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Archive for the ‘pop culture’ Category

I love this article.. it described my experience of the 90s perfectly – right down to the economics thesis I ended up writing and the online zines I produced and the ways in which my radicalism was ultimately challenged. And it describes perfectly my concerns with where we are now. I recommend reading “No Alternative – how culture jamming was culture jammed” by Gavin Mueller in Real Life.

In the wake of Trump’s election, intellectuals and politicos have not enjoined us to create a “counterproject” media sphere to combat hegemonic ideology. They have not told us to hack, snipe, poach, or otherwise take to the semiotic hills to wage guerrilla war. Instead, we’ve been told to bolster capitalist media: to subscribe to the New York Times, to dutifully consume advertisements by whitelisting our favorite sites, to obtain our music from commercial platforms — so the artists get paid, of course.

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This goes in some interesting and very unexpected directions… breastfeeding, single parenting and the gendered expectations of sacrifice and care work.

From “Selma Blair: I’ll lose everything, I’ll go to court, I’ll be on the right side of history” by Sophie Heawood in The Guardian. 

“I was about 34. And I thought, maybe that’s right, I’ve never loved somebody unconditionally – I’ve been in love, I’ve been in lust, I’ve been crazy about someone, but I’ve never really still… no. It rang true.” This was after her two-year marriage to Frank Zappa’s son Ahmet had ended. “And then my son had some health issues and he really needed the breast milk, so that really was my job. I thought: ‘Aaaah, I guess I can die now, I got him through that!’ But I depleted myself, too, and I’m still recovering. I still have to remind myself that my own body needs healthier fats than fried food.”

She recently bought the film rights to a novel she loved, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, which is about a woman who has been caring for her sick mother for years, but one day just gets in her car and drives, only to end up in a mysterious town where nothing grows and everything has been lost and discarded from elsewhere. “It was so simple, but also metaphysical and magic. It really lifted a veil in my mind. There are so many women to play, so much room for them.” So she wrote the proposal and is now pitching it, with her as producer and possibly as the lead. She has no other work lined up “and it feels like my only salvation. I had to do this.”

But then she started talking to men in meetings about it. “They just sit like lumps, going: ‘I don’t want to like this character because she left her mother.’ Well, one, she left her mother for a drive, and two, you can’t like a woman who’s broken her back to take care of other people her whole life? You’re not gonna follow this heroine?

“Once I had my child, I realised how unfair life has been for women. When you deal with potential custody issues, which we ended up not having, but you look into it and realise this is all geared towards men now, and the court systems usually loathe single mothers. I thought, I do not have this fight in me, I don’t know how to deal with this. We’re too powerful, so we dim our shine to get through stuff. I didn’t even realise until people started speaking up how really kind of… furious… we should be allowed to be.”

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SMILF-CraveTV.jpg

Much of the darkness stems from the cultural and economic quicksand in which Bridgette Bird (Shaw) finds herself: As a would-be hookup says to her late in the first episode, “You’re living in a small room with a 2-year-old.” Working as a part-time nanny while going on acting auditions—all while trying to raise her young child, Larry—the show follows her efforts to simply keep her little family afloat, even as she makes bad decisions, acts impulsively, and tries to renew some semblance of a sex life.

While the episodes are distinctly carved up according to various misadventures (Bridgette is stuck at work while her child needs a clinic visit, Bridgette scrambles for cash to pay overdue rent), much of the ongoing narrative unfolds like an earnest indie film, inserting abrupt character backstories and plot complications at a sporadic pace. We gradually learn that Bridgette struggles with an eating disorder, that she has nannied for the same cluelessly bourgeois family (led by a reliably great Connie Britton) for years, that she has talent as an actor. But a big part of her identity is bound up with the feeling that she’s stuck, too. After being encouraged to start a vision board by a wealthier acquaintance who assures her it will help “actualize” her dreams into reality, she asks to borrow magazines, tape, scissors—then quietly adds, “I’m gonna need a dream, too.” By the end of the third episode, the strange admixture of lacerating humor and downbeat drama has gelled into something more potent and politically savvy than the sex-centric first episode might suggest.

