Lately I’ve been really into weird concepts of something like failed, desperate, self-conscious deliberate performative femininity? Part of this is evidenced by the fact that I’ve been doing my hair in big curls with my kinda-crappy-blonde-dye-job and wearing a ridiculous faux-leopard coat with ripped tights and messy eyeliner, and part of it comes together more in at least 47 different e-mail conversations about books and movies with “unrepentantly fucked up” lady characters that I’ve been having with at least 5 different people of late. Some of these ideas have been written very eloquently by other folks already, and some of it is obvious and some of it is still vague, and all of it is definitely not “complete,” so, like, go at it in the comments, y’all, I wanna know what you’re thinking.
It begins, I think, with my ongoing frustration that when we are presented with male characters (or personas, or even real persons) who are basically bad people with one redeeming quality (still sleeps with a teddy bear, is a brilliant filmmaker) we let that one redeeming quality, you know, redeem them, and are collectively charmed by their fucked-up-ness. But I have a really hard time coming up with similar female examples: all of the ones I can think of we have opted to either lambast or concern-troll instead. And we always need to redeem them. They always need to learn something or be rescued, which we all know is basically the opposite of how the world really works. Kids, I am a hot mess, and almost all of the women I admire and love and am fascinated by are also hot fucking messes, and I so rarely see that represented in a real, nuanced, and fascinating way. To simplify: I am eternally tearing my hair out over the fact that I desperately want more female antiheroes. In books, film, pop culture personas, whatever. And I’ve been seeing this idea come up again and again lately.
As a brief list of some of what I’m referencing: There’s this Lana Del Rey album review, which is kind of the most astute thing I’ve read on her yet, and which hit the nail on the head of my bizarre, obsessive preoccupation with her and her aesthetic — though it condemned her where I obviously am fascinated instead. There was that Marie Calloway brouhaha, and the fantastic response to it all from Kate Zambreno, which also lead to The Rejectionist’s interview with her here. There were a bunch of folks over at Emily Books who managed to somehow misread a lot of lesbian moralism into Eileen Myles’ Inferno, when I thought it was just a book about, like, someone very funny and intelligent and unapologetic, who also lived a life that reminds me an awful lot of my life now. There was Charlize Theron in Young Adult, who would have been way fascinating if not for Diablo Cody’s frustrating insistence on de-nuancing her characters in favor of twee trope-tastic banter. There’s Cat Marnell at XOJane and the no-nonsense-it’s-okay-to-be-human writing at Rookie. Sarah’s and my Rayanne Project (which sort of fizzled out probably partially because I am a little bit too much of a whacked-out womanchild to coordinate and motivate folks to write me things like that, but the stuff that’s up there is still amazeballs!) The Amy-Winehouse-inspired couture collection that Gaultier showed yesterday. Courtney Love, like, in general.
I am really into this, you guys.
So a few weeks ago The Rejectionist and I were having one of our weird long gmail conversations about, like, this thing pissed us off and should we buy these pants and have you seen this cool thing on the internet and OMG the 90s, which naturally progressed into lengthy discussions about My So Called Life, because I mean, what else is there worth talking about? And we realized that the same thing kept coming up — we get it, Jordan Catalano leans really well and like everyone ever thinks they’re Angela, but what about Rayanne? While Angela’s the central character and the “most relatable” because of her “most normal” life, why don’t we ever take Rayanne seriously? Why is it that she’s relegated to the secondary character of “the one with quirky style and attitude but like kind of an unhinged drunk slutty bad girl?”
And then we started thinking about all the other things related to that, like how maybe all of Rayanne’s sex and “slut potential” wasn’t totally consensual and why do we sort of ignore how rich her character is when the show does a pretty good job of it really? Why do we just want to talk about how COOL she looked even though, you know, shit wasn’t exactly coming up daisies for her and her life was impressively complicated for a show airing at that time, and maybe we should talk about that? Why is every analysis of Rayanne and Angela’s friendship that we can find anywhere way too idealized and, frankly, kind of stupid? Could we also see Rayanne some kind of accessible whitewashed pathway into talking about those “othered” (through race, class, gender, body, whatever) teen girl experiences that don’t get talked about as much? What about Ricky, what if we relate to Rayanne and Ricky more as well? Basically — can we make Rayanne more than the quirky, slutty, sassy sidekick drunk with amazing hair?
