a feminist. It is not an exclusion to insist, that you’ll have to come to the party, in order to have been at the party. If this was the case, “feminism” would be an indifferent term. But each link along these extremes can in their own way be cool and feminist, like Beyoncé. And even going beyond can be considered as a feminist approach, even though it can easily get tangled up and problematic. Underneath the mask there is a face with no features A good illustration of this feminist process or line of thoughts is masks and unmasking – that is, feminism aims to unmask power relations through its criticism, in order to see otherwise naturalized elements and relationships more clearly. But the imagined picture of masks and unmasking also creates a notion that if a sufficient number of masks are removed, a face will appear underneath. Therefore, to reach this face, clearing it from all these dubious masks must seem like feminism’s ultimate goal. Free of masks, only the genuine gender will be left. If feminism reaches this point, it will be able relax and sit comfortably back. But feminism will not find a face, or at least not
a face, feminism would be able to read. It would be as incomprehensible as a face with no facial features. Why? Because there will never be at state without power relations, and therefore, what would seem as the final underlying face, would just at a closer glance be another mask. If feminism were nonetheless to achieve this ultimate objective, it would kill feminism. Feminism lives in its constant critical flow. A comfortable stage is a dead stage for feminism. But, just as hard to read the underlying face is for feminism, just as packed with information the masks are. There is a manner, or a way of feminism, a mask – but not a something, a particular, a face of feminism. There is therefore no direction or coordinates to reach. There is no face to imitate. To put it more in daily terms: You will be no more or less feminist if you shave armpits or you don’t. The feminist part herein lies in asking why we respectively shave or whatever. When the feminist landscape seems almost schizophrenic and torn, it is because there is no comfortable island in feminism. There is a force of constant re-evaluation and reflection which means there is no easy way around it. There is no end in unmasking. Suddenly, it is not clarification which is sought, but the questions and criticism in itself. Disagreement becomes desirable, not consensus. A bumpy ride, but the best ride nonetheless So feminism seems split in internal disagreement, and it is easy to jump to the conclusion that there is a lack of direction or agreement, but with feminism, we must accept that there need not be a particular face or a particular point to reach. Unity is not something that is sought for the sake of unity. It has its advantages. It fuels a feminism that is constantly evolving. It does not block itself by clarifying beforehand what is or is not its only rigid objective. It creates space and opportunity for more criticism - both internally of feminism and externally, of society. One can additionally not blame or accuse feminism to preach one particular social order and gender decor. It also means that it is hard to criticize feminism in itself, since this “itself” isn’t settled.
What one can criticize is the questions feminism asks or fails to ask. And if you do, you contribute in just another way to the feminist dialogue. In this sense, feminism, which probably seems overwhelming, divided, in disagreement â€“ is in a larger perspective, a roaring river, which no one can truly control or direct, but with lots of potential for change. Feminism does not dry out through disagreements. Additionally, when we zoom out, it may be that we will
actually find unifying elements of feminism in 2014. At some time perhaps we can better see common trends. But right now, when you wade out to feminist events, read feminist blogs, books or websites or participate in feminist conversations, the small feminist encounters in everyday life will tend to often involve elements of frustration. There is no sure footing in the current and no way to get a grip, but this is not something that feminism needs. So donâ€™t get a grip.
Viviana Sciara, Self Digestion, 2012, Pencil on paper, 74x38 cm ÂŠ 2012 Viviana Sciara.
TELL ME WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE A COMMENT BY HANNAH HABIBI Earlier this year I was interviewed about “Islam and Feminism”, and the interview was picked up by The Guardian. All of a sudden, Islamic Feminism had become a topic that seemed to be everywhere, another facet of “Feminist intersectionality” and a new handle with which to get to grips with “the Muslim woman”. Of course, the existence of Muslim Feminists hadn’t been new at all, if anyone had hitherto been that interested - but it was presented as something cool and fascinating and subsequently attracted a lot of attention. The article attempted to move beyond the reductive fixation with modes of dress and responded to a very successful grassroots project that encouraged Muslim women to recognise Feminism as a positive movement in the fight against everyday sexism, and not one that they are excluded from by virtue of their faith. But online it quickly got ugly, and the web comments “below the line” of the Guardian article verged on vitriolic. I don’t know why, but I was so shocked and disappointed by the animosity levelled against Muslims identifying as feminists. It’s far from surprising that the heady combination of “Feminism + Muslims” would have the trolls in seventh heaven, but many comments were so passive aggressive, and even oppressive, that I despaired. Perhaps I was naïve; after all, there is a palpable surge in anger against women online. But it’s especially hard to accept when it comes from people I might have hoped were allies: other Feminists. Unsurprisingly, the discussion about women identifying as feminists, and the importance of allowing women from all backgrounds to speak about equality and rights, descended into a discussion about hijab. One commenter glibly exclaimed, “Muslim women dress and say as they are told”, and another mocked “It’s disgusting… On all fairness, the hijab does look better than those long ugly beards some of the men have”. A couple exposed their massive superiority complexes, stating that, “in terms of teaming up
with other feminists I know several women who would find a woman choosing to wear a hijab contending to be a feminist as laughable” and, “the moment you put a hijab on, you ain’t going to be a feminist. Sure, you can tinker at the margins…” revealing precisely the elitist, Eurocentric feminism that the article and the related project was railing against. Thankfully there was some light relief, and the irony of self-proclaimed Feminists shouting down other (Muslim) Feminists, because the latter were “oppressed”, was not lost on all commentators “Haha, the hostility on the comments to Muslim women speaking for themselves is so funny” - whilst another put it plainly: “So Feminists get to tell other Feminists what they can and can’t wear? While I may not want to wear one, I find it objectionable that a movement based on giving women the freedom to do what they want tells them that they cannot wear something that they may (rightly or wrongly) believe they want to wear”. Much has been made of the fact that misogyny is roaming rampantly across the internet. Whilst derisive articles about Feminism, such as Buzzfeed’s “14 Women say why they don’t need Feminism” are unsurprisingly going to attract negativity and contempt from all sides, one would have hoped that serious discussions about “women’s issues” to be met with a less puerile and aggressive response. Sadly, this is not the case, and as with the disappointing comments posted after the interview I gave, it is oft remarked that the comments below Guardian articles wouldn’t look amiss on the Daily Mail website. Even seemingly innocuous discussions that deal with women’s issues are being termed “Clickbait” these days, lumping them together with headlines like, “What happens when a horse fiscovers a jiddie pool? You won’t believe it!”, and “Someone gave some kids some scissors. Here’s what happened next”. The fact
that Feminist articles are seen as “Clickbait” is pretty tragic- is it still so contentious an issue that trolls are drawn in like moths to a flame? The fact that misogyny “below the line” is now itself a topic for real discussion would suggest it really is. Writing this article has been hard. I have sat down to write many times, and each time I read and reread the condescension and aggression levelled at Muslim feminists, I have had to put down my pen, and leave it for another day. I am proud to call myself a Feminist, but the adage that “women united will never be defeated” seems like a hoary old chestnut these days, and no longer are you “either with us, or against us”; it would now seem that you are either “the same as us, or against us”. And with this narrow-minded definition of Feminism excluding so many potential supporters, no wonder misogyny is alive and clicking on the internet, just as everywhere else. Oh well; as with all groups and belief structures, it is the sanctimonious, self-appointed elite defining rules and deciding who can join the gang. 2014 seems to be the year of schisms and sectarianism - why should I have hoped Feminists to be above it?
© 2014 Hannah Habibi.
MEDITATIONS ON BECOMING A CAREFREE BLACK GIRL IN A WORLD THAT IS INHERENTLY ANTIBLACK A MEDITATION BY VALERIE KYEYUNE BACKSTRÖM
1. Do your hair on the train. Don’t mind if anyone is looking. The space is yours, the world is yours. Let the shea butter melt in your palms, let its smell bless the air, let it relax your mind as you caress it into your strands. Feel each strand touching each other – touching you – let that wholeness take over your mind. 2. Walk with your hair out in the rain. Feel it grow with the humidity – fight the urge to make it smaller, fight the urge to panic. Let it grow. Let the rain do with it as God, or whoever, intended. Let it grow. Let it take up the space that was intended for you. Let it take up the space your ancestors were prohibited from claiming. 3. Make love to another black person. 4. Love other black persons – ruthlessly. 5. Be uncompromisingly black. Ride or die for it. (Cause you will, anyway.) 6. Smile to another black person. 7. Read black poetry for a loved one, or yourself, until you fall asleep. Wake up renewed (and maybe a little, little bit sad) 8. Love yourself. 9. Listen to Rihanna. 10. Buy black dolls (This is a metaphor for something bigger) 11. Look at pictures of black people, listen to black music, mirror yourself in them. 12. Dismantle the system. 13. Don’t model yourself after a white Eurocentric ideal you can never achieve. 14. Your nose if perfect. 15. Stay out in the sun – let your skin get darker and embrace it. Don’t hide. 16. Stay away from white fuckboys (and fuckgirls too!) 17. Don’t let nobody ever tell you that you aint shit. You are! And more, and more, and more 18. Take up space – on the bus, in school, at work, in a library, in the streets. 19. Laugh loud, don’t cover your mouth, you are beautiful baby girl, make noise, let the world know that you are here. 20. It’s okey to cuss 21. Fuck trying to fit in to a norm of white respectable femininity that wasn’t made for you to begin with. Do you. 22. Always do you 23. But be there for your black sisters, too. 24. Don’t get sad, get mad. 25. But when you do get sad, allow that, too. 26. Everyday your surviving in this world is a victory, every laugh, every moment of dignity is subversive in a society that doesn’t want to see you prosper. Remember that. The society doesn’t want you. Fuck the society. 27. Loving yourself is rebellion. Rebel! 28. Have fun. 29. Drink a soda, enjoy life, take it easy, no stress, no flex. 30. Organise! 31. Flirt. 32. Get drunk, go out to the club, dance, fuck it all up, be wreckless 33. Don’t be ashamed. 34. Shake your ass
35. Shake it more. 36. You don’t owe the world beauty, but still, you got it. 37. You don’t owe anyone anything, except yourself. You don’t have to achieve anything to be worthy of existing. Remember that. And when you forget; remind yourself. You are complete. 38. Dance. 39. Weep every once in a while, its cleansing. Don’t carry too much weight, shake it off. 40. But the weight you do carry; use it as a compass, use it as a guideline. 41. Don’t wait. 42. It’s good to be good but it’s better to be fair – even if it means upsetting your surrounding. 43. Remember the past, remember all the rivers, remember the people that crossed them to be where you are today; carry that tradition. Life is a fight, life is struggle, it’s our job to change that, to make the world not hostile but indifferent, maybe even giving. Keep up that fight. Sometimes this shit suck. Then take a break. Breathe. Hide in the bed. Cry. Call a sister. Regroup, recoup. Then go out again; breathe in the potential of a new world. 44. Eat mangoes, moisturise. Be gentle when given the chance. The world will undeniable make you rough; that’s how it is, but be gentle whenever you can. Cherish those moments. 45. Remember Alice Walkers words; “Be nobody’s darling; Be an outcast. Take the contradictions Of your life And wrap around You like a shawl, To parry stones To keep you warm. 46. Remember James Baldwins words; ” Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it” 47. Wear it!
Amanda Kerdahi M., Yishrab, 2013, video still ÂŠ 2013 Amanda Kerdahi M.
