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Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Children’s Literature – Illustration

In Art, Education, Life in Society on August 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm

NCCIL Art Camps

Wonderful video, featuring a marvelous teacher, about an art workshop for kids at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature. Future professional (or everyday) artists learn from the work of established ones. Students make art and enjoy themselves doing it.

~ H.R.

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Feminism – Part Three

In Life in Society on August 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Photo Courtesy Teen Missions International

By Bekah McNeel

Feminism is still the F-word because it threatens our sense of worth.

Before she gave his hunting trophies the premier position in our living room, my mother would say, “Your poor father has lived in a pink and floral house his whole adult life.” She was correct. My mother was an interior decorator of the 80’s and 90’s and got really into mauve, Laura Ashley®, and Waverly. My dad didn’t decorate anything. He was a football player, turned boxer, turned tile-importer. He’s color-blind too, so mauve wasn’t exactly a concern to him.

Meanwhile, we were becoming teenagers with a love of movie posters. After a year of looking at my “collage” of handsome men, my mom’s solution was to customize our bedrooms so that the only place to hang an obnoxious oversized George Clooney was in the closet. Regardless of the level of permanence, no one made an aesthetic decision in our home without consulting the mom. She once made the tile setter redo the tile three times because he got the design wrong.

The house was my mother’s domain exclusively. Not that she was a fainting violet. She did her own fair share of the “hard hat” work, serving as general contractor for our rustic reconstruction of a demolished 19th century Texas Hill Country home. She did a lot of the labor herself. This was the point at which she decided to display my dad’s hunting trophies. And then she began making statements like, “You know what would really look great in here? A ram.” So my dad went to Colorado and shot a ram. He’s an ethical hunter, which meant that we ate ram that year…all winter. The next year we ate black buck antelope. And so forth until the wall was full of memorials to dinners gone by. That was my parents’ most collaborative decorating effort.

So imagine my surprise when, upon marrying an architect with a reputation as an ascetic, I found that even a simple trip to IKEA was an event worthy of its own C-SPAN channel. I knew from the look on his face when I pulled out my box of picture frames and colorful world-textiles that decorating the house was not going to be left to my discretion. In our house, instead of Laura Ashley® and mauve, it’s stainless steel and white. The nacho-cheese-colored cabinets and the winterfresh-chewing-gum blue wall in the bathroom are my hunting trophies.

[Before anyone pities me, let me run that by again: nacho-cheese and winterfresh-chewing-gum. Yes, left up to me our home would look like Frida Khalo’s house. I’m not the designer; he is. I don’t read the directions; he does. I don’t straighten up before we have guests; he does.]

It took me a while to embrace this, because all my life aesthetics and home were within the woman’s domain. Men were the more pragmatic, proud, tough sex. Women made things beautiful. When my husband put together a home worthy of a newspaper write-up, a little part of me questioned my femininity. If this desert-wandering, cargo-shorts-wearing, unshaven, creature could put together a dining room, what was I going to do?

My anxiety reflected a very complex worldview that is more common than it is rare. That there are certain things that make women “feminine” and things that make men “manly.” And without those things, we would have nothing to give each other. If I lack feminine charms, then I’ll have men as colleagues, friends, and brothers…but never as a romantic partner. In short, it’s my sexually-defined uniqueness that makes me attractive. And I believe that we are terrified to lose it.

For many people feminism is still the “f-word” because “it makes women act like men.” And I think a lot of would-be feminists shrink from the label because they’re afraid of being labeled “bitchy” or “butch.” They don’t want to be undesirable, because that would decrease their worth in a world where we are all competing to justify our existence.

Many women have bought the lie that their worth lies in how much men desire them. Not just for their physical appearance, though that is most obvious in places like Hollywood, but also for the distinct feminine qualities that they will bring to a man’s life.

But what does that even mean? Is it acting like a man to get a paycheck, enjoy exercise (not just to keep a slim waist!), and stand up to bullies? What does that mean for being a woman, I wonder? We’re supposed to work for free, diet ourselves to death, and cry to get our way? And what about asking men to help around the house? Is it asking a man to act like a woman to do the dishes? To talk to his children? To be a warm and welcoming host?

Inherent to the argument are that women are to be passive and preoccupied with beauty while men are to be aggressive and preoccupied with function. So what to do with the masculine beauty of my living room? Or the seven-page spreadsheet prepared by one of our female friends as evidence in a court case? We have plenty of evidence around us to prove that the world is not gender-specific. Katherine Hepburn became a women’s fashion icon in men’s trousers. Jon Bon Jovi became a male heartthrob with long, flowing blonde hair.