And how does that relate to other things we’ve been thinking about, like the devaluing of teen female experiences or how we’re both sort of grossed out by the fetishization and flattening of what could be loosely defined as “punk female identities,” and how a tattooed bisexual asskicking brunette does not a feminist storyline make? Or how it bums us out that nobody ever writes good fiction about what it’s like being sixteen and a girl who dresses funny or maybe was a little nuts but doesn’t need to be saved or married off or isn’t going to die or anything from making some bad decisions? Or how we totally can’t fucking stand that manic pixie dreamgirl trope and aforementioned asskicking bisexual tattooed brunette character? Can’t we talk about teenage girls without it turning into a Choose Your Own Adventure of Pick One: crazy-pregnant-addict-anorexic-kooky-overemotional-shallow-lonely-doomed-virgin-whore? And how does all that fun stuff like race and class and gender and sexuality and bodies and ability and everything intersect with those experiences?
And then we realized that there was a lot to say here, and that it might as well not be said only to our own Gmail archives, and that we had an entire internet of people with Very Smart Opinions who we also wanted to talk about this. So: we want to know what you have to say. Do you want to blog about this as part of a big ole internetwide Let’s Please Talk About Rayanne or Girls Like Rayanne Seriously kind of thing, our Rayanne Project, as we’re calling it? Do you not have a blog but want to guest-post on one of ours, or interview someone, or be interviewed? Are you overwhelmed with some other related creative impulse that we could also somehow e-share and show off your fabulousness? Awesome, because we want it all.
Ideally, since it was the basis of the conversation (and we basically really want to talk about Rayanne without being like OMG THOSE BRAIDS!! THOSE PATCHWORK PANTS! again, because we have that conversation twice a week) — we’d love for you to use My So Called Life as the basis of whatever you want to contribute. But if you want to branch off into that multitude of related topics above, or have other really awesome ideas that relate, we certainly aren’t going to stop you, since we pretty much think enough can’t be said about this.
We’re planning mostly on a blog conversation for starters which we may then later curate into another website — but if this goes as well as we’re hoping it will, there will be a zine coming out of it (!!!!), and some kind of event for those of us based in NYC.
So! If you’d be interested in contributing in some way, please email megpclark[at]gmail and rejectionistandyourmom[at]gmail by Thursday, May 12th just to say that you’d be down, and let us know some of your ideas, or how or what you’d like to contribute. We’ll get back to you soon with more concrete details, posting schedules, and more guidelines later next week — because duh, we can’t wait to hear what you have to say.
As of today, the French ban on the burqa and niqab has gone into effect (and boy, internet, have we been having feelings about it for months or what! ) One part of the law — the part designating that forcing a woman or child to wear a niqab or burqa is punishable by fine or even prison — can be seen as reasonable, as something enforcing one’s own right to their own body, clothing, appearance, and presentation. But fining those who wear the garments at all and banning the items entirely based on the fact that “The French Republic lives in a bare-headed fashion" (quoth the Prime Minister) is more than a bit problematic.
Granted, French and American politics differ, as do their social traditions and cultural situations and histories of relations with Islam nations. But in any context I’d argue that there is something absurd or at least slightly off-base about attacking a religion for its “misogynistic dress” when we have issues legislating in favor of women’s healthcare (readers! I must correct myself! not even issues legislating in favor of! issues with not legislating against! FFS, people!) or even discussing the wage gap (problems, I may note, that are not limited to America.) Is targeting the dress of an already targeted, highly profiled religious group already subject to prejudice and mistreatment as a result of that dress the best way to fight for women’s rights?
Folks accuse those criticizing the ban of internalized misogyny and of using liberalism to defend a cruel tradition, but this disregards the entire other level on which this ban is truly operating. Because, let’s be honest: this is not actually about women’s rights, or the right of all French ladies to wear cute striped teeshirts and cigarette jeans and ballet flats with their hair down or whatever French ladies are supposed to be wearing. This is about xenophobia and prejudice and anti-Muslim sentiment worldwide based on the actions and beliefs of radically overrepresented extremists. Is it really necessary to legalize prejudice like this? As a legal decision in the name of civil rights, in the name of women’s rights, is this most logical path?
