Thursday, June 24, 2004

busting out

This summer's issue of BUST magazine (put it back in your pants, guys, it's "for women with something to get off their chest") rocks... there are interviews with Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys), who may be the hippest actress in existence, and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Free Kitten), who at age 51 is in my book the undisputed queen of 'No Wave' music... Sonic Youth was twisting my fragile little brain when I was just a wee punkling.

Malone, who is incredibly intelligent and unpretentious (as a human in general, not just as a movie star), is in two of my all-time favorite films, yet she says in her interview that she doesn't think she has too many fans... I'm a bit too old to be writing fanboy letters to young actresses, so someone else will need to disabuse her of that notion. She's got a "no quarter asked, none given" attitude towards her career, only taking roles 'that truthfully depict young girls', choosing not to reinforce the Hollywood/cultural stereotypes that disempower women.

Kim Gordon's interview ranges from music to raising her daughter in New York to what she's going to do art-wise in the future. Not that there's any hurry to change things - despite the cancellation of Lollapalooza, Sonic Youth is touring to support their new album (which the band described by saying "imagine 'Bare Trees' era Fleetwood Mac jamming with 'Jealous Again' era Black Flag"). As for raising her daughter, maybe she needs to get Ariel Gore's newest 'Hip Mama' book Whatever, Mom, which Ariel co-wrote with her own daughter.

The rest of the magazine ranges from articles on the role of women in video games to the history and origin of the vibrator, from grown women who aren't afraid to collect dolls to the Martha Stewart witch-hunt. It all falls somewhere in the middle of third-wave feminism: it's not Cosmo, (i.e. it's ok to be who you are without trying to look like a Barbie doll, or without swinging the other way entirely), and it's not Scum Manifesto, (i.e. you don't have to hate/kill all of the men in order to feel good about being a woman).

For the record, I do have a personal interest in all of this. (I bet you think I'm going to say 'I feel like I'm a woman inside'.) I feel like I'm a woman inside. (Haha! Thanks, I'll be here all week...) No, actually the deal is that I know a lot of women who have stood up and defied the tyranny of *both sides* of the feminism issue, and I find that these are the women I respect the most... one of them is my lovely partner of almost 18 years.

Docile acceptance of the crappy deal this society pushes on women isn't very appealing, and making the pendulum swing the other way still leaves you part of the same machine. I believe that if someone tells you "don't cross this line", and you cross it just to defy them, they've controlled you just as completely as if you had obeyed in the first place. The only true freedom is to ignore the line entirely and figure out where your path goes on your own. It doesn't hurt to share stories with other people who are also seeking their own paths... and it looks to me like that is what BUST magazine is trying to do for women who are looking for more out of life. Good for them.


Blogger tinarama said...

Thanks for referencing the Ariel Gore book. Thought you might be interested to know that Hip Mama is indirectly responsible for my discovery of the world of blogging -- it was 1998 or 1999 and I read a piece about moms with mental illness, and wrote the author with some comments ... She wrote back, and included with her signature a link to her blog -- the first one I'd ever read.
Also, I'm going to be shutting down the Kinnarium this summer and moving everything back over to Blogger. It's where I started, but I didn't like having ads at the top of every page. How did you get rid of them?
Thanks for writing -- I always enjoy reading you.
Tina aka Kinnarium aka

Blogger Foobario said...

I'm not a breeder myself, no plans to be, but I think Ariel rocks. She's done quite a bit to make More Light, which is a Good Thing. The thing that really drew my attention to Ariel was that she is someone who defied the conventional wisdom regarding women empowering themselves... so often it's get married, crank out 1-12 kids, raise the kids *and* their husband (who never went through any rite of passage, and is therefore still a boy), then they wake up one day, the kids have moved out, the husband's an idiot, and they think "what the hell do I do with myself now?".

I met many of these women when I was doing night classes at the community college, and had the informative-yet-terrifying experience of being the only male and the only person under 40 in a writing class whose focus was 'gender issues'... just me and a class full of newly-awaken(ed)(ing) women.

Things started changing a while back, though, and personally I blame Oprah. I have always been pretty scornful of television in general, and daytime soaps and talk shows in particular - the sedative effects these shows had on my mother and the legion of housewives in our neighborhood in Utah had a little too much of a "Stepford Wive's" vibe going on, which I recognized even as a child. But I've got to give Oprah credit - she pretty much single-handedly got a few hundred thousand women reading books they never would have read, and that was just part of her message, part of the warm-up exercises for self-realization. Culturally, I saw some acceleration in the process described in the previous paragraph that I think directly correlates to Oprah's efforts - women (even, or perhaps especially, in 'traditional' roles... you remember Utah, you know what I mean) started challenging their roles at a younger age, and some subtle redefinition took place in the consensus narrative.

