While I was “Away”

And that my friends is only the tip of the iceberg!

Hopefully we will be back to blogging for real next week. 🙂

Fluff: Drag U or Why Gay Prof Was Right

 

RuPaul at a party for the launch of her Starrb...

Image via Wikipedia

 

Last year, Gay Prof wrote a post about RuPaul’s drag race being one of the only shows on Logo that both entertained and had a thoroughly multicultural cast. (Mind you, later he critiqued it for “subtly discriminate against contestants with an accent“) I admitted then and now to having never watched the show. My biggest concern with televised versions of drag is that they almost always center white male performers who are doing exaggerated and sometimes insulting versions of blackness (or browness or Asian Face, or all of the above) and that this has become so normalized in drag that there are actual full on racist performers who appear in black face with boozy-welfare-queen-watermelon-eating back stories that mainstream audiences excuse away as “performance”.  (And by mainstream, I mean straight, bi, and fay audiences including some of the stars of Queer for the Straight Guy whose picture with one particular racist drag performer I have posted on the blog before.) While televised drag does not require, nor defined by, racism and classism, I have always been concerned about how the lack of critical attention and critique of oppression in certain forms of drag opens the door for certain people to center those oppressions as normative and acceptable from TV to Gay Pride events. So I staid away from RuPaul, who I have always loved, for fear that his own actual black face would further legitimate the under currents of race and gender or racialized gender that I find problematic. Instead, Gay Prof painted a picture of the show in which men of color from a wide variety of backgrounds, spoke openly about class, race, identity, sexuality, and the self all in the context of recognizable fun. The show was groundbreaking not only for opening a space for men of color performers to speak about performance in mainstream-ish media, something that has not been done since Paris is Burning, but also in expanding Logos’ ever lightening line up after the big, unexplained, cancellation of Noah’s Arc.

Last night, I flipped on Logo to watch a completely different show. The schedule was wrong in my area as it often is here. But hey, at least we get it.

To my surprise they were showing RuPaul’s Drag U, a new incarnation of RuPaul’s show in which drag queens teach primarily hard working, working class, cis women to strut their stuff like a queen. This is not a show in which men who play women teach women how to fit into a gender box. If it was, you know I’d have something to say about it. Instead, it combines basic self help principles with drag style to give women who have given up on themselves a chance to shine. From what I saw, the basic premise is not to convert from butch to femme but rather from emotionally lost to fierce!

It is also the best send up of Tyra Banks’ insipid America’s Next Top Model I have ever seen. RuPaul does Tyra so well, he could stand in for her if she ever gave up the reigns one day. And it is this self-reflexive, ironic stance that helps contextualize the tv makeover genre as something that really can’t solve all your emotional issues or childhood traumas just by putting you in some makeup and a dress. But what it can do is give some rudimentary tools to start working on your ish while looking fab doing it. Thus when one woman talks about her problems with people making fun of her in the past, RuPaul whips out a Lil’ Kim lyric that is as unhelpful and pseudo-supportive as any Tyra Banks’ show. In so doing, he is reminding both the audience and the contestants that this is reality tv and unlike Jillian Anderson who thinks she can come into a family’s life for a few days and empower them to stop grieving the death of their babies or stand up to domestic abuse by running on the treadmill, RuPaul is an entertainer and this is nothing more than entertainment.

That said, it was equally nice to see women who work hard all day in jobs reserved for men or surrounded by them, get a chance to girl-out. Rather than posit femininity as a solution to every woman’s problem, ie to argue that women just need to shop, wear make up, and have dinner ready by 5 to be happy, the show highlights gender performance. It shows the women on the show that there are no set ways of acting. They allow them to discover at their own pace, or at least the pace of shooting a season, that the choices they have made to protect themselves at work or in the world do not have to define them. They are playing roles and they can play other, more flirty or vivacious roles, with the switch of a costume. Hey … who told RuPaul he could steal our femme secrets darnit!

Also, unlike Tyra and other body image based reality shows, DragU invites people from all walks of life, body size, and identity group to participate. They do not tell big women the goal is to become super model thin on an unhealthy and unsustainable exercise and diet regimen or to tell Anorexic girls they are “plus size”, instead the show helps women embrace their bodies and the powerful gender performances they can engage in from within them. Similar to cognitive behavior therapy, yeah I said it, the drag professors address the thoughts and actions of the women in ways that both provide correct information and skills they can use to embrace multiple versions of themselves at any given time. The mantra of you are beautiful just as you are is actually fairly honest in this context as opposed to the lipservice it is paid elsewhere.

