Ladyrebecca's Musings and Ramblings

The Increasingly Political Thoughts of Rebecca (Becky) Walker

We are all naked . . . September 23, 2010

Filed under: art,educational,Reviews,writing — Addicted to Yarn @ 1:08 pm
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Humanity has always had one thing in common: under our clothes we are all naked. Throughout the ages artists have drawn, chiseled, shaped, cast, painted, sculpted and in every conceivable way represented the naked human form. The artistic rendering of the nude has changed over the centuries, from the symbolic sculpture of early humanity to the lifelike sculptures of the classical era and from the near photorealism of the Renaissance to the abstractions of artists such as Picasso. A closer look at the the ancient sculptural nudes Kouros, Riace Warrior, and Praxiteles’s Aphrodite of Cnidos and the modern painting Venus by Fernando Botero, will reveal some crucial differences between the views of the ancient world and those of the modern world. Differences include the setting of the nude, the artistic representation of the human body, and what the nude reveals about society’s views on sexuality.

The stiff formality of the ancient nude Kouros, sculpted around 590 BC, contrasts sharply with the stark informality of Botero’s Venus, painted in 1989. Kouros stands stiffly, “fists clenched,” marking or guarding a tomb or temple (Bishop 45), while Venus stands relaxed, her hands loose and busy while she goes about her mundane, everyday tasks. Kouros’s hair is “geometric” and his body rigidly symmetrical (Bishop 45), the epitome of order and ‘correctness.’ Venus, on the other hand, has her pair pulled back in a relaxed, informal manner. Her body is not presented symmetrically as she stands unevenly and is turned somewhat away from the viewer. Clothing drapes out of an open bureau drawer and her bed is not made. She is, in contrast to Kouros, not especially orderly. Kouros, whose creation served a very formal purpose, is presented very formally – his hair orderly, his body straight and symmetrical – whereas Venus, whose creation serves no higher purpose than the pleasure of the artist and the viewer, is presented in a ‘slice of life’ manner – relaxedly preparing for the day ahead.

Turning our eyes to the Riace Warrior of mid-5th century BC (photo on page 55 of Bishop), and comparing it to Botero’s Venus, we see how the artist’s representation of the human body reveals something about how they (and by association their society) view the human body. Riace Warrior is lean, his muscular body well defined and apparently, ready for action. In contrast, Venus is round and soft, her muscles buried under ample flesh. Her shape is over exaggerated so much so that she would not fit on the bed pictured in the background. The Riace Warrior is perfectly crafted, from the curls of his head to the toenails on his feet. Whereas every curl is defined on Riace Warrior, Venus’s hair is fuzzy and unclear. Her hands, and the rest of her for that matter, are free of wrinkles and lines, creating a much softer, laid-back quality to the art. Though now missing, the Riace Warrior was equipped with a sword and shield, the weapons of a warrior. It is clear that a warrior’s body – strong, capable, ready – was very important to society at the time Riace Warrior was cast. So important, in fact, that the sculptor saw fit to equip this warrior with sword and shield but not armor. Botero, on the other hand, said he wanted to “create sensuousness through form” (Faerna) and he does so. However, in doing so, he reveals that society no longer needs a utilitarian reason to honor the body. The human body is now seen to be for pleasure above purpose, alluding perhaps to an increase in hedonism. By recognizing these differences, we can see that the warrior ethos of 5th century BC has given way, perhaps, to the hedonistic pleasures of the modern era.

Differing levels of hedonism may explain some of the differences between Praxiteles’s Aphrodite (sculpted around 350-340 BC) and Venus and what they reveal about society’s views of sexuality and the ‘place’ of sex in society. Looking first at Aphrodite, she stands, legs crossed slightly, her hand covering her groin. She has just removed her robe as she prepares for her bath (wikipedia.com). Venus, on the other hand, stands with one leg brought forward and her arms over her shoulders, making no effort to hid her groin. She is nude, not because she is getting dressed or undressed, preparing for a bath or some such task requiring a state of undress. She is nude, apparently, for the sheer pleasure in being nude. Aphrodite’s hair, which it is believed would originally have been gilded (Bishop 54) is pulled neatly away from her face and coiled at the base of her neck, suggesting a certain amount of reserve. Venus, on the other hand, sports full bangs and unrestrained hair cascades down her back, suggesting an increase in personal freedom. Aphrodite’s gaze captures a hint of the demure and the diffident. She is nude, save for the arm band and jewelry she may have been adorned with originally (Bishop 54), not for sake of pleasure but of necessity. It would indicate a certain hesitancy to fully expose oneself, a feeling of reserve in regard to sexuality. She does not stand as proud and unselfconscious as the male nudes of the same time frame.  Venus is unadorned, save for a simple hair ribbon and a pair of shoes, yet her nudity seems much more natural and comfortable, suggesting a more open attitude towards sexuality. Venus’s lack of shame or demurral appearance would also suggest a more equitable sexual relationship between male and female. Both pieces of art center around a nude female and yet are wildly different because the worlds they sprang from are wildly different. While all of a society’s views can not be seen in two snapshots of life such as these two pieces provide, by comparing them, we can see some broad differences in how sexuality is viewed.