From “SMILF is a good show with a horrible title” by Alex McLevy in AV Club. 

I really liked this series. It captured lots about the single motherhood experience – the suffocating combinations of financial and time poverty; the lack of adult space; the penalties for sexuality; the cost of childcare ‘help’ from family; the vulnerability to judgement for your parenting; the intense intimacy between mother and child.

It’s not perfect, and it’s quite dark, but I think it is probably the best series about mothering while poor since Roseanne

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The man who wrote this piece is pretty clueless about feminism, but he manages to cover a lot of interesting ground anyway. “What happens when women create explicit paintings of men?” in Elle, by John H Richardson.

“There doesn’t seem to be any real home for any of these,” she continues a bit sadly. “It doesn’t go in the kids’ room; it doesn’t go in the living room; it doesn’t go in the dining room. Decoration is still an important element for painting, and when you have something with an aggressive subject matter, it doesn’t know its place.”

But does she intend to keep doing them, I ask, even if they don’t sell?

“Yeah,” she answers. “I mean, I might die with all these dicks, for all I care.”

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This is to say two things. First, the radical feminism of the Sixties and Seventies was as mixed a bag as any political movement, from Occupy to the Bernie Sanders campaign. Second, at least in this case, feminist transphobia was not so much an expression of anti-trans animus as it was an indirect, even peripheral repercussion of a much larger crisis in the women’s liberation movement over how people should go about feeling political. In expanding the scope of feminist critique to the terrain of everyday life—a move which produced a characteristically muscular brand of theory that rivaled any Marxist’s notes on capitalism—the second wave had inadvertently painted itself into a corner. If, as radical feminist theories claimed, patriarchy had infested not just legal, cultural, and economic spheres but the psychic lives of women themselves, then feminist revolution could only be achieved by combing constantly through the fibrils of one’s consciousness for every last trace of male supremacy—a kind of political nitpicking, as it were. And nowhere was this more urgent, or more difficult, than the bedroom. Fighting tirelessly for the notion that sex was fair game for political critique, radical feminists were now faced with the prospect of putting their mouths where their money had been. Hence Atkinson’s famous slogan: “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” This was the political climate in which both Elliott and Morgan, as a transsexual woman and a suspected heterosexual woman, respectively, could find their statuses as legitimate subjects of feminist politics threatened by the incipient enshrining, among some radical feminists, of something called lesbianism as the preferred aesthetic form for mediating between individual subjects and the history they were supposed to be making—call these the personal and the political.

So while radical feminism as a whole saw its fair share of trans-loving lesbians and trans-hating heterosexuals alike, there is a historical line to be traced from political lesbianism, as a specific, by no means dominant tendency within radical feminism, to the contemporary phenomenon we’ve taken to calling trans-exclusionary radical feminism. Take Sheila Jeffreys, an English lesbian feminist recently retired from a professorship at the University of Melbourne in Australia. In her salad days, Jeffreys was a member of the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, remembered for its fiery conference paper “Political Lesbianism: The Case Against Heterosexuality,” published in 1979. The paper defined a political lesbian as “a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men” but stopped short of mandating homosexual sex. The paper also shared the SCUM Manifesto’s dead-serious sense of humor: “Being a heterosexual feminist is like being in the resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe where in the daytime you blow up a bridge, in the evening you rush to repair it.” These days, Jeffreys has made a business of abominating trans women, earning herself top billing on the TERF speaking circuit. Like many TERFs, she believes that trans women’s cheap imitations of femininity (as she imagines them) reproduce the same harmful stereotypes through which women are subordinated in the first place. “Transgenderism on the part of men,” Jeffreys writes in her 2014 book Gender Hurts, “can be seen as a ruthless appropriation of women’s experience and existence.” She is also fond of citing sexological literature that classifies transgenderism as a paraphilia. It is a favorite claim among TERFs like Jeffreys that transgender women are gropey interlopers, sick voyeurs conspiring to infiltrate women-only spaces and conduct the greatest panty raid in military history.

