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Nava Lubelski “Side Dish”, 2004. Thread on stained canvas © 2004 Nava Lubelski


Melanie Bonajo, “Herstories of the (Social) Naked Body”, 2012. Video/photography © 2012 Melanie Bonajo.


It is commonly suggested that heterosexuality is a condition that we, by nature, embody. This is summed up in the term compulsory heterosexuality, as coined by Adrienne Rich (1980). Heterosexuality ‘just is’ – it is natural default assigned to us before we ‘come out’, as something else or nothing at all. Compulsory able-bodiedness has not been dealt with and theorised to the same extent as compulsory heterosexuality. This term means that certain bodies are made invisible and excluded. As stated by Robert McRuer (2006: 1), “able-bodiedness, even more than heterosexuality, still largely masquerades as a non-identity, as the natural order of things”. The idea that some bodies are natural and normal creates disability since the abled body presents a norm which ensures that the ‘differently abled’ body can only ever be considered abnormal and disabled (in the same way as queerness exists as the space of the Other to compulsory heterosexuality). It reproduces the idea of a singular type of abled body and insists on its existence as the norm. Compulsory able-bodiedness assumes the abled body is preferable and something that we all should strive for. This is manifested in the example of Down syndrome statistics in Denmark, which mark a near extinction in children born with Down syndrome. This is because all pregnant women are offered a test to determine if the fetus is likely to have Down syndrome after which they are offered an abortion if the case is so. In 2011, nine out of ten women accepted the test and 99 % of those who were told that their child was likely to have Down syndrome chose to have an abortion (Richter

2011). This reinforces a social ideal of the abled body, and devalues Other bodies the opportunity to exist on their own terms. This results in a normalisation of discrimination and structural exclusion of the ‘non-abled’ body. However, this bias leads to the belief that the fetus is aborted because we cannot offer it a ‘non-disabled’ life. The best option for the fetus is thus deemed a ‘normal’ life, which it cannot makes someone’s ‘disabled’ life, a life not worth living. This is further demonstrated on a more structurally invisible level through the way cities are shaped. The city and public space is created to accommodate the abled body. The steps, pavements, stairs, doors and so forth are built to assist the normalised body. The steps into a shop are as obtrusive to a wheelchair user as a sign saying ‘no wheelchair users please’. The public space helps and privileges the abled body whereas the body with so-called disabilities becomes excluded. When the ‘differently abled’ body insists on being helped it creates an uncomfortableness because it demands a communal approach to public space rather than, the anticipated, individualised. In the documentary Examined Life (2008), Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor go for a walk in San Francisco – one of the most accessible cities in the world. Taylor is a wheelchair user and she insists on being helped just like everybody else are being assisted when they go for a walk by the shape of the city and public space that has been built for the abled body. The physical access renders social accessibility real

and visible. It demands a right to be in a world that structurally tries to exclude it. Taylor makes people uncomfortable by demanding a space for her body. She mentions how when she is in a coffee shop, she will carry the cup with her mouth, destabilising ideas of what body parts are used for. The gesture is a political protest, which denaturalises what we assume to be the natural ways of using our bodies. It indicates how the abled body exists only by virtue of its exclusion of the ‘disabled’ body. Not only is it excluded but it is also made invisible by being placed outside the parameters of public space. By failing to accommodate a

broad and diverse spectrum of bodies, society ends up disabling those bodies. Public space is understood as neutral when it in fact is anything but. It is a favours it. This fuels the belief that the abled body is the natural default and other bodies are the abnormal deviant and socially abject. Not only does this make the non-abled body invisible but also it creates a discourse in which we assume ‘the good life’ belongs to the abled body exclusively and thus we avoid and actively discard deviant bodies.

Bibliography McRuer, R. 2006 Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability London: New York University Press Rich, A. 1980 ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Desire’ Signs 5(4): 631-660 Richter, L. 2011 Downs syndrom er et uddøende handicap [online] Available at: http://www.information. dk/273149 [Accessed 3 June 2014] Taylor, A. 2008 Examined Lives [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0HZaPkF6qE#t=843 [Accessed 3 June 2014]

Senga Nengudi “R.S.V.P.”, 1977. Activated By Maren Hassinger, Photographer Harmon Outlaw. Pearl C. Woods Gallery, Los Angeles, Ca. © 1977 Senga Nengudi.


The body awakes in darkness The silence is not the absence of something Everything shouts against everything An insect tries to escape from the room Flutters, bumping desperately (Neither moist heat nor the moon affects its longing) Nerves and dance Around the sun’s smooth plate a ring of light blood The words kill when they point us out (The more one tries to arrest them, the more one is arrested) Silent about these sudden disappeareances There is a threat in the light Pale spring with marbled nights Places where one loses one’s bindings and foundations

A lonely woman who lives

People cracked up water melons against the asphalt

The forest and ocean hurts, mimic it

The man spills poison and hunger

It is so dark and beautiful A lonely egg that loosens comes loose

I tempt you into my chasm the cliff there roses blossom Long for your breath The invisible arms that carry

that to which we are exposed: The sign’s uncleanliness a small glowing jewelry like a crocus, still enclosed in its own body When you have well entered language you cannot get out The taut apricot paints her mouth wet A knock opens death this summer already where the fruit violates its sisters Count your lusts Blonde dreams as light as the soul of a corpse (It is natural that women should be taken during the season & they are always smaller than they should be) Lower your voice when you speak about the summer When tasting a fruit it’s the palate that matters For the soul is fooled unaware that girls languish in the meadow : Mothers like dewdrops maidens like dewdrops mole-darkness inside (I myself anxious barely human at all in that way I want without ever having had a will to anything but sleep The thought limp like milky high-summer oysters : Foams through days, latesummerdarkness barely viable Twilight every hour of the day: deep-sight eliminated The world two dimensional Humans possibly three-dimensional shadows

laughters are outside of me - In some ways I am a clinic with space for one) I am going to die like an exposed clock in this large desolate hall? The arrogance of males reaps triumphs: A genius is born! Come, celebrate celebrate So educated and unique His name is dead no sweet We recognized his ample essence (so objective) Possessed, humbled want to humble (do the words not belong to nobody in particular?) with whitening lips like violets with loosened hair a cut in her back

(how feminine) She bends to the will of the masters like a fragile bluebell Her folded petals in shreds and the eye murky She eats of it until


Meghan Boody, “Lullabye League”, 1996. Composited photograph, 26.5 x 38 inches © 1996 Meghan Boody.


Feminism hasn’t always seen psychoanalysis as an ally. There’s been a general suspicion that psychoanalysis privileges the male in its account of the formation of subjectivity, however, I believe that psychoanalysis and feminism are part of the same emancipatory project. Psychoanalysis makes evident that the disjunctions within identity are more powerful than identity itself, and this is crucial to any feminist struggle. While the call for better representation of women (on movie screens, in the business world, in government positions, and so on) is important, feminist contestation solely on this ground leaves the structure of the social order as it is. This is where psychoanalysis can be a productive part of feminism. Disjunctions can through psychoanalytic interpretation become the site for a feminist politics that aims at transforming the social order. A surprising number of recent television series have made the importance of the disjunctions of identity for feminist politics apparent, and these series have been an ongoing concern of my work, especially in my recently completed book entitled The Subject of Torture: Psychoanalysis, Biopolitics, and Media Representations, which centers on the relation between violence and subjectivity. I’ll focus here on a series that I don’t address in the book, Veronica Mars (2004-2007), which features a heroine who solves various mysteries and at the same time embodies the ethical core of the series. This series is part of a group that includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2000), Alias (2001-2006), and Orphan Black (2013-present). These series depict the emergence of the

become more common beginning in the early 1990s. Veronica Mars is exemplary because while ostensibly just presenting a detective solving crimes. In doing so, it shows how loss constantly subverts identity and disrupts the smooth functioning of the social order. Loss provides the foundation for the series, and it produces disjunctions that shape its formal structure through its excessive narrative strands and their intersections. The series is about the high school student Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) who moonlights as a private detective, both in her father’s detective agency and on her own in school. Despite being only a high school student, she functions on the show as a hardboiled detective in the tradition of Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. That is to say, she solves cases not through deductive reasoning but through personal involvement and engagement. Both detective show and teen drama, the series depicts Veronica investigating crimes that eventually lead her to search for the more illusive truth about the loss that animates both her own subjectivity and that of those around her. The series links her investigations of various crimes to her investigation of her own identity, and this path reveals disjunction rather than a stable ground. Ultimately, the show is built around loss, a loss that begins before the series itself. The series starts after the murder of Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried). As acting sheriff at the time, Veronica’s father, Keith Mars (Enrico

Glantoni), led the investigation and charged Lilly’s father, Jake Kane (Kyle Secor), with the murder. Jake Kane appealed to the town through the media, and the town demanded that Keith should step down as sheriff. All Veronica’s friends at school stopped talking to her as a punishment for her father’s actions. In addition, immediately after Keith was forced out as sheriff, Veronica’s mother left them. The series opens eight months after these events, when Veronica is an outsider at school for standing by her father but living happily with him despite the absence of her mother. What is extraordinary about Veronica Mars is the substantial amount of loss required to start and motivate the series. Even before her best friend’s murder, Veronica’s boyfriend, Lilly’s brother Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn), broke up with her without giving a reason. Following Veronica’s several losses — the murder of her best friend, the loss of the remaining friends and her mother’s abandonment — the series also explains that Veronica lost her virginity when she was raped at a party a couple months after Lilly’s death. Veronica had gone to the party hoping to overcome the split between her and her friends, but while there she was given a date rape drug (GHB) and became victim of rape. The losses in Veronica’s life occur at every level, from the most personal to the most public. They are something that links her to her clients, a form of commonality. For example, in the third season she spends many episodes investigating women who have been raped after being administered date rape drugs. The extreme loss around which the show

is structured has parallels in all the narrative strands of the series. All these narrative strands also relate to each other as they are woven throughout an episode or throughout the series. The privileging of loss in a series centered around a hardboiled detective is not unique to Veronica Mars, classic noir, it is not uncommon for the detective to be investigating his own death (as in D.O.A., 1950) or some memory loss (as in Somewhere in the Night, 1946). Not surprisingly, the non-personal mystery almost always reveals something important for the personal mystery. Veronica Mars continues contemporary feminist questions and tensions. As a feminist noir detective, Veronica begins her investigation by interpreting points of disjunction created by loss. Putting a woman in the role of the hardboiled detective is certainly not completely new, but substituting rape for death in the noir narrative marks the point where the series departs from the traditional noir universe. With this gesture, the noir universe collides with contemporary feminist struggles. The constant is amnesia, and amnesia is for psychoanalysis not just an accident of a particular subject’s narrative trajectory. Instead, it is the result of the fundamental loss that inaugurates subjectivity. Every subject has a kind of amnesia because no subject can know its origin. There is a traumatic loss at the origin of subjectivity, but this loss is itself lost for the subject. The fundamental crisis that revolves around its inability to know itself

but this enigma of subjectivity is also its point of possibility and creativity. In Veronica Mars, Veronica’s investigations seem to hold out the hope that they can locate truth in some outside place: why her mother left, who raped her, whether her father is her biological father, and so on. Each narrative strand, each investigation, ends with a resolution, but this resolution never provides any insight into the ultimate

and each version is accompanied by a visual parts of the story and at other times retell the same part of the evening in different ways. The differing nature of the versions persons telling them. Veronica and the viewers assess the interviewee’s honesty by their relationship to Veronica and what was at stake for them (including how they were

subject. Each investigation begins and ends with a sense of loss and the grounding nature of trauma in relation to identity. In storylines that involve female behavior, Veronica is not just investigating a crime but rather how femininity produces existential awareness. In this way, the series makes clear the decentered nature of both subjectivity and femininity. clear that Veronica went to a party and woke up in the morning with no recollection of what had happened to her and the realization that she had been raped. The ambiguity behind this event allows the show to present multiple feminine reactions to rape itself. Initially, the show depicts Veronica as a young woman shamed by this event. We see police, who suggest that detecting the rapist would be impossible and that they even doubted it was rape. Some episodes later, however, the show changes the image of a politicized woman as she approaches those involved and demands that they recount what happened that evening. Season one, Episode 21 (out of 27) is where Veronica investigates the particulars of her own rape. Finding out clues from each person who might have seen something, Veronica begins to piece together what happened that night. She interviews ten people throughout the episode before she can come up with a plausible answer. Each person gives their version of what they saw

Kristin Calabrese, “For Your Own Good”, 2010. Oil on canvas, 43 x 49 inches © 2010 Kristin Calabrese.

happened and an interpretation of what presented as a cohesive group: they all have a blue tint to them in order to signify that they happened in the past. This storytelling technique is often called the Rashomon technique (named after Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon [1950]), and it Courage Under Fire (1996). In these stories, a woman’s behavior is also under scrutiny, of that behavior. In Rashomon, the question is whether a woman was raped or had consensual sex, and whether this woman was chaste question in order to pass judgment on the man accused of rape. In Courage Under Fire, the question concerns a woman’s capacity for being a military leader. In both cases, there is an outside judge and jury. In Veronica Mars, however, the judge and jury is Veronica and after each one the viewer sees her response. Thus, the lacuna in this text lies not in the question of female desire (as in sible nature of loss and in the ways in which a female character’s femininity can passes her experience of rape but that also refers to the many other losses that occur before the series starts and which motivate

and beyond. Even when Veronica discovers the truth to her personal mysteries, her relationship to loss as such doesn’t disappear but becomes more integrated into her understanding of the world. In other words, she doesn’t revert back to her former identity pre-loss (being part of the popular crowd and so on) once some of the mysteries are solved. The series shows that this loss leaves her identity out of touch with itself, but this disjunction holds the key to Veronica’s emancipation from patriarchal structures. By the third season, Veronica has solved Lily’s murder, and the murderer is dead. She has also found out that on the night of the party during which she was drugged she with her ex-boyfriend (who has left the country by this time) and was raped by another classmate (who has committed suicide). All of these past traumas that were attached to mysteries are now solved, but the lingering effect of these experiences continues to make its presence felt through Veronica’s way of being in the world. Because she grasps that loss is integral to her subjectivity rather than an obstacle to overcome and solve, Veronica inaugurates a contemporary paradigm of feminism. The series thus reveals that there is no such thing as a world without loss and feminism can detect the disjunction that this loss creates as a means for transforming the patriarchal order.