Perhaps no amount of study will ever reveal all the differences between the ancient cultures and more modern cultures but the art that a society produces does bring some revelation. From the stylized and simplified Kouros to the strong and sturdy Riace Warrior, from the demure and diffident Aphrodite to the supple sensuousness of Venus, we see that what artists produce is, at least in part, due to how society views the object that is the subject of their art.

Works Cited

Bishop, Phillip E. Adventures in the Human Spirit. 6th Ed. Upper Saddle River:  Prentice Hall, 2011.

Faerna, Jose Maria. “Fernando Botero: The Praise of Opulance.” 9 Sept. 2010 <http://www.all-art.org/art_20th_century/botero2.html&gt;.

Wikipedia. “Aphrodite of Cnidus.” 9 September, 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphrodite_of_Cnidus&gt;.

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Truth and Error September 9, 2010

Filed under: art,educational,Reviews — Addicted to Yarn @ 7:27 pm
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G. W. F. Hegel makes some very contradictory statements in his Lectures on Aesthetics, some true and some erroneous. Andrew Sola, writing for The Literary Encyclopedia, 2004, records that Hegel places art at the same level of importance as religion and philosophy and believes it must be studied as “patiently and laboriously as theology and philosophy are studied” (1). Hegel also rejects the two conventional approaches to studying art, empirically and “the study of the beautiful” (2), developing instead his own method, which he calls the dialectic method. He denies the belief that art is deceptive and opines that art is higher than nature, both thoughts in opposition to commonly held beliefs about art. Hegel does not believe that “art has a purpose outside of itself” (7), such as purifying and preparing humanity’s passions for “moral perfection”(7) and providing instructions on attaining said moral perfection; instead claiming that art has no purpose outside of itself. He finds meaning in art as a mediator between the inner and outer lives of the artists and their audiences. Hegel, recognizing the three stages of art – Symbolic, Classical, and Romantic – and implies that the latter are ‘higher’ than those that came before. He also places art into a hierarchy based on form. However, while Hegel makes some very good points, he is mistaken in these final regards. Art, as a mediator between the inner and outer realities of life, has no hierarchy.

There is no escaping the fact that art is a mediator, a crucial concept to Hegel’s dialectic approach to studying art. He first recognizes “the classical philosophical opposition between the inner and the outer” (Sola 4), believing that art brings reconciliation to them. He then defends this stance against the commonly held belief that art is less ‘real’ than the outer reality it represents, by writing, “Genuine reality is only to be found beyond the immediacy of feeling and of external objects” (qtd. in Sola 4).  Hegel believes, quite rightly, that even when nature (an ‘outer’ reality) is the subject of art, it must first pass through the artist’s mind (the ‘inner’ reality) in order to strip away the “arbitrary, chaotic, and contingent details” and “gain its universal or spiritual qualities,” (5) thus qualifying it as ‘art.’ When art, which “relies on the representation of natural forms of transitory emotions and of sensual stimulations,” (4) passes through the mind of the artist, it acts as a mediator, bridging the gap between the inner and the outer.

Unfortunately, it is on the subject of hierarchy in art that Hegel becomes entangled in his own arguments. Hegel mistakenly assumes that art has a hierarchy. He places architecture and sculpture at the bottom, because they are bound by ‘matter’ as the other arts are not. Following architecture and sculpture, he places painting and music, as they are not bound by the physical – if it can be imagined it can be put to paint brush and canvas or set to music. At the top, or “apex,” Hegel places poetry, stating, “Poetry is the universal art of mind which has become free of its own nature, and which is not tied to find its realization in external sensuous matter” (qtd. in Sola 10). However, if art’s purpose is to bridge the gap between the inner and outer realities of life, as Hegel argues, than any form of art which does so serves its purpose, whether it be a soaring, epic poem which causes the reader to ponder the mystery of god, or the lofty architecture of a cathedral which draws the viewer’s eye upward into contemplation of god’s greatness. Poetry requires not only simple literacy but also literacy in poetry in order to communicate to the audience (Hegel considers it crucial that art be made available to others (Sola 6)) while other forms of art do not  require the same level of literacy. Art, in its many forms, has no hierarchy for any form can  communicate the artist’s reconciliation of the inner and outer.