THE DYNAMIC ABSENT OF INCALCULABLE CHOREOGRAPHIES AN OPEN DIALOGUE CURATED BY KARA L. ROONEY
Well, I can tell you about that but it would take some time. Ritual.
It was like Fluxus meets Broadway in a whorehouse, and that’s very accurate.
It’s not a prescriptive ritual; it’s a sense of intensive improvisational events, structures. An erotic rite; an excessive, indulgent celebration of flesh as raw material. Often the word “ritual” conjures up this idea of serious ceremony, and that makes me uncomfortable. We’ve taken ritual and turned it on its head in a profound sense. Instead of separating two people away from the crowd in order to normalize them, we’ve used the wedding ritual, for example, to make way for all of the people who come to, and want to be a part of, our performances. I have a very fortunate expressive sexuality I can work with, and part of that is based on not suffering the proportion of abuse and sexual damage that so many of us go through.
The personal was political, but it was also a call for love; it was about wanting to generate more love in the world. We realized that the ritual was a great platform for transmitting anything we wanted – a message, a feeling, a performance. If you frame something as a ritual, people seem to pay more attention.
Without realizing it, we subscribe to the defining limits of the patriarchal system.
That’s the only one we know, that’s the only one we’ve been living within. There are no examples of a technologically sophisticated, aroused society that we know of [that is not patriarchal]. The patriarchal system is built into geography, commerce, and the kind of paper cups we drink from. Given thousands of years of oppression and the marginalization of women’s creativity, society has changed enormously, but the underlying desires and taboos are not very changed. I used to make work about the goddess, but I haven’t in a long, long time. I’m way into the Earth as Lover now. In the patriarchal top-down system, the tree of knowledge used to have a lot of branches and many, many of them have now been lopped off. I feel like feminine knowledge is like that tree; the sort of lopped off version represents the oppressive systems that keep us all from achieving our true potential. Feminine knowledge would be something that would probably overthrow this very linear form of capitalism that we are now existing in and destroying our planet with. It would be something very different. Where is the mystic, the sage, the witch? Your early work was undoubtedly about taking back possession of our bodies as females in the face of entrenched power structures. This inherent friction sustains a tension of sorts among the viewers, the participants, and their contexts. Do you see yourself(selves) as societal antagonists? When I say patriarchy, I’m talking about more of an ideological system. I’m not talking about men or women, I’m talking about an ideological system that’s been put into place – A societal construction.
I don’t like to say that “I see myself”; I like to say that I don’t see myself. I see process, I see history, I see issues.
I’m of the moment, I’m within all the contradictions and the craziness of my culture, that’s also where I obtain certain invigorating interiority. If we use ecosexuality as a metaphor for another kind of sexuality, we’re very clear that you could still maintain your heterosexuality and be ecosexual, maintain your gayness, or your bisexuality and be ecosexual: it’s not an exclusive sexuality. It’s also not an exclusive viewpoint of the world. We hope our kind of ecosex engenders more passion, empathy and intimacy with nature, but also a wider vision of sexuality as opposed to a narrow, gathered vision.
It’s really a campaign of attraction.
“I would like to believe in the multiplicity of sexually marked voices. I would like to believe in the masses, this indeterminable number of blended voices, this mobile of non-identified sexual markers whose choreography can carry, divide, multiply the body of each individual, whether he or she be classified as “man” or as “woman” according to the criteria of usage. Of course, it is not impossible that desire for a sexuality without number can still protect us, like a dream from an implacable destiny which immures everything for life in the figure. But where would the “dream” of the innumerable come from, is it indeed a dream? Then too, I ask you, what kind of a dance would there be, or would there be one at all, if the sexes were not exchanged according to rhythms that vary considerably? In a quite rigorous sense, the exchange alone could not suffice either, because the desire to escape the combinatory itself, to invent incalculable choreographies, would remain.”1 Everybody has to find their own way. The real problem is thinking that there’s a prescription. People are stardust, people are water, people are minerals, they are part of the earth. We followed our muses and ended up where we are supposed to be right now.
Two thirds of all life on Earth is in the soil.
We are movers and shakers of the Ecosex revolution: Sexecology.org The erotic is commodified, feminized, brutalized; it’s out there, it’s moving in depictive ways that weren’t possible in the 60s, or the 70s, yet it often doesn’t have the gravitas, the intensity, the sense of risk and danger that exists with the body.
“To be sure, pornographic co-optations are limited in their potentials for progressive or political change. Yet we must acknowledge the critical and under theorized role that pornographic co-optations play in generating technological and economic transitions in the wider media sphere. And it is equally important to remain cognizant of the unforeseen ways in which pornographic adaptions might create spaces for new types of social inhabitation, wherein new possibilities for sexuality and sexual representation are conceived and produced.”2
“The constitution and evolution of social worlds, the form and structure of community as expressed spatially in architecture and proxemics, need not be dependent upon distribution in a physical space the arrangement of which acquits ontic status, but instead could as validly be based upon symbolic exchanges of which proximity is merely a secondary effect.”3 It’s actually very hard to think outside of binary systems because that’s how we are taught to think about everything.
We’re saying, “bring back the live sex show because porn is eating up so much electricity!” But that’s not to say we don’t love lingerie and strap-ons, we do, it’s just, why limit ourselves?
The merging of the visible with the invisible.
As you get older you get stripped of the kind of resistances that were protective in many areas – you have no more erotic power in the general seam of the art world. That’s refused me, and most women. Once you’re 50, the fun is taken away, you can’t flirt without being ridiculous, you can’t expect sexual pleasure without being ridiculous; it’s very constrictive.
My perfect system would be a system where everyone could profit.
There’s a kind of creativity that theorist Donna Haraway would call “situated knowledge.”4 It’s down on the ground, it’s messy, it’s bloody, and it’s a more sort of erotic, sensual, not just body-based but there is an acknowledgment of the body that is not part of the patriarchal point of view of the world.
I’m not an antagonist. I’m deeply embedded in this patriarchal structure. All my privileges are part of it. I can’t be an antagonist. I can be an irritation. I can be another example of how to work within a static structure.
The physical. The beautiful. THE BODY. BEAUTIFUL. There’s a lot that is physiologically hard-wired. Of course, aesthetic theories often want to resist the fact that youth and beauty and freshness are physiologically arousing and attractive. Everyone wants to say that that doesn’t change and that you’re beautiful and sexy and arousing when you’re 70 years old, but - that’s not the case – that might be the wish of the fantasy, that’s not the actuality.
“The majority of people assume that erotics implies bodies; a body is part of the idea of erotic interaction and its concomitants, and the erotic sensibilities are mobilized and organized around the idea of a physical body which is the seat of the whole thing. Yet, what was being sent back and forth over the wires wasn’t just information, it was bodies.”5
It simply feels much nicer to include everybody, and that’s what I love about ecosex -. We include everybody, and everything. It’s huge, but also microcosmic, imagining we’re being fucked by the air we breathe, that sunrays are penetrating and fucking our pores, which they are, that the wind is caressing us, going into these little, teeny, micro universes… I’m working against traditional exclusionary art history. I’m working at different times against certain immediate expectations. I didn’t know how that would enter the world but I saw a dynamic that was absent. We are exploring through our fences. Duration is something we’ve lost sight of, the necessity for it in terms of any creative path that we choose. This addiction to instant gratification, in a lot of ways, the cyber connected global community, has taken desire or that need for duration out of the equation. Meaning reveals itself overtime, not necessarily standardized time, but the time of the viewer. What happens now is full of other contradictory dynamics.
If you look at porn from a historical perspective, the 1800s or the 1920s, for example, human sexuality changes. Sexual styles change, interests change, but it’s still something people are very interested in. Each person is an erotic universe unto themselves. We all have more to learn, and we all have something to teach. Between grief and rage, there are formulations that I need to put forward. That’s where we first became really involved in environmentalism. We thought if there were a way to heal the earth that incorporated the kinds of issues we are looking at, and if people are part of the earth (people are nature), then we would like to heal that binary system that separates people from nature. I don’t know if we need so many artists. I’m in favor of the people who go out and build systems for sanitation, for cooking, for saving, for providing aspects of technology that can help people in desperate straits and, of course, anything that’s giving a formulation for negotiation instead of our usual aggression. A lot of people think of ecosexuality as this hippie thing. There’s a whole group of people who are doing work that’s also under the rubric of ecosexuality and their work is very much about the Goddess. Or Gaia. For them it’s about polyamory, but we feel as though that way of thinking about the kind of work we’re doing isn’t expansive enough. We’re not poly, we’re pollen-amourous.
“I had a feeling that Pandora’s box contained the mysteries of woman’s sensuality, so different from man’s and for which man’s language was inadequate. The language of sex had yet to be invented.”6
I consider myself a pantheist. I don’t want to be prescriptive, to describe myself in any specific configuration. If anything, we think of the earth as transgender and multigender – we’re not so into “lesbian” or “goddess.” The alliances are there. We’re just expanding them. We’ve got women saying things like “I’m not a feminist” – how do you fucking subvert that? I think in some ways people that are dealing with ecosexual themes are trying to undercut the damage that the liberal application of words like “goddess” or “feminist” have done, while at the same time doing something new. How do you deal with ‘trans-humanism’ or ‘posthumanism’? How do you include all living things in this struggle for survival now, in the face of something like mountaintop removal, or fracking? “This suggests that what may be needed is not merely the usurpation of old narrative structures and old words by new speakers, how ever important these may be as a first step, but the inventing of new structures, new words, a new syntax that will shape and transform old habits of thought and old ways of seeing.”7 I’m not a warrior, I’m not a goddess. I’m just a woman going through a certain period of time. What we imagine is a transgendered universe. “Cyberspace is not just simulations, or military experimentation, or computer-supported network, but a space of pure communication, the free market of symbolic exchange-and, as soon as it developed, of exotic sensuality mediated by exotic technology.”
When I see something that starts working, this pile of shards, these iron motors, coming together, it’s coherent, it’s vibrant.
Sex and creativity are completely linked, They are one and the same impulse. With sex, and with creativity, or technology, some days are better than others, some days you just don’t go very far. Sometimes you’re a lead balloon going nowhere, and sometimes you fly. Negotiation versus production.
There’s a huge difference. But right in there is where something volatile and vital can happen. It’s pulling and tugging one strata of expectations and traditions into its’ contrary aspect, but it’s still connected.
FEMININE.AGENCY underlies everything.
* This creative piece was compiled from a series of interviews between the author, Kara L. Rooney, and artists Carolee Schneemann, Annie Sprinkle, and Beth Stephens. In omitting names and other traditional formats of the interview model, generational, artistic, and gendered boundaries begin to disintergrate. Contributions can then be made, in a literary form, to the discourses explored above on the renegotiation of l abels, notwithstanding manifestations of the written word that have in any way contributed to the overarching politics and repressive structures that perpetuate historical determinacy. Kara L. Rooney is a Brooklyn-based artist, curator and critic working in performance, sculpture and new media installation. Carolee Schneemann is a multidisciplinary artist who has contributed greatly to the discourse on the body, sexuality, and gender in contemporary art. Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle are two ecosexuals in love, who live and w ork together in a redwood forest in Boulder Creek and in a Victorian in San Francisco. Devoted to developing the ecosex movement through art, theory, practice and activism since 2004, they’ve produced numerous ecosex symposiums, eco-weddings, workshops, lectures, walking tours, art exhibits, and have made an award winning documentary, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story www.goodbyegauleymountain.org, www.sexecology.org, www.elizabethstephens.org, www.anniesprinkle.org.