Femininity is more than lipstick and giggling. Masculinity is more than red meat and grunting.  They are qualities from within the man or the woman themselves; they are instincts, ideas, and inclinations as well as a set of biological necessities. Outside the biologically obvious, we could argue all day about what exactly defines femininity and masculinity. Is it feminine to be collaborative and masculine to be hierarchical? Maybe. But more importantly, do both men and women have the ability to work collaboratively or function in a hierarchy? I think they do.

That’s not to say that some women (and men) don’t try to purposely defy their sex. But trying to transgress my own womanhood is different than trying to transgress its limits. It is a very different thing to say, “I want to be a man,” than to say, “I want to build race cars.” Can a woman build race cars as a woman? Is there something inherently unfeminine about machines?

For years I’ve relished men and women who defy gender roles in ways that do not compromise their sexuality. My hairdresser is a handsome, well-dressed, floppy-haired guy with a wife and two kids. He hunts and kayaks too. Katherine Hepburn in her famous men’s trousers is one of my heroes, but not nearly as much as Ruby Bridges, the African-American little girl who stood up to the bullies of segregated New Orleans to attend an all-white elementary school. That’s bravery. That’s politics and confrontation. What’s more, is that Ruby Bridges did it with grace and poise. She went into battle her way, and her example is all the more poignant because against the screaming crowds, in front of the dominating stone building stands a little girl, in a little school dress with all the power to inspire generations. Ruby Bridges redefines power by contrasting the big bold action with the humble, delicate actor.

In the words of Charles Wright, “It’s not how you look when you’re doin’ what you’re doin’. It’s what you’re doin’ when you’re doin’ what you look like you’re doin’.”

There are lots of examples from the world of politics, arts, and culture of individual men and women refusing to acknowledge the false boundaries of what their gender “can” and “cannot” do. But perhaps the main way I see this difference played out is in the workplace. While we are getting past the stigma that once made made high-earning women undateable (http://ideas.time.com/2012/03/15/why-men-are-attracted-to-high-earning-women/), we have a long way to go in considering that being not just a woman or a man in the workplace, but a person is a battle for one’s identity. I think feminism goes off the rails when it touts that getting into the workplace will solve a woman’s problems. Even that getting to the “head of the table” will solve her problems.  Even for the traditional “liberated” woman who has made peace with living in “a man’s world” and even succeeded beyond what our mothers thought possible another snare looms, threatening her worth. This is the same snare that men are beginning to question as well: does my financial contribution/compensation tell me what I’m worth?

For decades in the United States, women have faced the false dilemma of being a mother or a worker. Women have been made to feel that they are somehow deficient in one arena if they pursue the other with any seriousness. However, in other countries men and women are expected to play roles as mother and father as well as workers. When Save the Children recently put out it’s State of the World’s Mothers report (http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.8047221/k.71F5/Chronic_Malnutrition_and_Child_Survival__Index.htm?msource=weolpstw0512), the U.S. ranked embarrassingly low on the roster of places that made it possible to work as a mother. For a nation with the world’s largest economy to rank 25th on places where it is good to be a mother is a disparity worth noting. Have we drawn the dichotomy between mothers and workers because it’s what’s best for the kids? I don’t know. Is it best for the kids to have fathers who do not know how to interact with them because they are at work before the child wakes and home after they are asleep? I’m not making a statement about what’s best for kids. I’m just questioning who is getting to decide. It’s a hard sell to say that our commitment to family leads us to make the workplace difficult for mothers. I think it’s our commitment to Profit. And Profit is a King whose demands know no limits. We tend to treat the workplace like it is a predetermined set of standards, practices, and norms. Like we have no control over the market and what it demands of us.  We do what we have to do to make more money, and biology, family, and personhood will have to accommodate.

Feminism is still the “F-word” because it is an enemy to the bottom line. In 1969 when Carol Hanisch wrote, “The Personal is Political” (http://www.carolhanisch.org/” http://www.carolhanisch.org/ CHwritings/PIP.html), I think the market let out a huge groan. They knew that this was going to muck up the works. After all, people are messy, and if they brought that mess with them to work then “work” was going to change. It was going to have to slow down and take some things into consideration. Humanity is bad for the bottom line…or at least we’ve been trained to think so. But in a changing world, people (men and women alike!) are starting to realize the high value of a balanced life, which is really part of the feminist argument.

When Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook addressed Harvard Business School before this years commencement, she said this,

“We need to start talking openly about the flexibility all of us need to have both a job and a life.  A couple of weeks ago in an interview I said that I leave the office at 5:30 p.m. to have dinner with my children.  I was shocked at the press coverage.  One of my friends said I couldn’t get more headlines if I had murdered someone with an ax.  This showed me this is an unresolved issue for all of us, men and women alike.  Otherwise, everyone would not write so much about it.” (http://poetsandquants.com/2012/05/24/sheryl-sandbergs-class-day-speech-at-harvard-business-school/)

In other parts of the world, countries have made steps to encourage personhood in the workplace.  Paternity leave makes maternity leave look less like a luxury and more like a basic necessity. Women are encouraged to nurture and breastfeed their children, and workplaces make that possible. Because women are part of their workforce. Think about it: if an office building goes to all the trouble of putting urinals on the wall in one set of bathrooms, doesn’t it make sense that they would accommodate women’s biological needs as well. Working doesn’t mean that a woman is trying to be a man. She can work as a woman, if the culture will let her, rather than penalize her for it with lower wages and inflexibility to accommodate her biological role as a mammalian mother. Maybe the classic picture of the disengaged dad wouldn’t be so sadly common if paternity leave were more available and men assumed that their role in their children’s lives was as vital to their manliness as their paycheck.

The brittle social fabric of an overly gendered world has benefited no one. Talent has been wasted, children have been ignored, marriages have suffered. If we had a more supple fabric, one that could twist and stretch to accommodate the various changes in a human’s life –maturity, education, family– we might be better equipped to lead the world, not with force and coercion but with innovation, prosperity and equity.

So, who shapes the workplace? Who decides the length of a workday, the number of vacation days, the length of medical leave and company insurance plans? We have the ability to change these things, but it will not be without a fight.

Here’s a quote from another “go get ‘em” speech delivered at the Barnard College commencement ceremony by President Obama:

“Those who oppose change, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, have always bet on the public’s cynicism or the public’s complacency. Throughout American history, though, they have lost that bet, and I believe they will this time as well.  But ultimately, Class of 2012, that will depend on you. Don’t wait for the person next to you to be the first to speak up for what’s right. Because maybe, just maybe, they’re waiting on you.” (http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2012/05/14/transcript-of-obamas-barnard-college-commencement-address/)

Part Two

Part One

Comic Book Art

In Art, Life in Society on August 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm

By Heila Rogers

Wonder Woman was my favorite comic book hero growing up. She was my superhero of choice. I’d buy the newest Wonder Woman comic every week, when with our weekly allowance my sister and I would ride our bikes to the 7/11 store. She’d choose from a selection of more expensive candy on the top row, whereas I’d get a few single pieces from the bottom, because after 35¢ for the reading material, there wasn’t much money for candy left over. We were both happy. Sometimes on our way home, we’d settle in a circle of bushes on the adjacent college campus and spend a few minutes enjoying our purchases.

It was an easy spending choice for me, I looked forward to reading the new stories. Years later, I now wonder if it was a true choice. Wonder Woman was the only female superhero with her own adventures. Batwoman and Supergirl were around, but they didn’t appear very often and were very secondary characters.

I still enjoy and seek out different kinds of art and reading. At first glance, comic books seem to be an art-plus- reading match made in heaven. From what I understand, graphic novels are now popular at least partly for that same reason, which is the combination of art and story.

But then I researched modern comic books, after recently visiting a workshop given by a well-known comic book artist. Beforehand when checking out his work, I’d felt slapped in the face. My impression was certain drawings were sexist, women were undressed, artificially and pornographically drawn, and firmly objectified. His talent and technique were good, but I found a lot of the subject-matter appalling. When I investigated further into the current comic book world, I found even worse distortion and perversion. Wonder Woman back in 1976  definitely had elements of sexism, but the old costumes were almost like Little House on the Prairie outfits compared to now.

Woman on street of old town Quito

Photo by Roger Brown
Everyday Heroism
Quito, Ecuador

Please beware that the following examination of this subject will contain tacky and offensive content, because that’s the nature of the beast.

During subsequent online research I found this hilarious-but-important article by Luke McKinney in Cracked.com about the “Power Girl” character and her lack of a decent costume. I thought his perspective was especially provocative because a) he’s male and b) he’s not “a conservative:”

Charged with making a female Superman, Power Girl’s costume designer’s only thoughts were “breasts” and “done.” They’d already given Supergirl a miniskirt (and, as a consequence, the entire population of Metropolis got a panty shot). With Power Girl, they upped the ante and opened a tit-window. Most spandex heroes have a symbol on their chest summarizing their character, and so does Power Girl: an empty hole full of cleavage.

There is no counterargument. Fans and writers have tried to explain Power Girl’s breast-viewing port several times, and each theory is more ridiculously unsupported than the breasts they’re attempting to justify.

The most common (and ridiculous) explanation is, “I am strong and empowered and therefore love being naked and stared at.” You know, the same reason Superman flies around in a thong. One writer claims it’s to show that she’s healthy… 

http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-5-most-ridiculously-sexist-superhero-costumes/

A cursory look at today’s comic books reveals females looking like they’ve all had boob jobs and males looking inflated on steroids. Yes superheroes are supposed to be supernaturally strong, but this is different, unnatural and over-the-top. Plus, they’re often dressed like on-duty strippers. This is heroism?