Hegel again comes into conflict with himself in regard to the three stages of art: Symbolic, corresponding to pantheistic religions and subjective thought, Classical, corresponding to Greek polytheism and objective thought, and Romantic, corresponding to Christian monotheism and dialectic thought (Sola 7). He wrongly implies that each is higher than that which came before. Sola records, referring to art of the symbolic stage which grants natural objects symbolic meaning, that Hegel considers Eastern art to be “still ‘primitive’ in this respect” (7) calling it “bizarre, grotesque and tasteless” (qtd. in Sola 8). In saying such, he contradicts his own belief that “the world always is as it ought to be in any given moment” (7) and that art’s purpose is to reveal the truth of the moment. As previously mentioned, Hegel believes that genuine reality is found through art. In pejoratively labeling Eastern art as “tasteless,” “grotesque,” and “bizarre,” he implies that this is not happening. The Eastern artist views her natural world, which according to Hegel “always is as it ought to be,” passes it through her mind, and produces art (bridging the gap between the inner and outer), which fulfills its function – the “representation and revelation” of said reconciliation (qtd. in Sola 7). Since art has no other purpose, so long as it is representing and revealing the struggle and bridging of the inner and outer realities, no one can place one stage above another as Hegel does.

Hegel presents numerous ideas and thoughts in his lecture on aesthetics. He correctly recognizes the antithesis between the physical outer world and the universal or spiritual inner world. He correctly sees that art is not meant to have a purpose beyond revealing the artist’s interpretation of the world. However, he incorrectly places art into an unnatural hierarchy, working against his own arguments. There is much we can learn from Hegel about art and the meaning it brings to our world but we must remain aware of his erroneously decided hierarchy.

Works Cited

Sola, Andrews. “Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics.” The Literary Encyclopedia. 2004 ed.

 

Stupid Easy Reads January 5, 2010

Filed under: Anecdotal,Reviews — Addicted to Yarn @ 11:14 pm

I started reading the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. They are wonderful. They are NOT fine literature. They are no epic stories. What they are is fun. They are light, easy reads. They are funny.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter but she’s not very good at it. She looses lots of handcuffs and destroys a lot of cars. At least one per book. She finds lots of dead people by accident. She has the most amazing grandma in the world. Her grandma cracks me up. She’s old and refuses to roll over and die. She carries a gun, gets hot and bothered riding a motorcycle and her favorite pass time is going to viewings at the funeral home…that she and Stephanie burned down once. (it wasn’t there fault.)

Anyway, I’ve read the first eight and will pick up the next two at the library tomorrow. Provided my evil twin hasn’t stopped in recently.

 

Michelle Obama and the Balancing Act December 29, 2009

This lengthy post was my second essay for Women’s Studies. Here it is:

Katherine Lewis, writing for America.gov, reports that one of Michelle Obama’s goals as First Lady is to help women find the balance between working, mothering, and living (2009). Finding such a balance is something Michelle has extensive experience in. Liza Mundy, author of the biography Michelle, notes that not only did she manage to balance career, marriage, and childrearing, she was also able to balance being the wife of an up-an-coming politician with the “dinner-together-every-night” kind of family she desired (2008. p. 129). However, her balancing acts are under new scrutiny and the rules of the game have changed a bit since she began her move from, as she describes herself, “that little girl who grew up on the South Side of Chicago” (quoted in Michelle by Liza Mundy, 2008, p. 173).

When her husband, Barack, decided to make a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, balance took on a whole new meaning and importance to Michelle. Never one to stand aside when she felt something needed to be done, Michelle made stump speeches and hosted fund-raisers. She gave interviews and appeared on talk shows. As a potential First Lady, Michelle was catapulted along with her husband into the spotlight.

She faced then and continues to face issues that require poise, grace and tremendous amounts of balance in order to navigate through successfully. As the spouse of a politician, success can be defined as not decreasing constituent support for one’s spouse. One of the first tightrope walks Michelle faced was the backlash of her oft repeated statement made on February 18, 2008: “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country…” With that one sentence, taken from the middle of a speech about how people are getting involved and are working to make the changes they want to see, Mrs. Obama lit the news sources and bloggers alike on fire as they tore into the presidential candidate’s wife. Webblogger Mickey Kaus, writing for Slate, an online magazine, says “She sure seems to have a non-trivial chip on her shoulder” (2008) and Jim Geraghty, a blogger for National Review called the remark “strikingly ungracious” (2008). Mark Steyn, also writing for National Review accused her of “narcissism and self-absorption” in the same issue that featured a picture of a scowling Michelle with the title “Mrs. Grievance” (2008, April 21, http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MjY4MjQ4MWFjYWUzN2Q2YzAwY2ZlZTRiMTJjY2I0MzE). She was called, “unpatriotic, racist and downright shameful” by blog commenters. (http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=132×4658171) Of course Barack defended her, explaining that her statement was referring to America politically and Michelle clarified along the same lines, saying in an interview with Good Housekeeping: “It’s a mischaracterization that has nothing to do with the intended statement” (2008). But because of the focus the Obama/Biden campaign made on “Change,” Michelle and her husband could not proclaim too loudly of how proud they were of America because of the inability of so many to understand the difference between love and pride. Arthur Brazier clearly expresses the difference:

“I was drafted in the army in World War II. When I got my notice, I didn’t burn my notice or go to Canada, because I love my country. I went to war, but in my uniform I was in a segregated army, totally and completely segregated. And in my uniform, when I was training in the South, I had to ride in the back of the bus. If I wanted to drink water from a drinking fountain, I had to drink from a fountain that said ‘Colored.’ It was greatly humiliating. But I loved my country. I was awarded two bronze stars. I still loved my country. But I wasn’t proud of it. There’s a difference.” (cited in Mundy, 2008, p. 189)

Michelle must find a way to balance loving her country and being proud of America for what it has allowed her and Barack to accomplish alongside seeing clearly the problems in the nation in order to find solutions to them.

