Thursday, February 16, 2012

int 290: born this way?: 20th and 21st century American feminisms and popular culture

This blog post captures the heart of my INT 290 presentation on 20th and 21st century American feminisms and popular culture. This presentation will include several videos, that are posted in separate blog entries. Students will also be doing interactive interpretive activities and freewrites throughout the class to engage with the material. 

What is Feminism? Why Feminisms?
Take a few minutes to jot down your definition of feminism. If you have no idea, please say so! 

How Others Have Defined Feminism, For Better or For Worse
"I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute." Rebecca West, 20th Century Author

"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." Pat Robertson, Christian Televangelist

"Feminist politics aims to end domination, to free us to be who we are - to live lives where we love justice, where we can live in peace. Feminism is for everybody." bell hooks, feminist philosopher

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." Simone de Beauvoir, French philosopher

"I'm not a feminist, but... I appreciate the right to help choose my government representatives. I enjoy the option of wearing pants or shorts if I want. I'm pleased that I was allowed to learn to read and write. It can be very convenient to control how many babies I want to have. It's awfully useful to be able to open a bank account and own property in my name. I like knowing that my husband or boyfriend cannot legally beat me. It's really swell to keep the money that I earn." poster from One Angry Girl

What Feminism Really Is
Equality for all persons, regardless of sex or gender.

The Sex-Gender Distinction
Simone de Beauvoir's famous quote from her book The Second Sex, “One is not born but becomes a woman” speaks to the difference between sex (biology) and gender (culture).

In what ways is this distinction complicated?!?

Feminism's Relationship to Patriarchy
We live in a patriarchal society--that is, a society structured around an unequal sexual division of power dominated by men.

My favorite way of understanding patriarchy is through author and scholar Allan Johnson's definition:

"A society is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered. It is also organized around an obsession with control and involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women" (Johnson 5).

Johnson, Allan. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997.

What examples do we have that patriarchy still exists? 

Representation in US Congress 2011:
Men 357
Women 78

Men 33
Women 17

And how does Wisconsin represent? Since 1917, Wisconsin has had 2 female House members (2005, 1999) and 0 female Senators.

(Women in Congress)

Representation in Fortune 500 CEOs:
Currently, 12 F500 Companies are run by women.
(Fortune 500)

What are some other ways that we see Patriarchy at work?

Current Events:

Contraception Hearing, February 16, 2012


Photo from Fox News
How Has Feminism Made a Difference in America?
Many feminists chronicle the history of the movement in waves--movements that ebb and flow and overlap.

First Wave: Focus on voting rights, from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and the creation of the Declaration of Sentiments to the right to vote in 1920.

Second Wave: Focus on political issues, including women in the workplace, equitable relationships, and reproductive rights. Two key phrases: "the personal is political" and "the problem with no name."

photo by Warren Leffler of a Women's Liberation March in Washington, D.C., 1970

Third Wave: 1990s-present. Focus on multiculturalism, individualism, popular culture, body issues. Sex positive. Choice feminism. Men included more explicitly. Use of social media to share feminist messages:  and

Postfeminism: rejects women as victims in several key ways, such as questioning date rape and not questioning pornography or sex work. tends to be heterosexist. a backlash to second wave feminism, critiquing feminism as a monolithic movement the prescribes personal behavior. Camille Paglia.

(Waves of Feminism)

Popular Music and Feminism:
Madonna: debut album, Madonna, 1983. Feminist scholar bell hooks on Madonna: "What some of us like about her is the way she deconstructs the myth of "natural" white girl beauty by exposing the extent to which it can be and is usually artificially constructed and maintained. She mocks the conventional racist defined beauty ideal even as she rigorously strives to embody it...Madonna never lets her audience forget that whatever "look" she acquires is attained by hard work--it ain't natural" (qtd. in Zeisler 86-87). Zeisler herself states that "Madonna's refusal to fess up to who and what she truly represented made her a logical, frustrating, and complex icon" (87).

Zeisler, Andi. Feminism and Pop Culture. Berkeley: Seal, 2008.

What's the verdict: Madonna's Super Bowl show
Madonna performs at the 2012 Superbowl Halftime Show, image from marqueeblogs

As you watch "Express Yourself" (1989), consider the message of the song, as well as the images in the video. In what ways are the messages and images feminist? Complex? Confusing? Strange?

Lady Gaga: debut album, The Fame, 2008.

 photo of Lady Gaga from the Monster Ball Tour, 2010. photo from wikipedia, 
revamped image by John Robert Charlton.

Lady Gaga's Meat Dress 

Lady Gaga has recently discussed her issues with bulimia and calls for an end to "the diet wars."

As you watch "Born This Way" (2011), also pay attention to the messages and images. In what ways are they feminist? Strange? Complex? Confusing?

Two interesting applications of feminist theories to Lady Gaga as a performer, and this video in particular:

Judith Butler: concept of Performitivity: "The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality--once again" (qtd. in Felluga).

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Butler: On Performitivity." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Purdue U. 6 April 2011.

Donna Harraway: from "A Cyborg Manifesto" (1991): "I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." Article about how new technology can bring us outside of the confines of our bodies.