People don’t want reality though, one might say. That’s what fiction is for, escapism.

Except for the truth that the best ‘creative unreality’, the best fiction, the most enduring literature has a universal, real element to it.

The human factor is paramount.

Back to Wonder Woman’s 1970’s costume. She had the American flag-inspired swimsuit and the red boots. Also the golden wrist cuffs which were impervious to bullets and a defensive weapon, and the golden lasso. She had her invisible plane which she could summon from afar. Her tiara could be thrown like a combination boomerang / ninja star. The unbreakable lasso was also a kind of polygraph device. A handy tool to use with recalcitrant villains. And a great literary tool.

Notice that all the male superheroes have full bodysuits. Their skin is covered from neck to toe. In fact, their costumes are often imbued with special powers (or they have the ubiquitous cape – Wonder Woman did occasionally wear a cape, too – but mostly for “dress-up”). I imagine the extra fabric covering their arms and legs at least offers some protection from burns, weathe,r and other dangers they encounter while saving the world.

A bit of humor from the film: The Incredibles:No Capes!

Let’s look at something else. Not just how female superheroes are dressed, what their costumes look like, nor even their bodies — but how they are “arranged.” How they are drawn, in relation to other characters. In the case below, we’ll compare and contrast “posing” in new and old comic books.

Posing is a term this blog author discusses:

In contrast female superheroes are generally not posed like athletes or superheroes, but as pliant submissive porn stars and preening supermodels. With alarming regularity they don’t look like athletes, heroes, conquerors, or badasses, but as nothing more than soulless beautiful objects and sexual temptresses, and so that is the assumption readers can make as well. Women as objects. Women as sexual. Women certainly not as heroes.

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/02/21/she-has-no-head-no-its-not-equal/

A 1970’s copy of Wonder Woman that I came across since beginning this article (above) shows a green-suited villain crouched on a rooftop, clutching a small blond girl wearing a bright pink dress. The child dangles wide-eyed over the street below. At the bad-guy’s feet is an open briefcase, full of obviously stolen, glowing jewelry. The dastardliness of it!! Wonder Women has apparently just arrived. She leaps onto the roof brandishing her shining golden lasso in a loop above her head, cowgirl-style, her other arm raised, fist-clenched.

“STAY BACK, WONDER WOMAN… OR THE KID DIES!” says the bubble above “The Bouncer’s” head.

Contrast this type of art, with the consistent and … boring … sexualization of female comic book characters I came across in 2012.

 On the left: Wonder Woman’s obviously flown up there for a rescue reason and is doing something brave and strong. Tension is heavy in the time-is-running-out scene. She’s a woman in a swimsuit, but she’s got a job to do and she’s doing it. Versus on the right: Uh … there’s a plane far below in this picture, so we know she’s … posing … in the sky now. The body looks unnatural, a floating object.


On the left, “It’s my job to Bring You In!” versus on the right, Nothing? Could the caption be, “My mammary glands are what’s most important about me,” and, “I’m frowning?” No story implied on the right at all.

Linda Carter from the Wonder Woman TV show (1974 – 1979) on the left. This shot seems to say, “I stand for truth and justice. I am strong and capable, don’t mess with me.” Also design-wise, her costume has value – the eagle on the bodice, the star-patterned fabric. The second picture seems to say, “I am … breasts?” Or maybe, “I am … about to start a high-kick routine?” Not even that. I can’t even see her moving at all, or doing anything but … posing.

Might I suggest that artists and others in the industry help themselves break out of a single, repetitive mold of falsely drawn and conceptualized female characters? There are no two women (or men!) the same and they are ALL beautiful. Base some interesting and exciting characters on that. Who would argue that people you meet who are chock-full of love for others and enjoyment of life are not brimming with beauty, and powerful in a good way? We’ve all experienced this, and are attracted to it. I’d like to suggest that reinforcement of false ways of looking at people limits the good experiences that can be had in life. It also makes for a warped society and dull, offensive comic book art.

How did we get this way? How did it get to this point?

Let’s have some real heroes and more exciting stories and drawings.

Irena Sendler

Click here to read about Irena Sendler (above at age 95 in Warsaw) and a group of young Polish women who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children during World War II.

 

Photo Sources:

Powergirl

http://maidofmight.net/gallery/1737-2/Power_Girl_TPB__2006_.jpg http://www.weeklycrisis.com/2010/06/trade-waiting-power-girl-new-beginning.html http://www.razorfine.com/comics/powergirl-20/

Wonder Woman

http://mattandcathavebackissues.com/movie-reviews/ http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Wonder_Woman/Covers http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Freedom_Fighters/Covers