Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Art and Media as a Strategy for Social Change

Sheridan-Rabideau’s article is very in-depth and discusses the various forms of activism used within the GirlZone movement. I am familiar with the book “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls” by Mary Pipher. It’s a very influential book that utilizes consciousness-raising, which is why I bought it several years ago. However, I had not gotten around to reading it and I’m grateful for this article, because it helped me put the book into cultural and historical perspective. The discussion regarding “Mean Girls,” also called Alpha Girls, R.M.G. (Really Mean Girls) and Queen Bees, truly hit home for me since I had been bullied in the past by a female who perfectly fit the description of the “monied white girl,” who would perpetrate such “relational anger.” I would be most interested in finding the research article which is referenced in this case. I found the following sentence, “depicting girls as actors within situations not of their choosing,” to be particularly poignant as to how I felt about my own situation (Sheridan-Rabideau, p 43). It is good to finally have a name for this type of psychological warfare which I had witnessed.

This poster inspired me to create my Elegance of Masculine Beauty project  which focuses on the masculine face and figure as aesthetically beautiful. I plan to single-handedly tip this statistics!
My inspiration was beautiful men of the 20th & 21st centuries. From RudolphValentino to James Dean, from  Peter O'Toole to Benedict Cumberbatch. Inspiration for Elegance of Masculine Beauty (classic Hollywood)

            It was refreshing and hopeful to read about the 17-year-old Sara Shandler who edited “Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Writes about their Search for Self.” The fact that teen and tween girls can empower themselves by speaking in their own voices is encouraging and inspirational.

            The term bullying was not used anywhere in relation to the matter of “relational anger,” which begs the question whether this type of aggressive behavior would fall under the term “bullying.”  If so, would “relational anger” be addressed within the wider anti-bullying campaigns that are on the discussion table in American society currently? I think this connection should have been discussed within the article.

            The same mistake has been repeated in this article as I have noticed in other articles: the fact that the word “schizophrenic” is used in lieu of a more accurate word, such as “bipolar.” In this article, the term “schizophrenic messages” is used to describe the contradictory messages that are being presented to girls beyond the media in their school environment (ibid. p 39). The common misuse of this word only contributes to societal misunderstanding of what schizophrenia entails.

            The article by Stephenson describes the evolution of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” which was first started in 1969 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. I own two books by the Collective: “The New Our Bodies, Ourselves” published in 1992, and “Our Bodies, Growing Older” published in 1987. I bought these books back in the 90s: I should see if they published updated versions. I have used these books quite extensively for various research and reference purposes.

            The article states that the Collective was started by white women of privilege who were college-educated but has expanded beyond that demographic since. What is commendable is the fact that “Our Bodies, Ourselves” has been translated into numerous languages since its initial publication and has inspired and contributed to numerous health projects worldwide. This form of raising-consciousness is encouraging in how far-reaching it has become: I am impressed. Yet this article fails to mention any kind of obstacles that may have stood in the way of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective in achieving that goal of publishing and financing this endeavor. It only mentions that “Our Bodies, Ourselves” refuses pharmaceutical company funding and advertising (Stephenson, p 1744). I would have liked to see this article go more into depth about how the movement grew.

            There is a question about the use of language in the translation of “Journey to Parenthood” being translated into Spanish as “De Comino a la Maternidad.” This could lead to misunderstanding because the English word “parenthood” is gender neutral whereas “maternidad” literally translates to “maternity” (i.e. “motherhood”). The Spanish word for parenthood is “paternidad,” which means both “fatherhood”, and “parenthood.” This sort of ambiguity in language makes it difficult to know whether the “Journey to Parenthood” booklet is addressed to mothers or parents in general. The article did not make that clear. Therefore I had to go to their website in order to look the booklet up (Our Bodies, Ourselves website). It turns out it is addressed to mothers, so why would be English title use the word “parenthood”? There are enough misunderstandings regarding sexuality and reproduction without clouding the issue by using ambiguous terminology.

            Nikki Craft on the other hand, is a bird of a totally different color. She is highly creative in her use of civil disobedience and social action in order to bring awareness to such issues as glamorizing violence towards women in media. I admire her tenacity and sense of humor; that makes her character unique and unforgettable. I appreciate the fact that the first section, “The Incredible Case of the Stack o’Wheat Prints,” is an excerpt from Craft’s press release and speech given in 1980.