And, for ten different scholarly interpretations of Lady Gaga's video "Born This Way," check out the blog Gaga Stigmata.

Finally, we must discuss the latest female musical sensation: Adele. Last weekend, she won 6 grammys, beating Lady Gaga for best album! Does she represent a new future of women in music and popular culture?

Consider her response to designer Karl Lagerfield's comments about her body...

Adele, with her 6 grammys, image from the washington examiner website, attributed to Getty Images.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

eng 290: american ex-pat writers, part two

As we discussed last week, the two main waves of American ex-pat writers in Paris visited in the twenties and in the fifties. One important note is that some of the most famous Paris-inspired writing from the Lost Generation was actually published much later. Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his time in Paris in the twenties, was, according to Adam Gopnik, "the ultimate fifties echo of the Paris twenties" (xxiii). An interesting publishing note: A Moveable Feast was "published posthumously in 1964" (Gopnik xxiii). When Hemingway died (he committed suicide), he didn't consider the book finished. Motoko Rich explains that "[Hemingway's first wife, Mary] created a final chapter that dealt with the dissolution of Hemingway’s first marriage and the beginning of his relationship with Pauline, building some of it from parts of the book he had indicated he did not want included" (Rich). This newest edition is an attempt to restore the book more in line with Hemingway's wishes. Whichever version we read, this is a remininiscence about earlier days, an attempt to capture the Parisian moment of the twenties from tha vantage point of the fifties and sixties.

In the 1930s, American Jazz, and a wave of African American writers traveled to Paris. Gopnik notes that the French fascination with American jazz has endured (xxv). As for the writers, they too succumbed to the illusion that Paris offered more freedom than at home. James Baldwin, however, introduced a note of reality, and, according to Gopnik, "wrote, ruefully, about the disillusioning reality of being a black man in Paris, the good city of equality that turns out to be just as treacherous as New York" (xxvi).

Artists in Montmartre, Life Magazine, 1960

After World War II, American writers and artists once again flocked to Paris, "drawn to a city they had never seen but already knew through the writings of the generations that preceded them," as Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno notes in The Continual Pilgrimage: American Writers in Paris, 1944-1960 (3). This wave of writers was inspired by both the promise of Paris and their experience of the city through the earlier wave of writers covered in last week's blog entry (Sawyer-Laucanno 4). One of the biggest attractions was a sense of "artistic enfranchisement"—that is, writers and other artists felt accepted and even celebrated for being artists while in Paris (Sawyer-Laucanno 4). Sadly, this was not necessarily the case back in the United States.

This wave of writers, once again a diverse crowd containing the academic and "bohemian," the realist and experimental, attracted both positive and negative attention at home and abroad. Sawyer-Laucanno notes that though French graffiti declared "US Go Home," many French felt much more connected to this group of American ex-pats than there predecessors, because this wave connected more with French people and culture (6). Publications like the venerable Life magazine attempted to capture the ex-pat experience, but often wound up romanticizing or bohemianizing the artists (5).

Paris remains an important piece of American literature in the mid-late twentieth century because it "nurtured this generation immeasurably by providing an environment that encouraged the art and artists. translated into personal experience, this meant belief in the value and viability of writing, and beyond that belief in oneself as a creative person" (9). A sense of recognition and encouragement, a culture that celebrated artistic achievement and offered greater personal freedoms (especially for African American and homosexual writers)...this is Paris' gift to these artists. Their literature, in turn, is their gift to us: an insight into American literature and culture, created outside of the limiting bounds of post-war America.

William S. Burroughs, in a Paris Cafe, 1959

Writers and Artists reunite in Paris, 1959

Since the storied days of the fifties, much writing about Paris has focused on one of my favorite topics: food. Julia Child's monumental work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, transformed home cookery in America, and made the pleasures of the French table irrevocably part of the American consciousness. With the recent release of the film Julie and Julia, based on Julie Powell's blog project, the allure of Paris and French food has strengthened.

Works Cited

Gopnik, Adam.

Rich, Motoko.

Sawyer-Laucanno, Christopher.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

eng 290: american ex-pat writers, part one

In 1928, American composer George Gershwin created his famous symphonic tone poem, An American in Paris. In 1951, MGM released the musical An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Carron along with Gershwin's tunes. The original music, and the later film, match the two main "waves" of American ex-patriate writers and artists who crossed the Atlantic to experience French culture.

Of course, Americans had traveled to Paris before the Lost Generation, as Ernest Hemingway and his contemporaries were called, and after the later Beat Generation, as Jack Kerouac and others of his time were called.

Today, we're going to explore the overall appeal of Europe, and Paris in particular, to American writers, and discuss some of the earlier writers to create in the City of Light.

Famous Americans Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin visited Paris in the 18th century, remarking on the "looser" mores of the French. Jefferson, especially, found French values lacking. In a letter written to Charles Bellini in September of 1785, he remarks: "Much, much inferior this [pursuit of temporary passions] to the tranquil, permanent felicity with which domestic society in America, blesses most of its inhabitant; leaving them to follow steadily those pursuits which health and reason approve, and rendering truly delicious the intervals of those pursuits" (15). At the same time, Jefferson praises "European politeness" and urges his fellow Americans to "adopt" some of these manners (15). Finally, he finds French taste in food and the various arts to be superb (15-16). Suspicious of interpersonal pleasures, but enamored of the more intellectual aspects, Jefferson's response remains a primary American reaction to French culture.