Another example of a balancing act she must perform is that of race relations. Michelle Obama is black. She is married to the first African-American president of the United States of America. She is the first First Lady to be a direct descendant of slaves. She is the first African-American First Lady. The African-American community looks up to her as a role model for their daughters and to her husband as a role model for their sons. Katherine Lewis writes “For African-American women to be able to say to their sons, ‘This is an example of a relationship,’ is very valuable” (2009, America.gov). While the Obama’s are role models for all Americans, regardless of race, their contribution to African-Americans is not something that can be discounted. Lewis writes, “[Michelle]’s in a good position to be a positive image for American society and also for black America.” Yet, Michelle must balance the knowledge of the barriers she has broken for the African-American community with the knowledge that focusing too much on race may alienate non-African-American constituents. Worse yet, if she focuses too much on what an accomplishment it is for an African-American to attain the highest office in the land, focuses too much on how hard it is for African-Americans to get a fair shake, focuses too much on how racism is still alive and well in the United States, or focuses too much on white privilege and black oppression, she will be lambasted as “anti-white,” “racist,” and even, “a terrorist.”

Michelle also finds herself balancing the gravity of the issues she cares about (universal health care, soldiers in combat, education opportunities for all children, the plight of the poor, to name a few) with the frivolity the media (and the audiences who pay for it) seem obsessed with. The Money Times (Dec. 12, 2009) reports that Barbara Walters listed Michelle Obama as her most fascinating person of 2009. When Walters interviewed Michelle, did she ask her about her journey from segregated Chicago to two Ivy League schools? Did she ask her about the community work Michelle engaged in? No. Instead, Barbara asked her about her famously “toned arms.” She asked about Michelle’s workout routine. Michelle balances this focus on her body with a push for healthier eating habits and regular exercise. While it may seem frivolous to appear on the cover of Vogue, Michelle being touted as a beauty ideal or a fashion icon is a huge benefit to African-American women. Writer Allison Samuels said it best in her article “What Michelle Means to Us.” “Who and what is beautiful has long been a source of pain, anger, and frustration in the African-American community. In too many cases, beauty for black women…has meant fair skin, “good hair” and dainty facial features.” Samuels quotes a California mail carrier as saying, “It’s nice to see a brown girl get some attention and be called beautiful by the world. That just doesn’t happen a lot, and our little girls need to see that—my little girl needs to see it.”

Ruben, Fitts, and Becker (2003) wrote about the need for realistic “beauty ideals” for African-American women in their essay, “Body Ethics and Aesthetics Among African America and Latina Women” (Shaw & Lee 2009). “…Western mainstream media” creates an image of beauty that is a white, thin, with delicate facial features, and “good hair,” that is, not “nappy hair” (p. 262). While there are more African-American women in the media now than previously, “they typically reinscribe prevailing stereotypes by featuring women with lighter skin and “Anglo” features to the exclusion of other women.” (p. 256).

Michelle’s balancing abilities also come into play when dealing with issues of gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles. Much of Michelle’s job during the nominating campaign, when speaking to professional women, was to show them that Barack had their interests at heart as much as his opponent, Hillary Clinton did. Michelle drew upon her own experiences as a college graduate and career woman and, wrote in U.S. World News Report, “As first lady, I’d take [working women’s] stories back to Washington to make sure that the people who run our country know how their policies touch their constituents’ lives” (2008, Oct. 17). One of the issues Michelle brings up is the inequality between the sexes in the job market. Michelle writes, “We’ve talked to mothers whose salaries can’t cover the cost of groceries—but if they take a second job, they can’t afford the additional cost of child care. More than 22 million working women don’t have paid sick days. Millions of women are doing the same jobs as men—but they’re earning less” (Oct. 17, 2008). Michelle Cottle reports, “In a 2004 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Michelle [Obama] observed: ‘What I notice about men, all men, is that their order is me, my family, god is in there somewhere, but me is first…And for women, me is fourth, and that’s not healthy.’…Looked at one way Michelle was issuing a pointed call for female self-empowerment…For all the talk about this being a partnership of equals, the domestic roles Michelle and Barack have assumed are, in many ways, strikingly stereotypical.” (The New Republic, March 26, 2008)

Michelle has the title First Lady because of the position her husband is in. Her role in society is defined by her husband’s role. She has put her career on hold to provide the support her husband needs in order to succeed. However, if she were to address gender roles as such and were to decry her current traditional role, she may very well alienate the many constituents who believe in traditional roles for men and women. She must balance the fact that she is in a position to affect positive change for women in nontraditional roles with the fact that she is in such a position because she is in a traditional role herself.