1. Derrida, Jacques and Christie V. McDonald, “Choreographies,” in Diacritics, Vol. 12, No. 2, Cherchez la Femme Feminist Critique/Feminine 2wText. (Summer, 1982) 76. 2. Herzog, Amy, “Fetish Machines: Peep-Shows, Co-optation and Technological Adaptation,” in Adaptation Theories, ed. Jillian Saint Jacques(Jan van Eyck Academie: The Netherlands, 2011) 85. 3. Stone, Allucquere Rosanne, The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age, (Cambridge, USA: MIT Press, 1996) 87. 4. Haraway, Donna, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Priveledge of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies, Vol. 14. No. 3 (Autumn, 1998), 575 – 599. 5. Stone, The War of Desire, 7. 6. Nin, Anais, The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. III, 1939-1944 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1969) 100. 7. Susan Rubin Suleiman, “(Re)Writing the Body: The Politics and Poetics of Female Eroticism” Poetics Today 6.1/2 (1985):43-65.
Vaiva Katinaityte, from the photo series Out of Your Skin, 2013, Czech Republic © 2013 Vaiva Katinaityte
MY DELUSIONS OF FEMININITY A REFLECTION BY BERGLIND THRASTARDOTTIR Consider the meaning of femininity for a moment. Hold the word in your head, feel its weight and consequence in your life and as a label bestowed upon you by those who surround you and even by yourself. For me, the story reifies as I stand in front of the mirror each morning with my red tube of mascara in hand, brushing my blonde lashes with quick, repetitive strokes – brush-brush-brush. This gives rise to my exaggerated features – effectively feminized. Again, when I hear my own voice mail played back to me – a high pitched, soft voice echoing in my ears – the meaning of femininity surfaces in the smallest of personal gestures like my “girlish” voice. It does not present itself as weakness, poor sense of direction, an inclination towards irrationality, etc. However, this misogynistic, “natural” correlation thrust upon me continuously by others – perhaps by my own self – has thwarted my own individuation, led me to overlook my own preferences, and thus, impeded my self-esteem. And what’s more, this meaning of femininity – “my” story – transcends personal, contextual, circumstantial boundaries, and is global in its reach. We have struggled as feminists with all the negative connotations of the deeply tangled web of traits that combine to form the dominant conception of femininity, an amalgamation widely defined as “relating to woman and womanly”. We have reacted to it, rejected it, and attempted to create our own ‘anti-heroine’ acting in rebellious defiance of all aspects feminine. However, this “anti-feminine” caricature is no more liberating if that caricature imposes their own ideas of reacting to her own style of inner authenticity, or authentic femininity, on others. One cannot ask a woman to wear make-up to please the “Man”, just as one cannot ask a woman to stop shaving her legs as a statement against the “Man”. Still, when searching for an answer on the other end of the spectrum, reclaiming femininity appears as
a dissatisfactory answer. When feminists attempt to take back femininity, to champion feminine traits, and give them a place at the top of the hierarchy, we proliferate a limiting ideal for women to strive for. In a previous issue of HYSTERIA, Yoko Ono was quoted in a thought that echoes this realization: Since we face the reality that, in this global village, there is very little chance but to coexist with men, we might as well find a way to do it and do it well. […] We can change ourselves with the feminine intelligence and awareness, into a basically organic, non-competitive society that is based on love rather than reasoning. […] We can evolve together rather than revolt, come together, rather than claim independence, and feel rather than think. These are characteristics that are considered feminine; characteristics men despise in women. (The Feminization of Society, 1971, Yoko Ono) I cannot ascribe to this. There is no sexual dimorphism when it comes to intelligence, and using a term such as feminine intelligence shuffles the feminine into the position of an Other – a place for feminine intelligence as the right hand of intelligence with the latter being implicitly masculine. Again, defining something associated with femininity and accepting the construct of the previously stated collection of traits fails us. The female is naturally feminine, stated as “Truth”, is the great fallacy that these previously stated concepts are built on. Attached to the word ‘feminine’ is ‘woman’, the meaning of one bound so strongly to the Other that in our minds, the vision conjured by one is the same as when imagining the other. Further, the illusion of feminine as a concrete identity structure, in that if you have one feminine trait many more will follow, is a probabilistic, ridiculous, and archaic way of thinking that stagnates our attempts
to progress. As Erica Gustafsson describes in her article for the current issue of HYSTERIA, performing gender most convincingly based on conventionally conceived, historically validated ideals, bestows one with peer acceptance and societal status. It is a question presenting for trans and cis alike: how to outwardly perform the gender that you feel attached to in a socially validated fashion. With hopeful gaze we can see that approaches to gender, even in ‘mainstream’ culture, are increasingly fluid, evidenced for example in an exponential increase in gender categories on Facebook. This great shift taking place in pop culture, this increasing media focus on the queer community creates a nascent space to expand the lay perspective and understanding of gender. For the first time, we can reach out and touch evidence that people are truly beginning to create and to experiment with what culture has equipped us with when it relates to gender. We teeter at the brink of revolution in that on many fronts – for example, in our youngest generations, queerness is becoming cool. How do we then induce a collective sense of introspection for our collective femininity? How do we provide a choice in gender identity where there is otherwise none? I worry not about this in those who, given their lack of fit to previously accepted ideals, begin this process of questioning early on, and thus, individuate and become strong in knowing that they are choosing to create themselves. I worry instead of those who are not given a choice – those who, like me, have ‘passed’ in their cis-gender far too easily. Gender exploration and experimentation is a process undertaken by the vast minority, and for those who have, the insight gained makes one aware that it is a process many more should try. We live in a world that still reacts with radical disapproval to non-conforming gender behavior, resisting the “pick a side and stick with it” rationale. We choose it so we have simplicity in our interactions. We have expectations and rules so we can think less and jump with greater haste to conclusions about each other. When we have someone –for example a young girl like me –who meets all the previously historically stated criteria to fit into the feminine ideal, what choice is
she given? She will never be encouraged to try on any other labels, transgressions, because she is conditioned by the expectation of her reality to continue living and embodying this ideal. Any voice inside of her will be quickly hushed for the expression of an individuality that does not fit into the ‘good woman’ archetype will be effectively dismissed. This conditioned, collective FEMININE, ‘good woman’ turns to me and she says, “Why should we try to be ‘like’ men? We are not men, and I do not like the idea of feminists trying to compete with men as if we are the same.” My response to her: “Are the ways you are different from men more important than the ways you are different from other women?” Why try to look at yourself within the limitations of these strict compartmentalized definitions? When we have always done it, perhaps imagining the contrary is a perspective so closed off that it is beyond our ability to sense. When and how will we stop ostracizing those people who choose not to be the best examples of their gender even though they may perhaps be equipped with the greatest tools to do so? This is the enemy of the queer and straight community alike. Is it possible that we can innovate and create a place – a place of thinking that values the individual over a socially imposed gender identity? What if we first dismissed the construct of feminine? It is simply an illusion based on being ‘woman’. But what purpose does it serve now? We should make being a queer society our priority. We should stop using the word feminine – there are other adjectives, there are more complex perspectives, and feminine is just an amalgamation of traits brought together to oppress women. Let us rid ourselves of them. Let him wear his mascara and his lipstick, and her too. Let her be the aggressor in the argument in the confrontation, and let him too. Most importantly, let this not be a representation of their femininity or masculinity, let it be more complex than just that. As a woman, I do not see femininity as mine, or ours as women. I see femininity as an oppressive label. When given to me, it provides me with a gender conforming status and limits the exploration of my own individuality. By all outward appearances, I am equipped with the greatest tools for the feminine ideal, but I
do not feel privileged by this. I burn still with the insincerity of my unconsciously performed gender. I feel its inauthenticity inside me, and yet I cannot help to smile with downcast eyes to charm – to speak in soft high pitched voice to nurture. It is not that I would stop being these things if liberated from my gender conditioning but rather that I crave for the world around to stop placing these behaviors in the box reserved in our collective minds for ‘feminine’ that they would no longer use it to predict my future behaviors and even my ABILITIES and POTENTIAL as an individual. The same can be said for the assumption that the masculine man cannot feel as much – be moved as much emotionally speaking as the feminine woman. So, consider the meaning of femininity for a moment. Hold it, knead it as if it were soft dough, let it cling to your mind momentarily, and then let it go. Let it evaporate, or fucking burn it. We no longer use the word feminine in this alternative universe. Simple. What does it look like?
Maya Art, The Oxytocin series, 2014, inkjet technique on decor etching paper © 2014 Maya Art.