Surrogacy - simply the practice of another woman bearing a child for someone who will then keep the child as his or hers to raise - has become a hot political topic in recent years, often claimed to be an important solution for childlessness. In the context of globalisation surrogacy has turned into a transnational business - often described as a so-called “fertility business” dominated by mostly western couples travelling to “developing countries” to literally rent a woman’s uterus and buy her pregnancy labour. I believe that feminists should take a strong, critical standpoint against this growing business of transnational surrogacy. There exist a few common myths about surrogacy that we urgently need to dispel. It has been argued that surrogacy, for instance, deconstructs current family norms as it allows for alternative ways of family formation, and that it even liberates women from traditional roles of motherhood. But surrogate mothers, and who buys their labour? India has become one of the world’s largest exporters of “surrogacy babies”. Sociologist Amrita Pande has spent nine months in a “surrogacy clinic” in Anand, India, and gives us many important insights of their working conditions. Many of the surrogate mothers in the clinic are women from poor backgrounds. A frequent number of them describe in interviews how selling pregnancy labour has become the last resort for raising money in order to provide for their family, pay a medical bill or perhaps fund their children’s education. The surrogate labour, naturally, lasts every hour per day and the women have to take a large amount of

medication daily. They are paid an average surrogate mothers have to go through what is referred to as “alienation practices” in order to separate themselves from the growing baby in their uteruses. On the receiving end of this industry are the buyers; mostly heterosexual western couples. We must critically question who, in fact, has the privilege of deconstructing traditional family norms and roles of motherhood? If this deconstruction then, by extension, points at simply “outsourcing” the unavoidable labour of childbearing to another woman, I believe it is deeply problematic. Whose liberation is this? Others have argued that surrogacy labour is a form of emancipation as it brings the workers economic gain and will therefore empower them. Others say that we should not “hinder” women who want to sell their uteruses and pregnancy labour. This argument seems to presuppose that engaging in surrogacy labour is solely an act of free choice. But I want to ask: what is “free choice” in this context, entrenched in the capitalist system of supply and demand? Many liberal feminist strands have claimed that these women actually make autonomous choices, yet autonomy becomes deeply problematic in this context when it is clear that this is a question of an unequal economic hierarchy. I believe it is therefore crucial to re-consider the language of choice in this context. We must ask why one becomes a surrogate mother, rather than merely looking if







empowerment?). This issue is often overlooked as it is seen as merely a “contract” between a buyer and seller. Namely, through this contract economic power structures become naturalised, which makes it look like an equal relation. And yet, is it an equal relation? We cannot, and should not, ignore global economic power hierarchies when we discuss issues of “choice” and “autonomy”. Seemingly, surrogacy is simply a very long strates, the surrogate mothers go through the “alienation practices” in order to become separated from the growing baby – everything becomes for the purpose of making surrogacy just a selling product. Yet, she cannot escape sickness, having to take pills everyday. This is the point we must remember when it comes to this very form of labour; the surrogate cannot simply “alienate” herself from the “the product” as the baby grows inside her. Consequently, to me, transnational surrogacy is nothing else than pure comnational context – and the business is just growing. It is currently legalised in India, the USA, Israel, Netherlands, Ukraine, Hungary, South Korea and South Africa, and more countries are following the trend. Feminists should strive for a society where question and challenge generic liberal notions of “free choice” and “autonomy”. I believe feminists must take a clear standpoint on this issue immediately.

Alexandra Unger “Gone II”, 2012. Ink on paper, 42 x 29.5 cm © 2012 Alexandra Unger


What happens when the production of ‘precious human life’—reproduction—becomes a precarious site of degradation, discipline, disregard, and death? Do reproductive bodies – and the lives of women – wither away across landscapes of inequality and structural violence?

Earlier this year, the Tennessee legislature passed, and Governor Haslam signed SB 1391, the Pregnancy Criminalization Law, which allows for prosecution of drug-using women for their pregnancy outcomes. Opposed by obstetricians, women’s health advocates, and addiction experts, the bill—a grossly misguided and misogynist volley in the conservative ‘War on Drugs’—opens up the possibility of criminalising women for any adverse pregnancy outcome, drug-related or not. The bill is certain to discourage women from seeking treatment for addiction, and may also lead to decreased incidences of prenatal care, especially for women already at risk. SB 1391 is a dubious and not so subtle attempt to ‘save babies’ through governance of women’s bodies in a state with embarrassingly high infant mortality rates—rates that have little to do with pregnant women’s drug use and a great deal to do with poverty, racism, and lack of access to care. In Memphis, the infant mortality rate among African Americans is among the highest in the nation. In 2002, Tennessee’s rate was the highest in the U.S., with 15 deaths per 1000 live births, or “692 dead babies over a four-year span” (McClam 2007). In 2007, while the overall infant mortality in the U.S. was 6.75 deaths per 1,000 live births, among African Americans it was twice that, at 13.31 deaths per 1,000 live births (Mathews

longstanding pattern of racial disparities in infant mortality, with the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable groups experiencing the highest rates. The State of Tennessee, and the City of infant mortality rates through education and counselling, clinical innovations such as preconception care, and community interventions such as training of Lay Health Advisors— all strategies targeting individual pregnant women. By 2011, the infant mortality rate had dropped by a third, in part through “pinpointing at-risk mothers…and giving them intense attention, education and counselling during and after pregnancy” (Sainz 2013). This translates into 74 more babies each birthdays, and it also translates into subjection of the state’s ‘at-risk’ pregnant women—predominantly women of color—to increased levels of surveillance, intervention, and ‘responsible’ self-care. In this context, SB 1391 is ‘merely’ one more weapon in the gendered and racialized arsenal of reproductive governance in the United States, in which women, especially poor, racialised women, are framed as always and already suspect, and also as having distinct and opposing interests from their foetuses/babies. SB 1391 is maternal-fetal men hailed as baby-saviours and pregnant women (especially poor and young women and

women of colour) as criminals. It is critical to note that in deliberations about SB 1391, little mention was made of structural factors contributing to poor pregnancy outcomes. This is almost always the case in clinical and policy discussions of infant mortality, where individual women’s behaviour and health is the focus and target. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, girls and women tears and holes in the body’s organs. Almost unheard of in the U.S., obstructed labor can or between the vagina and rectum (known as or baby usually dies. The woman, if she lives, is left chronically incontinent of urine, faeces, or both. Statistically insigGlobal North, in the Global South up to 100,000 new cases annually (World Health Organization 2010). Fistula leads to social ostracism. Because the women may suffer from body odours, they are considered unclean. They are prevented roles as wives and mothers. And because genitals are implicated, family and community members may falsely believe women to have a sexually transmitted infection (Peterman and Johnson 2009). In addition to the grief and trauma of losing a baby, women with communities and physically isolated in separate living spaces. As a ‘signature wound’ of maternal health in the Global

poverty and inequality (Morrison and Casper 2012). Untreated injury leads to waste out of place and to women existing as and among the reproductively abject: cast off, wretched, and rendered worthless. Although the experiences of women South are radically different from typical reproductive experiences in the U.S., a comparative analysis can be instructive. Structural factors are implicated in reproductive outcomes; reproduction is never simply biological, but rather deeply social and political, as feminist scholars have long demonstrated. In some contexts, such as sub-Saharan Africa, structural factors include the impact of colonisation and neoliberal economic policies alongside persistent gender inequality; in Tennessee, factors include the historical legacy of slavery and embodied racism alongside endemic poverty; and in the Southwest United States, structural factors include a militarised border zone and stringent anti-immigration policies that prevent health-seeking behaviours by immigrant women. Thus, whether through assaults on women’s reproductive autonomy in Tennessee, mass closure of abortion clinics in Texas, the legislative challenges to contraceptive access, women who are already vulnerable on the basis of race, class, age, sexuality, ability, marital status, geography, and citizenship are most likely to be negatively impacted. While politicians toy with women’s lives in the name of ‘pro-life,’ ‘development,’ and ‘national security’ agendas, structural violence leads to morbidity and

mortality among all too many girls and women. It is thus important to situate obstetric Pilar Albarracín “Cara 1” (from the series SERIE TOILETTE), 1991. / performance photo documentation, 100 x 140 cm. 1991 Pilar Albarracín. Pilar Albarracín “Pechos” (from the series SERIE TOILETTE), 1991. / performance photo documentation, 100 x 140 cm. 1991 Pilar Albarracín. Pilar Albarracín “Espalda” (from the series SERIE TOILETTE), 1991. / performance photo documentation, 100 x 140 cm. 1991 Pilar Albarracín. Pilar Albarracín “Ombligo” (from the series SERIE TOILETTE), 1991. / performance photo documentation, 100 x 140 cm. 1991 Pilar Albarracín.

‘over there,’ but in relation to the so-called ‘war on women’ waged by white men in the U.S. determined to use women’s bodies as a battleground for conservative agendas. High infant mortality rates are often accompanied by high maternal morbidity and mortality rates—indicating that in general, good foetal and infant health relies on good maternal health and that the same structural factors leading to ‘poor pregnancy outcomes’ can also lead to pregnant women’s debility and death. It seems fundamental that if policymakers want to ‘save babies,’ they might start with implementing social and empower women (see Casper and Simmons 2014). Instead, what we see both in the U.S. and in our dealings elsewhere (e.g., elimination of family planning funds) are ‘structural over people, and that punish women for negative birth outcomes without instituting basic measures that could prevent such outcomes. Alongside high-tech genetic interventions, transnational surrogacy, and IVF treatments that serve the privileged, the precarious tion thus also includes the diseased and damaged bodies of poor women and the pitiable corpses of their infants. This is a tragic display of horror and loss, much of it preventable and too little of it mourned publicly or well understood in policy circles. It would be logical to frame such a landscape of devastation in terms of Agamben’s necropolitics and death. Doing so suggests a state of exception, a condition of lawlessness that has led to the precarity of chronic ‘stratof exception, as Simmons and Mueller (2014) argue, is characterised by lawfulness as

much as lawlessness. The state is ever-present and acts with impunity, and thus there is little to no recourse for those subjugated through its apparatus. And yet, as much as the contemporary reproductive landscape is structured to discipline and punish the most marginalized women through increased morbidity and mortality and loss of their children, reproductive governance is not exceptional. It is, rather, woefully mundane, perhaps even expected. Eugenic practices that disadvantage, disable, and kill some women and their babies operate side by side with pro-natalism of and for the privileged. Some people are positioned to live and thrive, while others are allowed, even encouraged through structural inequality and racist, misogynist, and imperialist policies to wither and die. In many parts of the world, this is simply a routine fact of life. Laws and policies order reproduction in se foetal ‘life’ over women’s autonomy, and that privilege the demands of white supremacy and U.S. sovereignty over other needs. Poor women, immigrant women, women of colour, queer women, disabled women, unmarried women, young women, imprisoned women, drug-using women—all are subject to the terms of regime. While some women are able to exercise neoliberal ‘choice’ in reproductive matters, others must navigate heavily constrained, sickness-inducing, and deadly circumstances. They reproduce and attempt to raise their offspring despite overwhelming odds, and sometimes they do not make it. These women are, as I have argued elsewhere, framed as failures of modernity (Casper and Moore 2009). Their bodies, lives, and families violence; they are made into worthless and degraded subjects. This is what I am calling .

Bibliography Casper, Monica J. and William Paul Simmons. 2014. ”Accounting for Death: Infant Mortality, the MDGs, and Women’s (Dis)Empowerment.” In Margunn BjØrnholt and Alisa McKay (eds.), Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics. Demeter Press. Casper, Monica J. and Lisa Jean Moore. 2009. Missing Bodies: The Politics of Visibility. New York: NYU Press. Colen, Shellee. 1995. ”’Like a Mother to Them’: Workers and Employers in New York,” In Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction, ed. Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp. Berkeley: University of California Press. Mathews, T.J. and Marian MacDorman. 2011. “Infant Mortality Statistics from the 2007 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set.” National Vital Statistics Reports 59(6). McClam, Erin. 2007. “A City’s Grief: Memphis’ Infant Death Epidemic.” NBC News, November 11. Morrison, Daniel R. and Monica J. Casper. 2012. “Intersections of Disability Studies and Critical Trauma Studies: A Provocation.” Disability Studies Quarterly 32(2). Peterman, Amber and Kiersten Johnson. 2009. ”Incontinence and Trauma: Sexual Violence, Female Genital Cutting and Proxy Measures of Gynecological Fistula.” Social Science & Medicine 68:971-979. Sainz, Adrian. 2013. “Memphis Makes Progress in Infant Mortality Fight.” AP, March 1. Simmons, William Paul and Carol Mueller. 2014. “Introduction” in Simmons and Mueller, eds. Binational Human Rights: The U.S.-Mexico Experience. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. World Health Organization. 2010. ”10 Facts Obstetric Fistula.” Accessed October 25, 2011.



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cry, supply, help, hurt, hit, unique, meet, meeting, missing, mihonmo, mingle, single mother, mourning, returning, researching, searching, suffering, wondering, child laundering, struggling, starving, healing, dealing, origin, giving up, giving up for adoption, option, panel discussion, abortion, abandoned, Ae Ran Wan, random, mom, money, economy, myth, prejudices, social prejudices, prefer, fertility, infertility, fertility rate, low fertility rate, birth rate, birth girls, China, IKAA, gap, culture gap, map, dad, death, divorce, decide, provide, stereotype, apologize, police, piece, pieces, PhD, discourse, disabled children, childhood, good intentions, Beyond Good Intentions, questions, question, personal insemination, insemination, nation, Asian, Amerasian, discrimination, sex education, regulation, legislation, limitaimagination, emancipation, expectation, donation, transformation, forced migration, return migration, migration, emigration, emigrant, pregnant, David Eng, claiming, explaining, praying, raising, public hearing, baby farming, baby, buying, biracial, special, speak, spoke, told, tough, enough, hojuk, adjusted, well-adjusted, overwhelmed,

Nabi Nara “A love story – entropy”, 2013. Video still camera - Philip Eyer (Switzerland) © 2013 Nabi Nara


In 2008, Liam Neeson starred as an ex-CIA agent who rescued his teenage daughter when she was kidnapped in Paris with nothing more than a few words over a phone and a grainy picture as clues. He tracked her all the way from the US to the deepest, darkest underworld singlehandedly, kicking ass and taking names. Taken 2 is set in Istanbul (Same plot, but only this time, the kidnappers wants revenge) and a further Taken 3 is in the works. This theme of foiling evil plots and rescuing damsels in distress is as old as storytelling itself but somehow, it seems reality is a long way off. As I write this, over 200 teens have been missing for weeks, and we do not appear to shouldn’t call them missing – after all, we have a fair idea of where they are and ‘who’ has them, so let’s call them “taken”, but watched would have us believe, there’s no knight in shining armour or ex-CIA dad to save them. Over 200 young women have been taken and have been held in captivity for WEEKS. I won’t speak of the horrors they must be undergoing, because the facts are horrendous enough. I don’t expect to be privy to the inner workings of the myriad of governments and agencies now involved in the rescue mission, but there is something very, very wrong with this picture. Hearing about a woman who was brutally raped, stoned or killed in certain parts of the world is hardly newsworthy these days. We shrug, we sigh, we re-tweet, we shake our heads, but most of all, we’re grateful we live elsewhere. We attribute it to mob

culture, illiteracy or even Islam, but we’re still grateful we live elsewhere. We hear of a young woman sentenced to death by stoning as a legal and constitutional form of punishment for something that isn’t even gossip worthy in other places, let alone a criminal offense, and we’re outraged; we shake our heads, we sign petitions and we share the story online, but all the while, we’re just grateful we live elsewhere. Not too long ago, there was a trending story of immigrants being abused in the Middle East. There were several videos and pictures too gory to look at that were making the reasoning behind the atrocities is still unclear. The physical, sexual and psychological abuse of migrant workers in the countries in question is nothing new, but the sheer numbers involved earlier this year managed to bring it to the fore. Once again, we read, we liked, we shared, we shook our heads and we were wholly grateful we lived elsewhere. In all these scenarios, you can be grateful that you are male, and you can be grateful that you’re obviously Caucasian, or that you’re well rooted in the Global North. However, some of us don’t have that privilege. Some of us are African women living in Africa and we should be the last people to read these stories as those of ‘other’ women – these are our stories. A boarding school in Nigeria? A doctor in the Sudan? An Ethiopian maid in Saudi Arabia? These are my friends’ cousins, my friends’ sisters and my cousins. These are real people going through un-real torture.