Finally, the drag professors are also a very diverse set. They are large and thin, young and old, white and poc, urban and rural , new and seasoned, etc. And many of them talk about the issues their students raise as issues they have had to face themselves. The ability to identify across gender and through performativity seems like a light and accessible way to highlight the humanity of both women and drag performers who are often targeted and abused in our society for some similar and some disparate reasons. The moments when the drag instructors offer insights about their students opens the door for the otherwise standard makeover fair to be transformed into social commentary that thoroughly centers gender oppression from multiple targeted gender perspectives.

Ultimately, DragU is a comedic send up of a genre I find largely detrimental to both the female viewers and female participants. While it is nothing deeper or more meaningful than light entertainment, it does it with the kind of diversity and attention to people’s needs that rings decidedly hollow in shows that claim to take these things seriously. So yeah, Gay Prof was right, but isn’t he always.

CFP: Hip Hop Feminism

Rosa Clemente/former VP Candidate for Green Party/unattributed

There have been strong women of color at the center of Hip Hop theorizing since its inception. Many of these women have never received the recognition they deserve for their artistry or their profound critical feminist eye focused clearly on the experience of women of color at the margins and intersections of multiple identities. These artists have struggled to have their voices heard in and outside of Hip Hop even as they inspire, mentor, and help provide strength to face any number of gendered oppressions. Many of them have worked just as diligently at empowering young women and providing critical analysis of engendered experiences as they have at being the best at their craft. Often these things are inseparable. And yet, these women’s work has been overshadowed by the racist and racialized sexist discourses that only want to focus on the “video ho” until recently. (see my posts on Hip Hop for AfAm herstory and LGBT history month for more thorough posts and links to Hip Hop feminism and Hip Hop feminists.)

kin4life/outhiphop.com

While this shift has been important, I think currently there is far too much mainstream attention to Hip Hop feminism as the *only* form of feminism(s) of color. On the one hand, the emphasis represents a needed intervention into mainstream discourse about the “video-ho” in which black men are seen as the most misogynist men in the world and women of color are internalized sexists needing rescue from their “culture of violence, sex, and drugs.” On the other, the slowly won recognition of feminists for whom Hip Hop and B Girls have been critical forms of expression, solidarity, and empowerment has come at the price of the recognition by mainstream of feminists of color outside of these stereotyped (tho not stereotypical) scenes. This is not the fault of Hip Hop feminists or people doing needed documenting work on their movements but rather the ongoing problem of tokenizing woc feminist contributions by mainstream academic theorists and educators. In the last few years, scholars like myself who work on race and gender have been introduced as or referred to verbally and in print as “hip hop feminists” or asked what we think or will we write an article about Hip Hop feminism in the same way we were referred to as Womanists when Alice Walker coined the term and still have to fight for the right to define ourselves and our affiliations. My concern then is that there are at least two camps here: (1) those who want to embrace, document, and explore the meaning, history, and empowerment behind Hip Hop feminism and (2) those who see it as just a new word for “black feminists over there”. One way to posit a counter-narrative to the latter is to keep writing, keep filming, keep talking about what Hip Hop feminism is and about all of the feminisms engaged in by women of color in which Hip Hop feminism is only one iteration.

La Bruja/unattributed

So I am publishing this call for papers on Hip Hop feminism to encourage the continued struggle to talk about feminisms by women of color in arena that often posits us as both singular (ie one kind of feminism) and perpetual victims (in this case the video-ho) in need of feminism. I do so out of solidarity with the project of naming, claiming, and documenting our feminisms and our activism but also with the caution to take on the task of clarity and specificity in your writing so that you lend to both the needed discussion of the specific feminism under discussion and to the larger discourse about the longstanding presence of women of color in activist, feminist, circles.

melange Lavonne/David Laffe Photography

Also I would encourage readers to consider some of the queer and/or differently-abled black and Latina Hip Hop artists highlighted on this blog or even in this post for your potential papers/presentations. Just as interventions need to be made in the way mainstream feminist academics are approaching Hip Hop feminism as the new Womanism, interventions need to be made into the ways scholars have often shied away from discussions of queer sexualities or assumed able-bodiedness or cis gender. There are sub-topics in the call specifically open to making this challenge, where you could take the advantage.