Ariel shoots from the hip (no pun intended)... she's got the (rather obvious when you think about it) message that instead of losing the fire within and then trying to reclaim it when you're older, just keep feeding it as you go along. The archetypal roles of maiden, mother, and crone have been devalued in our society - the maiden should be ablaze with inner fire, and for the lucky ones the crone is allowed some measure of that as well... but the mother is expected to sublimate all of that? During a time where *by definition* she is the embodiment of the creative force? No wonder people get so fucked up, they are born into the party right as the lights go out.

(other issues addressed in private email.)

Blogger krishna said...

“Docile acceptance of the crappy deal this society pushes on women isn't very appealing, and making the pendulum swing the other way still leaves you part of the same machine. I believe that if someone tells you "don't cross this line", and you cross it just to defy them, they've controlled you just as completely as if you had obeyed in the first place. The only true freedom is to ignore the line entirely and figure out where your path goes on your own. “

Wonderful words but unfortunately, things are not as simplistic as one envisages them to be. The society and the individual, both strive for equilibrium. Paradoxically, nothing is static but we would want to believe that it is! Therefore, when a woman sets out from the confines of the role-definition thrust on her, society may feel that she is deliberately trying to prove a point and thereby, trying to disturb the balance. The taboos and the prejudices on a woman’s way are so many that she needs to cross the lines (The Lakshman rekha of the society) and constantly chip at the taboos, in order to move forward. I am proud of being a woman and I understand that I am born with certain genetic traits and limitations. I am not fighting against them (I, here, is generic) but against the constraints that the society has imposed on me. And, I know there is no docile, middle way about breaking prejudices.
I am in a job where I interact with more men than women in my daily life. A few years back, on one ordinary working day, two politicians (male) walked into my office and picked up an argument. I asked them to leave my office-a perfectly normal reaction and in those circumstances, my male colleagues would have reacted in the same way. The next day, a privilege motion was moved against me in the State assembly. My minister supported me and the matter was dropped. Out of curiosity, I obtained a copy of the proceedings. I found my most vociferous critics were women and their reason for criticism was- being a women, I behaved in a manner not becoming of a woman. Years of conditioning have ensured that their perceptions of what a woman should do or how she should behave are dictated by the whims of man. When a woman has to fight irrational viewpoints/subtle biases/deeply set prejudices/ demeaning practices, how can she just move ahead without rattling the system? Sometimes, the pendulum has to be taken to the extreme, for it to find equilibrium, which is fair to both men and women.

I am in total agreement with you so far as your girlfriend/wife is concerned. She is lovely!

Blogger Foobario said...

Aye Krishna, true words, but more true for your culture than for ours. Many of us in the US don't have a connection to the place of our birth, the family we were born into, or the culture we were born into... we Get The Hell Out as soon as we are able, if we're not thrown out prior to that.

The taboos and the prejudices of society at large still affect many people, though, of both genders... women in the US can see some obvious reasons to defy those prejudices, but there is still some resistance from the conservative front to the idea that they aren't back at home, barefoot and pregnant, or at least silently doing what they are told. Men in this culture usually don't see much reason to defy the consensus narrative - they often accept the role that is given to them, a growth-limiting option that they don't recognize because they believe that the enticements offered by that role (as paltry as they may be) are enough, no further work required, they're already at the top of the heap, without ever wondering: heap of what? (These are broad generalizations, of course... the appeal of my particular subculture is that these stereotypes are so rare that when I do see them I am shocked.)

I've noticed a similar thing amongst my male Indian friends, a sort of 'princeling' syndrome... Ma did everything she could to provide for them all of their lives, and when they are grown they expect the same treatment from a wife.

As for how women can move ahead without rattling the system, personally I think if the system doesn't work, rattle it until it falls down. Of course, this is easier to say in a young country like the US, where there are a few thousand years less infrastructure to come crashing down on our heads than you have in India... you've got *buildings* that are older than our nation, and traditions that are older still. The trade-off in this issue is that you have a culture in which the many roles a person adopts (caste, position in the family, position in society) are intertwined with the *good* things about having a culture, while we have... television.

Your experiences in the workplace seem indicative of a larger inequality, one that pervades the culture, the 'glass ceiling' syndrome: the men just can't conceive of a reason why they should tolerate a woman questioning their acts. They act like some universal law like gravity has just been defied when a woman asserts herself.

But think: from Andal to Bharati Mukherjee, and thousands of women in between, there has been a great strength in Indian women who 'cross the line'. Sure there's been a corresponding denunciation of them by the men, but that's just the creaking timbers of an old structure, objecting to the winds of change.

It could be argued succesfully that I am talking from a place of little knowledge, being male, but my life has been spent challenging the roles my own 'culture' has provided me - I've always been pretty dismissive of any philosophy that declares "you are already at the finish line, you don't need to do anything else to succeed". I think the best thing (actually right now perhaps one of the very few good things) about being an American is that being casteless, I could define my own caste, forge my own path... and I admire (and choose to spend my life with) women who do the same.

Thanks again for your insightful comments.
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