Oct 312010

Vacuuming Pop Art by Martha Rosler

Upon hearing of the recent deaths of both Barbara Billingsley and Bob Guccione, my first thought was that between the image of June Cleaver portrayed by Billingsley and the faux-ified images of women hawked by Guccione’s Penthouse, a tremendous amount of damage was perpetrated on our perceptions of female worth and identity.  And while June took off her pearls and heels a long time ago, the skewering of female reality in the media and in entertainment continues unabated.  Consider these examples:

  • As the Feminist Peace Network blog pointed out recently, the pornography business is gargantuan and has become so ubiquitous that it becomes a de-facto part of what is normal.
  • In a recent piece on the Ms. Magazine Blog,  Carolyn Heldman calls out Disney for their appalling portrayal of sexual slavery, and at that, geared towards very young children,

    As many as 4 million people–most of them women and children–are sold into slavery globally each year, according to the United Nations, and 70 percent of those women are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation [PDF]. An estimated 200,000 American children are at risk for sex trafficking each year, and the International Human Rights Law Institute estimates that 30,000 sexual slaves die annually from abuse, torture, neglect and disease.

    So why is Disneyland still asking us to laugh at an overt depiction of sexual slavery in its popular Pirates of the Caribbean ride?

  • For a fascinating look at how women fare in so-called reality television shows, check out Jennifer Pozner’s Reality Bites Back.  Pozner writes that in these shows, women are portrayed as, “golddiggers, bimbos, and bitches, and women of color are violent, “low class” whores”.
  • And then there are advertisements like this for Lost Abbey Witch’s Wit beer which makes light of a period of history where women who were labeled as witches suffered unimaginable brutality and were murdered by the millions.

The examples are endless, these are merely ones that have crossed my desk during the last few weeks.


But purposeful misogynist misrepresentation goes beyond media, entertainment and advertising; it is an integral part of our historic narrative as well.  Or more to the point, women’s lives are not shown as an integral part of that tale.  Last week I had the opportunity to contemplate the story that we are given in our daily lives from three rather interesting vantage points, on a tour of the United States Capitol, a lecture by Judy Chicago on the life and art of Frida Kahlo  at the National Museum for Women in the Arts and a visit to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University.

While on a trip to Washington, DC, I accompanied my son on a visit to the Capitol.  As we entered the Visitors’ Center,  we were surrounded with statues and pictures of people who were pivotal in the history of the United States and yes, you guessed it, they were predominantly male images.  The almost complete erasure of women (save a few tokens) from the narrative of our country is inescapable, it is as if we are supposed to believe that men did it all by themselves while women just sat passively by.

The following day, we went to hear artist Judy Chicago give a lecture at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on her new book, Frida Kahlo:  Face to Face,  co-authored with Frances Borzello. Unlike most of the museums in Washington, this one is a privately run museum, necessary because as Chicago noted and the Guerrilla Girls have pointed out so many times, most of the art in traditional museums, even the so called National Gallery of Art mostly contain art by men and represent the male gaze. Before the lecture, I made a quick trip to the restroom and my son waited for me at the reception desk which had several very thick books listing the names of charter members and supporters.  My son, knowing that I was a charter member, started looking for and then found my name, which he showed me when I returned.  For me, seeing my name as one of the many who have supported the museum was a wonderful experience.  I wasn’t just there to see the art.  In my small way, I was part of the her-story that made it possible for that art to be there.  It was a very powerful feeling.

Hearing Judy Chicago was a dream come true for me.  Her work has been enormously important to me, giving me context during the years that I worked as an  artist, allowing me to reclaim women’s artistic history and and sense of rootedness. During her lecture, Chicago made several points about Kahlo’s work that I think are applicable far beyond the discussion of Kahlo’s work:

  • Describing women’s work as reactive rather than proactive denies women’s agency.


  • It is important to look at women in their own context, not as part of the male context.

And finally, in my tryptych of vantage points, I had the delightful opportunity to visit with the wonderful staff at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University. The Center’s Director, Laura Micham graciously set out a table of some of the treasures that have been given to their care–Robin Morgan’s archives, a copy of the New York Times with a picture of Alix Kates Shulman, papers from the local chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and so much more.  Precious, rarely seen pieces of our her-story, there for me to see, to touch on a table in their beautiful reading room.