Please find the CFP below:

Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media

University of Texas at San Antonio – March 4-5, 2011

Submission: 500 word abstract to Kinitra Brooks and/or Marco Cervantes blackandbrownfeminisms@gmail.com on or before November 15, 2010.

Description:

Black and Latina feminist scholars offer multiple ways of understanding feminist cultures that transcend ideological borders and patriarchal conventions. More recently, Black and Latina feminists have negotiated the positionality of the woman of color in the ever-changing world of Hip Hop since its inception.  The Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media Conference situates Black and Latina feminist theory in the context of Hip Hop representation to discuss ways Hip Hop music, film, and club industries fetishize, exploit, celebrate, empower and/or disempower Black and Brown women.

This interdisciplinary conference will feature unpublished work on women in
Hip Hop to exchange ideas, share research, and initiate a sustained conversation by and about Black and Brown women in Hip Hop media.  Vital to this discussion is attention to the blurring lines between Black and Latina feminist studies and a dialogue that attempts to understand an interweaving history of objectification, struggle, and potential for agency. How do we read Black and Brown women in Hip Hop culture? What readings of Black and Brown women other than conventional black feminist readings and Latina feminist analyses are cogent? What theories enable those readings? Finally, what would an investigation into autobiographical stories of video models yield? How would those narratives differ from that of more conventional readings?

A select number of accepted papers will be included in a one-day, academic
conference at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a part of UTSA’s celebration of Women’s History Month on March 4, 2011 with a Hip Hop performance from local Texas as well as national hip hop artists on the evening of March 5, 2011.  This conference will be an opportunity for presenters to share views and concerns on the growing intersections between Black and Brown women in hip hop culture.  Possible Panel Topics Include:

  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender and Race in Hip Hop
  • Colorism within Hip-Hop video culture
  • The New Female Entrepreneur
  • Negotiating Sexualities
  • Black and Latina Diasporas
  • Video Vixens or Video Models?
  • Female Rappers
  • Chicana/o Rap
  • Alternative Models of Black Femininity
  • Latinas in Video Model Culture
  • Intersections of Video Models with Youth Culture
  • Performing the Black Body/ Brown Body
  • Reggaeton
  • A Case Study of Karrine Steffans
  • Strip Club Culture
  • Confessions of Video Vixens
  • Eroticism vs. Pornography
  • Women as Exchange among a Male Economy


On Fathers and Days

This post has been edited to fix all of the disability related grammar issues. Sorry it took so long.

unattributed/employeesthrive.org

A lot of women bloggers took the weekend to write reflections about their fathers. Many were filled with ambivalence, pain, and resolution. Some showed the courage of the phoenix rising out of natal ashes. Many natal families are the first place we learn fear, violation, betrayal, and violence; these stories, and being able to tell them without judgment, are woven into a feminist commitment to ensure equality for young girls and women around the world. But when it comes time to talk about families, I feel like the thin girl complaining she is not plump enough or that she cries in front of her mirror too. I’m sure she does, but given the amount of body policing and psychologically damaging labels of ugly, lazy, and unlovable larger girls labor under it is hard to give skinny an ounce of sympathy. And so, like skinny, I keep my mouth shut. You see, my stories about my father are about systems of oppression not the scary man who we fear coming home from work, having too many beers on Sunday, or stumbling into the “wrong room” at night. My father taught me to be strong and wise and politically committed. His failing was in sending me out into a world of middle class people with working class revolutionary commitments and ethics. And our shared lack of compromise with polite people has led to our shared careers as the hard core wing of academe and social service,  too smart to toss and to different to be included.

unattributed/voices.com

I could tell you stories about how my father missed my birth because he wasn’t the same color as my mother so the staff told her he’d gone out for a smoke and they couldn’t find him. I could tell you about the time that a group of men beat him bloody on his way home because they didn’t think he deserved to be in our family. And I could tell you the look on my first boyfriend’s face when he came to my house and met my father or the way the gf and my dad bonded to my mother’s chagrin. I could tell you these stories and watch you guess at whether he was lighter or darker than me and my mother. Watch you wonder if my stories of outside oppression color my ability to see it inside my home. But the thing is, my tears, though real. are not your tears and my father is still my hero.