Some people think 12 years a Slave is too gory and exaggerated, some even doubt the and I can’t fault them entirely for this coping mechanism. Sometimes, it’s easier to deny ‘evil’ than accept it and then be faced with having to do something about it. There have been many cinematic portrayals of slavery in the Americas but what makes 12 Years a Slave unique is the fact that it highlights the underlying rationale for the total abolishment of slavery. Slavery aptly sums this up. As long as people are marked as slaves based on certain physical features, anyone who shares these features is at risk of being ‘mistaken’ for a slave, and this holds for all kinds of disadvantage. Is anyone anywhere marginalised because of their physical features? Breasts? Hips? dark skin tone? then anyone with the same features is at risk of the same. I’m grateful that I can’t legally and openly be claimed as a slave anywhere in the world today, but if lose my passport in Riyadh, and make a report at the police station, will I be mistaken for a crafty indentured servant from the Horn of Africa trying to escape? Will I be

beaten to a pulp for not having proper papers? If I get locked out of my hotel room in Rio de Janeiro, will the staff assume that I’m a cunning prostitute trying to gain access? Marginalisation and discrimination aren’t individual constructs meted out by a few evil, faceless people. No. The unspeakable acts are carried out in the open by our friends and family because we live in a world where it’s acceptable to treat some people differently from others. Sometimes it’s hard to fathom how a fellow human could do such things to another, but we’re looking at the problem from the wrong angle, because the majority of people can’t and won’t do ‘terrible things’ to their fellow people.

beneath or less than, they are at the mercy of those above, higher or greater than. I can’t entirely fault Taken’s very simple plot but it seems it only served to cement Albanians as the villains du jour, because in reality, if I were ‘taken’, chances are, you wouldn’t even hear about it.


Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear my head about this poem about why I can’t go out without changing my clothes my shoes my body posture my gender identity my age my status as a woman alone in the evening/ alone on the streets/alone not being the point/ the point being that I can’t do what I want to do with my own body because I am the wrong sex the wrong age the wrong skin and suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/ or far into the woods and I wanted to go there by myself thinking about God/or thinking about children or thinking about the world/all of it disclosed by the stars and the silence: I could not go and I could not think and I could not stay there alone as I need to be alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own body and who in the hell set things up like this and in France they say if the guy penetrates but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me and if after stabbing him if after screams if after begging the bastard and if even after smashing a hammer to his head if even after that if he and his buddies fuck me after that then I consented and there was they fucked me over because I was wrong I was wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong to be who I am which is exactly like South Africa penetrating into Namibia penetrating into

Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland and if after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to self-immolation of the villages and if after that we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they claim my consent: Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what in the hell is everybody being reasonable about and according to the Times this week back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba and before that it was my father on the campus of my Ivy League school and my father afraid to walk into the cafeteria because he said he was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong gender identity and he was paying my tuition and before that it was my father saying I was wrong saying that I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and that I should have had straighter hair and that I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should just be one/a boy and before that it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me to let the books loose to let them loose in other words I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A. and the problems of South Africa and the problems of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white America in general and the problems of the teachers and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very familiar with the problems because the problems turn out to be me

I am the history of rape I am the history of the rejection of who I am I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of myself I am the history of battery assault and limitless armies against whatever I want to do with my mind and my body and my soul and whether it’s about walking out at night or whether it’s about the love that I feel or whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or the sanctity of my national boundaries or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity of each and every desire that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic and indisputably single and singular heart I have been raped because I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic the wrong sartorial I I have been the meaning of rape I have been the problem everyone seeks to eliminate by forced penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/ but let this be unmistakable this poem is not consent I do not consent to my mother to my father to the teachers to the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in cars I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name My name is my own my own my own and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this but I can tell you that from now on my resistance my simple and daily and nightly self-determination may very well cost you your life

Mequitta Ahuja, “Afrogalaxy”, 2007. Enamel on Paper, 96 x 104 inches Assisted by Blue Sky Project youth participants. © 2007 Mequitta Ahuja

Jeannette Ehlers “Whip It Good”, 2013/2014. Photographer - Casper Maare. Live performance, 2013. Comissioned by Art Labour Archives and Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Berlin. © 2013 Jeannette Ehlers


The conventional understanding of Muslim women in Western discourse is that of helpless victims awaiting rescue from an oppressive religious patriarchy. This was certainly the dominant representation in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, when the transnational feminist campaign to rescue Afghan women from the Taliban was appropriated by the Bush administration to boost its case for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. However, in the years since 2001 the focus has shifted from Muslims as an external to an internal security hazard. While racialised representations of gender violence within Muslim communities ‘here’ (i.e., the West) perpetuate the rescue narrative, the discourse has taken a turn towards repreumnists in the Islamisation of the Europe, North America and Australia – stealthy agents of jihad either literally hidden beneath the veil or more dangerous still, hidden in plain view. Orientalist discourses on gender and als of Muslim women as hapless victims in need of rescue and as dangerous agents of an alien ideology in need of discipline. the narratives of rescue and discipline deeply entwined as Muslim women who resist their Enlightenment saviours are subjected to disciplinary attempts to rescue them from their own false consciousness. Predictably, this has become apparent in public ‘debates’ around the regulation of Muslim women’s dress.

Burqas and other forms of face-covering are regarded as the most extreme of the abject choices that Muslim women may undertake in the name of their religious identity. Those who advocate the regulation of burqas in public space cite its use both as a means of patriarchal control and as an instrument of female subversion. At least some of the women who cover their faces in public have described in articulate detail their reasons for choosing to do so, but according to the ban-the-burqa brigade, this hardly matters. It is the wrong choice, whether it is their own or someone else’s. Historically, face-veiling has been perceived as an aide to sexual transgression, allowing Muslim women to go out into the streets to meet their lovers without fear of recognition. In the post 9/11 era, suspicion of the burqa focuses on its potential use as a tool for suicide bombers and gangsters, rather than adulterers. Incidents such as an armed hold-up in Sydney by a reported ‘burqa bandit’ in 2010 and the use of a burqa by a terrorism suspect in London to escape police surveillance in 2013 are cited as evidence of the burqa as an unacceptable risk to law and order. Speaking after the Sydney incident, Australian Senator Cory Bernardi claimed that “the burqa is no longer simply the symbol of female repression in Islamic culture, it is now emerging as the preferred disguise of bandits and ne’er do wells.” Face-veiling, then, is a weapon that can be used both by and against women (or men posing as women) as an act of surrender or aggression, empowerment or disempowerment. And besides the weapons that Muslim women

are said to conceal under their garments, they are accused of harbouring a yet more sinister weapon within their bodies - their wombs. Muslim communities in the west, particularly in Europe, have been represented as a demographic threat the the ‘native population’, with projected demographics or pseudo-demographics forecasting a ‘Muslim takeover’ through sheer force of numbers rather than arms. Despite having been widely debunked, alarmist forecasts continue to circulate through both mainstream and social media of non-Muslim Europeans reduced to a struggling minority as the countries of their citizenship and ancestral heritage are overwhelmed by a booming Muslim population. And of course, it is the capacity and apparent willingness of Muslim women to prioritise childbearing ahead of other life choices that enables this demographic conquest. Muslim women are not only transmitters of a dangerous ideology, but also repulsive breeders of the enemy horde.

According to the ever-more shrill voices of anti-Muslim scare-mongering, even apparently assimilated Muslim women with unveiled faces should be regarded as a threat, since tration of the West. Muslim women who carry their religious identity into public space — most obviously in the form of their dress but also in other practices such as prayer, creating a market for halal food, or even abstinence from alcohol consumption at workplace social functions — have embedded abject social norms into ‘mainstream’ society. Muslim women, then, are regarded not only as helpless victims but also as a threatening, covert presence lurking within the heartlands of Western civilisation. In rescuing them – if necessary by force – the West is also safeguarding its own heritage and redeeming itself from the crimes of cultural relativism and soft multiculturalism.


kill. This man was innocent. I don’t know his name. I called him ‘the fat man.’ …. I shot him in front of his friend and his I’d hit him up here in his neck area and afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend who I was on post with and I said, well, I can’t let that happen, so I took another shot and took him out … My company commander personally congratulated me.”1 This is the testimony of former US Marine and Iraq veteran, Jon Michael Turner. As he was talking, Turner provided photos of his attacks on civilians, on mosques, and on households in Iraq – pictures he had taken himself of dead bodies and destroyed property. He explained that he was talking about the war crimes he committed and showing images of the human suffering he had caused because he had come to realise it was wrong and wanted to speak out for the people who were, because of his actions, unable to speak out for themselves. As he talked, images of dead and mangled bodies ran in a slideshow behind him. I listened intensely to Turner’s words about how similar they were to the words of a number of jihadi martyrdom videos that I had heard over the years. I thought of Zizek’s warning – we need to see in the “other” what we deny but hate in ourselves, in order to have the tension of desire and hatred outside of ourselves.2 The second time I watched Turner, though, I found myself watching the pictures rather than listening to Turner’s words. I watched

the bodies move, then be shot, and writhe in agony until they died. I watched the bodies’ relatives and friends trying to decide whether to help, mourn, or hide. Death, sickness, sadness, and depravity dominated the four-minute-long reel of time that I was actually experiencing something related to Julia Kristeva’s abject – the disgusting reminder of my own materiality and the primal repression of both the evil and the material within. In Kristeva’s terms, Turner’s pictures function to “show me what I permanently thrust aside part of death.”3 I watch the images and think to myself that Kristeva would see the abject in the images, but also in the catharsis of the self-justifying and self-condemning testimony reporting them.4 I wondered where that left me as the audience to this horror – other than physically ill. After all, I was the audience in a number of different ways. I was Turner’s intended audience – Americans with a preIraq and an interest in publicising and stopping the atrocities happening there. I was the intended audience of the work of Zizek and Kristeva that I used to think about Turner’s presentation – an academic interested in peeling away the layers of meaningfulness mapped onto the meaningless. I was also, in some sense, my own intended audience. I went looking for soldier testimonials about the war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to watch myself

and show my students. I was looking for in the other (here, American soldiers) what I hate in myself (a propensity to violence), Just as they were looking for in the other (here, Iraqis; more often than not civilians) what they hated in themselves (whether that was fear and insecurity or some more fundamental similarity/difference). As I chased the authorship of the moment that I watched the video (or days that I repeated it) down a proverbial rabbit hole appropriate framework with which to “make feminist sense” of my simultaneous condemnation of and attraction to watching Turner’s testimony.5 It was in this moment that I realised I could (and should) instead make feminist nonsense out of it.6 Jack Halberstam talks about gaga feminism in terms that felt eerily familiar to my reception of Turner’s performance. S/he describes gaga feminism as “performances of excess; crazy, unreadable appearances of wild genders, and social experimentation.”7 The gaga feminist, in these terms, “advocates in the machinery, the obstacle to the smooth, the seamless, and the quiet extension of the status quo.”8 In the gaga feminist’s world, “the homo-hetero binary seems less at the turn of the last century.”9 Still, “compulsory heterosexuality is a system that makes it seem as if heterosexuality, with glitches is the only game in town.”10 Halberstam’s gaga seems almost diametrically opposed to Kristeva’s abject – Halberstam’s gaga is appealing in its irreverence, sexy in its chaos, jubilant in its damage; Kristeva’s abject is the very source of disappointed desire through the breakdown of the distinction of subject and object. At the same time, I cannot help but see the potential productivity (or at least appeal) in applying Halberstam’s analysis to the

abject in Turner’s presentation. I rewrite (here) and replay (in class) Turner’s testimony as “performances of excess; crazy, unreadable appearances of war, and social experimentation,” looking of war, the wrench in the machinery of the war system, the obstacle to the smooth, the seamless, the operation of war,” and seeing that “the war-not war binary seems less at the end of the last century.” Compulsory militarism is a system that makes it seem as if violent practice, with all of its only game in town. War is normal, it is present, it is us – talking casually about and casually watching images of senseless killing is an absurd rehearsal of the grotesque in the everyday, and the everyday in the grotesque. My initial reaction to gaga feminism (now that I mention it, not unlike my initial reaction to Turner’s testimony or Kristeva’s analysis that makes it “make sense” to me) was a combination of disgust and appeal – I agree; I can’t help but be attracted to it; it is my politics and my excess all at the same time. Turner tells the Marines “eat the apple, f--- the corps, I don’t work for you no more.”11 Jack Halberstam talks about the gaga feminist as transgressive: s/he “cannot settle into the house that culture has built for her. S/he has to tear it down, reimagine the very meaning of the house in form and function and only then can s/he rebuild.”12 in Halberstam, and in Turner’s irreverent rejection of American militarism. My second reaction to both phenomena emphasised the disgust. Turner’s performance was self-indulgent, and took less responsibility for his heinous actions than I thought was fair. He was hating in the system what he was refusing to hate in himself – senseless violence and a scary disregard for human

life. Halberstam’s gaga feminism is also self-indulgent, “you can do damage, take others out, move at will” – the appeal of “big moves, bold moves, aggressive moves.”13 The explicit sexualisation of femininity and queerness inherent in Halberstam’s analysis comes from the position of privilege of wealthy, white, Western culture; much like the admission of brutality in Turner’s testimony comes from the position of privilege of an American veteran who survived the sense in the nonsense is in its self-indulgent absurdity: I should stop watching and go try to make the world a less evil place in some less ridiculous way. My third reaction, however, rejects both mately settle with Turner, Halberstam, Kristeva, and even feminism. In Kristeva’s words, “there looms, within abjection, one of those violent dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable.”14 The stories that Turner tells are known but the images of what he did are ejected beyond the scope of possible – their very recognition internally contradictory to the advocate, just as the critic of “the war”, though for different reasons. The impossible presence, indeed, celebration, of these “dark revolts of seeing” is constitutive of ointment and/or the wrench in the machinery – it takes not only the horror to be objected to, but the absurd celebration of that horror to interrupt, the operation of war. The gaga feminist moments in my consumption of Turner’s testimony fold back onto themselves: attraction both to the abject and his glo-

interruption of both war and anti-war narratives – “the retching that thrusts me to the side”15; together, these factors make feminist nonsense out of (the Iraq) war. This, however, is some very serious nonsense. As Halberstam explains, gaga feminism “is a form of political expression that masquerades as naïve nonsense but actually participates in big and meaningful forms of critique.”16 This critique is not the surface level critique of the war itself in Turner’s testimony, of American exceptionalism in my presentation of his testimony to my classrooms, or of traditional gender roles in Halberstam’s analysis. Rather, it is a critique that also functions as a critique of the critique of the abject grotesque as a form of (self-indulgent) intervention in the normalisation politics of war – successful precisely because of its absurdity and its over-determined doom. I can see in that contradiction a lesson for my studies of war, and for my pedagogy – but maybe also for my feminisms. Halberstam aspires that “gaga feminism will abandon the norm the way a hiker might throw out her compass – once the compass has been lost, every direction is right, and getting lost becomes both a possibility and a pleasure.”17 I felt that as I watched Turner throw his dog tags into the audience and as I watched him simultaneously apologise to/ for and exploit bodies he killed. Perhaps this is what Kristeva talks about in terms of discovering “what war was, the whole war,” and parallels can be drawn for the Iraq War, civilian victimisation, and even (gaga) feminism(s).18 Perhaps the whole (war, feminism, America) is ugly, disjointed, and disgusting – a reality recognised as much in its reination.


This was testimony at a conference in the Spring of 2007 called “Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan,” hosted by Iraq Veterans Against the War by a soldier, Jon Michael Turner, who was a member of the US military in Iraq. The video of the testimony can be found here: https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=CZTyfrg06Xc.


Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real! Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (London: Verso, 2002), in the chapter on Happiness after 9/11.


Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p.3.


e.g., ibid., p.17.


Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); then most recently in Nimo’s War, Emma’s War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).


The following analysis is inspired by Judith Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012).


Ibid., loc 86.


Ibid., loc 2141


Ibid., loc 150


Ibid, loc 1063


See note 1


Halberstam, Gaga Feminism, loc 95.


Ibid, loc 2243


Kristeva, Powers of Horror, p.1.


Ibid., p.2.


Halberstam, Gaga Feminism, loc 231.


Ibid., loc 592.


Kristeva, Powers of Horror, p.192.