For just one moment, please, let us disregard all of the possible arguments about “modest” dress and the various types of hijab — is it misogynist, is it religious, is it empowering, is it degrading, is it comfortable, is it the woman’s choice, is it subversive, are the women happy, are the women unhappy, what even is it, what does it mean, what are the different types, why do people do it, etc, etc, ad nauseam. Regardless of all that, the fact that it is legal to penalize someone for their clothing feels on one petty level a lot like that time when “baggy jeans” were banned at my junior high school except with, you know, the tiny additions of racism, prejudice, hatred, terrifying legalized local enforcement of questionable international politics, and that little thing about everyone ever feels entitled to police women’s bodies in whatever way they please. If we are, truly, concerned about the fact that these women’s bodies are subject to regulation by their religion, is adding another level of body police and body politic really the way to help them? Regardless of whether they even need or want that help at all? They have voices too — I would like to hear more from them.
And, really, let us again bring up one small point: how different on a conceptual level is the slut-shaming of “Western society” — essentially an implicit, unspoken order to cover up or face the consequences — from the contested burqa itself? If we are truly discussing misogyny — why not discuss misogyny directly, rather than by targeting a specific garment and a specific group? Why not pass laws teaching men to not abuse, harass, rape, and kill women, rather than letting men regulate the bodies of those women in the name of “their best interest?”
For the previously uninformed! Planned Parenthood is currently threatened with the loss of the $75 million they recieve each year in Federal funding. (For perspective, we will also note that military marching bands recieve $500 million a year.) While it is unlikely to make it through the Senate and the chances of PP losing all funding and going under forever are slim, it’s still infinitely distressing that this is even being discussed. Because I totally love Planned Parenthood, you guys, and I really need to talk about it.
Let’s first clear up one misunderstanding: PP isn’t motivated by some baby-murdering-agenda, and it does a lot more than dole out sinful contraceptives and abort every fetus it comes across. Yes, PP is an advocate of reproductive rights — but the services they provide go above and beyond that. Statistically, 90% of the care they offer is primary and preventative — which, come to think of it, is the only thing I’ve ever gone there for. PP is a provider of reproductive healthcare, sex education and information — this means that you can go there, say, if you need any sort of healthcare relating to your vajayjay at all, or even if you have a penis and something seems wrong with it. You can go there to get condoms if you need them, or to get a pap smear. You can go there to get disconcerting lumps in your breasts checked out. You can go there if you find out that an ex has an STD and want a full screen of tests for yourself. You can go there for information that your abstinence-only education did not provide, or for information relating to body image issues, or for referrals to folks to talk with if you are struggling with your sexuality. You can go there to ask about LGBTQ-friendly healthcare. You can go there because you don’t have insurance, or because you don’t like the doctor your insurance has told you to go to, or because you don’t know where else to go and you can’t afford a fancy private OB/GYN. You can go there because you want to have a baby, because you don’t want to have one yet, or because your period has been off schedule lately. You can go there because you are a victim of domestic abuse or rape and don’t know where else to turn. You can go there because you think you are dying of an extreme random immacuately contracted case of the herp or SOMETHING and then it will turn out that you are just horribly allergic to the new detergent you recently washed your underpants in, not that I would know anything about that experience.
SO. Now that that’s cleared up. By now most of you know that I went to Vassar, and to this day I think that one of the best things I got out of four years there was that, for the first time in my life, I was no longer ashamed or embarrassed about being female. And having my lady-specific healthcare not be an embarrassing, stressful, expensive journey into one of the lower regions of hell definitely was a part of that. Women’s healthcare at Vassar was basically a gynecological utopia: the entire thing was run by this endearingly gruff old woman with awful dyed-red hair named Marlene who barked out words like “vaginal discharge” and “premature ejaculation” without batting an eyelash, and who despite her snippity exterior would dole out the morning after pill to weeping, terrified nineteen year olds with a grandmotherly hug and a reassurance that everything was going to be okay. It was staffed with knowledgeable, compassionate, and nonjudgemental doctors who followed the “are you sexually active?” question with questions that no gynecologist has asked me since, such as “Are you being safe? Are you enjoying yourself, do you feel good about it? Do you want more information?” You could get day-of appointments. Sometimes they gave you cookies, or lube.
This — not the cathedral-esque library, not the campus, not the infinite access to the most obscure useless publications of academia on JStor — this is probably what I miss most about college: having easy, quick, affordable access to a women’s healthcare center which, you know, didn’t suck. It was like living in a bubble where (fancy that!) I wasn’t, you know, somehow inconveniencing everyone by having the nerve to be female. It was decidedly unsettling to be spat back out into the real world where safe sex supplies aren’t free and gynecologists give you their two cents about abstinence and loose women and, um, conservatives act out their personal vendetta against an infinitely useful and helpful organization in the guise of fiscal concerns.