FEMININITY, SAILOR MOON AND FEMMEPHOBIA IN QUEER FEMINIST CONTEXTS AN ACCOUNT BY ERICA IDEN GUSTAFSSON
“Until feminists work to empower femininity and pry it away from the insipid, inferior meanings that plague it - weakness, helplessness, fragility, passivity, frivolity, and artificiality - those meanings will continue to haunt every person who is female and/or feminine.” ― Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity As a young girl1, I was encouraged to like and embrace girlishness. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s in Sweden, this meant to adorn pink or pastel colours, play with dolls and play dress-up. These acts have been described at times as a kind of gender performativity that have been both defended and problematised in Western media. Girlishness, in my experience, is expected (and tolerated) by people and society to a given extent and up to a certain point in life after which it is deemed too “childish” and an “extreme” expression of femininity. Both are shunned as something of a social faux pas: a great embarrassment and in some feminist circles, a manifestation of the subjugation of women. In 1995, I moved from a small Norwegian town to a somewhat larger Swedish town. I was moving back to my birth country and, as it is with all new kids in an unfamiliar setting, I wanted to become liked and accepted. In order to ensure my success at this, on the first day of Grade 4, I brought not one, but three sparkly My little Ponies2 that I triumphantly brought out on our first break, expecting the other kids to swarm around me, wanting to play with me and my delightfully colourful and cute toys. Unfortunately for 9-year-old me, my new classmates had no appreciation for girlishness, childishness or seemingly any combination I could muster thereof. Needless to say, it was a hard-learned lesson in realising the crucial skill of being able to sense and internalise peer norms regarding what is considered as fun, acceptable and desirable. Fast-forward to present time: Stockholm, October 2014. The national election produced a left-wing (albeit, weakened) government that proclaimed itself to be Sweden’s first feminist government – a proclamation tightly connected to the successes of the feminist political party, Feminist Initiative. Their most notorious spokesperson, previous leader for the Left Party, Gudrun Schyman, spent the year running up to the election on a mass education tour, travelling throughout Sweden and elsewhere, presenting a two-hour long lecture on democracy, the Swedish political system and some of the power structures overseeing it all: patriarchy, racism and capitalism. With practically no funding, the Feminist Initiative managed to mobilise thousands of feminists, bring back gender equality onto the mainstream political agenda and challenge popular anti-feminist sentiments amongst politicians and media alike. Throughout this year, there has been a building sensation that a feminist revolution is upon us with its signature colour being pink, its signature adornment being glitter and its signature sexuality being queer. Now, every queer’s journey to self-knowledge has its own intricacies and focal points, but to this particular queer writer, it all comes back to one factor: the 90s animated series Sailor Moon. The series revolves around a young immature girl who is suddenly destined to fight against monsters and, eventually, save the world, along with her close-knit team of girlfriends3. Having learned at the tender age of 9 that the combination of
girlishness and childishness was repellent, I long thought that I was alone in having been affected by this seemingly banal cartoon show. In recent times, it has come to my attention that it actually functioned as a queer outlet to a whole generation of young LGBTQ kids during the otherwise cisnormative and hetero wasteland that were media broadcasts during the 90s. However, to my fellow cishet4 feminist high school class mates, it appeared garish, exaggerated and outright oppressive to women. There seemed to be a tendency of thinking that in order to be fiercely feminist, one had to reject s uch portrayals and performances of “extreme” femininity or girlishness – that they were symptoms of the patriarchy, duping women to like things such as make up, personal grooming, impractical and/or revealing clothing and so on. Yet to me, the allure of Sailor Moon was precisely those feminine aspects, in combination with its overt homo-romantic liaisons between the characters. In its third season, the viewer is even introduced to an openly lesbian couple – also heroines – who are the subjects of the other girls’ admiration and affection. This show very much helped me embrace my own queer identity in a way my fellow feminists did not. My high school years in the early 2000s were a point in time when feminist awakenings and discussions had not yet begun to include queer theory as a vital part in analysing power structures. Had it been, then perhaps there would have been a greater understanding of the importance that the series had played for me as a feminine queer. It exposed to the notion that femininity and non-heterosexuality was not mutually exclusive, and that had brought me a sense of relief and liberation. Consuming culture that portrayed one’s sexuality and gender expression as a given – both desirable as well as admirable – felt so comforting. Having said that, I wish I could conclude that such an understanding is now an axiomatic part of the queer consciousness of the rampant queer feminist scene in current-day Stockholm. However, the experiences of disappointments and marginalisation, due to my childhood and teenage fascination for girlishness and femininity, appear fated to also reoccur in this setting, to my great sadness. A little more than two years ago, I moved to Stockholm, knowing nobody, with a great desire to be among people of “my own” - that is, other queers: politically conscious people who sought after and embodied non-conformativity and was challenging the social and political status-quo to which my abhorrence knew no limits, both through their actions and through their mere existence. I yearned for conversations with others who hated the hierarchies of society as much as I did and who wanted it all absolved – those who showed radical resistance and fought for radical change. I felt such a strong craving for this type of context and I was prepared to do anything. And so, I somehow managed to end up amongst them and through a friend of a friend, I got my queer context. At first I was excited, I had never before been part of a group where all of us were queer. But I soon noticed that my simple claim of being queer was not enough to be properly included. My knowledge of queer theory was fragmented at best. I was not vegan, nor had I ever been part of an animal liberation’s group. I had not slept with anyone who was part of the scene. And, rather importantly, I didn’t look very queer. Having recently started my first proper full-time job, I sported a formal-casual look, blouses and skirts or dresses, along with “natural” make-up and long blonde hair. In combination with severe knowledge and experience-related flaws in my queer persona, I realised in order to be taken serious I had to at the very least look like I belonged with these people: “my people”. So, off came my long blonde hair, I gave away my dresses to charity shops and started exhibiting the Stockholm queer look5. A fashion subculture not dissimilar to thehipster scene, but with a dash of political awareness in the choice of shopping outlets (American Apparel is a definite no-no, for example, whereas the equally problematic brand Urban Outfitters somehow escapes the dogpoo-chucking6 scorn of the Stockholmite feminists). One might think that simply looking like “a queer” wouldn’t change all that much, I still needed to read up on stuff in order to follow and contribute to the political
discussions, (and heaven knows I said some awfully ignorant stuff back then), but lo and behold, my new androgynified look resulted (almost magically) in new friendships as well as hook-ups. At the time it felt like fun. I didn’t want to admit to myself how much I had been willing to change my appearance in order to fit in. Yet, one might ask, how is this different from any other initiation rite of subculture groups, when attempting to climb the social ladder? All such groups, after all, whether they are officially challenging norms or not, have rules, hierarchies and, yes, fashion predilections. However, I would say that this constitutes quite a big problem. Queer is supposed to question norms, to question hierarchies and to be radically challenging conformity of any kind. And Queer would include and embrace femininity. (Sailor Moon taught me this 20 years ago!) So why did it feel so hard to wear “mainstream” feminine attributes amongst other queers and why was the social pay-off so great once I stopped doing that? And here lies the source of the problem as I see it: namely, femmephobia. Femmephobia means fear and dislike towards the feminine, bearing quite a few semblances with misogyny. In a similar way oppressive structures of sexism make women internalise misogyny, femmephobia results in aversions towards feminine attributes, often where it’s seen as not belonging, such as on a person read as male, but sadly also in the company of “enlightened” queer feminists. If one has realised that appearance norms are problematic, and that all norms must be challenged and deconstructed, then one might fallaciously conclude that one shall practice this realisation by refraining from upholding such norms, and as an extension ‘punish’ those who do uphold them. This is a wrongful conclusion because it is entirely possible to be critical of the gender binary system7, which is what is upholding norms, whilst not criticising gender itself. One can be critical of a cissexist binary-focused norm that says that all people must adjust to this norm, without having a subversive gender identity or expression. To challenge norms does not equal policing anybody’s gender expression. To make matters more complicated, it’s not even certain that queers are aware that we are doing this, both to others and against ourselves (which is usually the very deviousness that is internalisation). At a recent meeting for queer femmes in Stockholm (a group without any known predecessor), many of the participants were hard-pressed to think of blatant examples when asked about experiences of femmephobia. Someone mentioned that since the notion of femmes and femmephobia, as a phenomenon within the Stockholm queer scene hasn’t been overly vocalised, it could be difficult to recognise what femmephobic tendencies or incidents resemble. Nevertheless, during the discussion that followed, several queers mentioned what they experienced as a strong macho or masculine norm in queer contexts – how one may be comfortable and prefer appearing feminine yet is drawn back into a masculine demeanour as it is a more safe choice. How one must act and appear butch in order to be taken seriously. How it is difficult if one is read as a girl to also appear feminine, yet also how one as femme can be exotified as sweet and innocent. Someone said that it can be hard to distinguish whether one is being exposed to femmephobia, misogyny or ageism – that being interested in fashion was treated as something despicable, yet all of us agreed that it would be utterly absurd and disgusting if one’s queerness was somehow tied to and legitimised by one’s clothes. On a happier note, there was a notion that displaying femininity enhanced one’s sense of being queer, as it can be provocative and thus, challenging towards norms – that is, that femininity is something powerful, not something subjugated. Although all of us had different experiences, we recognised a lot of each other’s reflections and feelings. And it can definitely be said that there are issues with femininities within the queer community. What can be proposed to tackle these issues? I personally seem to have a pattern of conforming for the sake of survival, causing me endless internal struggles whenever I reflect on my appearance or my mannerisms or when meeting other queers, deciding how much I shall reveal about the things I like and the things that have shaped
me. I keep feeling the need to legitimise my existence within the queer scene and only on brave days dare I assume a devil-may-care attitude when in a queer space. I yearn for a time when the kind of femininity and girlishness that I have always loved no longer is met with disdain or suspicion amongst my own. Hopefully, by adding to the vocalisation that femininity and femmes are an important part of the queer collective, femininity in all its forms and powerfulness can become part of our political consciousness, which is then also manifested when interacting with each other. Girlishness has been a way for me to feel strong in my own personhood – Sailor Moon happened to be my personal catalyst, awakening within me a sense of joy as a girly creature and as a queer – a joy I have felt compelled to withhold in the company of others. I can only hope that the next time I muster the courage to bring out my metaphorical sparkly ponies, instead of feeling silently shamed, I will feel inclusion and desirability.
1.AFAB; Assigned Female At Birth 2.Horse-shaped dolls that were immensely popular, mainly amongst young girls, with their own TV show broadcasted in the late 80s to mid-90s. (Not to be confused with its follow-up My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic and the emergent male dominated Brony nerd subculture, which was first broadcasted in 2010) 3.Both Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie) and Sailor Moon premiered in 1992, otherwise I would have been utterly convinced Joss Whedon was inspired by Naoko Takeuchi (the creator of Sailor Moon. 4.Cisgender and heterosexual. 5.To those who don’t know what this look entails, let me brief you on some of the basics: short hair, no “mainstream” make-up, glittery/patterned/monochrome tights, oversized shirts, caps and sneakers. 6.On 8th March 2014 at a Reclaim the Night demonstration, bags of dog poo was thrown at the American Apparel store in central Stockholm. 7.Gender binary; a social construct where two genders, masculine and feminine, are posited against each other as complete opposites, as opposed to varying kinds of gender identity and expression.
TIME TO WALK THE TALK A CALL TO ARMS BY MILES RUTENDO TANHIRA
We are in the sixteen days of “activism mode”, and the media is awash with articles, glossy images and barrages of statements from all corners of the world. On the 25th of November, the world commemorated sixteen days of activism against gender-based violence; the focus being on raising awareness and castigating violence towards women and children. Yet, behind the scenes, marginalised groups continue to bear the brunt of discrimination, isolation and repression. On the same day, forty-three Indian transgender persons were unwarrantedly whisked away by police to beggars’ colonies for allegedly begging in the city. In Syriah, two youths aged eighteen and twenty-two were suspected to be homosexuals, and were killed by the Islamic State organisation in Deir Ezzor. In South Africa, the murderer who savagely killed a lesbian woman, Duduzile Zozo, in Tokoza, Ekurhuleni township was sentenced to thirty years in prison, yet Duduzile’s life was unfairly cut short by this grotesque hate crime. In Uganda, Human Rights defender and LGBTI rights activist, Kelly Mukwano, was brutally beaten by a mob and ended up in an intensive care unit. In Gambia, authorities continue to clamp down on suspected homosexuals, detaining more and more people, who are detained in incommunicado. Noone knows where exactly they are. This is only a microcosm of the struggles and oppression that LGBTI people encounter every day worldwide. Most of these cases against the LGBTI community are unspoken of, unreported and unheard. On 1st December 2014, the world commemorated World AIDS day. Again, this is the same script: speeches, statements and commitments – but to what end? Stripped of all their rights, LGBTI people remain in the shadows; rejected and isolated from all the exuberant speeches, and sanitised statements by politicians and decision makers. The criminalisation of LGBTI communities and these sexualities makes many people’s lives unbearable in these hostile environments. Treated as criminals, LGBTI people find it difficult, or cannot report these violations at all, let alone seek health services. For example, in Gambia the government has taken a leaf from the abrogated. Ugandan anti-homosexuality law has introduced charges of “aggravated homosexuality ”, which criminalises LGBTI people living with HIV/AIDS. If a person passes the infection to another, the judiciary can pass a life sentence against the “perpetrator”. History has taught us that such laws open up avenues for blackmail and extortion, leading to many false convictions, and significant increases in LGBTI suicides. Paralysed with fear, LGBTI people adopt a do or die attitude. In most instances, in order to ‘fit in’ some LGBTI people will resort to living double lives in forced or arranged marriages , making them more susceptible to violence in these relationships of convenience. The recently released Gap report by UNAIDS addresses the issues surrounding people who are being left behind in the progress of preventing and treating HIV/AIDS. This highlights that the area with the highest HIV prevalence among MSM is sub-Saharan Africa. Here, numbers reach 15%. The report also alludes to other realities, which drive people away from seeking health services, such as a lack of information about HIV/ AIDS targeting LGBTI people in the public domain. This leads to more engagement in risky sexual behaviours as they assume they are not at risk.