Back in 1984, when I was asked to submit an erotic story to the magazine, On Our Backs I’d never written one before. Of course, I had fantasies like most people (I was, after all raised Catholic, a religion full of gothic imagery and cinematic miracles!); but as for writing them down — it never occurred to me. As a lesbian feminist of colour I wasn’t against erotic literature; I was just not sure how one constructed a juicy story that wasn’t based on exploitation. But I was already formulating the ideas for my vampire novel, The Gilda Stories, a story told through a feminist lens, so I had begun to think about how to tackle a traditionally exploitative genre without traveling down might as well give erotica a go too.


creating engaging, multi-dimensional women who are not taking advantage of each other (unless that was mutual) really was a challenge I enjoyed. The other part of wanting to write the story was a response to a call to action by the Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce (FACT) which, in the 1980s, was providing a sex-positive political alternative to the very loud voices of conservative, anti-porn activists. Women’s relationship to sexuality was and remains a complex territory. No matter how hip and powerful we feel as women, we have been and continue to be seen as the sexual receptacles for men. Male produced images it would be impossible for an extraterrestrial being to land on earth from outer space to actually recognise a female unless

fashion magazine where the women are size 0, wear 6 inch heels, and all look white even when they have brown skin. Female images in popular media are crafted to peak the desire of middle aged white men. And any women that seem to deviate from that are quickly slapped down…see ‘journalists’ comments about English actress, Kate Winslet or US singer, Kelly Clarkson being ‘fat.’ Notice how few African American women with dark skin or Asian American women appear on magazine covers or on television series. This lack of representation and distortion of our reality affects how we treat ourselves and our desire. Mainstream pornography simply follows mainstream commercial images to their logical conclusion women are not people…. we’re soylent green. That is—like the eponymous movie—we are a packaged edible, human commodity to be used, abused and discarded at the whim of male consumers. The famous picture that anti-porn activists used most often was that of a porn magazine cover in which women were being fed into a meat grinder; legs and high heels the only remaining indication that we were humans. There is no question that these images cause damage. But I’d venture to say that numerical-speaking many more people have their poor ideas about women shaped by going to auto shows, watching the Kardashians, the Dallas Cheerleaders and/or children’s beauty pageants. All of the above being alarming cases where women contribute to their own usually without a thought about the pornographic quality of their acts. All of it supports the idea that women are disposable

and interchangeable items as easily killed off as changing the tires on your truck. THAT SAID it is just as dangerous for women to tamp down our sexuality in response to exploitation and that is what conservative lesbian feminists of the 80s were insisting. Should we don the not-so-gay apparel of the cloister? Never enjoy our fantasies? Never experience orgasm because it frightens the horses? When the US President Ronald Reagan sent Attorney General Edwin Meese on a fact holding public meetings trying to convince local municipalities to shut down ‘porn’ operations. The commission engaged ‘experts’ who emphatically declared that if we didn’t of us—mostly lesbian--activists went to a court house hearing of the commission in New York City, smuggling in signs that said ‘CENSORED’ and whipped them out at one point and sat quietly so they would look really bad if they tried to drag us away. The resulting Commission report didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know already, and told us a lot that was totally untrue. The result of the Commission, its report and the so called ‘porn wars’ was not a lessening in our schools. The primary result of the Commission’s misinformation was the clamping down on and sometimes ban of gay and lesbian literature (erotic and not) crossing borders. In Canada even some bookstores were closed. I know the history of the abuse of female sexuality. African women were used by slave masters as if they were one of the mules on the plantation; Native women were raped and eviscerated for sport; and every day in the news we see the reports of only a fraction of the domestic beatings and rapes that occur in public, on campuses and in the US military. In the 1980s I too went through my phase of wearing bulky shirts and heavy

Xaviera Simmons “Landscape” (2 Women), 2007. Color Photograph 40 by 50. © 2007 Xaviera Simmons and David Castillo Gallery

boots, discouraging the predatory impulses of the men who lay in wait. And I know that they are still out there. Yet I refuse to hide myself under layers of clothes to help them control their impulses. Women do have a right to sexual expression that we control and we have to be suspicious of any authority attempting to maintain control over our bodies whether it’s about what we wear in public, what we do in bed or what we do or do not carry in our wombs…these things are connected. It’s no accident that lesbians have been at the forefront of that activism trying to hold on to our right to be sexually active and exploratory. We have been declared outlaws for our sexual desire; or worse told we (as women) didn’t have any real desire. One of the last things I did before I moved from New York to California was participate in a collective that created a one day conference (1992) called Lesbians Undoing Sexual Taboos – LUST. It featured panels, readings, demonstrations (a lot of women found Annie Sprinkle’s g-spot that day) and it culminated in a dance at the Clit Club complete with a back room for sexual experimentation. The women who engaged me to participate in FACT and LUST are forever in my debt for expanding desire in our political lives. I want to remind us of this history so that we don’t forget how easily and self-righteously some would take away our right to speak of sexuality out loud; and so that young lesbians learn to embrace being a ‘lesbian’ which implies being a sexual outlaw and making change. Being a generic ‘queer’ is not quite the same as being a lesbian,

which has a heroic tradition. Writers like Audre Lorde, Joan Nestle, Cheryl Clarke; singers like Ferron and Gwen Avery; activists like Katherine Acey, Kate Kendell and Pamela Ki Mai Chen are lesbians who pushed all the boundaries—some by doing outrageous things others by trying to do every day things that would exclude lesbians. It is in knowing our history and listening to each other that we protect ourselves. Women and lesbians are not having an easy passage into liberation and there are men who continue to believe our bodies are their own personal colonies; and some women who won’t acknowledge this is true. There are lesbians who feel more comfortable blending in rather than blazing trails. But even if we learn that US astronaut Sally Ride was a lesbian only after her death, that knowledge is a gift to us. And it’s a reminder that we have still work to do so the next girl with aspirations for the stars won’t have to keep the core of her life a secret. The title of the magazine, On Our Backs, was a play on the title of the groundbreaking lesbian feminist newspaper called Off Our Backs. The newspaper correctly attempted to move women from the prone position into action. But the erotic magazine, On Our Backs, insisted women’s sexuality could not be shut down because of the danger of exploitation both past and future. On our backs we are not helpless like the crab or turtle; we are open and moist, ready for spring up to show the power of our desire. As Audre Lorde said, “Our visions begin with our desires.”


All those nights I laid beside you Were for Empire - nothing more. Empire: morning, noon, and night. Your record of abandonment Felonies and petty crime Your immigration problems Your oblivion to time The masquerade you made of sex And all the stuff you stole From me, your boss or anyone That suited you and your demands of Empire - and control Averted eyes that tried to hide Lies blackening your soul Your antiquated instrument Your clumsy, chunky hands That grasp so hard for Empire Empire and nothing more That cling and choke and strangle Footsteps thudding out my door.

Maureen Burdock “Mushroom #3” (from Mona & the Little Smile, second book in the series The F Word Project: Feminist Fables for the Twenty-First Century), 2008. Oil on canvas. 24 X 18 inches. © 2008 Maureen Burdock


Most feminists agree, that despite the prevailing contemporary rhetoric of women’s sexual empowerment and choice, women’s sexual experiences are regulated for them by others in a patriarchal society. Today the popular script claims that the sexual double standard is dead and women are sexually emancipated, at least in countries not dominated by religious orthodoxy. However, this empowerment claim is contradicted by numerous memoirs and studies by and about ethnic women, disabled women, teen women, college women, dating women, married women, old women, and others. The personal stories of sexual life that emerge from such research identify numerous areas of insecurity, distress, and outright subjection that emphasize how disappointment, shame, and the standard story of women’s sexual lives. Accepting that we dance to a patriarchal tune when it comes to sexuality is not to deny that many women feel physical pleasure, emotional intimacy, and psychological power partnered sexual activities, at least some of the time. Rather, it is to emphasise that these experiences of pleasure, intimacy and power occur within a framework of limits and rules dictated by the corporate, media, and educational institutions of our patriarchal society. Thus, from feminist point of view, sexual emancipation remains remote. One prime source of the limits and rules that regulate sexuality in contemporary liberal society arises from commercial interests and governmental policies that shape a discourse of “sex as health” as the principal sexual metaphor. Not “sex as

hobby,” “sex as expression of emotion,” “sex as learned behaviour,” “sex as transcendence,” “sex as complex psychophysical activity,” or “sex as collection of widely diverse cultural displays,” but, rather, “sex as genitally focussed universal evolutionary behaviour and need,” akin to respiration, digestion, or sleep. Within this framework a life or marriage without sex is not healthy, sex must include genital activities, orgasm is the high point of sex, too little sex is not normal, sex contributes to well-being and longevity, etc etc. This construction places sexuality into a discourse of biological health, and authorises arbiters of normal and abnormal function such as doctors and psychotherapists to explain and advise the public about sex. These people have become the designated sexuality experts of our society. Anthropologists and sociologists call this framing “medicalization,” and they have tracked the growth of medicalization throughout the 20th century as it totally transformed public and professional understanding of many aspects of everyday life such as mood, sleep, appetite, emotions, alcohol use, activity level, weight, aging, pregnancy, menstruation, drug use, mental state, social behaviour, and more. These all became aspects of health (and illness), and any deviations and symptoms of medical or mental health conditions. Given the moralistic perspective on sexual life resulting from thousands of years of patriarchal religious dictates, and the super-moralized place of women’s sexuality within those teachings and practices, it made sense to me to understand the

medicalization of sex as a shift “from sin to sickness” but not a shift from regulation to emancipation. The medicalization of sexuality began to interest me as a feminist as I watched the growth of a new specialty called “sexual medicine” in the 1980s and 1990s. It was a and experiences deviated from social norms. However, this new sexual medicine for women was not devoted, as similar developments had been in the past, to curing lesbians or taming nymphomaniacs, but to jazzing up the lackluster levels of coital interest displayed by many married women. It seemed noteworthy that efforts to “help” these women emerged just as Viagra and other erectile function enhancers appeared, and as men were being encouraged by advertisements to look forward to drug-assisted lifelong capacities for penetrative intercourse and orgasm. Pharmaceutical companies began to hunt for a “Pink Viagra” for women that would have a rate of return comparable to that of Viagra’s annual multi-billion dollar/pound/ euro bounty. A desire/arousal medicine for women was promoted, of course, not as something that was largely of interest to multinational corporations and advertising agencies, but as something women themselves needed and wanted due to their alleged widespread inadequate sexual function and distress. This hunt has gone on for years and years, despite extensive research literature showing that women’s sexual problems and dissatisfactions are most often the result of a long laundry list (the word is chosen intentionally) of social and interpersonal causes. It is only because numerous attempts have that no medication for “female sexual dysfunction” has yet been approved in the U.S. It is only a matter of time until one drug or another will pass muster, however, and

then the advertising industry will take over and publicise the “good news” far and wide through every form of communications media and some not even yet invented! My activist and academic work over the past two decades has focussed on exposing the evolving system and network behind the medicalization of sex. The major challenge was overcoming my initial limited training as a research and clinical psychologist and broadening my knowledge to include areas such as critical public health and social studies of medicine. Feminism offered me a basic standpoint - sex is better understood as a matter of cultural arrangements than as an element of biomedical health - but it has taken far longer to understand how professional and business elements interact on the global stage to produce and promote an ever-expanding clinical framework of sexual research, diagnoses, and treatments. Overall, I have come to understand the situation this way: Sex has become a commodity in a consumer world. “Health” is the overall consumer category where reigning authorities locate sex. Clinicians are considered the designated sex experts and act to preserve their authority and economic opportunities the social value of their work. Healthy sex life, a constantly changing category of tioned right and social necessity. Most people receive no sexual instruction, so the reality of their sex lives inevitably falls short of their expectations. People fail to understand that their disappointment is socially caused, however, and feel defective and inadequate, rendering them vulnerable to clinical formulations, surveillances and interventions. The media are captive to the same assumptions and trumpet new discoveries that are little more than press releases. Thus the medicalization of sex goes on.

Joan Semmel Pink Fingertips, 1977. Oil on canvas. 47h x 57w in. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York Š 2014 Joan Semmel / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


After Koshu Kunii read Tove Lyssarides’ ‘Why I don’t Believe in Feminist Porn’, HYSTERIA #1 ‘Backlash’, he felt both provoked and eager to deepen his understanding of the feminist debate on sex work and thus decided to contact Lyssarides. This is the e-mail exchange, which developed between the two.

KK: Dear Tove, I am writing this to ask you a question on the following line as my became even more incompatible after having read your article. “Yes, I know that happy sex workers exist but as a radical feminist I still don’t think prostitution should be legalised or promoted because it has major consequences for women’s general position in society.” Unfortunately, prostitutes, both forced and voluntary, exist in today’s fragmented social structure. By restricting the legal status and the promotion of their activities, wouldn’t they become more neglected, and thus further marginalised by patriarchal society? I’d like to understand more about the fundamental issues of prostitution in order thus I’d highly appreciate your perspective on this. TL: I totally agree that this is a very important and potentially rich debate. Unfortunately, the question on sex work is a question, which divides the feminist movement but I nevertheless believe it’s a very impor-tant debate to discuss. Your question regards the very central issue on the stigma surrounding sex work. I believe the stigma is both dangerous and harmful for all women involved in sex work. Nevertheless, my conviction is that there

just legalising what is stigmatised. Don’t you agree? Many things are stigmatised in our society, but the stigma in itself is sation. I don’t think legalising sex work will help to eliminate the already existing, huge, demand for women’s bodies on the market. Also, think about the consequences of legalising sex work. Potentially, an unemployed woman could then walk into an employbe encouraged to take a job as a sex worker. Is this a kind of society we want to create? What do you say, do you think there is any difference between sex work and other types of wage labour? KK: reputation and perception around sex work beyond just legalising it. However, regardless of the legal status of sex work, there will always be a huge demand for sex work as long as ill-minded customers exist. There may also be a potential shift within the sex work sector (the illegality of prostitution, for instance, may simply shift demand from prostitution to porn). Therefore, although legalising sex work may not reduce its demand or change the stigma that surrounds it, don’t you think that illegalising sex work brings harm to current and

future sex workers, both voluntary and forced? The illegal nature of their profession prevents workers from getting proper access to healthcare and insurance, and ensures they cannot be recognised as respected members of society (which may further deepen the existent stigma around sex work). Thanks for the interesting perspective on Surely, we wouldn’t want to encourage sex work to a high school student for his/her career. But would it also be right to discourage those who really want to be in the sex work sector if their health and safety will be protected? As for the comparison with other types of labour, don’t housemaids or masseuses, just as sex workers, get paid for using their own bodies as a commodity and are also the

patronising feminist-attitude. Of course, both the costa-employee and the sex worker are exploited, but to treat a woman’s body as any other commodity on the market is in my opinion misogynistic. And don’t drag in the argument that “there are male-sex workers too”. I know there are, but they happen to be a minority of everyone involved in selling sex. Regarding your point about ’those who really want to work in the sex industry‘ I this patriarchal and capitalist society? What even is consent in this unbalanced world of ours? KK: Of course one can never make a “free choice” in this world with all the social,

believe that the choice of many sex workers (Yes, conceptually prostitution and pornog- has been shaped by the capitalistic and raphy represent persisting patriarchal ide- patriarchal ideologies and thus their jobs ologies on sex. However, on an individual and their belief in their choice are simply level, provided there are guarantees of health However, I also think that as there are between working all day as a cleaner, and voluntary sex workers who believe that they working as a sex worker for fewer hours and chose to become sex workers, the illegalithe same amount of money?) Certainly, this sation of the act of sex work in any way won’t be a valid point for legalising sex would, to their eyes at least, deprive them work, but I just wanted to know your stance of their fundamental liberty of work. That on the individual choices in the hypotheti- is to say, as much as it makes sense ideocal situation above. logically, in practice it really comes down to individual perceptions. Thus if we want TL: On the issue of preventing sex workers to eventually abolish prostitution, I believe from getting healthcare and insurance I we would need to listen to and understand believe that welfare states could and should guarantee such security to all its citizens, ised solutions for each individual. This would regardless of what they do for a living. Also, certainly take much more time, costs, people, I have never argued in favour of criminal- efforts etc. than simply partially/fully illeising sex workers. galising prostitution (which I believe is one Moreover, on the difference between sex of the main reasons why the government usually work and other kinds of work, it is my personal chooses the latter policy). But if we are conviction that there is a difference between serious in wanting to put an end to this being alienated from the costa-coffee you are selling and from being alienated from I believe we need to start being more practical your sexuality, but I guess that’s just my by looking at sex work as a tangled mass of

complex individual issues and attempting to untangle them individually, rather than simply generalising sex work as an ideological defect and illegalising its act to further deepen the stigma.