As Adam Gopnik remarks in his introduction to Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Americans traveled to Paris to be happy. This pursuit of happiness generally followed one of two paths, "one essentially bourgeois, the other bohemian" (xiv). Jefferson, Henry James, and Edith Wharton clearly fall into the former category, as they sought "hatue-bourgeois civilization of comfort and pleasure and learning and formal beauty" (Gopnik xiv). In contrast, the bohemians like Bejamin Franklin, Henry Miller, and Jack Kerouac, "tried to have as much fun in Paris as [they] could" (xv). Such distinct categories, however, don't hold. Gopnik observes that Americans found themselves switching roles as their visits progressed. Either way, Paris promised both a kind of established social order and reverence for formal aesthetics, as well as a hedonist playground for exploring the pleasures of everyday life.

Paris also represented established European wisdom, in contrast to the young, "innocent" America. Paris offered history, perspective, and tradition that the still youthful America lacked. Because of French culture's emphasis on art and aesthetics, the country, and Paris in particular, was a kind of Muse for American writers and artists, according to Harry Levin (8). In discussing Henry James' novel The Ambassadors, Levin describes American culture as "an absence of storied landmarks, the lack of literary 'paraphrenalia,' the thinness of America's cultural atmosphere" juxtaposed with "the Old World's shrines and treasures and salons" (9). Europe provides context, especially for writers.

James and Wharton both lived for considerable stretches of time in Paris, and both created novels and short stories in which characters confronted the tension between Americanness and Europeanness, all against a backdrop of propriety and social mores.

After the destruction of World War I, Paris's avant-garde, bohemian streak flourished. The British Library Online Gallery devoted to American Literature in Europe, 1850-1950, explains that "The inter-war period saw the rise of Montparnasse as the hub of the city’s artistic community, its bars and caf├ęs resounding to the pulse of “hot” jazz music and intellectual debate." Cafe culture, artistic creation, and intellectual inspiration attracted the Lost Generation writers, who saw a freedom and liveliness in Paris that was not present in American cities at the time.

The Lost Generation, a term first used by Gertrude Stein and then adopted by Ernest Hemingway, expressed the collective feelings of "doomed youth, hedonism, uncompromising creativity, and wounded—both literally and metaphorically—by the experience of war" (British Library). The British Library website offers an impressive list of the works of American Modernist writers who wrote and published in France between the World Wars.

While the writing differs--Hemingway's spare minimalist prose versus Stein's dada-esque pieces that rejected traditional aesthetics and meaning--the overarching Modernist sensibility prevailed. Modernist writers, including but limited to American ex-pats in France, sought to experiment and to "make it new," to quote poet Ezra Pound. Dealing with a world torn apart by the first World War, writers and artists played with form and content, and tried to capture the fragmented nature of reality, all the while creating a new whole. T. S. Eliot's landmark modernist poem The Wasteland winds down with these words: "The fragments I have shored against my ruins." Modernist writers wanted to put the pieces back together, but realized that they needed new ways of doing so. For the American ex-patriate writers, Paris (and in Eliot's case, London), offered more possibility for modernist play than the United States.

Sitting in cafes, visiting in Sylvia Beach's English language bookstore Shakespeare and Company, traipsing through the museums, and debating with other writers and intellectuals, the Lost Generation writers found a literary community in Paris during the period between the wars.

Ernest Hemingway in Paris, 1924, from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, courtesy of wikimedia commons.

Works Cited
British Library. Online Gallery. American Literature in Europe, 1850-1950. 21 April 2010.

Gopnik, Adam. "Introduction." Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology. Ed. Adam Gopnik.
New York: Library of America, 2004. xiii-xxxiii.

Levin, Harry. "Introduction." The Ambassadors. Henry James. NY: Penguin, 1986. 7-29.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

love of learning talk: write your love story

Every couple has a story they tell themselves and others, their original tale of how they met.

Today, we'll discuss how to take your oral story and write it down for each other, future generations, movie executives, etc.

As I tell my English composition students, you have four questions to ask yourself when you begin writing:

1. Who is my Audience?
2. What is my Purpose?
3. What is my Persona?
4. What is my Message?

Your answers to these questions will help you decide how to write your story.

There are several writing exercises that can help you recreate the memories of your first meeting and courtship. Check out the handouts of exercises from Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, and Twyla Tharp. How might you use these exercises, alone or together, to craft your story?

You'll also need to consider whether you want to write your version of the story, write one story together, or craft some kind of collaborative, back-and-forth story.

And, you'll need to decide how much of your story you want to tell. Do you want your story to be told in an essay format? Through letters? Incorporating mementos from your time together? On a blog? You have so many exciting options!

My favorite movie, When Harry Met Sally, includes many examples of couples sharing their "meet cute" stories. You'll notice that each couple has their own storytelling dynamic.