I’m not sure that I can adequately describe my reaction to this cornucopia of women’s heritage on which my eyes feasted and my fingers rested.  It was a sharp contrast to the feeling of dis-ease that I experienced at the Capitol where I felt almost physically disenfranchised by the official telling of his-story that is supposed to be our story. One of the first things that popped into my head was what if what I was seeing in this beautiful library was considered a crucial part of our story that must be told as vigorously as that of the founding fathers, what if we listened to the mothers too?  Here, I was surrounded by women and a deep feeling of connection, of foundation, of belonging.


Which brings me to this:  there is a terrible price to be paid for the systemic misogynist  invisibilizing, trivializing and misrepresentation of women’s lives.

We see it in the eyes of our children who will inherit the results of our perpetuated misrepresentations when  fraternity pledges glorify rape,

On Wednesday night, Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges marched through Yale’s Old Campus — where most first-year female students are housed — chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal!” The fraternity pledges were marched blindfolded while barking like soldiers … with marching orders of anal rape. They also threw in, “My name is Jack, I’m a necrophiliac, I fuck dead women.”

We see it when Virginia Thomas asks Anita Hill to apologize to her husband the Supreme Court Justice for calling him out for sexual harassment as if the perpetrator can somehow magically become the victim and the real victim’s extraordinary courage could possibly be considered wrong.  And we see it when candidates like Todd Lally in Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District can blatantly say that they don’t think women are discriminated against and still be taken seriously as a candidate to represent the people, more than half of whom are female.

We see it  when the Washington Post reports that Tim Proffitt may not be arrested for stomping on Lauren Halle’s head at a Rand Paul rally,

It looks as if this may not result in an arrest. Based on the footage of the incident, cops are treating the case for the time being as a fourth degree assault case, which puts this in the realm of domestic violence scuffles and barfights, she tells me. She says they’re treating this as a “misdemeanor, not a felony.”

And yet guys like Lally who sees equality where there is none and guys like Paul who attract hooligans like Proffitt who thinks that the woman whose head he stepped on should apologize to him claim they can represent “the people”.  The very bad news is that they stand a very good chance of getting elected on Tuesday.  And the young men at Yale will likely go on to be leaders in government and industry.

As I was writing this, I happened to see Ann Jones’ piece in The Nation on the use of women soldiers to communicate with Afghan women, the description would be laughable in its absurdity if it weren’t horribly true.  Jones points to the abusive expectations placed on women in the U.S. military and a deeply misogynist arrogance and ignorance systemic in U.S. military policy towards Afghan women.  This too is part of the toxic damage wreaked by his-story on her-story. And somehow that is supposed to be okay, just part of the political process that our national narrative supports.  But it isn’t okay. Rather, it is part of the toxic legacy of misogyny which played out again at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear which styled itself as a meeting at the commons for all  yet all but excluded women from the podium.

Come Wednesday morning, when the electoral ruckus begins to settle, we need to take a deep look at the story we are telling, the plot is long overdue for revision.

–Lucinda Marshall

 October 31, 2010  Posted by on October 31, 2010 1 Response »
Oct 302010

If I had been in Washington, DC today, I would have gone to the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear.  In fact I considered adjusting my plans so that I could attend because the whole idea of coming together to take back the commons appealed to me greatly.  But I ended up doing the second best thing and watching it on television.  For about 45 minutes–some good music, a couple of funny guys asking the ladies (their choice of words) to do this that and the other thing and hello??…almost a third of the way through the show and still not a woman on stage.  Really?

In case y’all hadn’t noticed, we womenfolk have been voting now for roughly a century, maybe we should be a part of the call for sanity too?  Feeling sad and demoralized, I hauled my lady parts off the couch and went to do my lady work–you know, the laundry and the grocery and the other stuff we’re supposed to do before we vote.

But for the purposes of media punditry, I taped the rest and fast forwarded through it after the chores and errands were done and I could kick off my heels and pearls and go back to being my jaded self.  Okay I admit it, I have a big  soft spot for Father Guido and Yusuf and I am still humming along with Mavis Staples, who along with Sheryl Crowe who from start to finish comprised the entire female presence on the stage except for brief appearances by an award winner and Olivia Munn and Samantha Bee.  I didn’t do a head count of all the people on stage, but suffice to say, they were badly outnumbered.Hardly surprising since only a small minority of the guests on The Daily Show are women, but still–this was supposd to be a tad loftier than a comedy show.  From where I sat, much as I really wanted to enjoy it,  in the end I just felt disenfranchised from the rally that was supposed to be about coming together.

How sad that  the words of Abigail Adams written as our country was just beginning are still so necessary today:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.

“Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.

“Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

“That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up — the harsh tide of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend.

“Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity?

“Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the (servants) of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.”

 October 30, 2010  Posted by on October 30, 2010 4 Responses »
Oct 292010

Caitlin Carmody has a very excellent post up on the Think Before You Pink website about what is missing in the pink ribbon approach to breast cancer ‘awareness’, namely that they, “don’t encourage us to think about social justice.”

Amen to that.  Carmody goes on to offer an excellent list of reasons why we need to make the connection between breast cancer and social justice:

When we examine those questions, we get a very different awareness than just run for the cure, get a mammogram and eat right.  Kudos to Carmody for this excellent re-framing.

 October 29, 2010  Posted by on October 29, 2010 Comments Off on Where Is The Social Justice In Breast Cancer Awareness?
Oct 292010

As feminists have pointed out so many times, there is a deep misogyny in what generally passes as history–not only is it for the most part literally his story, it’s portrayal of women when they do figure into this fairy tale is usually a horror story of misinformation.  Perhaps one of the most misunderstood pieces of that narrative is the long  and torturous persecution of women who were considered to be witches.  And with that as background, along comes Port Brewing’s Lost Abbey Witch’s Wit Beer, which aims to please with what its makers see as an amusing little narrative about what to drink when attending a burning,

“Whether you’re a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you. And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground. From that lonely stake, you’ll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.

Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence. An intolerable pain is the cross you’ll bear that day as you are removed from this righteous world. No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life. It sucks. But such is the life of a witch. In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch’s Wit. A light and refreshing wheat beer, it’s exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being passed around the center of town on witch burning day. Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us.”

Yep, burning and torturing millions of women was hilarious.  Not.  A protest has been mounted.The company’s response has been to say they will consider the matter at their next meeting.  You can contact them here:

  • Tomme Authur, Director of Brewery Operation, 800-918-6816 or tomme@lostabbey.com
  • Sage Osterfeld, Media Liaison, 760-593-7243 or sage@lostabby.com
  • Terri Osterfield, Special Events Manager, 800-918-6816 Ex. 107 or terri@lostabbey.com
  • Ruby Johnson, Service Manager, 800-918-6816 Ex 105 or customerservice@portbrewing.com

Z Budapest and Bobbi Grennier have authored an excellent commentary which points out the inadequacy of that response,

What we’d ask is, then why is there any question that you wouldn’t issue an apology and drop this label immediately?

They go on to brilliantly skewer the company’s response to complaints about the label,

According to The Lost Abby leadership, Tomme Arthur, “Apparently, many of the emailers didn’t bother to spend time researching our branding and the positioning of our beers. In blindly denouncing our original art and the satire of our labels, most of the emailers failed to connect with our brands. Looking at these emails, it was obvious that in our desire to tell a great story, we had forgotten to get that information on our website in a meaningful way.”

It’s doubtful that the people complaining are going give a hoot about the company’s branding nor positioning. And to say that the emailers are blind to the label’s art and satire … clearly the leadership of The Lost Abby does not understand the complaints. So Lost Abby leadership, let us help you. These people are complaining that they find the art offensive and in poor taste … and in the beer making business taste is everything. You’ve left a sour taste in their mouths. That’s not a good thing and it is definitely not satire.

They also point to the accompanying merchandising of the label beyond beer,

When the women’s-only T-shirt art reads…  Attend your next medieval witch burning event in style with this oh-so-flattering v-neck T-shirt. The front features the Lost Abbey Celtic cross while the back display’s our famous Witch’s Wit label… you have to realize, one this protest has made this beer label famous and two, they totally get and intend the anti-female/anti-witch message they are distributing.

While my spell-casting abilities leave something to be desired and while one’s first inclination might be to try to turn these folks into frogs, my real wish is that I could make misogyny and the his-story that perpetuates it disappear.

Postscript:   I tried several times to get onto the Lost Abbey website, but it seems to be down.  I have no idea why, but given that they are selling Witch’s Wit Beer…just saying.

 October 29, 2010  Posted by on October 29, 2010 1 Response »
Oct 282010

Lest you doubt the deep misogyny implicit in U.S. military policy despite more reports and commissions that supposedly address the issue than one can count, there is this account of a recent talk by Iraqi veteran Ethan McCord,

McCord knew he needed psychological help for his trauma. He approached a superior and told him about the emotional hell he was going through. He was told, “Get the sand out of your vagina!”

 October 28, 2010  Posted by on October 28, 2010 1 Response »