Continue the debate! Follow HYSTERIA on Twitter and Facebook: @hystericalfem facebook.com/hystericalfeminisms

TL: My criticism of sex work does not aim to marginalise and stigmatise sex workers. My criticism is pointed towards the discriminatory practices and the unbalanced power-relations surrounding sex in our patriarchal society. It is the root of this unbalance that we must strive to understand in order to be able to break with this patriarchy. Also, I think we are talking in circles here. Yes, we all know there exist happy sex workers. But how many percent of the total number of sex workers is that? 2 percent? Should we let the boat sink, just because two people on board know how to swim?

but maybe that’s bad as well, according to women too will become more marginalised and consequently we risk putting them in even more dangerous situations. So let’s just not make laws. Let’s just talk about individuals instead, shall we? KK: I acknowledge that happy sex workers may to agree that they be stopped from boarding the boat. But I suppose the choice between consequences of fragmented societal structure is never an easy one? True. Although I believe in the necessity of proper education for those who demand sex work, we do need certain regulations and forced sex work. However, with the stigma around sex work in general, how could we really draw the line between voluntary sex workers with the rest?

Kathe Burkhart Gash: from the Liz Taylor Series (Ash Wednesday), 2004. Acrylic, gauze, thread, cotton on canvas 80” x 60” © 2004 Kathe Burkhart


little little pins around furry dots we were right really how I told you so really when I knew it would happen ah warm up the bloodless mess feel the terror of cold error just you I mean just me only me me alone here in a marble tomb of scents unknown a womans where you cant think it out loud even or itll show how scared you are my sweet little lost boy lamb so confused and lying to yourself still like the 1st day of it all when you started feeling the question that affection this tickling embarrassment a light veil of confusion and shame shading your attractive physiognomy making it even more gloopy let me taste it now again let me dip my tongue in it so lightly perverse unformed caught you have to choose though you have to choose you cant just have it all i dont want it all just the other too one other no the other unknown but all of it ok I feel awkward now though why because you want to sound like some teenage art from the tens ahahahhaa sucks you wish ahahahhaa fake teenage images like teenage never was with lots of colours and new age dolphins and oversexualized pictures but no sex no sex no sex just dreeewl near the coming swimming pool everybody keep down to the baton of cool is there really such a thing you mean that rules of course its their revolution really wheres the punch line which one how youre afraid of my rabid sexuality stop saying that i am not what if i eat him alive with my eyes him silence youre going to miss this when when you go its so easy to go you wont get this like that youll be alone good luck hahaha itll come to bite a little tease your ears and never touch your face you are tiny pins you feel them you dont want to think of them common you know the stuff the grey creeping to the bottom around closer then further closer again

louder but too soft terrible two hundred desperate whispers droning to your eardrums why do you think im so afraid of it or you because you ignore me i feel it feel what for me like you i feel it too we are one pah you know its true just because ill go doesnt make us two we were always two and a million billion zillion so much so powerful we became one and the extra sum of our particles just for a little while though we are one always then we got scared and bored and itchy so greedy and now even more powerful oh yeah highly and a bit afraid and all broken but grown full with ourselves and free and lost like children to save the world im going to be sick dont mind me you neither burp do you miss me i forget so fast is it your way of destroying me to emasculate me is it your way of destroying me to keep me down argh did i scare you again i just wanted you to be tender with me thats why you ignored me how much attention can you fucking need are you disgusted now are you feeling violent trying to destroy each other is pretty violent shall we dwell a little drewl no dwell dwell it was really because we fucked good wed been out of here in a month otherwise why do you want to be cruel why do you have to pretend you have love left when you try to destroy me the moment you have the opportunity for it hmm you try to destroy me and now were all grown and stronger and alone and one im gonna be sick lets just play the game puke grow up poor excuse if everyone knows the rules no one gets hurt yahaha its called hyperconsciousness we cant escape it in our day and age did you just say that like the material of words is the only thing left the whole reality and danger of experience has been taken off the violence you mean i think its the exact opposite actually i think post post modernism is eating its shit because history never stopped geographical organisation is dark enough without having to pretend its better but worse because we know and were never getting out of it i really struggle to grasp the texture of your thought haaaaaaaha let’s get out of this city im not in the mood you dont like this mirror lets run up and down the hills lets get lost lets make love in the mountains i would have love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love ugh shweet cuddles puddles of drewl swim let me see let me say i can wake up on my own


Feminist porn is expanding the representation of pleasure while creating possibilities in the folding and unfolding of desires. Especially from the early 2000s the productions of feminist porn have been through the challenge of “dominant representations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, ability, age, body type, and other identity markers” (Taormino 2013, p. 9). In particular, queer feminist porn aims to trouble, question, and complicate the hegemonic (hetero- and homo-) normative representations of identities, pleasures, fantasies, and desires present in Western society and mainstream pornography. Feminist porn is a form of sex-positive/ pleasure-positive activism that gauges into formance, and body art spanning from the 1960s onwards, which constitute both a political antecedent and a visual genealogy interlinked with a carnal aesthetics. One of the most recent example could be the Dear Jiz by Ms. Naughty/Louise Lush (2013), which seems to play with Valie Export’s performances of Mann & Frau & Animal (1970-73), a three-part allegory of gender where she masturbates in the bathtub. Dear Jiz features the genderqueer performer Jiz Lee masturbating in a bathtub as well, while incorporating a voiceover that narrates excerpts of the letters received from fans describing how inspiring and helpful it was to see Jiz’s embodiment and exploration of gender, sexuality, and identity for their personal explorations and acceptance of themselves. In both works,

pleasure and the investigation around identity and subjectivity are entwined in What feminist porn takes into its own hands is also the responsibility of redressing the misrepresentations of racialized for instance in terms of gender expression, have been circulating in mainstream corporate porn, where stereotypes are ubiquitous and processes of fetishisation, whitewashing, and enfreakment are used as marketing strategies. Queer feminist porn performers like, just to name a few, April Flores, Loree Erickson, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Billy Castro, Mia Gimp, Arabelle Raphael, and be portrayed through empowering, fresh, and respectful depictions of their own bodies, sexualities, and identities. Queer feminist porn aims at engaging with a feminist ethics regarding porn and representation, appealing to authenticity and inclusivity while expanding the boundaries of representations of lived experiences. Bodies are shaped through what and how they desire and queer feminist porn with its politics, ethics and aesthetics dislocate and relocate lived experiences, showing how its politics of dis/orientation can put pleasure and desire within reach. Queering sexual representations also means queering heterosexual representations. porn releases also showcase real pleasures by troubling and enriching the heterosexual porn script. I am referring for example to

the edu-porn/couple porn The Expert Guide to Female Orgasms (2010) by the feminist porn trailblazer Tristan Taormino, produced by the major mainstream company Vivid, which shows a series of diverse hardcore and softcore scenes and a racially diverse cast; the hardcore short Bed Party (2014), produced by the feminist, queer, fair-trade company Pink & White and directed by another important name for queer feminist porn, Shine Louise Houston; or Skin by Elin the Swedish feminist porn collection Dirty Diaries produced by Mia Engberg in 2009. for instance in terms of aims, production, pansexual/heterosexual performers, portray heterosexual sex through non-normative sex acts, and they do so by introducing particular strategies that are not present in mainstream straight porn and that challenge at the same time not conforming to the usual couple porn or porn for women. Not only is feminist porn making an intervention in the realm of sexually explicit representations of desires, but it is addressing issues at the level of production. Thus, it seems to function as a counter-discourse in relation to corporate porn on many different levels. While striving to change the game in opposition to it by playing with porn tropes, genres, and stereotypes (e.g. Erika Lust’s indie debut The Good Girl in 2005 features the narrative trope of the pizza delivery guy), it also aims to transform mainstream porn from the inside, by opening up a dialogue. This goes on both behind the camera through, for instance, Tristan Taormino’s long-time collaboration with Vivid and her creation of the company’s sex education line called Vivid-Ed; but also in front of the camera, like in the case of Jiz Lee in Girl/Boy by Diana Vespoli (Evil Angel, 2013), where Jiz Lee stars with a heterosexual male and works with condoms in a

heterosexual encounter. Furthermore, the accent is also put on the ethics regarding the treatment of the performers before, during, and after the production process through, for instance, the creation of a comfortable set, fair pay, good work conditions, and by stressing their well-being and individual agency, respect of their chosen pronouns, and practices of aftercare and self-care. Feminist porn also operates in the market with fair-trade modes of production and distribution that stem from DIY ethics, grassroots movements, punk subcultures, and sustainability models. In particular, queer feminist porn seems to employ strategies of doing and undoing: it queers the production, distribution, and reception of porn. It troubles the boundaries between identity categories; art, erotica and porn; amateur, pro-am and professional realms; indie/alt and mainstream; the public and the private territories of new pornographic homemade digital productions and the aesthetic boundaries of art house productions; art and activism; national and transnational. It strives to depict women, queer, trans individuals who desire and what they desire. A desiring woman or non-normate’s body has always been considered problematic, abject, and highly charged in many negative ways in Western cultures and societies. I have only touched upon some of the aspects of feminist porn and there are many to be investigated in a deeper way and others yet to be explored. In conclusion, feminist porn is all but an oxymoron and it is broadening and intensifying representational vocabularies of sexual desires without leaving pleasure, politics and ethics behind. Bibliography Taormino, Tristan, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, and Mireille Miller-Young. “Introduction: The Politics of Producing Pleasure.” The Feminist Porn Book. The Politics of Producing Pleasure. Eds. Tristan Taormino, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, and Mireille Miller-Young. New York City: The Feminist Press, 2013. 9-20.

Elizabeth Berdann “Study for Rocket”, 1993. Oil on aluminum with brass frame. 4-1/4” x 3-1/2” Private collection © 1993 Elizabeth Berdann


What does feminism look like in Cambodia? their rights in response to forced evictions from their land by male-dominated governments and international corporations. Female garment workers striking against their (mostly) male bosses for increased pay and better working conditions. Women politicians trying to have their voices heard within stringently male-dominated politics. Female and transgender sex workers demanding respect and recognition as human beings for the decisions they make to sell sex. The sial territory within feminist debate in that they are generally agreed upon as worthy and acceptable feminist issues—all women should have the right to their land, to better factory work conditions, and to participate in politics. But the fourth example The dominant feminist discourse around sex work in Cambodia—at least the one most audible due to the hegemony of the international ‘rescue industry’ there—is that of ‘anti-sex work’ abolitionist feminism. Within an act of violence against women; no ’prostituted woman’ could ever willingly decide to do this work, and thus she should be rescued from it and taught other vocational skills, like sewing, so that she can parlike factory work; and any ’prostituted woman’ who does not identify as a victim in need the patriarchy. Hence, the sex industry and

sexual slavery (considered one and the same) should essentially be abolished. One of the most visible abolitionists in Cambodia has been Somaly Mam. Cambodianborn Somaly Mam and The Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) have become globally famous due to Somaly Mam’s efforts in speaking internationally about her own experiences as an spent her life enslaved by various violent men and brothel owners. These stories have been painstakingly detailed in her memoir, The Road to Lost Innocence (2005). As a result of her confessions, and the parading of other cameras so that they may describe their abuse in lurid details, Somaly Mam has won prestigious awards and millions of heartfelt dollars. Rich westerners and celebrities, both outraged and moved by the ‘trauma stories’ have generously opened their pockets so that she could continue her rescue work— work which has involved accompanying police on brothel raids in order to rescue women (who do not necessarily want to be rescued) and detaining them in vocational shelters, or sending them to government-sponsored ‘rehabilitation centres’ (which, in Cambodia, are nothing more than prisons). The problem with Somaly Mam’s work is that it has mostly been based on falsehoods and exaggerations. According to investigative journalist Simon Marks, who broke the latest story in Newsweek in May 2014, she was not an orphaned sex slave for most of her young life. Instead, she was raised by her biological parents and attended school until high school (a privilege many girls do not

have in Cambodia due to gendered inequities in education). In at least two cases, the young women she paraded in front of the either—but instead persuaded to say so in order to raise funds for SMF and Somaly (Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Précaire). After seeing these revelations in print, I am left with two feminist questions: How is this kind of feminised exploitation for gain any different from the male ‘pimps’ and labour of sex workers whom she so vehemently work? What have been the consequences of these allegedly false and unethical abolitionist tactics for other sex workers in Cambodia? in many ways, it is no different. She has used poor women and fraudulent stories for her own gain and international prestige— which works only to create a credibility issue for real survivors of abuse. She is detrimental for many other people in Cambodia who make their livings from trading sex. public appearance in a French documentary in 1998 with a Cambodian girl who allegedly auditioned to tell fabricated stories of her own sexual slavery), gained momentum when of the Bush Administration in the early 2000s. By 2003, the ‘Global AIDS Act’ and the ‘Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act’ were implemented, which created a series of conditions for organisations receiving US funding for HIV or conditions was the ‘anti-prostitution pledge’, which required recipients of USAID grants