Michelle’s ability to balance seemingly incompatible ideals comes into sharp focus when looking into her stance on social programs. Michelle Obama’s story is one of personal responsibility, hard work, and opportunities, both fought for and taken, equalling success. This aspect of Michelle appeals to the Conservative/Right wing constituents of the country. Her boot-strap story is just that: a story of someone who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Or is it? Hers may appear to be a bootstrap story but if she were pulled up by bootstraps, she wasn’t the only one pulling. Michelle recognizes the precarious nature of her rise to success and is quick to acknowledge that not everyone is afforded the breaks she was and not everyone is in a position to capitalize on the breaks that come their way. Mundy writes, “[Barack] was touched” during their courtship, “by what he saw as the occasional hint of vulnerability, the sense that her good fortune could vanish with one misstep, ‘as if, deep inside, she new how fragile things really were’” (2008, p. 96).

One of her greatest motivators to work hard in everything she did, was the work ethic instilled upon her by her hard-working, self-reliant father, Fraser Robinson (Mundy, 2008). Lexington, writing for the Economist, reports that “More than 60% of black children these days are brought up without a father” (2009, p. 38), and aside from “The Cosby Show,” “there are still woefully few public examples of solid, stable black marriages” (Samuels, 2008). Because of how much respect Michelle had for her dad, Mundy writes, she was very picky about the men she dated (2008). Had she not held out for as good a man as her father had been and had she not had her father’s work ethic, Michelle’s story may have gone a completely different direction.

Fraser Robinson worked for the city, a respectable job for an African American in the 1950’s, writes Mundy. A job with the city was coveted as it offered security and decent insulation from the turmoil of a collapsing blue collar job market. Many African-American’s did not have access to city jobs and the privilege of such a job was paramount to the Robinson’s success.

Michelle was entering middle school as the city was making inroads to deal with the heavy segregation of its school system. One of their solutions was magnet schools. Michelle applied and was accepted and it was there, in the exception to the rule, that she received an accelerated, multicultural education that equipped her to succeed in the two Ivy colleges she attended. Without that opportunity, her college choices, her success in the college environment, and her career options after graduation might have looked completely different.

It is these stereotypes, ideals, contradictions, and priorities that Michelle must balance if she is to be successful. She can not be “too” angry about racism, the plight of the poor, or the frivolity of the media without being labeled “an angry black woman.” She can not ignore racism, the plight of the poor, or the frivolity of the media without denying who she is, where she comes from, and the issues at stake. She can not be “too” black without being labeled as a “black elitist” nor can she be “too” white without being labeled a traitor. She can not promote the bootstrap myth without trivializing the situation of the poor and placing blame upon those in poverty. She can not deny that there is an element of personal responsibility in her own story of success. She loves her children and wants them to have the best life possible, including the best president possible. She loves her husband and wants him to be as successful as possible. These loves require her to make personal sacrifices that may not be seen as demonstrating “equality.”

Michelle, in fighting stereotype and overcoming hurdles, has reached a position where she must simultaneously be a stay-at-home mom and advocate feminist ideals; preach the qualities of “bootstrapping” but avoid victim blaming; be a role model for African Americans while not alienating white citizens; and try to steer attention towards important, lasting issues without offending those fascinated by her “style.” Our nation’s 46th First Lady has her work cut out for her but if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Michelle.

References

Cottle, M. (2008, March 26). Wife lessons: Why Michelle Obama is no Hillary Clinton. The New Republic, 23,24.

Geraghty, J. (2008, February 19). Comparing John McCain and Michelle Obama. National Review Online: Campaign Spot. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from http://campaignspot.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MDQxMjVmZDFlMGU5OGFiNTYwN2I5MDk0MDY2Zjk5NWY=

Good Housekeeping. (2008, November). A conversation with Michelle Obama. Good Housekeeping, 143-218, 5 p.

Kaus, M. (2008, February 18). Is that an s-chip on your shoulder or are you just glad to see me?. Slate. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from http://www.slate.com/id/2184672/#mchip

Lewis, K. (2009, July 9). Michelle Obama presents the modern image for black women. America.gov. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from http://www.america.gov/st/econ-english/2009/January/20090126163119BErehelleK0.5277063.html

Lexington, (2009, March 21). The other Obama. The Economist, 38.

Money Times, The. (2009, December 10). Michelle Obama is Walters’ ‘secret’ most fascinating person. The Money Times. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from http://www.themoneytimes.com/featured/20091210/michelle-obama-walters-secret-most-fascinating-person-id-10937744.html

Mundy, L. (2008). Michelle. New York, NY; Simon & Schuster.