getty image/unattributed

So if I were to tell you a story about my dad, it would be about how such a strong man and brilliant mind inspired me to be better than I am. It would be about his escapades putting his life and his career on the line to stand up for Chicano rights, Black Pride, and the American Indian Movement. It would be about the bad-ss days of old when he and Angel Davis were in the trenches together instead of contrasted by hallowed halls. And it would be about how at the end of his life, this man is disrespected almost daily by young, white, gay and lesbians, and upper middle class white heterosexual couples and college kids who call him the “Man” while they mock him, antagonize him, refuse to serve him at restaurants and grocery stores, all the while waiting for him to die so they can tell their friends to buy up his house and own the whole block. It would be about how the onset of dimentia is making their disrespectful crazy-making around him seem legitimate to police and is transforming my dad from the kind soul who carried a big stick to the raging “old fool” on his porch in shorts in the middle of winter.

The Fields/Hustlerofculture.com

Then instead of lamenting how little he cared for me as a child, like so many others have done this weekend, I would have to tell you how sometimes I cry at the utter lack of control I have over how he is treated by those “neighbors” who think they are so progressive and so much more oppressed than he. I would have to trust you to understand that my PhD does not buy me the privilege to stare down the cops who ignore his calls or the neighbors who mock him. I’d have to trust you to know that the money I make may stop them from stealing his home out from under him as they did to black elders on the block, but it will never buy him security or the respect that he has earned but they still refuse to give. I might even have to tell you how I rage like an angry black woman at some of those people as they stand there shrouded in their white innocence, pointing and using my anger to justify their fear and hatred.

The First Family W/ Barack Obama’s Sister & Husband & Michelle Obama’s mother/unattributed

So no my dad is not the boogie man. I don’t have to swallow childhood shame to take him out to breakfast on Father’s Day or pretend my girlfriend is my roommate.

And so I keep my mouth shut. Because I know what a privilege it is to have a father, a real one, and not just some terror in the shadows who once donated his seed.

Perhaps this little glimpse into my life tells you why it is that every Father’s Day I post pictures of loving dad’s doting on their children and encourage us all to remember the fathers we did have, whether natal or chosen, who helped us find our way.

Politics Quick Fix

You may have noticed that after all the intense writing I did about politics during the election season here at the blog, the focus of the blog has moved decidedly in different directions from DC and its outliers. Nevertheless, sometimes you cannot look away and this Super Primary Tuesday is one of those moments.

On the Left

AP Photo/unattributed

The big news today is that Blanche Lincoln managed to hold on to her seat despite not supporting the public option or the union bill that would allow workers to join and support unions in private instead of under the watchful eye of the bosses they were trying to keep in line. According to MSNBC pundit Ed Schulz and a report yesterday am on CNN, there may have been voter tampering involved in her win; both channels reported that districts that had been heavily in favor of her more progressive primary opponent received less voting areas than it has in the past and that promises to rectify this with a special Saturday am polling station for early voters were against the law in Arkansas and led to all kinds of voter confusion. Video of Arkansas’ voting in those districts included packed parking lots, long lines, and even a car accident.

Why is this important?

Blanche Lincoln is a Democrat. Democrats have long chaffed over supposed and proven voter tampering by Republicans over the last 8 years. Efforts by both Democrats and Progressives to ensure an end to voter tampering were so feared by their opponents in fact, that they launched smear campaigns to stop people from getting out the vote or challenging election results. We have documentaries and news specials full of cynical or shocked faces on the Left proclaiming the immorality of the Right with regards to voting dating back to the Florida scandal in the first Bush election. In other words, it is part of our voting knowledge and our democratic vocabulary that one thing that sets Democrats apart from Republicans is that the latter cheat, often, and using multiple tactics that including moving polling centers (OH and MI I am talking to you).

So if the polling stations were down to only 2 from roughly 50 in previous primaries in districts that were likely to come out against Blanche Lincoln then her win is actually a loss for Democrats everywhere. In one, highly publicized primary, we have lost the moral high ground on voting “irregularities” in favor of supporting a candidate who has failed to support many of the policies that the majority of the country was behind when she, and other Democrats, were overwhelmingly elected.

Her joy and incredulity last night in accepting the nomination mask a potentially much darker turn in the party in which not only voting is in question but so is the power of support from the administration. Both President Obama and former President Clinton lobbied hard for Lincoln in the past few weeks. Clinton even stumped for her and was part of her ad campaign. As progressives continue to be disappointed in the middle road policies of this administration, we cannot help but note how they have rallied for a woman who was willing to fillibuster with Republicans to stop us from having decent health care. Their continued support of her in the face of these policy “contradictions” is only slightly less disconcerting than the fact that by doing so they too are implicated, however tangentially, in the voting poll controversy.