Sex worker advocacy groups that did not have these policies in place or that refused to sign the pledge, had important funding pulled. As a result, certain condom programmes ended, and certain drop-in centres for sex workers were closed (Busza 2006). Grassroots community-led groups in Cambodia, such as Women’s Network for Unity (WNU)—the current sex worker union with approximately 6400 members—were directly affected. Most local and international NGOs working with WNU at the time were heavily dependent on US funding, and as a result of the new stipulations, they ended their support for fear that collaborations with WNU would jeopardise their funding (Sandy 2013). Already-marginalised sex workers and their supporters, including feminists of other kinds (namely liberal, Marxist, socialist, or sex radical feminists), were further pushed to the periphery as the aboahead. By 2008, the abolitionist movement had gained so much power in Cambodia that under pressure from the US and UK, the Cambodian government passed the ‘Law on the Suppression ised ‘soliciting in public’ and according to WNU, its implementation was (and continues to be) devastating to sex workers: large police sweeps of parks began taking place, where the possession of condoms was used as evidence of prostitution (despite that in the late 1990s, Cambodia implemented the ‘100% Condom Use Programme’ whereby owners and managers of all entertainment establishments had to enforce condom use as a condition of commercial sex). According to both WNU and a 2010 report by Human Rights Watch titled Off The Streets: Arbitrary Detention and Other Abuses Against Sex Workers in Cambodia, many cis- and transgendered adult women arrested during

these sweeps were sent to vocational shelters, or to government run rehabilitation centres where they faced a number of abuses. These included being forced to urinate in the same plastic bags their rice was served in; HIV positive folks were denied their medications, and ‘pretty’ women were sexually assaulted by prison guards and police. The law that was meant to ‘save’ and protect victims of

as powerless and incapable becomes clear. Sex workers’ decisions to sell sex (within and our recognition and respect for those decisions—are very much grounded in reality. And here’s the reality: Cambodia is, indeed, an incredibly patriarchal society. Women live under oppressive patriarchal conditions associated with strict gendered ideals, and on a daily basis, must negotiate the harsh social and moral codes that are meant to control their behaviour (originating from the Chpab Srei –or Women’s Code-- that were written by monks and elite men between the 15th and 19th centuries). These codes require women to stay close to home, to speak quietly, to dress conservatively, to not enjoy sex, and to accept their subordinate position to men, so that they remain ‘virtuous,’ and the household remains peaceful. So, by leaving their homes in search of work, opportunity, and often respite from other, more oppressive conditions or abusive situations, they are breaking many of the social rules, and defying many of the moral codes which keep them subordinate and dependent on men. Thus, it could be argued, they are in fact, resisting and subverting the patriarchy—despite that this is often done in the context of the existing sexual and gendered status quo. Although sex workers’ experiences are heterogeneous and vary greatly across the sex and entertainment sectors, the case could also be made that by

the same according to the discursive and ing—has actually put many more cis- and transgendered women in danger of violence, abuse, stigma, and HIV transmission. Another harmful consequence of Somaly Mam’s efforts, and those of other Western abolitionist feminists, has been the establishment of a culture of permanent victimhood for poor women in Cambodia. Impoverished women who sell sex are all portrayed as duped, naïve, lacking agency—and in need of saving (a convenient subjectivity for those making money off the rescue industry). Whenever I or other feminists contest this construction of powerless sex workers in favour of one that is more focused on agency and self-determination, we are told that we are simply perpetuating patriarchy; that “approving of the ‘chosen careers’ of such women does little to ground their ‘choices’ in reality”; and that in “portraying such women as self-reliant, capable, and career-oriented” we are overlooking the “more desperate aspects both of their individual situations and the situation of women in Cambodia in general”. some women are undermining the unidirectional Here, the ‘desperate’ effort of these feminists exploitation argument by blatantly ‘exploitto continuously position Cambodian sex workers

regularly stigmatised as ‘broken’ and ‘stained’, many Cambodian sex workers transgress the boundaries of respectability and challenge gendered double standards by becoming proud patrons and providers for their families, despite that their work is considered unrespectable and immoral. This perspective of self-empowerment is by no means an attempt to ignore or deny the vast structural violence that women in Cambodia must grapple with on a regular basis. Instead, my aim is to point out that feminist perspectives which continually focus on victimhood, exploitation, powerlessness, and patriarchal oppression ignore not only the agency of Khmer women, and the unpredictable unequal situations, but also the ways in which young women blatantly subvert ‘the patriarchy’ through the decisions they make to sell sex (--decisions which are often made after they have tried other forms of low-wage, ‘oppressive’ feminised labor such as factory work, street trading, or domestic work). By solutions to, at times, deeply violating social conditions such as domestic violence and poverty through their engagement in sex work, the women challenge perspectives of victimhood, and disrupt the dominant global discourse taking place around their lives. In Cambodia and beyond, sex workers want to be respected for the decisions they make constrained environments. The do not all want to be saved by ‘saviours’ who claim to know and end to the most exploitative cases of

sexual exploitation, they should build trust and alliances with sex workers on the ground who most often have the closest access to these situations--not take away their main livelihoods by abolishing ‘sexual slavery’-which is simply an inaccurate framing of the complexities of adult sex work. Perhaps during this critical moment of resulting from the fall of the ultimate ’rescue hero’, concerned feminists of varying perspectives can come together to turn attention to broader issues such as global racial, economic and class inequalities, neoliberalism, and corporate globalisation, as well as to more localised issues in Cambodia such as gender disparities, rapid industrialisation, land disputes, working conditions, violent governmental suppression and political corruption. Only then can the structural preconditions behind the expansion of the contemporary Cambodian sex sectors—as well as the rights of the workers in those sectors— be addressed. Only then might the needs and desires of women and children involved in ‘real’ cases of sexual abuse and sexual labour against their will, be met.

Bibliography Busza, Joanna (2006) “Having the rug pulled from under your feet: one project’s experience of the US policy reversal on sex work” Health Policy Plan. 21 (4):329-332. Sandy, Larissa (2013) “International agendas and sex worker rights in Cambodia” in Social Activism in Southeast Asia, Michele Ford (ed.), pp. 154-169, London: Routledge.

Andie Macario & Victor Ivanov “Meat Slap”, 2013, 2014. Photographer: Yasmine Akim. Live performance at A Day For HYSTERIA, 2014. © 2014 Andie Macario & Victor Ivanov


From underground raves to appearances on the main stage of global internet culture the goddess embodied within the Female MC reminds us to sing, dance and listen to her essential stories. From Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga to Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj, women in hip hop embody the contemporary archetypes of Goddess Worship. Our High Priestess of the beat; the Female MC is archetypal and trance inducing. She reigns over and is beyond language. Staking her claim within the initially male dominated world of hip hop, she is becoming increasingly visible and taking many different forms. The work of artists Noelle Lorraine Williams and Marcia Jones underscores the parallels between hip hop - a holistic folk art born in the South Bronx in the 1970s amongst Black and Latino youth - and spiritual lineages outside the mainstream. Female MC’s new to the scene, such as Angel Haze, and those associated with Brooklyn’s queer underbuilt on earlier foundations giving nuance and character to the voice of women in rap. For male and female artists alike, hip hop’s reach now encircles the planet, staining the world with a transnational, spiritual swag; an honest speech aimed at power structures speaking truth to power that far exceeds its original local resonances. The nation language of hip hop, an earth-based wisdom vernacular, has many links to shamanist blending dialects from around the world. Like a “howl, or a shout, or a machine gun or the wind or a wave,” it is both contemporary and ancient.1 Shamanism -- an umbrella term for a variety of spiritual practices involving dance, song, ritual and

the imbibing of medicinal plants to achieve altered states of consciousness and access to the spirit world. It exists across cultures as a subterranean, “exotic” discourse framed against the mores of the modern patriarchal state apparatus. Hip hop is a vehicle for the expression of a supernatural political protest drawing on the powers of ancient cosmic medicine. What does it mean to be a female shaman, rapper, verbal medicine woman; one who liquidates the frozen languages of patriarchal culture into glittering spectacles and cryptic mystical syllables? According to anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, the local shaman is a wo/man, “a poet who replenishes selfhood at the abyss of the maternal.”2 In her ethnography (1979-1986) of a medicine women known as Diamond Queen, Tsing wrote about shamanic society at the fringes of the Indonesian Islamic state. She describes the female shaman as one who “reconnect(s) people to health-maintaining social and cosmic networks.”3 Like the Female MC who mirrors male characteristics of dominance, Tsing explains that the Diamond Queen, rather chooses to perform opposition through “mimicry, hyperbole and distortion of her [own] attempts to get closer to power.”4 Tsing emphasizes that shamans are border-crossers, ambiguously situated between typical gender constructions, often empathically using a dual perspective. This epitomizes cultural theorist Gloria Anzaldua’s utopian “consciousness of the borderlands.” Shamanic leaders, within and across the interests of nations, classes, local communities and gender, claim their bodies as a site of

cultural production at “the crossroads of power and difference.” 5 Hip hop as neo-shamanic ritual is sacred medicine upending colonial imperialism’s spectacles of violence and pleasure perpetrated under a rubric of paternalism and property. principle of shamanic power: using words to “build a framework of perception” thus creating an “empowered cognitive space.”6 Talk is a profound type of political travel “intended to defend a community.”7 The stobody of the chant” emerges as a symbolic living entity for all who listen. Hip hop’s call and response is musical strategy in whole” and “the audience’s linguistic and paralinguistic responses are necessary to co-sign the power of the speaker’s rap.”8 The shamanic impulse in hip hop has many the complex effects of the institution of slavery on subsequent generations of women. For centuries, Western society, including leading religious and political institutions in the United States, has pitted itself against the “Dark Female Continent” of earthbased Goddess wisdom. From colonial times through the present, any trace of Black Female Divinity equates to “a threat to the [White] empire.” 9 The colour black, associated with death or evil in Christian iconography, was in old Europe the colour of fertility and the soil. Today’s feminist archeo-mythologists such as Marija Gimbutas equate the Black Madonna with the Earth Mother.10 Artist Noelle Lorraine Williams, observes that there remains to this day a disconcerting lack of Black Madonna/ Female Goddess religious culture and history. In her work, she positions the Female MC as just such a

story in all its complexity.11 One of Williams’ art works is ”Latifah, Lauryn, Rah Digga: Newark’s Babylon Sisters, Spiritual Battleground,” a lecture on the Female MC she performs dressed in a 6ft. long handbeaded golden “titty apron.” The construction and materials of her apron juxtapose associations of the stereotypes of the “Mammy” versus the “Vixen.” Claiming the auction Williams explains, “You’re standing on a piece of stone. People are coming up to you and your mouth. You would be encouraged to sing and dance while being sold.”12 Her work equates radical black performance with liberation from auction block to MTV. Within African cosmology, as in shamanism, to dance is to embody spirit. Sexuality, trance, and the healing use of vital sexual energy in dance cohere in shamanic activity13 as in hip hop; despite the way in which white colonial imperialism and slavery have served to truncate and distort the purest expressions of diasporic African transcendental culture we perceive spectrally in popular music today. Artist Marcia Jones explores Yoruban Undergoddess of Love and within popular culture. Jones correlates the way rappers worship the female body in strip clubs to the way men of the Vodun religion pray at the foot of an altar, “The way they would put money down – call me twisted – but, they made it rain on these mothafuckin altars.”14 Williams began to research the female MC when she noticed the disconcerting lack of airtime women garnered in her native Newark, New Jersey; despite its rich history of local, commercially successful iconic female rappers like Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga. Through studying their autobiographies, public interviews and lyrical stylings Williams began to assess the “liberatory” potential of the various spiritual

Katie Cercone “BossBitch Atlas”, 2014. Digital collage 25 x 27 in © 2014 Katie Cercone

During that earlier era, many hip hop folks where embracing spiritual paths as “symbols of black determination and power.” Williams’s aim is to articulate a black aesthetics of spirituality beyond the realm of commercial strategy and integrate African American Women’s history into public record without erasing or diluting its many nuanced facets.15 Her work highlights how even today the black Female MC remains doubly marginalized as female in a male dominated industry, and black in a white male dominated (heterosexist) marketplace.

The Female MC’s epicene frippery and raunchy language anchors her to the symbolic locus of hip hop – the ghetto – meanwhile displays of hyper femininity, sexual freedom and seductive power challenge by exaggeration tiresome stereotypes yoking historical legacies of sexual slavery from the ongoing pulse of the entertainment industry. Recall MC Angel Haze rapping “Rather be a dick than a swallower,” a riff of Kanye West’s New Slaves. A commercially successful female MC must be nasty enough to talk about oral and anal and pretty enough to pass as Barbie. In contrast to Angel Haze, Lil Kim takes a different tack, in her song, “The JumpOff,” co-written by Christopher Wallace, she outwardly boasts of her oral skills, “the ill deep throat.” Lil Kim sings about herself as Miss Queen Bee, a “Black [Panther] Barbie dressed in Bvlgari” there to “Spread love… that’s what a real mob do.” She adds, “Her presence is felt like a Black Panther movement,” linking previous movements of guerilla-style black protest with the subversive style, posturing and collective empowerment of today’s hip hop nation. Within Lil Kim’s speech exists a clear commitment to radical unity, love for the crew and the local community - “If ya rep for ya hood than make some noise!” Chosen family, crew and regionalism in hip hop are about territory and belonging. Williams observes that successful MCs shout out to

the holy lands of hip hop the “real places of black consciousness,” calling out “Brooklyn!” or “Bronx!” in their rhymes. Above all else a shaman must draw and hold an audience, particularly when it comes to “claiming space in the capitalist engines”16 of America. Tricksterism and visual distraction lure and mesmerize a crowd. Shamans commonly adorn themselves with mirrors and bells to immerse their patients in audio-visual medicine, a “mystical union of glittering light and shimmering sound.”17 Given the use of shiny objects in shamanic practice, can we reorient bling toward the post-colonial toil of mind-body-soul emancipation? Within the mirage of bells, whistles, booty and bling, the audience of the Female MC are mesmerized and open to the therapeutic value of gender and racial mimicry. In pre-patriarchal religions, the gender-blending “queer” body was highly honored in society as a seer, healer, and innovate (look at A$AP Rocky as next wave Harlem Dandy, or Nicki Minaj’s male alter ego, or Miley Cyrus as a butch dyke ass-worshipper, or the growing underground scene of “queer” rappers like Le1f, House of Ladosha and Mykki Blanco) embody this Goddess-trickster archetype, always socially ambiguous and always politically astute. Since the male aspect is currently privileged, the Female MC, as contemporary shaman, must use her “masculine” reputation for sexual assertion, violence, and public drama to build a charismatic performance and bind the community. 18 Tsing calls crossing gender “borrowing power.” The best Female MCs are allying themselves with prominent male rappers and gaining privileged access to male-exclusive realms. A good female MC must be red siren and angel Barbie, alpha dog and sex kitten, black tramp and platinum mammy. She is the BossBitch passing around patriarchy like it’s a blunt. Where, you might ask, do dicks and cunts

Profanity invites abjection, a rebellious antidote to our American puritanical Christian value system. Philosopher Julia the practices of shamanism as a “site of power and danger for the symbolic, the paternal law.” We associate dicks and cunts with “clean and proper body boundaries undone.”19 Char Johnson is a Bushwick-based female MC known as BONES and one half of the lesbian rap crew Zebra Baby. Best known for her raunchy, sex-saturated lyrics like “Leave your pussy on the pavement and your ass in the bed” (from the track Bitches Get Stitches), her lyrics are often misread as misogynist both by conservative feminists and the mainstream public. As one of the very few out, black, strong female MCs in the game, her primary motivation in her work is having her voice heard. BONES claims that misogyny veils an insidious double standard censoring dykes who talk about sex in real terms. “I’m talking about what’s happening in my fucking bed, with my life.”20 Long Island born Italian-American Contessa Female MC, describes her pinnacle moment of feminist awareness as when she opened for a Flatbush Zombies show and they told her not to say the words “cunt,” “whore,” or “whorehouse.” Contessa observes, “[The Men] they’re saying the n-word constantly, ‘whore,’ ‘ho,’ ‘fuck this bitch’ … I was told not to curse, not to say my name.” Women are reclaiming the words that have been used to put them down. It very much challenges the unrestricted boys-club mentality in rap in the same way hip hop threatens racial about a New World Order of radical equality, and she states, “I use misogyny back at misogyny.”21 The BOSSBitch also rules over the realm of humor. “I like shit that makes me laugh,” says BONES. Contessa explains how by making fun of herself she gains the

respect of her audience and self-heals. “I use comedy because there’s a lot of pain. I’m the big girl, ‘oh the big girl’s on stage now.’ I say shit like that because it’s addressing the elephant in the room.” Shamans use puns and jokes to distract their clients and allow them to “participate in the hard work of admitting some responsibility for their problems,” ultimately empowering them to heal.22 Owing to the mass mediated, largely visual natures of global internet culture, pregnant with black female divinity in the spectacular, gendered power relationships are showing signs of a cross-cultural shift.23 Archetypal images of the Goddess appeal to the non-verbal right brain responsible for the comprehension of cries, gestures, touching and body stance we see in hip hop. While the power of the internet is undeniable as a type of transnational, feminine, utopic space - where we begin to let ancient archetypes slip into our everyday ways of seeing and being - we must not forget that the real medicine of hip hop dance is grounding. Your ass is in what you sing.24 What if your ass is HYPERREAL? Nicki Minaj’s butt implants recall the The Venus Hottentot’s “oversized” posterior and genitals by libidinous white male doctors of the early twentieth century. Minaj’s image also recalls the worship of Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic “Venus” idols occurring some 20,000 years ago. rations of the “Venus” Deity, oversized buttocks are a metaphor for fertility.25 Regardless of what she calls Nicki Minaj’s willingness to parade as a “pale, plastic, Venus Hottentot Barbie,”26 theorist Kismet Nuñez writes about Minaj as Elegba/Esu, the African God of interpretation. Citing her of black feminist (and queer) possibility, Nuñez calls out Minaj “…as diasporic black, as radical, and as speculative.”27 Call it

shamanic or call it showbiz, the glittering alchemy seeded in Minaj’s larger than life persona shifts a certain type of virtual Afrofuturism into high gear. Much like Nuñez’s description of Minaj’s a trickster and explains the behaviors of the Female MC as a culturally necessitated putting on of masks. Here she draws on historian Darlene Clark Hine’s “culture of dissemblance” theory, which explores the ways African American women are forced to enact various environmentally contingent personas in order to, “ward off rape, to ward off sexual violence.” Williams explained how up until the late seventies it wasn’t conceivable, by law, that a black woman could be raped. In an effort to peel away the various personae of the Female MC, Williams is designing a series of TopsyTurvy dolls. Based on the soft folk toy of slavery/reconstruction, the two-headed dolls are traditionally black on one end and white on the other. Williams’s Female MC TopsyTurvy set will feature Queen Latifah as a little girl/military commander, Rah Digga Lauryn Hill as a Black Madonna/Siren. Within the context of shamanism, often read by critics into Williams’s work, masks are a channel of the spirit, a “symbolic prism” of everyday life. Today’s global wave of music television amounts to Goddess worship par excellence. The word “thug,” now reclaimed by hip hop nation language, was originally a term coined by bloodthirsty British Colonials to describe followers of Kali, Black Warrior Goddess of time and change.28 The internet is all thugs gone wild saying “Twerk, or go to hell.” It’s spreading the embodied freedom encompassed in hip hop’s interdynamic gestures of power and praise, it’s dreamy symbolism and insignia of the clan. The internet is proof that the universe is made up of songs and stories,29 and that the most powerful stories,

sung by the most powerful prophets, will cohere in lands near and far. If the neo-minstrelsy of the American hip hop glitterati is putting the whole world into radical sleep through the trinity of beats, booty and bling, how can we shift the discussion toward rightbrain comprehension and Goddess worship in virtual Pangea? Are rap game gender-fuckers opening doors for new forms of embodiment via fan mimicry? Is the Black Warrior Goddess local-global communities of the web? Don’t believe me? Just watch.