Obama, M. (2008, October 17). Michelle Obama: As Barack’s first lady, I would work to help working families and military families. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved December 14, 2009, from http://www.usnews.com/articles/opinion/2008/10/17/michelle-obama-as-baracks-first-lady-i-would-work-to-help-working-families-and-military-families.html

Ruben, L., Fitts, M., & Becker, A. (2009). Body ethics and aesthetics among African American and Latina women. In S. Shaw & J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings (4th ed.). (pp. 255-266). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Samuels, A. (2008, November 22). What Michelle means to us. Newsweek. Retrieved on December 10, 2009, from http://www.newsweek.com/id/170383

Steyn, M. (2008, March 21). Mrs. Obama’s America. National Review, 34.

 

Stephenie Meyer is an anti-feminist, no-talent-hack. November 17, 2009

*This post contains spoilers*

Bella Swan stars in four anti-feminist novels, the Twilight series. She and the other main characters are gender stereotyped to a fault. Abusive misogyny and an embracement of lookism run rampant throughout the 500 pages of the first novel, Twilight, and her experiences with teen romance and/or love are truly a masterpiece on how to have an unhealthy relationship.

Her story is simple enough. Bella is an average teenage girl. She moves to Forks, Washington during her junior year of high school to live with her dad after her mom remarries a traveling baseball player. Bella gets situated at school where she meets Edward Cullen, a disturbingly beautiful and strange boy. He is initially hostile but warms up to her after a while, though his moods swing wildly between tender care and open aggression. In the first half of the story, he saves her life twice, both times by exhibiting extraordinary abilities—super human speed and strength and apparent clairvoyance.

After hearing an ancient Quileute legend about a group of “cold ones” who drank animal blood instead of human blood and went by the name of Cullen, Bella realizes that her gorgeous hero is a vampire. Instead of deterring her from pursuing a relationship with Edward, Bella realizes that nothing, not even the threat of death, could make her life worth living if Edward weren’t in it, and yet the reader is left wondering what exactly it is about Edward that Bella finds so captivating beyond his good looks. Stereotypical teen infatuation and simple physical lust seem to be about it.

Edward, despite repeatedly telling Bella he’s no good for her, is unable to stay away. He find the scent of her blood so alluring that it is a constant temptation to kill her. When she responds to his kisses with equal or greater passion, he draws away least he be overcome with temptation and kill her. Despite this obstacle, the two quickly fall in love and in short order, are professing their undying (?) love for each other.

When a conventional vampire sets his sights on ending Bella’s life, Edward and the entire Cullen family spring into action. Bella is whisked off to safety with Edward’s “sister” and her husband, while Edward, his brother, and their nearly four hundred year old father set a trap for the hunter. The hunter is able to trick Bella into leaving the relative safety of Alice and Jasper’s care. Bella meets the hunter in an abandoned dance studio (claiming he has her mom held hostage) and she is almost killed before Edward and company show up to save the day.

She returns home with a well fabricated cover story and the stage is set for them to live happily ever after…provided Edward is willing to turn her into a vampire so she can live forever with him.

The story is simple enough. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl (i.e. damsel) is in distress. Boy (i.e. knight in shining armor) comes to the rescue. Happily ever after.

Unfortunately, for readers, there is a dark undercurrent that flows throughout Twilight. Earlier, I wrote that Bella was “an average teenage girl.” I say “average” because there is nothing to set her apart. She is not especially smart or dumb. She is not particularly ugly or beautiful. She has no particular talents or shortcomings (aside from being chronically clumsy). Bella’s physical appearance is not described, aside from making note that she is about 5’4” and weighs about 110 pounds. In fact, Stephenie Meyer, the author of Twilight, purposefully wrote Bella as a mostly undefined character so that, as she said on her website, “the reader could more easily step into [Bella’s] shoes” (www.stepheniemeyer.com). Meyer’s intent, then, was for the reader to put themselves into Bella’s place, which is understandable. I think most writers want their readers to be able to do the same. What is insidious is that, after carefully not defining a character so the reader is more easily able to insert herself into the story, Meyer’s main characters unapologetically promote traditional gender roles, blindly accept society’s unrealistic expectations of feminine beauty, and condone abusive and controlling behavior.

As Leonard Sax, writing for the Washington Post, said, “the girls are still girls, and the boys are traditional men…The lead male characters…are muscular and unwaveringly brave, while Bella and the other girls bake cookies, make supper for the men and hold all-female slumber parties.”

Traditional gender roles are assigned to the main characters from the book’s beginning. The story opens with Bella’s move into her father’s home. Within the first 48 hours, she has assigned herself to kitchen duty as her father can’t “cook much besides fried eggs and bacon” (p. 31). Bella comments on her father being aware of the upcoming school dance; “Only in a town this small would a father know when the high school dances were” (p. 81). Bella fully embraces the stereotype that social events such as dances are the realm of mothers (females) and not fathers (men) even though it would make perfect sense for her father, the chief of police, to be aware of an upcoming teen gathering. Bella makes this even clearer when she tells her dad about an upcoming shopping trip…which is the only time she spends with female friends outside of school, by the way. Bella, explaining that even though she isn’t attending the dance, she is helping her friends pick out dresses, thinks, “I wouldn’t have to explain this to a woman” (p. 149), embracing the idea that men could not possibly understand the female mind while a woman would naturally have an intrinsic understanding of all things “feminine.” Her father quickly embraces his own gender stereotype. As he turns back to the television, Meyer writes, “He seemed to realize that he was out of his depth with the girlie stuff” (p. 149).