On the Right

The other big stories this morning are the wins of  former ebay CEO Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California. Like Lincoln, Whitman’s win casts a bright light on potentially questionable election practices by her Party while Fiorina’s win may simply show that when comes to politics the old boy network has room for a few [corporate] women.

While voting polls appear to have been at their standard number for each community in CA, Whitman’s raised huge flags with the amount of money she was willing to spend to get elected. According to Time, she spent $80 million on her primary campaign.  Many are claiming this morning that it is the clearest sign that she “bought the election” of any candidate in the nation’s history. Her actions, though questionable, were not illegal and ultimately people have to ask themselves why they are so swayed by the amount of time they see a candidate but not by the knowledge that candidate spent the GDP of some small nations to win a primary.

More intriguing to me is the way Whitman became a player in the Republican Party in the first place. If you think back to the Presidential primaries and start counting the number of times John McCain told anecdotal stories about “the CEO of Ebay” you’ll know what I mean. I, for one, had no idea who Whitman was before John McCain decided to wax poetic about her every chance he got during the last legs of his election bid. Many watching and commenting on his speeches, assumed that he was going off on random tangents or grasping at straws to include references to a woman in a campaign where he may have “chosen” a female running mate but ultimately continued to operate as if it was an old boys network. Did John McCain know something we didn’t? Was he asked/told to stump for her in advance or even paid to do so? We will probably never know, but again, her bid for CA Governor has to make you wonder why she was the woman McCain fixated on 9 times out of 10 during an election she had nothing to do with.

campaign photo/unattributed

Fiorina was also mentioned by McCain several times during the Presidential Primaries until she openly mocked Palin’s qualifications. However, Fiorina worked for the McCain campaign as the economic advisor and therefore her mentions at least makes some sense.

What is more important in her case is her incredibly negative business image vs. her crushing win yesterday. As CEO of HP, Fiorina was considered a disaster by many because of declining stock and shares of the computer market. Market Shares Blog reported that HP stock went up 7% after she was fired the day the news broke. Fiorina on the other hand has always maintained that she was forced out and that gender was a critical factor in the decision. If we believe the former assessment her win is just as suspect as all of the women in NY who were disqualified by the public as backdoor candidates whose runs were considered part of an unearned legacy rather than legitimacy on their own. Some of those candidates may not have had direct political experience but they did have tons of transferable philanthropic experience. Can Fiorina, as a potentially disastrous business woman, count her time as CEO to explain away similar unearned keys to the kingdom?

Two-Parties One System

On the one hand, this primary season has seen many women coming to the political foreground. The Republicans in particular have ushered in a large number of women as their candidates, proving for those who did not learn this lesson from the suffragettes that biological sex and political beliefs are not fused together once and for all. But except for those hold out biological determinists and wrongfully educated WS folk who think “any woman” winning is a win for “women”, these wins, regardless of the Party, do not bode well for the progressive movement in this country. While some of these women will support middle class feminist goals, stances against unions and health care mean that their feminism will not extend to the majority of women struggling in this country even if they call themselves feminists. So for me the presence of so many women in the primaries is noteworthy but not a real measure of any larger feminist advance.

For the majority of voters, the primaries should be a wake up call no matter what. While neither progressives nor Tea Party challengers fared well in this election, the reason for their defeats may have more to do with shady practices than with voters. When neither Democrats nor Republicans can successfully shake off their own dirt to point at the filth of the other party, this country is in trouble. When it happens at a point in our political sentiment as a nation that incumbents are failing us, traditional government is lying to us, and what We the People need most is ignored or denied, the very public failures of both parties to uphold democratic ideals in an election only serve to further entrench dissatisfaction. While some on the Left may believe that this dissatisfaction can only be interpreted as racism, and much of the expressed disdain right now is (see my anti-Obama poster page in the tabs @ the top of the blog for evidence if you need it), progressives and others are beginning to become seriously concerned about environmental issues, employment, health care, etc. that still have not been solved. And while those of us on the Left can see across history to note how many of these issues and problems stem from past administrations and economic and global policies from past ideologies, we are also smart enough to look at the choices made by this administration. When potential or perceived voter tampering on both sides gets added to that plate of complaints it seems like the table might break.

So readers, what do you think about yesterday’s primaries and about our two party system?