I happily consent to this description. Had I ever been so fortunate as to attend the legendarily clothing-optional Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival before its demise at the hands of trans activists in 2015, you can bet your Birkenstocks it wouldn’t have been for the music. Indeed, at least among lesbians, trans-exclusionary radical feminism might best be understood as gay panic, girl-on-girl edition. The point here is not that all TERFs are secretly attracted to trans women—though so delicious an irony undoubtedly happens more often than anyone would like to admit—but rather that trans-exclusionary feminism has inherited political lesbianism’s dread of desire’s ungovernability. The traditional subject of gay panic, be he a US senator or just a member of the House, is a subject menaced by his own politically compromising desires: to preserve himself, he projects these desires onto another, whom he may now legislate or gay-bash out of existence. The political lesbian, too, is a subject stuck between the rock of politics and desire’s hard place. As Jeffreys put it in 2015, speaking to the Lesbian History Group in London, political lesbianism was intended as a solution to the all-too-real cognitive dissonance produced by heterosexual feminism: “Why go to all these meetings where you’re creating all this wonderful theory and politics, and then you go home to, in my case, Dave, and you’re sitting there, you know, in front of the telly, and thinking, ‘It’s weird. This feels weird.’” But true separatism doesn’t stop at leaving your husband. It proceeds, with paranoid rigor, to purge the apartments of the mind of anything remotely connected to patriarchy. Desire is no exception. Political lesbianism is founded on the belief that even desire becomes pliable at high enough temperatures. For Jeffreys and her comrades, lesbianism was not an innate identity, but an act of political will. This was a world in which biology was not destiny, a world where being a lesbian was about what got you woke, not wet.

From “On Liking Women” by Andrea Long Chu in n+1.

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That the agents of destruction have been women simply telling their stories in public is nothing less than delicious. Women were gossiping, complaining, name-calling, and suddenly the world was listening. (In fact, historians have written extensively on the importance of gossip and its venues, such as coffeehouses, in fomenting previous revolutions.) Each tale that came tumbling out was more sordid than the last: infinite variations on the theme of sexual scumminess. The revelations weren’t exactly new, but the frame had shifted: the handsy boss, the lewd entreaties, the casting couch, were no longer going to be business as usual. Every revolution has its weapons of choice—once it was muskets and guillotines, this time around it’s “sharing” and media exposure. It wasn’t heads that were rolling, it was careers: contracts yanked, deals canceled, agents quitting, e-mail accounts shuttered. Career death is hardly nothing—it’s the modern equivalent of losing everything. (When the Times recently compiled the names of twenty-four prominent men accused of sexual harassment, it did rather bring to mind the spectacle of heads on a pike in a public square. The name conspicuously absent, unfortunately, was our groper-in-chief Donald Trump, who’s thus far managed to slither away from the variety of sexual charges lodged against him.)

About those chopped-down potentates and lords: many of them, one couldn’t help but notice, were not the most attractive specimens on the block: bulbous, jowly men; fat men who told women they needed to lose weight; ugly men drawn to industries organized around female appearance. Men with weird hair. Is it wrong of me to bring this up? We do, after all, move through the world as embodied creatures. I wondered what it felt like, if you’re such a guy, one who’s managed to accrue some significant portion of power in the world but you’re still you—coercing sex out of underlings. When you look in the mirror, is it a great white hunter you see staring back, with women as your game of choice? Sure you’ve won, you’re on top, but isn’t every win a tiny jab of confirmation about your a priori loathsomeness? If sexual domination assuages something for certain men, is it because somewhere inside lives a puny threatened runt, and extracting sexual compliance is some form of recompense? One woman, who’d fought off the advances of a naked, pleading film producer, recalled that he thereupon broke into tears and said she’d “rejected him because he was fat.”

The mantra lately heard across the land is that sexual harassment isn’t about sex, it’s about power. I wonder if this underthinks the situation: Is the man who won’t stop talking about sex a man convinced of his power, or one who’s desperate to impress you with his prowess? Failing to notice the precariousness of power encourages compliance, especially among the women targeted. If recent events tell us anything, it’s that power is a social agreement, not a stable entity. The despots had power because they did things that were socially valued and profitable, but the terms of the agreement can shift abruptly.

This is a great read! “Kick against the pricks” by Laura Kipnis in The New York Review of Books. 

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