Bella’s shopping trip with her friends supplies more gender stereotypes. Bella wanders into a dangerous neighborhood, distracted by the wallowing despair she finds herself in over not having seen Edward in two days. She runs into one group of people—four men. And naturally, these men are rapists who quickly scheme together to lead her away from the more populated areas so they can gang rape her. Edward shows up in the nick of time and saves the day, playing the part of the knight in shining armor to Bella’s damsel in distress who forgot her pepper spray at home.

Edward then takes Bella to a restaurant where he dazzles the, naturally straight, waitress with his unbelievable good looks. He asks Bella how she’s feeling, explaining, “I’m actually waiting for you to go into shock” (p. 168), because, naturally, that is the first reaction a female has to physical danger.

As mentioned earlier, Bella assigned herself kitchen duty for the duration of her stay in Forks. After school and obsessing over Edward, cooking is the only other activity the reader regularly sees Bella engage in. Bella listens to music in passing, reads a bit in passing (romances such as Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice), but she has no other hobbies. She doesn’t paint or write. She doesn’t scrapbook or play an instrument. She doesn’t play video games or read voraciously. She doesn’t talk on the phone or play a sport. She thinks about Edward, talks to Edward, schemes to be with Edward, does some homework, and cooks for her dad, who is largely ungrateful as he watches sports on television and goes fishing on the weekends.

Besides promoting traditional gender roles, Bella fully embraces society’s current standard for female beauty. Bella observes Rosalie, one of Edward’s “sisters,” narrating, “The tall one was statuesque. She had a beautiful figure, the kind you saw on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, the kind that made every girl around her take a hit on her self-esteem just by being in the same room” (p. 18). Three paragraphs later, she remarks, regarding why she couldn’t look away from the five “siblings,” “…their faces, so different, so similar, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. They were faces you never expected to see except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine” (p. 19). Bella believes that beauty is found in the glossy pages of mass media and nowhere else. There is no place for the beautiful, full figured woman, or the beautiful woman who looks like a human. Nor is there a place for the physically unattractive person who is still valuable. Bella’s only definition of beauty is that which conforms to the airbrushed models found in fashion magazines. Over seventy times, Bella mentions how beautiful the vampires are, in one way or another. Often it is in reference to Bella’s reaction to Edward’s “outrageous perfection” (p. 322). Other times it is within the context of Bella’s perceived plainness in comparison. Bella’s view of herself and her value has been completely and totally shaped by modern definitions of beauty, shallow as they are. As such, she sees herself as plain and therefore, without value.

As disturbing as Bella’s embracement of gender stereotypes and feminine beauty are, what is truly disturbing is her apology for abusive and controlling relationships. As Wendy Nosid of community.feministing.com said, “Bella’s choices are troubling, sure, but it’s the blatant romanticism of what she and [Edward do], excuses of him doing these things “out of love” and “to protect her” that makes her an anti-feminist figure” (http://community.feministing.com).

When asked if Bella is an anti-feminist heroine, Meyer, believing the accusation springs from Bella’s choice to marry early and carry a unexpected and life threatening pregnancy to term, argues that the accusations are invalid because Bella exercises her right to choose—the right to choose that feminists have fought for. Meyer says, “I never meant for her fictional choices to be a model for anyone else’s real life choices…she’s in a situation that none of us has ever been in, because she lives in a fantasy world.” (www.stepheniemeyer.com)

Meyer is correct. Bella does live in a fantasy world, filled with vampires and werewolves. However, if the vampire and werewolf aspects are removed from the story, you are left with a story which fits the description of an abusive relationship: “a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a[n]…intimate partner” (http://stanford.edu/group/svab/relationships.shtml). Stanford.edu gives sixteen “signs or ‘red flags’ to assist people in identifying a potentially abusive person” (http://www.stoprelationshipabuse.org/signs.html). Edward exhibits 13 of the 16.

Rachel Allen, a California mom, whose daughter defended Twilight with the “it’s just a fantasy” argument, writes, “[T]he thing is, the romance is not really the fantasy part. The romance is presented as the realistic part.” (www.canow.org)

And therein lays the danger. Feminists have fought for women to be free to make their own choices, even if those choices are not perhaps the wisest. Bella, however, is not really free to make choices. She has been so convinced that she is unappealing that when an attractive boy shows her the slightest attention, she swoons completely. She spends the entire first novel marveling that such an attractive boy would deem her worthy of attention, much less love. She is utterly convinced that she has so little value that she believes it will hurt her parents less to lose her completely than to experience even a modicum of danger. She spends most of the second book (2006, New Moon) in the depths of depression (for which she receives no professional help) because Edward has left her.