Although there are activists, programmes, and efforts being made to right wrongs, this is not to ignore the efforts and interventions being undertaken to address these challenges. However the fact remains, many LGBTI people have been, and continue to be, left behind, prosecuted, attacked, murdered, imprisoned and terrified by intolerant governments and societies. It is imperative to realise that any policies or proposals designed to address these issues need to go much further than a cosmetic fix. A â€œlook good, feel good effectâ€? is useless in the long term. Most policies just decorate offices and gather dust on the shelves, since there is neither urgency, nor the political will, to implement them, or improve the lives of the LGBTI persons. Preaching about ending violence against women and children, and then turning a blind eye to lesbian women being brutally murdered, jailed or raped is hypocritical and cruel. Committing to providing adequate, relevant and responsive health services to all by 2020, but continuing to criminalise the LGBTI community ignores this goal and the desperate needs of this isolated community. This is like a monster that gives with one hand and takes with the other. Let these sixteen days of activism, be a reminder that ending violence, respecting and upholding Human Rights, is an everyday obligation for all states and all citizens. Policies, programmes and proposals worth their salt should address Human Rights, including and highlighting LGBTI rights and stopping further violations against minority groups. It is not rocket science that the focus should be on inclusion rather than exclusion. For as long as people go underground, staggering behind progression, wounded emotionally and physically, because of discriminatory policies, the selective application of the law, and state instigated violence, the gap between the LGBTI community and successfully upholding Human Rights grows wider each day. Leave no-one behind. Let that be more than a mere pipedream.
Miles Rutendo Tanhira is a Transgender Zimbabwean Journalist and LGBTI rights activist based in Sweden. Miles is a feminist, pacifist and human rights defender. Miles is also a media activist who has directed films on LGBT issues eg. (In)visible narratives of LGBT newcomers in Sweden (2014 )and Tinzweiwo : Zimbabwe (2010) and has also contributed in publications highlighting issues affecting LGBTI people eg. Transbodies trans selves (2014). From wrongs to Gay rights (2013). Email: email@example.com
QUEERINGS OF “BLACK CULTURE” A SUBVERSION BY A. JOSEPHINE BUDGE
‘Homosexuality is not an African thing’ My mother tells me that when first they met, my father used to put on her dresses and high heels, and dance about in their bedroom. Luckily all the women in my family have fairly large feet. True, he was a musician. And yes, my mother was a lesbian when he met her. Yet still, this comes as quite a shock for me now, looking at my pointedly heterosexual, born and raised West African father, conservatively re-situating himself in the Ghanaian home I half-grew up in. But then, I didn’t even think that there were gay people in Ghana until my late teens. Between evangelical damnation and a seemingly total cultural denouncement of homosexuality, I could see no place for queer culture in the ‘Africa’ I knew, or in fact in Black heritage at all. Deep fissures divide the continents cultures that Western eyes continuously refer to as ‘African’ – divergent layers of wax that overlap and bicker and out-face one another on a daily basis. Flies stuck to the faces of Oxfam poverty porn by white missionary fingers, debris of medieval Christianity fused with pre-dating idolisms left dangerously open to the interpretation of whichever pastor has the loudest microphone (and subsequently, the largest wallet). In other words, a continent invaded and forcibly colonised to ‘Western standards’ in a white-washed mould. Colonialism may be seen to be a thing of the past, yet that sermon finds a frequency just in time for a neo-colonialised digital age of hate-fuelled evangelical media and the ‘well-meaning’ NGO. Where is the fury? How hard the West has worked to re-direct any reproachful gaze; misdirecting the angry voices when rivers dry up and deserts swell, and all the gold and oil that our earth can give us will never equate to food on EVERY table and ALL children in school. We will never deal in equal trading rights whilst capitalism remains the only well-marketed social structure and greed the only pathway to ‘wealth’. Such clever misdirection’s. How can we find fury when ‘we’ is itself fragmented and facaded by projected identities? Can I ever truly separate myself from the stereotypes that have been sold to me for so long, or identify the hand that feeds me the lie? What we might now call ‘African’, ‘Caribbean’ or ‘Black’ is a single-sided lens reflecting a heritage as it is dictated by the ever-pervading Western voice. Aside from the screaming diversity of the continent as a whole, even for the sake of argument, how can we state what is or is not ‘an African thing’. Particularly with regards to something as multitudinous and varied as that deep well of mystery and sensation: sexuality. Maurice Tomlinson, Jamaican LGBTI human rights activist, passes down the words of his mother on “the true Jamaican, one love culture... …As my mother tells it, during her youth, everyone knew at least one person in the village who was gay, but no-one cared. People respected the privacy of others, and the anti-sodomy law, was rarely, if ever, invoked. There certainly were no marauding mobs seeking to eradicate gays from the society.”
This speaks of a culture very different to the violent gangs and individuals who seek to remove any trace of homosexuality in Jamaica that Tomlinson campaigns against. He states that it is the influence of American tele-evangelists, dishing out “a deliberate export of hate and intolerance to Jamaica… …These preachers spawned sick replicas of themselves in the form of local religious leaders, who poured a steady stream of poisoning homophobia into the airs of their congregants on an almost weekly basis.” Saying that homophobia is an African problem is as absurd as saying that sex trafficking is a European phenomenon. These are global issues and must be dealt with as such. What is specific about the way that the continent justifies its homophobia is the recurring phrase from the South to the North that ‘Homosexuality is not at African thing’. There is a widespread belief that homosexuality is a Western disease that is attempting to infiltrate their ‘borders’. And yet we can see the effects of evangelical Christianity across Africa and the Caribbean feeding into viciously genocidal ideologies relating to abortion, contraception and basic human rights. Imported out of date ‘Christian Values’ are merged with idolism and ‘black voodoo’ to exorcise and ‘cure’ young LGBTQI individuals. Practices flourish where once they might have been shunned such as corrective rape - that is the forcing of sexual intercourse upon the individual, usually women, ‘afflicted’ with homosexuality often multiple times by multiple rapists of the opposite sex, sometimes repeatedly over months. If Tomlinson’s mothers’ words are to be believed, I would have to argue that on the contrary, it is the violent damnation of homosexuality that has been exported by Western medias and institutions. Sitting in the audience at a Q&A with Maurice Tomlinson, I am suddenly transported back to Accra and being woken every morning at 5 AM by the neighbouring pastor and his microphone. His distorted amplifications place so much distance between his own immortal soul and the raving process of saving the souls of his congregants. After the first few months of 20-hours-a-day-preaching, my mother and I learned to block out the words, but I wonder today how horrified I would be if I could remember them. When I go back to Ghana now, I no longer see the men and boys holding hands as they walk down the street or the way that they embrace and boisterously play about with one-another. In many European and American countries, this physicality would undoubtedly be read as gay – limited terminology that is, while fought so hard for, and debated so much, in itself constraining. The very demand for intersectionality equally demands sections to be inter-ed or intersected with. A Western gaze occupies bodies that exhibit such ‘queer’ behaviors, mechanically branding labels upon flesh, animating personas that those cultures may or may not have identified with previously. Under such a violent gaze one becomes a subject of that label; one is seen as gay more than one is identified as human and when one is not seen as human the violence becomes justifiable. I define queer as so much more than ‘who is having sex with whom’ but rather a broadening of sexuality, an openness to experimentation with gender and gendered identities, and a political way of life that actively defies categorization, and the repression of individuality and critical thinking. It is the desperate need to categorize that is, I believe, largely responsible for the ruthless sharpening of lines and boundaries that were once so myriad and amorphous. In turn, it has seen the end of cultures which once allowed for many un-persecuted, un-identified ways of life. In other words, one does not need to identify as ‘cis-gendered’ if an oppressively monolithic gender norm has not been previously stipulated. This is the disease of the neo-liberal West. I am in no way romanticizing pre-colonial African cultures – but I do challenge the view that colonial Western influences over the continent, and indeed the world, have inspired liberality and ‘progressive’ societal change.
If even I, very alternatively raised, think it ‘a bit strange’ for my Ghanaian father to dress up in my mother’s clothes, then what queering are black men denied by other, far more conservative perspectives? When any blurring of gender boundaries becomes punishable not only by death but by eternal holy damnation, what are black men denying themselves in terms of their own expression, their own identities, and their own sexuality? What is lost in the universal simplifying of what can be called ‘culture’, ‘African’ and even ‘queer’? These are questions that need asking, that demand debate in a raucous congregation of humankind. There, I shall find my church. There, men shall find their religion. **** Historically we have looked to America to lead much of the debate on blackness: Civil Rights, women’s rights, LGBTQI etc. Even now, it is hard to Google anything with the words ‘Black rights’ without the first few hits relating to the African American/Black American Civil Rights movement. As though because we had one Martin Luther King Black people have historically ‘had a fair share of a say’. Despite the increase in an ‘Afropean’ voice, the pervading focus on race-related debates; socially, politically and in the arts, remains overwhelmingly concentrated on the West, leading us to believe that no black woman or man thought a thought about their performativity before they touched Western soil. I was recently at a London arts college and saw some of their graduate work. There was a photography piece, portraiting a young, semi-naked, black man with lipstick and heels holding a leash attatched to a collar on a crouching white woman who sat submissively at his feet. At first I was intrigued by the work. I assumed that an 18 year old black man was constructing, if not entirely original, certainly un-mainstreamed imagery exploring power, race and sexuality. Then I realised that the white woman in the frame was in fact the artist, and far from looking demure, her cool, unconcerned gaze all but feigned submission. The collected control exuding from her stare maybe is only to be expected from a young artist entirely in control of the position of her ‘subject’, yet it completely changes the power dynamics of the image. I wonder how, after so many generations of black men fighting for their empowerment, their bodies are still so blatantly exoticised, eroticised and used in ways that they are seemingly un-cognizent of. As Suzanne Moore points out in her brilliant counter to Lily Allen’s single It’s Hard Out Here (for a bitch): “I haven’t missed years of black women writing about how their bodies are used for white people to write their own scripts all over them.” When does the colonial gaze end and on whose terms? Yet far more radical and unexpected than much of the creative work emerging from the Western world are the explorations of South African photographer and filmmaker Zanele Muholi. Muholi’s piercing lens returns the power and direction of the gaze to the so frequently objectified subject, humanising and empowering oppressed lesbian and queer communities, adding layer upon layer of complexity and humanity to contemporary gay rights and the realities of being queer in South Africa. Her photographic collection ‘Beulahs’ presents gay black men populating ‘feminine poses’ in Zulu bead costumes traditionally worn by women and other subversive images of the South African man. To me, this work queers sexuality, both heterosexual and otherwise, on a much broader scale. It augments the scope of what sexuality can encompass, and more than this, what the identity of being ‘African’ can mean. She provides narratives so much more manifold than an exported, pre-packaged Western gay male persona. If I choose to be a futurist rather than a revolutionary, it is because I have tasted the Western revolutions, their hypochrisy and their dictatorship and they do not offer me any alternative society free from the taint of capitalism, oppression and xenophobia. Ever there is the need to lessen ones feeling of inferiority by further diminishing another. I look at the recent exposures of sexism and sexual abuse within Britain’s Socialist
Zanele Muholi, Mini and Le Sishi Glebelands, Zanele Muholi, ID Crisis
Durban, Jan 2010 ÂŠ
ÂŠ Zanele Muholi. Courtesy
Zanele Muholi. Courtesy
of Stevenson, Cape Town
of Stevenson, Cape Town
Workers Party and the fact that Sarah Palin is one of the most well known female politicians in America. Looking at Muholi’s work in the continent, it strikes me just how slowly we are moving in comparison and how little responsibility we each take for what our evolution will look like. A friend of mine was purging her wardrobe and we un-earthed her old and spectacular wig collection. This inevitably led to an old school dress-up session as many a pseudonym; multicoloured bobs, buns and locks birthing a plethora of identities over the course of the evening. Suddenly my friend’s eleven year old son came out of his room to get some of the action, stole my red lipstick and applied it (most expertly) to his own lips. Topped with a pair of black and white shades, in his mother’s best heels he decided he’d nailed the look. After all with an Afro as glorious as his, who has need of a wig? He wanted to be in all the photos and indeed, shamelessly took center-stage. His actions do not have to determine a label and a colonized identity just as they might were he wearing a hoody and listening to JZ. We have a choice. These images are so precious to me now: they look like an alternative future.
