I teach Gender and Women’s Studies, so I spend a lot of time talking about gendered representations and how screwed up they are. I read a lot of student papers about how fucked up it is that 98% of the images of women we see have the body type of maybe 3% of the country’s population. I nod, I make my checks and check-pluses, I concur wholeheartedly as students get critical about this stuff, sometimes for the first time. I’ve been teaching this stuff for over ten years, and I have to admit, sometimes it turns into white noise. Continue reading
The temperatures have dropped again, spring break is over, and most of today was spent being a grading machine after yesterday was a wash–thanks, food poisoning! None of that meant I didn’t get to ride the Surly one last time before heading back to classes. I took her out for an afternoon ride around Waverly, running errands and remembering how important it is to remember gloves, and then out for a second ride, a short one down to Station North for the opening reception of the Open Walls Baltimore (OWB) project’s second year of events. OWB is a giant art project in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore, which was designated an Arts & Entertainment district in 2002. That designation means tax benefits for redevelopment that targets artists, and tax breaks for artists who choose to live in these districts. The designation encourages new people to move into neighborhoods that are seen to be struggling due to a lack of residents, or, at least, a certain kind of resident. The arts district is great for tons of people–for artists, small business owners, and anyone who wants to see a vibrant creative scene get nourished in their city. And of course it has its problems–housing designated for artists is another kind of segregation, and isn’t that what we don’t want? And there’s the fear of gentrification–who wants to keep renting to non-artists when the real money’s in redeveloping and calling it “artist’s housing”? As the neighborhood becomes a site of value, property taxes also go up, and folks who have owned and lived in the neighborhood for a long time can find themselves priced out of their own homes. Like anything, it’s always more complicated than just saying YAY! ART! Same goes for OWB. It is a wonderful project that brings street artists from all over the world to paint ridiculously wonderful murals on some of our many, many empty walls. Who wouldn’t be excited by that? Well, there’s the part where murals and street art have become the sign of a blighted neighborhood; others argue that the project should employ some of the many Baltimore-based street artists who certainly have their own stories to tell on these walls of ours. Or maybe murals should be designed with community input–we’re the ones who move among them, after all. And then there’s the part where this year’s selection of 14 murals includes only one painted by women. One. In 2014. Wow. Now, it is certainly true that Station North Arts and Entertainment supports many women and trans artists in other ways through funding projects in the city, but OWB is what they’re known for, and that other support doesn’t change the fact that only one mural–and these things are huge and permanent–will be painted by women. The art world has a long history of just this sort of thing–check out these folks for evidence and some good history of this persistent problem. Tonight’s bike ride took me to the artistic intervention by the collective Greenpants. They projected their short video on the wall of the building that held the OWB reception, and it was howlingly good–funny, on point, and drawing attention to a thing we’re not supposed to notice–that yes, it’s all men, again. I watched a few rounds, chatted with the crowd, and then got back on my bike and headed up the hill to home, glad to live in a city that has such art, and such critical artists, and is willing to have these conversations. Now if they could just turn the heat on.
Oh, thank goodness Saturday’s here! I woke up in that mood that is only made better by a bicycle ride, so I hopped on the Surly and flew down the hill to War Memorial Plaza for the Unite Women–Maryland rally. The crowd was small, but we made the best of it. I got to give a little talk about this and that at the microphone and talk about stuff with folks after, but I wish there’d been more people–we need warm-body activism alongside our internet posting about warm-body activism. Continue reading
Warning: this blog will expose some of my latent angry lesbian feminist tendencies. I spent most of my day inside, cursing the vicious rains that are keeping me off my bike. Damn you, Nature! But it is what it is, and I managed to get quite a bit of work done, so, meh, good for me. I was working on my Introduction to Gender and Women’s syllabus for the fall semester, so that’s where my head was at when I headed out for the Britney Spears/Nicki Minag Femme Fatale 2011 tour at New Orleans Arena. I have liked Brtiney since she was a little girl. I wrote my master’s exams to her second album on repeat. I showed clips of Crossroads in my first Intro to Women’s Studies course in 2002; it really does offer a rare representation of class politics, plus, when Brit sings “I Love Rock and Roll,” well, um, I just really like that part. Every semester I talk to students about this quandary, where women’s sexual power and pleasure is an essential feminst right and fight, but also the way that the narrowing of women’s power to the sexual realm is dangerous, especially for women who have long been imagined as always already hypersexual. So, I ask my students, is Britney (or Nicki or Beyonce or Lady Gaga) a feminist figure, or is she just playing up to old damaging tropes of women’s sexual availabilty? Thing is, it’s both and neither and all of that. Nothing is either revolutionary or not, subversive or not. It depends on who’s doing the looking, what the one being looked at is putting on display, where it’s happening. It depends on the rhetorical situation. Tonight, watching so many women hobbling in heels they couldn’t trust and wearing skirts they couldn’t sit in, it just didn’t seem like the kind of feminism I want us to be fighting for, even if Britney’s show is all about her “power” as a femme fatale. It seemed like feminism as just another consumer choice, and it reminded me of this sign outside a Domino’s I passed as I pushed my bike through the rush hour crowds, America’s legends reduced to pizza with ham and pineapple on top, politics reduced to what you buy or wear. And that’s not even to touch the weird Orientalism, the “sexy” prisoner/guard motif, how we all know nobody’s actually making music but we don’t say anything, the endless dance fighting, white versus black, good versus evil, and so on. But that’s just how I read it tonight–we’ll see what I think about it in the morning. What I am sure of is that the bike is the way to get to a giant show. from the grossly underused rack and whizzing by all those suckers sitting in their cars in traffic. Ride a bike, people!
Today’s Sunday bike ride took me over to Mid-City for an iced tea and a vegan oatmeal raisin cookie (that actually turned out to be kind of good) with S., who is leaving town soon to spend some months farming in Fairbanks, Alaska. How awesome is that? I’m already scheming how I can go visit. I took the long way back Uptown to meet friends for dinner and then pedaled against the wind to Tulane to check out this year’s student production of the Vagina Monologues. Continue reading