Kamua Brathwaite quoted in H. Samy Alim “Bring it to the Cypher: Hip Hop Nation Language,” THAT’S THE JOINT: The Hip Hop Studies Reader Murray Forman & Mark Anthony Neal, Eds., 2012, p. 531


Maria Jones. Displaced Oshun Theory, Artist talk, posted by the MEKtext Network on Vimeo. com, October 17, 2013


Noelle Lorraine Williams, ibid


Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. In the Realm of the Diamond Queen 1993, p. 194


Noelle Lorraine Williams, ibid


Tedlock, ibid, p. 48


Tsing, ibid, p. 191


Tsing, ibid, p. 196


Tsing, ibid, p. 27


Julia Kristeva quoted in Tsing, ibid, p. 179


Char Johnson aka BONES interviewed by Katie Cercone, September 10, 2013, Brooklyn, NY


Tsing, ibid, p. 21


Tsing, ibid, pg. 97


Tsing, ibid, pg. 100



Daniel and Smitherman cited in H. Samy Alim “Bring it to the Cypher” ibid, p. 538-9



Tedlock, ibid, p. 27

Melvin Gibbs. “ThugGods: Spiritual Darkness and Hip Hop,” Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture, Greg Tate Ed., 2003, pg. 86


Leonard Shlain. The Alphabet and the Goddess: , 1998


Fred Moten. In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, 2003, p. 39

Marija Gimbutas. The Language of the Goddess 1989, p. 145


Gimbutas, ibid, p. 163


Kismet Nuñez. “Scrying Nicki Minaj, Stupid Hoe, and #Afrofutures” posted on http://nunezdaughter.wordpress.com/ January 29, 2012


Kismet Nuñez, ibid


Melvin Gibbs, ibid


Poet Muriel Rukeyser said the universe is composed of stories, not of atoms. Physicist Werner Heisenberg declared that the universe is made of music, not of matter (from Rob Brezsny, Freewillastrology.com)


Noelle Lorraine Williams interviewed by Katie Cercone, September 11, 2013, New York, NY


Based on Noelle Lorraine Williams reading of Saidiya V. Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America


Katie Cercone, July 31, 2013, Brooklyn, NY


Barbara Tedlock, PhD. The Shaman’s Body, 2005, p. 91





Whenever we talk of women in Islam, it is in two competing dominant discourses: First, there is the ”mainstream” or dominant narrative within Islam itself, which I call ”Idealization of Inequality”. This holds that the Q’uran raised women from the condition of object in the pre-Islamic Arabia. Here, some tribes buried female infants alive and women were not viewed as members of society and therefore were not seen as equal or as possessors of rights. This is true: Qur’anic revelation broke the social organization of Arab tribal societies, and in so doing provided a new organization in which the condition of women was improved. According to this view, feminism is alien to Islam and is a spurious and contaminating doctrine. However, this discourse neither explains the difference between the status of women in Islamic doctrine and their actual status in Muslim majority countries; nor provides concrete solutions to the problems of patriarchal inequality and violence that many Muslim women are subject to. Second, there is a discourse of ”Demonization” holding that Islam is to blame for the oppression of women and that the only way that women can escape this oppression is to leave the Muslim faith. In this discourse religion is viewed as an (if not the) obstacle to the enjoyment of women’s rights. Yet, this approach does not explain what happens to women who do not want to leave their faith or wish to assume one; nor does it provide a space for women who do not identify with Western feminist discourse. Both discourses are rooted in patriarchy.

the ” Q’uran said it all ”. In the second, ”because they are oppressed”. These two positions assume that Muslim women are incapable of developing a language of emancipation for themselves, as individuals enunciation their own identities. In both, the subject of women in Islam and oppressed Muslim women are used to maintain patriarchal hegemony expressed in social control or political- cultural colonialism. From the historical point of view, we can distinguish three stages in the development of Islamic Feminism. First, colonial and Western inspired feminism (especially in Egypt), which saw a rejection of religion as a means of achieving gender equality. Second, a shift in feminist discourse that took place during the 70’s and 80’s rejecting the universalist vision of “woman” common in Europe as totalitarian, allowing for the expression of other female identities that developed “outside” Europe. Third, the emergence of Islamic feminism during the 1990’s thanks to the publication of Zanan magazine in Iran, the development of postcolonial feminist theory and the contribution of scholars and academics like Fatema Mernissi and Leyla Ahmed. This essay concerns itself with the third, Islamic, stage. The reading of the original texts and revaluing of historical data led some women and men to the realization that nothing in women under the auspices of Islamic law or morality. Yet, most interpretations of Islam are not manifestations of divine will or a human constructs. These constructs were

formed over time in a completely closed and patriarchal space, in which men bestowed credibility on the interpretation of texts, creating a male privileged ‘mainstream’ Islamic thought. Islamic Feminism rejects the two dominating discourses by putting Muslim women and our ability to explain ourselves at the centre. Our reformist movement reclaims the legitimate role of women in Islam; and in so doing calls for full equality, regardless of sex or gender, in public and private life and through social justice, based on the Islam of the Q’uran. Islamic Feminism recognises the Q’uran as the source of its development. According to the Qur’an, there is no gender differentiation in a Muslim’s relationship with God and the revealed message (the pillars of Islam) is directed to men and women equally. This is evident even in the Qur’anic revelation that makes gender distinctions: ”From those who practice good deeds, whether male or female, and is a believer, we grant you a life of pleasure and reward superior with what they have done” (Q’uran, 16:97). ”Never despise the work of one of you, man or woman, because you descend from one another” (Q’uran, 3:195). Islamic Feminism believes that the Q’uran makes no distinction of gender or roles for men and women. Rather, it provides a way of life – Islam - which cements a source of guidance and inner development. The Q’uranic revelation encourages consistent ethical principles aimed at achieving just and cohesive societies, in which equality is important. Islamic feminist hermeneutics relies on a series of ethical and cosmological principles recovered from Islamic thought: Tawhid (oneness of all creation and not ranking among the creatures created based on qualities),

’Adl (justice, as a cosmological and ethical concept, based on a balance between complementary attributes such as male and female), Taqwaa (piety or consciousness of Allah: the Q’uran states that the only principle that distinguishes beings from others is its taqwaa) Caliphate (individual responsibility to Allah and creation: both men and women are potential caliphs of Allah on earth); Wilayat (the Q’uran states that men and women are protectors and accomplices from each other) Shura (the believers, men and women are those who consult with each other and adopting consensual decisions, which excludes the obedience of women to men). From this grounding, Islamic Feminism emerges as a reform movement based on the Koran focused on two areas. First, dismantling patriarchal interpretations of Islam not only for reasons of gender justice but also to recover the original meaning of revelation. Second, to break stereotypes associated with Islam in general, and Muslim women in particular. After describing Islamic feminism, I think it is important to discuss its historically problematic relationship with other feminisms. Islamic feminism has consolidated in recent years, creating many movements in the public domain, while political events have made a necessary. But this was not easy: while struggling with centuries of misogynist tradition at home, the attempt to unite with other feminisms have largely failed because of biases against Muslim women informed by the way we are pictured. Importantly, as argued above, these biases and negative depictions are informed by both

the belief that Islam is the cause of women’s oppression – leading to a universalist discourse of secularization – and the evocation of Muslim women as ‘submissives’ who require rescuing from ‘fanatical’ Muslim men. The former excludes all women who wish to remain Muslims from the discourse, while the latter discards the possibility that Muslim women are active subjects, able to explain themselves. Such thinking both leads to the belief, among Western feminists, that Islamic feminism does not exist, but more importantly, excludes any Muslim feminists from the dominant discourses. Even though these problems exist, it is still essential to create links between different feminisms and Islamic feminism. Such links are just beginning to develop in Latin America. Research led by Professor Francirosy Campos in Brazil (2013), shows that for every 10 new converts to Islam in that country, around 80% are women: Islam is becoming a gender issue on our continent, and because of this the debate about gender in Islam will soon become a topic of interest to gender theory in general in South America. And it is at this point, in view of the importance of uniting all feminisms, that I would like to bring to the table the concept of Gender Jihad. Jihad is an Islamic concept involving the struggle and process of freeing oneself from the spiritual oppression that prevents humans from developing to their full potential. It is in this Gender Jihad, which includes all feminisms as diversities united around common values and purposes, that Islamic

feminism provides a proposal for interaction. I do not think that God is a misogynistic, but there are some people who claim to speak for him, who do. The problem is not God but Patriarchy. Equally, in all other societies, whether Christian or Hindu, women’s main enemy is not religion but patriarchy. This spiritual and plural activism united around the liberation of women, must be a common strategy for a common goal for all feminists and activists for women’s rights. Patriarchy oppresses all of us, no matter while recognizing our particularities and the different context of our claims, is necessary, in view of the global and organized reaction against women’s rights. Women, employing our natural wisdom, can build sorority and overcome the patterns that are assumed unchangeable within feminism, so that we can discuss the principles that unite us: the search for spiritual meaning that animates us as human beings, the equal participation and commitment, the marital rape to the “trade” in women’s bodies. Female identity, ”being woman”, “being a nitional development. No woman should be left out because alternative conceptions do not match the ”mainstream” discourse. The technological progress, is narrowing the gap between human beings like never before. Let us women not be the ones who return to stagnation through disunity!



It is common when, in the company of mass bemoaning of the size of our waistlines attributable to our eating habits. Recently, I have noticed that women tend to partake in what I refer to as ‘apologetic eating’, the articulation of disgust after eating, often beset with a sense of regret or lack of self-respect due to the envisaged repercussions for their weight. The language of food and dieting advertisements designates the act of eating as a moral – sinful – matter, referring to ‘guilt’ and ‘pleasure’ as the sure psycho-emotional outcomes of eating. But why, I wonder, is the internalisation and proclamation of feelings of sin post-consumption largely absent among men, while remaining generally expected among women? Why is a woman who chooses a steak over a salad is far more prone than a man to proceed with the disclaimer, ‘I’m so bad,’ or ‘I shouldn’t but…’, often followed by the soliciting of a vigorous gym session that will elicit the necessary process of “self-cleansing” post-steak? I believe that ‘apologetic eating’ stems from the common conception of the “abject”, female appetite that indicates the degree to which women are acceptably entitled to engage in indulgence. The conception of an ‘abject’, female appetite compels women to feel ‘bad’ or sinful for hosting big appetites that are generally expected of men, ‘innately’ bestowed with the big appetite that society is ready and apt to cater to. The man who eats in abundance is a naturalised and

of eating that “prove” the male as the entitled master of mass consumption. Consider the Super Bowl: widely envisioned as a mass male gathering, it brings men together around buckets of KFC and chips to watch American football in a performance of manhood in which consumption is not only expected but celebrated as a noble act of male solidarity. Such a dynamic is reinforced in my daily observations – it is rare that I hear my male friends toil over their eating habits like my female friends do. While it is sure that men are similarly prone to register guilt in their consumption habits, what ‘apologetic eating’ implies is that women are expected to feel shame in pursuing the whims of their appetite, compelling them to partake in the articulation of their own disgust. The possession of a big appetite and accompanying indulgence is a decisively female taboo – a moral offence of excess, a surrender to an unruly appetite sure to lead to the destruction of one’s ideal, slender it is not an empowering but a pathetic gesture – an act of ‘eating one’s emotions’, place. How many times have romantic comedy whole pints of ice cream following a break-up, while wallowing in their ex-boyfriend induced woes? Eating is hereby presented as a weak gesture, a surrender to womanly whims of excess that defy discipline and thus,

demand the acknowledgment of one’s sin or transgression, such as ‘I’m so bad…’. Unlike women, men do not ‘eat their emotions’. They eat because ‘boys will be boys’ who cannot perform the strength-demanding, chivalrous roles assigned by the patriarchy on an empty stomach. On the other hand, women who eat and especially, women who eat in supposed ‘excess’, are considered overly emotional, For the decisive ‘sinfulness’ of a big, female appetite, such an appetite seems strictly acceptable in the context of sex is shown as mastering a male appetite, she is considered not abject but a sex symbol. In commercial imagery, the consumption of the female body as spectacle parallels the consumption of food itself, as advertisebeing used as commercial props to market food to men, eating hamburgers in slow motion as they gaze into the projected male viewers living rooms. Presented in a masculinised, sexualised way, these women-props transgress the paradigm of the ‘abject’, female appetite by mastering and matching male appetite, exposing a subconscious association between the appetite for food and sex. The same bad woman who ‘overindulges’ in food similarly proves herself in want of indulging in sex, or so these types of advertisements would imply. What would be considered abject is presented as manly – sexual – and thus, bikini with a hungry gaze is excused of abject associations as her big appetite is implied to lead to the outcome of sex – not the manifestation of physical fat that women tend to collectively fear. The model shaped woman in a bikini who eats hamburgers and male hearts in commercial imagery is a master of masculinity – not empowered, but a continued participant in the social catering to male desire.

Eating is now a matter of maintaining bodies that we desire to publicly boast – bodies that primarily serve as spectacle, and less as self-serving sites of health, well-being and pleasure. Hearing my slender framed, female friends say ‘I’m so bad’ or proudly claim that they are skipping dessert has made me weary of the disparaging, exaggerated state with which women are compelled to perceive their bodies. I, myself, having internalised these pathetic, pop-culturally imparted associations of the ‘abject’ meal without pointing to its size and the inevitable effect that it will wield over my waistline. This is because I have been made to feel “bad” and pathetic for wanting more – I have failed to perform the social norm of female self-restraint. However, who can blame us women? Our society serves up the act of female consumption with a side order of shame. The act of ‘apologetic eating’ exposes the internalisation of abjection, or disgust, with which women are compelled to perceive their bodies as shameful – sinful – for following their indulgences. Such is a sense of indulgence that men are entitled with their bodies that need food to fuel their performance of masculinity. The pleasure and sharing once associated with the act of eating has been distorted as a gendered matter of female self-denial, a moral maintenance of their sexual desirability. However, let us suspend the assumption that women who want to eat are weak, overly emotion or simply ‘bad’. Women are self-entitled, subjective consumers who can ‘eat like a man’ if they please and skip the apology while they do. The act of ‘apologetic eating’ feeds patriarchal desires that urge women to practice a polite, self-restrained appetite and to this expectation, I say, Patriarchy, eat your heart out.