It is only when she becomes a vampire herself, gaining the beauty and strength she so admired in Edward, that she gains any value (in her own eyes). Instead of working hard and making choices to better herself, Bella waits for Edward to “rescue” her from her humanity (and its inherent plainness, clumsiness, and fragility) by turning her into vampire.

Again, while no reader can make that exact decision, ten minutes flipping through a stack of popular magazines or surfing through television channels will reveal many other “miracle” cures. From diet pills, hair care products, teeth whiteners to Wonder bras. The “cure” to all of a girl’s problems is just waiting, furthering the belief that something outside oneself can fix the inside.

It is not Bella’s decisions to choose a “traditional” role that makes her an anti-feminist heroine. Meyer’s is mistaken if she believes that is the root of the issue. The root of the issue is the glorifying and romanticizing of gender stereotypes, cookie cutter beauty standards, and abuse. These are what makes Bella Swan an anti-feminist heroine and Twilight inappropriate reading for…well, everyone.

References

Allen, Rachel. (2008, November 24). Feminist mom talks Twilight. California National Organization for Women. Retrieved November 6, 2009, from http://www.canow.org/canoworg/2008/11/feminist- mom-talks-twilight.html

Meyer, Stephanie. (2005). Twilight. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company

Meyer, Stephanie. (2009, August 28). Frequently asked questions: Breaking Dawn. Retrieved November 6, 2009, from http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/bd_faq.html

Nosid, Wendy. (2008, September 20). Stephenie Meyer side-steps anti-feminist allegations. Retrieved November 6, 2009, from http://community.feministing.com/2008/09/stephanie-meyer-side-steps-ant.html

Sax, Leonard. (2008, August 17). “Twilight” sinks its teeth into feminism. The Washington Post. Retrieved November 6, 2009,, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/15/AR2008081503099.html

 

After all that, I found this video and it’s just too perfect to not share. Enjoy!


 

I love my car November 16, 2009

Filed under: Anecdotal,germany,Reviews — Addicted to Yarn @ 11:29 am
Tags: , , ,

Last summer, my husband bought me a car. Yes, we discussed it before hand but, recognizing his superior knowledge and intuition regarding automobiles, he had the final say. And I am, oh, so glad he did.

Last Saturday dawned as the four days before it had–gray, cloudy, foggy, dreary, depressing, oppressively depressing, gray, blah, foggy. Get the point? Jael and I had a lunch date with some friends so continuing to hide out in the house was not an option. We got into my Volvo V70, with the five-cylinder turbo-charged diesel and five-speed manual transmission, and headed for the base.

Volvo V70, turbo-charged, five-cylinder diesel

2000 Volvo V70

While I detest weather such as we had that day, my car loves it. Never does the Volvo sound happier, shift smoother, and purr more contentedly than when the weather is crushing my soul. This is a good thing, as I absolutely LOVE driving the Volvo when it sounds like that and it has an enormous effect on my mood.

From the deep growl of low RPM’s to the throaty purr of high RPM’s (assisted by the turbo), the car wants to fly down the road. Only on foggy, dreary days do I have a hard time keeping it under 100 (kilometers per mile, about 60) on the way to base. On foggy, dreary days, I find myself flying along at 110-120 kph. As a ticket would NOT help my mood, I am constantly having to break the rhythm of the car’s song.

But even with the speed limit cramping my style, I arrived at the post office/meeting place with a happy heart. My morning funk had been completely dissipated by the joy of driving such an incredible machine. Better than Prozac.

 

“Thundering Hooves” where are you? October 21, 2009

Filed under: Anecdotal,Reviews — Addicted to Yarn @ 3:15 pm

poundinghoovesI had a book when I was a young girl, twelve or so. It was called “Thundering Hooves.” It was about a girl who loved horses. She lived on a farm with her mom, dad and brother. She had had a young horse who threw her dad, who broke his arm, lost his job and subsequently, she was forbidden from having another horse. Her neighbor gets a new horse, an Arabian, and our heroine falls in love with it. She gentles the horse, who had been traumatized by harsh treatment. Her neighbor then sells the horse to the rich snotty girl, who is completely inept when it comes to handling the spirited horse. The heroine goes through a number of schemes trying to raise the money in order to buy the horse but things always seem to fall apart. But when the spirited horse freaks out during a parade, the rich girl is more than willing to trade our heroine her spirited but uncontrollable horse for the heroine’s more docile horse. Everyone’s happy.

Except me. Because this book doesn’t exist. Yeah, it really doesn’t.

*********

Until today when I realized that the book was titled “Pounding Hooves.” It was written by Dorothy Grundbock Johnston. Right there on Amazon. I’m seriously retarded. I’ve been looking for this book (mostly just because I couldn’t ever find it) and the whole time I was looking for the book by the wrong name. No wonder I couldn’t find it, eh?

Such is life.