YOU ARE NOT A RIB AN EXCERPT BY JOUMANA HADDAD
Though I did not enjoy the privilege of having had a daughter of my own (instead, I have two wonderful sons), there are lots of young women in Lebanon and around the world that I consider to be my daughters. Girls I know personally, and others I have never met. Girls I have the luck to communicate with constantly, and others I might never get the chance to talk to. Girls that turn to me for advice, and others that I keep learning from. They could be total strangers, but they are my daughters nonetheless, and my heart beats in their chests. Here are my ten commandments to them, and to that one potential baby girl that I missed the opportunity of giving birth to: 1- Believe in yourself. In your strength. In your dreams. In the power of your will. There is nothing you can’t do if you think you can and want to do it. Everything starts right there, in your head, in the way you see yourself. If you don’t have faith in your capacity, nobody will, no matter how good you are at playing the game of pretending. Self-confidence is neither an act nor a statement: It’s your sixth sense. This doesn’t mean you won’t bang your head against a wall or two or ten or more: it only means that you know those walls will eventually collapse, and that you shall keep on walking. 2- Work hard. If you want something, get up and get it, or at least try to, instead of merely wishing to have it or complaining that you don’t. You are not entitled to what the world has to offer: you earn it. 3- It is your right to get lost. It is your right to stumble. It is your right to mess up and fail and fall. But it is your responsibility to get up and continue the journey. Be proud of the scars on your knees and your soul: They are the proof you are alive and marching ahead, not just lying down or standing still. 4- You will have lots of enemies along the way. Many people, men and women, some of whom are very close to you, will tell that you “can’t do it”. They will make fun of your ambitions, downplay your capabilities and criticize your choices. They will do their best, involuntarily or on purpose, to convince you that you are wrong. Well, you might indeed be wrong, but it is far better to make your own mistakes than to accept other people’s correct picks for you. Let the adversaries motivate you to challenge yourself even more. Defend your choices with your life: these are your most precious possessions, even if each and every one of them comprises the risk of paying a high price in return. That price is your maturity fee. 5- You are free. Free to love whomever you want. Free to use your body as you decide. Free to think differently. Free to be at fault. Free to look someone in the eyes and tell him/her to get lost. Do not compromise on that freedom even if it means you will be alone at times: The tree fights the storm unaccompanied and unaided. Your parents do not own you. Your family members do not own you. Your neighbors do not own you. Your work colleagues do not own you. Your boyfriend does not own you. In short, you and only you own yourself. 6- Liberate your self-esteem from society’s judgments: You will never be truly emancipated until you stop worrying about what “they” will think if you do this or say that. Liberate yourself from the terrorizing physical standards that glossy magazines are imposing on you: dare to eat that chocolate cake every now and
then: you are beautiful if you say so, if you believe so. And most importantly, liberate yourself from religions’ brainwashing. If you absolutely need faith in your life, at least do not surrender your dignity and critical thinking to a religious book or authority that tries to tell you that you are weaker/less important/less valuable than a man. 7- Educate yourself. School and university are not enough. Be curious, be famished for knowledge. The hungrier you are, the stronger you will get. Earn your own money, buy your own car. Build a career instead of getting a job. 8- Don’t fear man, nor hate him. Don’t be intimidated by him, nor feel the need to threaten/control him. Don’t imitate him, nor consider yourself superior: Different is not less/more. Do not believe those who tell you that “man is the adversary of woman”, and that there is a battle of the sexes going on since the beginning of time. That’s all a pile of bullshit. It’s not, it never was, about defeating “him”: it is about both of you winning each other over. And you can win him over. Well, maybe not always: there are lots of jerks and assholes out there (as many as there are bitches), but these should not drive you to lose faith in the good ones, the decent ones, the allies and friends and accomplices. And don’t blindly trust the women’s solidarity tale: in many instances it will prove to be an illusion. Learn to look at people as human beings, beyond their sex, beyond their sexual choices. Hearts don’t have penises and vaginas. 9- Dare to love. Dare to be scared. Dare to jump nonetheless. Dare to give yourself away and to claim yourself back. Dare to be selfish. Dare to think you deserve the best and don’t settle for less. Dare to change your mind. Dare to hurt and get hurt. Dare to say no and dare to say yes. You will find him without really searching for him, I promise you. Or you will find many versions of him throughout your life. And if you don’t, guess what: You will always have yourself. 10-
Last but not least: You are not a rib. You are not a rib. You are NOT a rib. Got that?
Now get up and amaze me. Amaze us. But first and foremost: Amaze yourself.
Joumana Haddad is a Lebanese writer, journalist and women’s rights activist. She’s been selected as one of the world’s 100 most influential Arab women by CEO magazine in March 2014. She is author of many books, among which “I Killed Scheherazade.” (Saqi books, London, 2010) and “Superman is an Arab – On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012). Follow her on Twitter @joumana333
THE NONSENSE OF IDENTITY A DIALOGUE NARCISSISTER AND ANNE SHERWOOD PUNDYK
Brooklyn born artist, Narcissister, exposes her soul and eventually nearly every inch of her body during her burlesque-based performances while hiding her own identity under her signature mask resembling an African American Barbie Doll from the â€˜60s. She creates and performs her own hybrid, technically exacting, conceptually radical routines employing her training in modern dance, fine art, and needlecraft and her work experience as a stylist. She spoke with painter, Anne Sherwood Pundyk, in New York City this fall. (www.narcissister.com)
Narcissister, Changes, May 2014, performance ÂŠ Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.
ASP: What we know about our own genitals—how they look and how they work—is an important component of our identity. For women this information has traditionally been hidden or erased. Your 2011 appearance with Marilyn Manson at the Los Angeles premier of his film, Born Villain, wearing a dress with an opening made to show your crotch confronted this cultural fact. How did this piece take shape? N: Marilyn Manson invited me to be his date for the screening. I settled on appearing in the cut out dress wearing two masks: the merkin on my crotch and Narcissister’s trademark mask on my face. It was an opportunity to present Narcissister to a large audience and show what is intrinsic to that character. ASP: Your performance was radical especially considering it was for a public audience. I’m sure you know of Austrian artist Valie Export’s work, ‘Action Pants: Genital Panic’ from 1968 where she also went crotchless. N: Of course, and I’m sure her piece made its way into my thoughts in developing my own performance. ASP: I see your piece with Manson as honouring Export’s gesture while transforming it. Export was inside a movie theatre wearing crotchless jeans. She walked in front of people in their seats so that they couldn’t avoid seeing her genitals. You were outside a movie theatre on the red carpet. It’s interesting to compare the two pieces, but what’s significant is that both similarly extreme statements about women’s public and private identities took place over 40 years apart.
in place. I always feel so exposed at the moment when I lift my skirt and hover over this little pedestal upon which I gave birth to the Russian doll because for a moment before the doll comes out my labia and whole genital area are completely visible. It is exciting to be so active with my genitals the way the lips open and stretch to produce the doll. I am not just passively revealing myself, while people look between my legs. I am willing to show more of myself for this particular performance because the intensity of the way the lips open and stretch to produce this doll is exciting, shocking and beautiful. ASP: I sense that you are driven to expand the format of burlesque. N: I go further in my work than traditional burlesque does but I do reference certain things like the strip tease. I subvert it by doing it in reverse or instead of striping away the typical dresses, gloves, stockings, panties and bras, I change from an old woman to a ghoul, then become a pregnant woman who turns into man and so on. I love the idea of stripping away layers to get to some essential truth. ASP: The philosopher Jacque Lacan defined ego or identity as: “the super-imposition of various coats borrowed from what I would call the bric-a-brac of a props department”. The idea that the roles we learn and acquire are like layered costumes forming our identity mirrors the multiple transformations you make in your performances. How do select and sequence your characters?
N: Sometimes my decisions are very practical. For example in the performance I just described called N: One significant difference for me is that I was hiding my own pubic hair with the merkin. The mask on ‘Changes,’ I embody or portray 13 different characters my face and the mask on my genitals are both essential. during the course of the five-minute piece, so the mechanics of switching costumes has to go smoothly. In one of my pieces where I appear to give birth to a There is also an emotional basis to my selections. I Russian doll I wear a merkin that covers my public created this work after my mother passed away. I found hair, but my vulva can’t be covered because my lips comfort in the idea that things don’t go away permaand vagina have to open so wide that, until I modified nently; that in life there is a constant process of it, the merkin was always getting in the way. I had to transformation from one form to another. I begin the make a special merkin that is like a jock strap because piece with a direct reference to my feelings of loss. it covers the pubic hair on the front, but there are two thin elastic straps that run around my inner thighs, The first character is a mourner shrouded in a black up the sides of my butt and around my waste to keep it cloth. Logistically, I knew that the mourner’s big
shroud could hide many things underneath it. By continuing with an older woman I could present the life cycle in reverse. The old woman’s rubber mask could hide another mask underneath it and if I stooped over to embody the way an old woman might walk I could hide a pregnant belly under her dress. Under the belly I could hide the costume of a man, and under that I could wear something that was very tight on my body so the next character could be a young gymnast in a Lycra bodysuit. Through stripping this away I could arrive at near-nakedness and portray an erotic stripper woman. At the end of the piece I become a totally naked goddess figure representing a spiritual entity beyond the everyday characters. Thinking about my mom having passed away and witnessing her physical transformation from her living form to these inert ashes, an element, inspired me to try to make sense of that process through the portrayal of these characters. The goddess eventually becomes a pearl. I wanted to conclude the piece by bringing it to a broad elemental place. ASP: You also personalise your transformations in a different way, describing Narcissister in a conversation with the musician, Peaches, as, “a wonton, and gluttonous consumer of things that are not her. She consumes personae, songs, imagery, and claims them as her own”. Accumulating or consuming things is another way we define ourselves. I am intrigued by a probing, sifting quality to your movement in your videos and performances. It reminds me of a hungry child who is grasping for things to eat. N: I’ve never thought of this idea in relation to the specific way that I move and the energy around my dancing and my gestures, but I know these thoughts are very much present in the work. Just before I started the Narcissister project I made a series of collages called ‘Starving in a Sea of Objects’. They were images of me consuming and inserting myself into many different kinds of art works. For example I would take a famous painting of a mother nursing her child and I would add a picture of me as the child with my mouth open suckling on the mother. This series came from a deep feeling of hunger and longing. I trained as a dancer at the Alvin Ailey School where I learned to have a strong physicality and attack in the way I move. I developed an
extreme level of physical strength, control and virtuosity. It’s a very interesting point: the idea of an intense hunger extending itself to my performances. Indeed, in my work I often put things in my mouth and in my body. ASP: The level of delivery in your performances is really impressive. Your work is courageous and your commitment to quality is evident. To bring your artistry to bear on this point of hunger I have to ask, what are you hungry for? N: (Laughs) Wow, that’s a big question! The hunger is for something other than what I am. These are old issues that stem from my insecurities and low self-esteem as a child. I grew up in La Jolla, a beach town in Southern California. I compared myself to the blond, rich girls with their straight hair and even though I am mixed, I stood out as being ethnic. I suffered quite a bit of racism and bullying there. My parents were professors at UC San Diego. They were multicultural and intellectual. They were radicals in their own way and didn’t value money or physical appearance. I had a hard time valuing myself until I left for college at Brown University where I was exposed to other ways of being. Perhaps in my work with Narcissister I am healing some of those old wounds; the acts of consumption in my performances are liberating and celebratory. I can enjoy and be proud of who I am now. I am in a position of control; I can decide what my identity is and when and how I want to change it. ASP: There is a duality in the hunger: you consume because you have been deprived and not satisfied but the urge also gives you the power to eat anything you crave. You can own whatever you want by consuming it. N: Yes, that idea resonates for me. The hunger is out of a love and desire for the different ways of being, but it is also feels aggressive. I have an appetite for these blond women or these men, “I can put you on so easily and then I can just tear you away in a second.” I wanted to go back to the Lacan quote about identity. I was exposed to Buddhism as a child through my mother but I’ve just recently started practicing it myself. Pema Chodrun talks about layers of fear and
resentment almost like protective costumes that we’ve sewn ourselves into. Only we know how to let go, undo the threads and free ourselves. I think about this in the context of my work. Narcissister gives me an amazing opportunity to practice this on a regular basis. At first my body is so radically physically transformed by the layers of costumes that I can’t breathe or see well. As I begin to perform, I can’t even imagine myself without them. Then with each costume change I start to think about how to be willing or brave enough to shed them. ASP: You’ve performed on the nationally televised programs America’s got Talent, are your ambitions to take your message to a larger audience? N: I definitely am interested in reaching as broad an audience as I possibly can. For example, I just participated in the French version of America’s Got Talent. Finding broader platforms is challenging for me because of the erotic content in my work. It’s a shame that some opportunities for larger audiences are not available to me because of that and yet I don’t want to compromise my work. Likewise, I don’t see how it benefits me to limit my work to the underground performance community or alternately to the entertainment world. My aim is to open myself up to all resources and platforms. That’s what feels right and that’s what feels radical to me. ASP: I see progress in television shows written by women such as Mindy Kaling or Lena Dunham. In fact, Jennifer Saunders gave you a shout out in her series AbFab. Subjects like menstruation and anal sex are making their way into mainstream broadcasts. There is an opening up in the control of the material and in what audiences are allowed to see as more production and broadcast channels are available. This is especially good for sending feminist messages about identity into the mainstream. N: I agree with you that there seems to be an opening around these issues right now and if I can be a part of that I would be grateful and excited.