A strange thing jumped out at me in this section: Craft quotes a male reviewer of the photographs, who refers to the prints as, “utterly exquisite corpses” (Radford, p 327). In this context, an exquisite corpse refers to the objectification and oppression of the female body. In the context of the surrealist movement, an Exquisite Corpse is a game which represents the freedom to express oneself without societal constraints. The Chicago Surrealist Group, of which I am a member, published the following description of the game on its website.

“Game of folded paper which consists of having several people compose a phrase or drawing collectively, none of the participants having any idea of the nature of the preceding contribution or contributions. The now classic example, which gave its name to the game, is the first sentence obtained in this manner: the exquisite – corpse – shall drink – the young – wine.”
-Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism (1938) (Chicago Surrealist Group website)

            An Exquisite Corpse drawing which I participated in has been published by the Chicago Surrealist Group in a book entitled “Surrealist Subversions” (Sakolsky, p 203), as well as on their website. What is ironic is the fact that it is part of the surrealist philosophy to fight against all forms of oppression. The same book has a chapter entitled “Patriarchy and Sexual Oppression” which contains numerous essays on various topics including gay and lesbian rights, psychoanalysis, and women’s liberation. Therefore it is hard for me to envision an exquisite corpse as a form of imprisonment. Penelope Rosemont, the douane of the American surrealist movement, co-founded of the Chicago Surrealist Group in 1966 and published “Surrealist Women: An International Anthology” in order to confront the common misperception that surrealism is being a male dominated field (Rosemont).      
   The Garrison article discusses the Grrrl movement in the context of feminist youth activism. The movement utilizes various forms of media such as music, art, performance, etc. in combination with the added advantage of having the Internet as a form of spreading the word. It discusses various decisions one can make regarding their identity; becoming vegan, coming out in one’s sexual orientation, and other such modes of nonconformity, as a mode of resistance. These “identity politics” are used to great effect in order to shift gears when confronting various forms of oppression. This updated form of feminism looks at the term “woman” taking into account the multifaceted complexity of womanhood in order to include those women who have been excluded from Second Wave feminism (for example, women of colour and lesbians, among others). This updated approach, although admittedly more complex, is a more logical approach than the focus in the past on white privileged women.

            The recent proliferation and access to film, printing, music, and internet technology has greatly facilitated the efforts of activists to create and distribute their message to a broader audience. This new technology allows activists to by-pass parents and other figures of authority, thus allowing freedom of expression and a wider range of expression. In this sense, both the Garrison and the Sheridan-Rabideau article exhibit how young activists can find their own space stage of the movement and project their own voices. RiotGrrrls is an alternative setting to the punk scene which is more boy/lad centered. This do-it-yourself and grab-the-bull-by-the-horns approach rejects the “nice girl” image of females: instead, it taps into the anger and how females are portrayed and treated in society.

I am especially proud of the RiotGrrrls standing their ground and imposing the media blackout! This is definitely a more productive method of channeling the anger which females feel in response to our marginalization within society. “Relational anger,” on the other hand, is irrational because directing anger towards another female doesn’t change anything, except maybe entertain some brainless boys with no hobbies; who, in the end, turn females into objects for the entertainment of males: which is one of the reasons why females are angry to begin with! Circular logic in motion! It’s much better to channel one’s anger through art than to have it directed towards another person with malicious intent. One method is productive, creative, and, if done correctly, sends a message, whereas the other method serves no purpose except to entertain some brainless saps.

Garrison, E. K. (2000).  U.S. Feminism—GRRRL Style!  Youth (sub)cultures and the technologics of the third waveFeminist Studies, 26, 141-170.      

Radford, Jill; Russell, Diana (eds), Nikki Craft: Inspiring protest. Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing (pp. 325-345), New York, Twayne Publishers, 1992.

Rosemont, Penelope, Surrealist Women: An International Anthology, University of Texas Press, 1998

Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P. (2008).  Representations of girl culture, realities of feminist activism.  In Girls, feminism and Grassroots Literacies: Activism in the Girlzone.  NY: State university of New York Press.

Stephenson, H. & Zeides, K. (2008).  “Write a chapter and change the world”.  American Journal of Public Health, 98, 1741-1745.

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