So by now I’ve come to terms with the fact that my four years of insta-access to a paradise of healthcare and information for my ladybits will never, ever happen again. But Planned Parenthood is the next best thing. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for its existence — even with the eternal three-hour line at the Spring Street location here in New York. My health insurance has bounced around more times than I can remember since college — Planned Parenthood has, literally, been the only medical establishment that I have been able to attend regularly thanks to that.
Let us first note that thanks to my sinful, profligate homosexual lifestyle, pregnancy isn’t exactly a huge concern of mine, so I am not really down there aborting babies every few months for fun or anything. Let us also note that while I have spent a significant portion of my adult life near the poverty line thanks to, again, my artsy liberal lifestyle and insistence upon working in artsy liberal industries, I am a white educated middle-class able-bodied healthy woman, and if I had some sort of huge medical crisis, I am lucky enough to have family who could help. So if finding women’s healthcare that doesn’t blow is that difficult for me, I can only imagine how difficult it is when you are, say, an impoverished teenage woman of colour with a family unable to support you financially or emotionally and an abusive boyfriend and no money or healthcare who recently moved to a new city. Where the hell do you start? The phone book under “cheap doctors who aren’t douchebags?” The ubiquity of Planned Parenthood is what makes it so useful: the comfort of “I have somewhere to go” cannot be underestimated, whether the concern is a yeast infection, a yearly pelvic, an AIDS test, or a pregnancy scare. Do you know five people with vaginas? Statistically, one of them has at some point in her life relied on a Planned Parenthood. That is a lot of ladies getting a lot of help, folks. That is a lot of ladies who thought of the same place to get that help.
I could go on for another nine pages — rambling! I does it bestest! — but instead will leave you with this:
The U.S. House of Representatives has just voted to bar Planned Parenthood health centers from all federal funding for birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, and other lifesaving care.
It is the most dangerous legislative assault in our history, and it cannot go unanswered. We — Planned Parenthood and the three million women, men, and teens who are at risk of losing access to basic care — need you to stand united with us now.
Join me in signing this open letter to the reps who voted to bar Planned Parenthood from federal funding — including funding for birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, and HIV testing — and to the senators who still have chance to stop it.
What is it lately with my obsession with photographers who make creepy doll-like parodies of stereotypical feminine roles, images, or clothing? I can’t get enough of this ed from Soup Mag by photographer Kourtney Roy. (Thanks for tuning me in to it, Alexa!) I’m sure I read too much into these or see a depth that wasn’t intended, and it’s not as if this sort of thing hasn’t been done so many times to almost be painfully trite (gag me with a spoon, Cindy Sherman), but I still can’t get over the stylized, sarcastic artifice of it all, and if it still gets to me, it can’t yet be overdone. It’s like a set of ominous tarot cards of possible female futures or roles: the virgin bride, the whore, the beauty queen, the mother, the cheerleader, the flight attendant, the secretary, the trophy wife… all presented in front of a bizarre painted Americana backdrop worthy of an AMNH “colonialism FTW” diorama.
I was immediately struck by the graphic, Hitchcock-esque images from Bottega Veneta’s current ad campaign — no surprise then, when I found out that the ad campaign was shot by Alex Prager, whose anachronistic, colourful, and almost grotesque film-still-esque style has made her one of my favourite contemporary photographers. (I’ve mentioned her before — is this too obvious, you guys? I have no idea how ‘obvious’ photographers are to the rest of the world that doesn’t, like, hang out and talk about photographers or whatever.)
Her images always (to me at least, but we all know I have a one-track mind) call attention to the cinematic/performative nature and artifice of female beauty and also the falsification of so many of the fashion and media images we encounter on a daily basis. The perfect poses and doll-like makeup are made even more eerie by the obviously-polyester wigs thrown slightly askew, the lurid but always exaggeratedly feminine clothes, overly theatrical lighting, and the impossible sharp angles of the camera. I think the main reason I dig her stuff so much is actually because I do tend to gravitate more towards journalistic/candid/unposed/lo-fi/snapshot type photography (remember that exhibit at the Tate I creamed my pants over for like three months straight?), but in Prager’s case the hyperconstructed sets and obviously elaborate planning are just as raw and revealing as the best of more gritty images precisely because of how unreal they are.
More after the jump, or check out a handful of her photos still up at the “Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography” exhibit currently up at the MoMA.