Clarity Haynes “AnnMarie”, 2010. Oil on linen. 58” x 76” © 2010 Clarity Haynes


From the Brothers Grimm to Disney, fairy tales have traditionally taught and reiterated the morals and beliefs that society deems important. Within fairy tales, girls and boys and women and men are taught to traits. Indeed, the current trend in (re) with their enduring ability to entertain, norms within patriarchal society. Nevertheless, many authors and artists have attempted to unhinge the patriarchal principles found within fairy tales, by revising, adapting and challenging the structures that have been deemed “normal”. One way authors have sought to negotiate the patriarchal terms set out by traditional fairy tales is through utilising the abject. The abject refers to feelings of repulsion (vomit) and horror caused by the breakdown of meaning and order within reality. Abjection, as theorised by Julia Kristeva, is ‘what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite’ (4). The abject is triggered when there is a lack of distinction between the object and subject or between the self and Other. This usually occurs when the subject is reminded of its own materiality, for and corpses. Indeed, the corpse is ‘the utmost of abjection’ (Kristeva, 4), because of the horror one experiences, when faced with its status as neither object nor subject. The abject’s ability to disturb identity and order makes it a powerful device to

unhinge the reality depicted within fairy tales. An excellent example is Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) (2006), directed by Guillermo del Toro. Pan’s Labyrinth is a a fairy tale world and the everyday world. girl, who is living under Francisco Franco’s fascist regime in Spain in 1944. In order to escape the horrors of the violence surrounding her, Ofelia embarks on her very own happy ending. fairy tale world undermines normal fairy In one scene, the viewer sees Ofelia kill a magical toad. Crawling through the tree’s underground roots, Ofelia becomes covered in slime, mud, and, eventually, the toad’s slimy dead innards. The audience’s revulsion in this scene is produced by the abject. As part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being’ (3). The mud and slime repulses the audience, because it forces the viewer to be reminded of the body’s materiality and closeness to death. Through bringing the viewer to ‘the border of’ one’s ‘condition as a living being’, it blurs the boundary between the subject and the object and this ambiguity is unsettling for the viewer. Here, Del Toro’s use of the abject is enhanced, because of its stark contrast to society’s normal conception of

fairy tales. Rather than the fairy tale world being beautiful, glimmering and clean like Cinderella’s ball gown, Ofelia’s trip and, notably, ruins her beautiful green dress. Yet, since Ofelia remains the heroine of this tale despite her uncleanliness, this scene subverts the meanings normally associated with such fairy tale images. Thus, the abject proves to be such a powerful concept, because it allows for a re-negotiation of the terms in which women and girls can be portrayed as heroines. Del Toro takes the abject even further, since this abject and fairy tale world upsets the ‘identity, system’ and ‘order’ of Franco’s argues the abject is more than uncleanliness; it is ‘the in-between, the ambiguous, the composite’ (4). When Ofelia wanders into the labyrinth and converses with the magical Pan, and then returns to everyday life, she moves between two opposing versions of reality. This gives her an ambiguous, ‘in-between’, position in the narrative: she becomes abject. Noticeably, the abject and fairy tale version of reality is associated with the feminine and this clashes with the structures are epitomised by Ofelia’s stepfather, Captain Vidal, who represents Franco’s brutal and totalitarian regime. These two forces clash at various moments understand Ofelia’s actions. As both abject and female, Ofelia exists outside of the extreme masculine ideology of Franco’s

fascism. However, since Ofelia is the heroine extreme patriarchal beliefs are ultimately rejected. Thus, Del Toro combines the abject and fairy tale form, to create an abject fairy tale that allows him to reject the patriarchy and power associated with Franco’s fascism. This revises fairy tales’ original patriarchal purpose and, in Pan’s Labyrinth, the viewer sees how the abject fairy tale has become a weapon to counteract the horrors of fascism. In terms of fairy tales in general, this combination reveals a form that notably is associated with the feminine and is capable of challenging and undermining patriarchy and its version of reality. other adaptations of fairy tales, such as Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Neil The Company of Wolves. Considering the continuing popularity of “clean” fairy tales, such as Disney’s Tangled or Frozen, it seems more important than ever that authors and artists continue to challenge the patriarchal structures found within them. Hence, the importance of the abject fairy tale – here, authors and artists destabilise and undermine patriarchal beliefs one happily ever after at a time. Bibliography Kristeva, Julia, Powers of Horror: An Essay On Abjection, trans. by Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia, 1982) Google ebook. Del Toro, Guillermo, dir., Pan’s Labyrinth (Estudios Picasso, 2006)


The physical and mental abuse of women in the U.S prison system is an issue receiving growing attention in academic study, political and human rights activism, and popular culture. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports, around 200,000 women are currently incarcerated and around one million are under the control of the U.S justice system (ACLU, 2012). The prison system is taking its toll on women of all colours, origins, backgrounds and sexes in the U.S by abusing their rights as women and treating them inhumanely. Consequently, many nonACLU, The Sentencing Project, Amnesty USA and the Pennsylvanian Coalition Against Rape seek to raise awareness. With similar purposes, a memoir entitled written by Piper Kerman also explores the issues of imprisoned women in America, telling the story from an insider’s perspective. After its publication in 2010, the memoir has series under the same title. The show loosely sticks to the story’s original narrative. However, it also extends the topic’s relevance from academic and political contexts into the focus eye of mass media by making the issues Kerman addresses through writing and visual publication part of popular culture, and thereby visibly relevant to mainstream discourse. With the world’s highest number of federal incarcerations, the U.S leads the list of countries with the largest prison populations and, moreover, has the greatest number of people ever to be put in prison

in total. According to the International Center of Prison Studies, the U.S incarcerates 716 people per 100,000 inhabitants, the majority of whom are of African-American descent; and the study also names drug-related offenses as the most common reason for imprisonment (Statista, 2014). In a system where prisons are widely overpopulated by up to 150%, questions about the protection of the prisoners’ human rights need to be asked. A comparison of Kerman’s story with the analyses of recent research and published statistics reveals this necessity. Recent numbers demonstrate the urgency of the issues surrounding sexual abuse in U.S prisons. In 2007, almost one in twenty prisoners, both male and female, reported being sexually abused or raped whilst in prison (Sapien, 2014). Moreover, incidences like these occur among cell partners, and among inmates and guards. It seems that enough for the U.S government to take action. Kerman’s memoir offers her readers a detailed insight into life ‘behind bars’. In her story, she describes numerous situations in which women are badly treated medically when suffering from mental illnesses. Furthermore, she witnesses the lack of proper treatment for pregnant women and the denial of medication to transgender women, indicating the restriction of their individual development as women. In addition, Kerman highlights the deeply shocking physical, mental and sexual abuse that imprisoned women must undergo without being able to speak up for themselves. This essay therefore aims to

offered in Kerman’s narrative, calling for an increased publication of prison manuscripts in order to tell the women’s stories. The present situation in federal U.S prisons calls for a change, and for better and fairer conditions behind bars. After having spent thirteen months in a U.S prison, Piper Kerman decided to put her life behind bars into writing. Kerman describes the experiences that led up to her imprisonment in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. There, we are told, she crosses paths with various other incarcerated women from all kinds of backgrounds. In her narrative, she addresses to survive their prison life. It becomes clear how power is distributed in the prison system and how little the voice of women, regardless of their crime, is worth. Kerman’s narrative is supported by the results of The Culture of Prison Sexual Violence Study in 2006. This study showed a 71% high awareness of sexual relationships between staff and inmates among female prisoners. In addition, 9.1% of both men and women in prisons were aware of “an inmate who had been raped by a correctional staff member.” However, only 28% of incarcerated women reported to know of an inmate who reported the assault (National Institute of Justice, 2007). Furthermore, other striking aspects about the treatment of women in prison that Kerman describes in her memoir include the intimidating body-inspections women frequently have to undergo whilst having no ment for their protection and held there until the issue is revisited, but as a result they lose their prior housing assignment, program activities, work assignments and other privileges (Kerman, 2010, 268f.). As a

consequence, women fear to speak up because it further worsens their situation instead of improving it. The most shocking scenarios Kerman describes are those of sexist and deeply dehumanising character. In various situastaff openly humiliate female prisoners: a relationship she sees generated by the system. She writes: “The formal relationship, enforced by the institution, is that one person’s word means everything and the other’s means nothing; one person can command the other to do just about anything, and refusal can result in total physical restraint. That fact is a slap in the face” (Kerman, 2010, 146f.). Kerman is told that imprisoned women are frequently shackled when pregnant or in childbirth. This very dangerous practice is not only medically questionable but also an inhumane action that assaults women’s dignity. It has been proven that shackling women can “interfere with appropriate medical care and be detrimental to the health of the mother and her newborn child” (ACLU, 2012). Moreover, Kerman narrates how she experiences sexual harassment herself; she is confronted with a sexually aggressive comment by her boss in the electric shop, who says “Oooh, horse cock. You like that horse cock, don’t you, Kermit” (Kerman, 2010, 195). Another mistreatment depicted in Kerman’s memoir is the non-acceptance of transgender women, and lesbianism, by the prison staff. Amnesty International argues that due to the marginalisation, prejudice and dehumanisation of various sexual orientations and gender identities, members of the LGTBI community are particularly targeted groups in prison. There have been numerous reports supporting the discrimination-hypothesis of

LGTBI community members, which is not only demonstrated through sexual harassment but also in the deprivation of the medication necessary for the individual’s expression of their sexual identity (Amnesty International, 2014). However, Kerman’s narrative suggests that transgender women are not the only people deprived of necessary medication, and she narrates witnessing a variety of situations when prisoners do not receive adequate medical care (Kerman, 2010, 217). Furthermore, she describes the feeling conveyed by the facility’s psychiatrist, who openly states his inability to provide proper care for the inmates, instead only being able to offer ‘emergency’ treatment. Another example of maltreatment can be found in Kerman’s description of her co-inmate’s healthcare, a woman who suffers from cancer. Besides letting her rest, there is not much evidence given that the commanding staff would grant people with severe health issues any type of special care. Kerman’s observations are again supported by data provided by the ACLU, which requests better and more adequate support for women seeking medical care. A study conducted in 2007 by the Institute of Medicine, Washington D.C, reports that U.S prisons have become “the new mental asylums”, containing a large number of people suffering from mental illnesses. Furthermore, others suffer from HIV and hepatitis in higher rates than the overall population. Moreover, female offenders have different medical needs than their male co-inmates, “stemming in part from their disproportionate victimisation from sexual and physical abuse and their responsibility for children” according to the description in Women Offenders: Programming Needs and Promising Approaches (BJS, 1998). In addition, further research revealed that a large number of women have been “forgotten and neglected in the criminal justice system” (Braithwaite et al., 2005).

This corresponds with Kerman’s experience relating to her gynaecological exam, as studies have shown that women lack regular gynaecological and breast examinations when incarcerated, consequently putting their health at risk (BJS, 1999b). Another shocking fact is that female prisoners are, by 37%, more likely to be categorised as inmates with behavioural health issues than men (16%), and are also diagnosed more frequently with mental disorders (BJS, 1999a). In addition, Kerman outlines the strong psychological pressure exerted on prison inmates. There are various instances in for example when one of the women is released early but feels worried about her future. Kerman describes the lack of effort made by the prison system to prepare women for their reintegration into society. This vagueness of their future life scares these women and as a result, some of them prefer to return to prison, a familiar surrounding (Kerman, 2010, 282-285). Furthermore, women suffering from drug addiction do not have access to adequate treatment. The only program offered at Danbury, as Kerman suggests, is a program to reduce prison time. Her observations mirror again what has been conducted by the Institute of Medicine, Washington DC, in 2007. It is harder for women to handle a drug addiction, especially in prison, because very often it is the case that they have had early contact with various drugs from a young age. Consequently, due to their familiarity with drugs they are more likely to turn to injecting them, use multiple drugs and trade sex for money to get access to drugs, as Nena P. Messina, Ph.D., a criminologist at University of California, states. The system is not treating this illness properly, and leaves addicted women unable to cope with their addiction while both imprisoned and when released . Consequently, they are at high risk and are often more


after serving their sentences, which is frequently followed by another conviction for a second drug-related offense (Braithwaite et al., 2005). As the comparisons of Piper Kerman’s observations in her memoir OITNB demonstrates, along with recent studies by human rights organisations, medical studies and political statistics, there is much to criticise about the conditions of women in U.S federal prisons. Currently, women are tions, under which they cannot rehabilitate; but instead are pressed into this four-wallsystem which does not offer them a way out. Apart from overpopulated prisons and other big issues that the U.S must face when it comes to its judicial system, the reformation and reevaluation of drug sentences, it remains that the current circumstances and treatment of women in prison cannot be forgotten. Effective prison rights in the U.S need to protect the fundamental rights of the currently imprisoned women appropriately. At the moment, the prison system lacks the pivotal means of preserving its inhabitants’ human rights and is not willing to grant them the treatment they deserve. Women of all races, classes, genders, and origins are presently suffering in various prison facilities all over the country, and their voices need to be raised. Even though from a privileged social background, Piper Kerman raises awareness of the issue and openly addresses the faults of today’s system by sharing her experience. The broadcast of the story’s idea into the sphere of popular culture goes even further, bringing it to where it should concern us the most: our homes. As Martin Luther King once stated, “central to democracy is the fundamental belief that one belongs and one’s voice matters…”(Sekou, 2014). These women’s voices matter and democracy in the U.S will only function properly when all voices can participate in it.

ACLU. (2012, October 12). ACLU BRIEFING PAPER: The Shackling of Pregnant Women & Girls in U.S. Prisons, Jails & Youth Detention Centers. Amnesty International. (1999). Amnesty Report on Abuse of Women Prisoners, 1999. BJS. (1998). Substance Abuse and Treatment of Adults on Probation, 1995. BJS. (1999a). Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers. BJS. (1999b). Women Offenders. Braithwaite RI, Treadwell HM, Arriola KRJ. (2005). Health disparities and incarcerated women: A population ignored. American Journal of Public Health, 95(10), 1679-1680. Kerman, Piper. (2010). Orange is the New Black. London: Abacus. Kohan, Jenji. (2013-2014). Orange is the New Black. National Institute of Justice. Prison Culture and Perception of Rape. (2007, November 5). Prison Rape Research Findings. Sentenced to Wait: Efforts to End Prison Rape Stall Again. Sekou, Rev. Osagyefo. (2014, April 26) Prophecy Delivered! Martin Luther King Jr. and the Death of Democracy. Statista (2014). Countries with the largest number of prisoners per 100,000 of the national population, as of 2013.

Helen Carmel Benigson “Cactus Bikini”, 2014. Digital print with stitching. Sizes variable. © Helen Carmel Benigson


At times like these We measure our words Because we are Measuring a life

We place our love Gently

A friend was not Lost nor did she Transition she Died

Under the clouds That embrace her Into the Earth That owns her And now Reclaims her

We recognize a good Life was lead a Generous heart Ceases to beat A hearty laugh will No longer be Heard We measure not The depth But the width Of compassion And passion And dreams

That cover her

We will miss her Spirit Her demands Her hopes for us And therefore Herself At times like these We are sad We gather We comfort Each other Yet still At times like these We Properly Cry

Julia Maddison “Dead Fish”, 2012. Discarded cardigan, wire, pva, string. © 2012 Julia Maddison


Profile for HYSTERIA

HYSTERIA #3 Abjection  

HYSTERIA #3 Abjection