Anne Sherwood Pundyk is an American painter based in Manhattan and Mattituck, NY, who is currently working on a new body of art called ‘The Revolution Will Be Painted’. Alongside her studio work she has long been engaged in collaborative art and writing projects, including last year’s Clitney Perennial at the Whitney Biennial. She co-edits Girls Against God and contributes to The Brooklyn Rail, Art in America and ArtUS. (www.annepundyk.com)
EAST LONDON STRIPPERS COLLECTIVE A MANIFESTO
1. All humans are equal, and everyone has the right to become happy. Each individual has the right to pursue their own particular path towards happiness, specific to their own unique lives and circumstances. 2. All fully consenting adults have the right to engage in non-traditional sexual activities of their own choice, without fear of judgement or condemnation. 3. All individuals have the right to choose their own livelihoods, and to use their bodies as a means to generate income and/or a vehicle or self-expression. 4. The ELSC (East London Strippers Collective) is made up of mindful, ethical and autonomous individuals, each having chosen to strip and perform for work and pleasure. No one has been or is being coerced, nor does ELSC agree with the coercion of dancers in any way whatsoever. 5. The ELSC recognises the work of a stripper to be a legitimate job and profession, aims to promote high standards of employment and working conditions for all its members and all strippers alike, and seeks to de-stigmatise the choice to work as a stripper. 6. The definition of the term “stripper” indicates someone who is paid to remove items of clothing and/ or underwear performed as an exotic/eroticized dance routing or performance, to reveal all or parts of their naked body. The ELSC self identifies using the term “stripper” to draw a distinction between the work they do and other types of sex work. While the ELSC stands in total, open and honest solidarity with other sex workers and sex worker organisations, and has no resistance to the term “sex work”, for the purpose of campaigning on issues that specifically affect stripper in the UK the ELSC remain committed to the definition “stripper” to describe what they do for a living. 7. The ELSC recognises exotic dance and striptease as a legitimate art form, dance discipline and mode of self-expression, as much as any others likely to entertain, titillate, or sexually stimulate the viewer (such as neo-burlesque, pole dancing, belly dancing or Jamaican dance-hall daggering). The ELSC does not regard one art form as “higher” or “more acceptable” than any other. 8. The ELSC aims to inform and influence those in positions of authority, locally and nationally, who have the power to control, regulate and otherwise legislate the UK strip club industry. We wish to advocate on behalf of all strippers and performers affected by licensing legislation, and ask that we may be consulted during key stages of debate. We aim to have a fair and representative voice within the political arena instead of having decisions that affect us directly made on our behalf by those who have little or no contact with us at all. 9. The ELSC aims to challenge/disturb the patriarchal conventions on which the industry is currently built. The ELSC invites and endorses the prospect of male dancers, female viewers, mixed gender audiences, couples, and trans/queer participants within the culture of strip clubs. 10. Membership of the collective may be limited only to those with relevant experience e.g. strippers or ex-strippers (which does not exclude male strippers); therefore decisions made about the activities of the collective may only be made by members (strippers) themselves. Anyone at all may be a supporter of the ELSC. 11. No one individual should profit from the labour/work of another. The ELSC does not aim to act as an agency, but instead as a resourceful network to help strippers avoid being exploited.
WHAT MEETS THE EYE MAY RUN FROM THE MOUTH A POEM BY MARYAM ALA AMJADI
A woman can never truly be naked she wears a skin of many restless pores where the ajar eyes of those who behold her rest, half opened to the push of the mirror’s wooden tongue half closed on the pull of time’s furtive caress, and when no one looks her way, she begins to grope in the thirsty wells of history for the split ends of her hair her first finger ringed in the wounded eye of faith’s one bladed scissor her last hope tied to the hearty hunger that weighs precisely empty in the full trays of her breasts then she shells the distant eyes of fate from the watery lines of her tell-tale palms and plants them near the shredded hymns of her ears in the earthy back of her head her shadows ever wary of the dry insistence of walls to reflect, her inner shapes ever hushed by the wet winks of shame Is it real? Is it hers? She is always too big too small too tall too short too hot too cold too young too old She is always too many things in too many ways Even the looking glass means one woman as many, on any mercurial end A woman can never truly be naked When she unbuttons the spring of her dress, a thousand apple seeds fall through and the invisible serpent that belts the bidding of her waist and the verses of deny and the laws of sigh that are tattooed on the will of her hands and her legs draped in the gifts of “No!” and “No!” and “No!” that will only be unwrapped as “Yes,” she combs for the trail of a home in the wrinkles of stone-faced houses
There are no maps for the geography of darkness Tell me, where is the mouth of that word, the one that could kiss the eyes of this page and not blind them? Aug 2012, Ankara
CONSENT AN OBJECTION BY EMMA HOLTEN
On a regular October morning in 2011 I couldn’t access my email or Facebook. I didn’t think anything of it – I forget passwords all the time - and just tried again. Waiting for me upon entry were hundreds of messages and emails. Messages and emails with pictures of me in them. One: me, naked, in my ex-boyfriend’s darkened room. Seventeen, a little awkward, slightly hunched forward: a harmless attempt at sexiness. Another: two years later, in my room in Uppsala, Sweden. Older, a little more confident, but not a whole lot. What had happened was apparent: the pictures were now online. I had become one of the thousands, hundreds of thousands, of girls thrown into the porn industry against their will. I thought “how bad can this really be?” The guys at school would find it hilarious, probably; talk about it for ten minutes: “Holy shit, have you seen Emma?” It was humiliating, of course, but I’ve never been ashamed of my body or my sexuality. No doubt, I wished it had never happened, but I couldn’t have imagined the next two years. The weeks passed and more messages trickled in. I was on sites filled with pictures of my fellow victims, women who’d never intended their pictures to be public, who’d never wanted attention from more than one person. “Men love naked women,” I thought “I knew as much.” But their questions in my inbox made it clear that the appeal did not rest solely upon my apparent nudity. DO YOUR PARENTS KNOW THAT UR A SLUT? DID U GET FIRED? WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THIS? WHO DID THIS TO YOU? SEND ME MORE NUDES OR ILL SEND THE ONES I HAVE TO YOUR BOSS. These messages were from men all over the world. Teen boys, university students, nuclear-family dads. The only thing they had in common was that they were all men. They knew it was against my will, that I didn’t want to be on those sites. The realisation that my humiliation turned them on felt like a noose around my neck. The absence of consent was erotic, they relished my suffering. It’s one thing to be sexualised by people who are attracted to you, but it’s quite another thing when the lack of a ‘you’, when dehumanization, is the main factor. I realised that if I had been a model sexualising herself I would have been of little interest. My body was not the appealing factor. Furthermore, I saw that my loss of control legitimised the harrasment. I was a fallen woman, anyone’s game. What was I aside from a whore who had got what she deserved? *** *** ***
Emma Holten, a new narrative about my body, 2014, Photographer: Cecilie BĂ¸dker ÂŠ 2014 Emma Holten.
Then, suddenly, I noticed that this dynamic – sexualisation against her will – was everywhere. Take ‘creepshots’, a global phenomenon which entails photographing women without their knowledge or consent, in order to share them in a sexual context online. On similar sites, people link to Facebook pages asking if anyone can hack or find more pictures of the girl. Here, again, women are used as objects whose lack of consent, of participation, provides the reason and allure of their sexualisation. This dynamic is a commonplace online and is a concrete manifestation of a larger discourse around the female body, the notion that it is erotic to sexualise someone who is unaware. We all know the tropes: the sexy teacher/student/nurse/waiter/bartender/doctor. All jobs, if staffed by women, can be sexualised. What is sexy is not the job, not even the woman, but the fact that while the woman is just doing her job you are secretly sexualising her. She has become public property by simply being? The danger is not in arousal or finding another person arousing, but in the idea that a sexually arousing situation in which two people take part, can exist without one of the party’s consent. Feminists are often singled out and ridiculed for our critique of catcalling, the suggestion is that we cannot handle it. Of course we can. Rather, our critique is directed at how it positions the female body in public spaces. It is an object, to be sexualised, even if the woman to whom the body belongs is working/shopping/picking up her kids/waiting for the bus. It is a notification that, whatever she is up to, a person is passing and sexualising her. Catcalling forcefully moves the female body from a non-sexual to a sexual situation. If the men who contacted me thought about my humiliation, about my humanity, would they still write me? If you viewed women as beings with their own autonomy and sexuality, would you feel you had the right to photograph them without their knowledge? If catcallers saw women as complex individual people would they forcefully enter their private sphere? No. No, because such actions can only be justified if the female body is fetischized as an object. Not an object like a dice or a winter coat, but an object for your utilization. Forcing a person to play a part that you need them to play. Because such actions only take place when you forget, or do not know that a situation in which one participant has not consented is not a sexual situation. It’s just a situation with you and someone you find sexy. Nothing more. *** *** *** Seeking out my pictures, and the pictures of my fellow victims, is to actively participate in the dehumanization of the female body. To do so is to forget that these women are people who, by sexualizing themselves for one person, have not become sexualized objects. To do so forgets that no person deserves to be reduced to an object. But, it is also dangerous. For, if one is exposed to the objectification of women for long enough, one will internalize it. Worse, those who are objectified will internalize it too. When you are told enough times that you do not deserve to be treated as someone of worth, you lie in bed at night and begin to agree. It has been a huge task for me to muster any kind of self-worth after being told every day for three years that I don’t deserve it. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I could possibly stop hating my body. I blamed it for my humiliation. Why did it make people treat me that way? Would I ever be able to look at myself and see a human being? There is no easy solution to such thoughts. You are caught between a wish to never be seen again and a determination not to live a life ruled by shame.
I thought about this a long while. *** *** *** I would have to write a new story about my body in order to make it possible to see myself naked and still see myself as human. I decided that a sort of re-humanisation had to happen. I talked to the photographer Cecilie Bødker. She told me that photographing unclothed women without catering to the male gaze and sexualising them was almost impossible. Would it be possible for her to take pictures of me without my clothes on, where it was obvious that I was, in fact, a human being deserving of respect? We gave it a try. This isn’t just about me getting better. It’s also about problematising and experimenting with the roles we most see naked women portraying. We seldom smile, are in control, live. We never look, we’re always looked at. The pictures are an attempt at making me a sexual subject instead of an object. I am not ashamed of my body, but it is mine. Consent is key. Just as rape and sex have nothing to do with each other, pictures shared with and without consent are completely different things.
I HATE ‘CONSENT’ A DISSENT BY BJØRK GRUE LIDIN
LISTEN HEALTHY SEXY YES LISTEN SAY NO LISTEN LISTEN IF YOU <3 CONSENT I SAY YES YOU ARE NOT A RAPIST YOU ARE NOT A RAPIST YOU ARE A RAPIST OR NOT A RAPIST AND YOU ARE NOT-A-RAPIST YOU HOLD HIGH YOUR WEAPONS OF CONSENT SLURRING MY NO WAY MY UNSAID UNDISCOVERED UNDERCOVER NO FUCKING WAY WHILST TIDYING UP THE YES SIR YOU ARE NOT A RAPIST LIKE OTHERS YOU CONSENT TO HURTING MY BONE VIOLENTLY EXPLICITLY COERCIVELY PERSUASIVELY CAUSE YOU CONSENT TO HURTING MY BONE NON-ACCIDENTALY VIOLENTLY EXPLICITLY COERCIVELY PERSUASIVELY I CONSENT TO YOUR FEMINIST CONSENSUAL TONGUE I CONSENT TO YOUR SEXUAL FRUSTRATIONS IN MY THROAT IN MY ARMPITS UNDER LAYERS OF LAYERED SKIN YOU <3 CONSENT SO DEEPLY WITH YOUR FREE CONTRACT IN MY HOLE ASKING ME TO SIGN REQUIRED SHIT A FREE CONSENSUAL CONTRACT TOO COMPLICIT TOO EXPLICIT TOO STRANGLED TOO SHY TOO FUCKED TOO CHOCKED TOO CHOKED TOO RIPPED TOO POOR TOO YOUNG TOO TIRED TOO TOUGH TOO BIG TOO HARD TOO LONG TOO STIF TOO MANY TOO MUCH
YES I CONSENT <3
ÂŠ Dean Atta and Ben Connors
CHARO OQUET, IN AND OUT AN ESSAY BY RITA INDIANA HERNANDEZ
From her misplaced theater box her diasporic self grapples with the world from a creative compulsiveness. She builds ghettos and oral novels, undermines foreign languages with her own distorted voice, recreates spaces to the smallest detail from memories, scans first world cityscapes in search of materials with which to reproduce those flavors and those atmospheres. Neither biological nor ideological, the diaspora is a circumstance that affects humans in their time-spatial perceptions. Even the least artistic of the citizens of the diaspora is an experienced creator, versed in the aesthetic performance of their ethnicity. This unbridgeable distance provides its own with a sophisticated mimetic capacity that manifests itself in several ways, only superficially contrary; one that traces the microcosm of the abandoned place to its perfection and another that adheres in great detail to a new social presence and a new social language. The art products and diaspora are almost the same thing: the manifestation of a dislocated perspective by particularities. Charo Oquetâ€™s proposal is the stage where the refined gaze of those who are in and out at the same time is atomised. In this marvelous here-and-now space called home any object is the vehicle which takes us to a place where we were and where we will be part of some celestial royalty. This nostalgia is not a ticket or pamphlet of a dictatorâ€™s demagogic nationalistic nostalgia that is shown in the rum ads and in certain speeches from the left and right. It is the the sacred spiritual longing of all our Caribbean exodus, coagulated. In the installations, interventions and performances that Charo creates one can read this daily struggle against forgetfulness and lack of records and files so common in traditional migratory cultures. In her sculptural works such as those that form the Seductions series, the
supposedly disordered compression of objects give shapes to a monument, an amorphous library where all stories come together under the auspices of Chango and Elegua. In certain installations Charo pursues the opposite effect, the organization of chaos in a devotional alphabet, a court where justice will is made to a sensitivity beyond the Caribbean. Out of the exhibition spaces, as a woman of the diaspora and as an artist, Charo negotiates the context that history has awarded her and others who suddenly find themselves at the center of their creative process, that, given the continuous natural gestation process which Charo undergoes, includes all that she finds on the street, in her improvised inventions, in her excursions to the flea markets and in the thrift shops. This remodeling of the meaning of the traditions under which she was born and the conventions of the physical and conceptual structures containing her work, makes Charo Oquet an expert in active reinvention, that magical strategy by which citizens of the world distinguish themselves from the victims of uprootedness. San Juan, Puerto Rico 2007 Translation: Charo Oquet
The Annointment Installation ÂŠ Charo Oquet.
Self as rubbish ÂŠ 2014 Penny Goring.
MEHRI RAHMANI A COLLECTION OF POEMS
1 The woman who loves you Knows how to make love She is neither noble nor a prostitute She is in love! 2 When the tree ends in smoke do not plant anything in me Only the blade of grass is sheltered from the rape of the axe Even if you come like the wind the pasture sleeps with you and never breaks 3 My prophet is a god in whose eyes satan is baptized in wine and in her awe idols observe forty days of silence From her sorrow the rose garden sets itself on fire My prophet is a god who dies but does not kill she knows I have died inside her long before death 4 Even before I can kiss you a bomb explodes in my nightly prayers Even before I can pour my weeping on your shoulders a mine bursts into the crawling of a soldier Even before I caress you someone commits suicides in the laughter of children Even before I can shelter my childhood in your arms the call of war takes you away from me Even before I can dream about you a wounded nightmare clots in your barricade There is no time letâ€™s change the channel I want to kiss you from the blood of a loverâ€™s hymen to the birth of a tombstone in a cemetery of blood I want to kiss you 5 I have drawn on my lips in crimson all the red lines of the world All the stones are bloodied from my rebellion you too, go on and aim all your bullets at the sky I love empty guns The rain comes and washes away all those trenches barbed wires grow red flowers and I stamp a kiss on the forehead of every runaway soldier The globe of home revolves lovingly in my body Translated from Farsi by Maryam Ala Amjadi
Dena Al-Adeeb and Sama Alshaibi, Still/ Chaos, 2010, Pigment Archival Print, 20 x 20” each © 2010 Sama Alshaibi.
BODY - NON BODY - NOTHING A REVIEW BY MISCHA BADASYAN
I couldn’t find his street number, I knew I was close but I couldn’t find it. Was it a big surprise, or maybe a big spoof, or even a joke? I was desperately walking back and forth next to that number that I had to find. Time was running out and I was getting nervous. But he came downstairs and picked me up. I hardly recognised his face because I had just seen his pictures on the Gay Romeo (a popular gay online dating portal), which weren’t in a good quality. Anyway, I was happy to see him and we went upstairs to his apartment.
meant, being NOTHING. This feeling was crystal clear and so easy to realise. He destroyed me, he washed my identity away, he took my body apart, and he erased all signs of life within me. Emptiness and loneliness were dancing around me and taking me somewhere else. My body turned into NON-BODY, the place became NONPLACE. I truly had a feeling that I didn’t exist anymore, he killed all living cells, and twisted my soul and wringed out my tears like the last drops from a washing cloth.
I felt something, and he was also feeling something towards me. We touched each other and started kissing each other. It was totally clear that there was love. The first words he said were: “I wouldn’t like to have sex with you, I wanna make love”. There was so much passion and so many emotions. The wooden floor, darkness, candle lights, shabby walls and big space were surrounding two bodies – two elements that met and created a system. Little breaks between kissing and rolling around the bed were like drinking droplets of rain when really thirsty.
I have never been in “love” relationships – I don’t know this experience of being together. I have been a half and not a whole. I was just meeting people who inspired me and that I would love to see again, and that gave me so much energy and power. But there was this “BUT”. There always has been an excuse as to why people rejected me in the end. First they gave me hope and so much love and right in the middle I was facing a big wall that I couldn’t climb over. It made me insecure; and I was very afraid to climb the walls. I don’t believe in words anymore, I just feel and I open myself to everyone.
He was on me; I was embracing him as my last hope, and his beard was a little bit wet from my heavy kisses. Something strange sparkled between our bodies. He stopped, and said that he cannot go further because right now he is thinking of someone else who he really likes, and who he would love to be with. He turned his body to the left and lay next to me. The first five to ten seconds, I was very conscious and thinking clearly. I knew he was just one of my 365 dates – 365 men – 365 days – 365 stories – 365 bodies – and that tomorrow I would have to meet someone new and go further with my project. My mind switched off then, though, and a big ball of sorrow was stuck in my throat so that I couldn’t swallow. I understood that I was NOTHING and I knew what it
I opened myself that night and I got thorn-slapped into my face, a great mix of the love with the pain. The one thing that I can fall in love with is the pain. My pain is the only true feeling: it is real, it is pure and it is beautiful. I came that night by crying and screaming. I buried my head into pillows and was just crying. I knew what nothing is and I knew that I was nothing. NOTHING – NON BODY – BODY
Mischa Badasyan, AGORA, October 2014, Berlin. Photographer: Andrea Linss ÂŠ 2014 Mischa Badasyan
ANONYME A POEM
Dry those insurgent tears, pretty girl. The same eyes that, used to smile. Cry the bleeding, they are acknowledging inside. Moments are condemned to an expiration date, apparently. Romance never last too long, manifestly. When they are born from the ashes of a previous plea, especially. Associating happiness to the other one, genuinely, is the true mistake we never learn from, which should not be on repeat. But being human comes with a malediction. The stubbornness to do-it-again, to feel-it-again, just one more time, just one last time Being brave enough to end the chapter when you think the whole book did not burn to the ground. Turn your back, to the thought that it will not happen again, pretty girl. Raise your head to what will be repeated, stubborn girl. The emotional vicious circle is on, masochist girl.
Tuli Litvak, Voice, 2013, wood, metal, human hair. Sculpture/performance, 162 x 56 x 56 cm ÂŠ 2013 Tuli Litvak.
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