Tag Archives: feminism

Quoted: Battameez on Interpreting the Kamasutra


Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai published Queering India: Same-sex love and eroticism in Indian society and culture wherein they read many “key ancient texts” against the grain to state that they’re texts that challenge the assumed heterosexism of our “ancient Indian society”; Kamasutra, they said, was one such text. Burton’s translations (along with a few other Orientalist scholars like Max Muller, Clarrise Bader, etc.) saw “Indian sexuality” as effeminate, and predictably justified its colonization, whereas Upadhayaya writing in the post-Independence era, washed away any queerness the text may possibly have suggested and re-framed it to fit the needs of the Hindu nationalist agenda. Vanita and Kidwai use all these texts to illustrate how pain and sexual pleasure can coincide and how there is plenty same-sex action going on, enough to say that Kamasutra is a queer and therefore, a liberatory text. On close inspection, the incidences where BDSM seems to be evoked, it is mostly practiced on bodies of Dasis—the slaves in the Vedic age—sometimes by the wives, usually by the husband/master. Again, most queer instances happen under the surveillance and force of the husband/master. The question here isn’t whether people then were “really” queer, nor am I concerned with the politics of BDSM and consent within this particular text (not sure if consent can even exist, if one cannot say “no”). This is where I want to inspect the politics of feminism itself, if slavery is seen as liberatory simply because there are events where the boundaries of “accepted sexuality” are pushed.

Studies like Queering India create a frame that suggests Indian culture is “inherently radical” because “see queerness has always existed here too!” frames that are produced and upheld within Subaltern historiography departments, the very academic disciplines that critique and challenge the colonialism within academia! They tend to equate queerness with progress, backed with Vedic texts like Kamasutra and Manusmriti—both of which mention queerness only within the contexts of slavery and caste/skin-color based sexual domination—and the conversation is limited to “We have always been queer, because our heritage (the texts) say so.” Don’t think I need to point out the dangers of such a limited conversation again.

However, I do want to ask why talking queerness is inherently political, revolutionary, and radical, given that many of these conversations happen at the cost of erasing slavery in ancient India (books like The Palace of Illusions, The Pregnant King come to mind here). Talking sex—especially about the Kamasutra—is progressive, but discussions of the political economy of the text don’t get the same pedestal. How can I claim and embrace queer liberation (as much as I may want to), when it silences someone else?

—Battameez in “Kamasutra and the Indian Feminists,” published at Bitch Media.

Barbie Girls: Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Mattel

by Guest Contributor Sarah Todd, originally published at Girls Like Giants

Since Azealia Banks’ 2011 breakout hit “212″ captured my heart, mind, soul, and dancing feet, I’ve been reading up on the 20-year-old rapper and soon-to-be superstar. Almost every interviewer asks Banks about Nicki Minaj, which gets old fast for her, you, me, and the bourgeoisie. (With the possible addition of our lady Rye-Rye, they are the only two black female rappers currently generating major mainstream buzz. They also went to the same “Fame” high school in NYC. Ergo, endless comparisons.)

But one comment Banks made about Minaj in an interview with GQ UK stuck out to me:

It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!”

The characters, the pink, the Barbie: was it really such a coincidence? I’m not so sure. As Banks notes, Lil’ Kim rapped about being “Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari” back in the early double-0s. There’s a French rapper who goes by the name Black Barbie. Atlanta rapper Diamond calls herself “black Barbie,” too. All signs point to the fact that Barbie’s big in the hip-hop world.

This common denominator set my mind whirring. What is it about Barbie–as a name, image, and persona–that appeals to these rappers? And what, exactly, does claiming a black Barbie identity mean in the context of hip-hop culture? For the purposes of this post, I’ll limit myself to talking about how Minaj and Lil’ Kim–who also happen to be two of my favorite rappers–use Barbie to represent and challenge mainstream standards of beauty and femininity. Continue reading

Because Amber Cole is Just a Kid and Boys Learn to Be Boys

It ain’t no fun/if the homies can’t have none. – Snoop Dogg

You know, there are a lot of people weighing in on this Amber Cole thing. But most of the conversation is about her, as is par for the course in our culture. The boys involved are still anonymous in the eyes of the world. For me, I always wonder why there aren’t open letters to these kids? There are tons to Amber Cole – people saying they could be her father, people saying STFU with all that victim-blaming and feminist-scapegoating madness – but no one seems interested in writing letters to the boys involved.

But hey, maybe it’s just me. I guess when one of your friends – along with a person who sexually assaulted you – ends up in jail for gang rape, you start thinking about things a bit differently.

After I wrote the Not Rape Epidemic, right after I submitted the essay, but before it was actually published, I ran into an old friend at my local library. I hadn’t seen this friend in a decade – indeed, I didn’t remember her name until I left the library. Yet somehow, we both happened to be in the same library, at the same time, on the same day, after not seeing each other for ten years. We say hey, make small talk.

And then she asks me: “Did you know T got out?”

We both were silent for a second. We hadn’t talked since before the incident. She didn’t know that I had been to that trial. She didn’t know I had seen the girl. And I had forgotten she was far closer to him than I was. When T and the other kids were sentenced, we calculated they would get out when we were in our 30s or 40s. We didn’t realize how the system works, and how a lot of people end up released early. T had been incarcerated from age 14 to about age 24.

“His sister called me,” my friend continued. “She asked me if I wanted to come to his his welcome home party.” She looked at me, stared hard so I could feel the weight of her pain.

“How am I supposed to look at him after he did something like that?” Continue reading

Which Women Are What Now? Slutwalk NYC and Failures in Solidarity

Over at Parlour Magazine, I spotted this photo yesterday:

Slutwalk NYC Woman Is the Nigger of the World Sign

Lord. The original reference is from a song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and performed mostly by John Lennon. At the time, Lennon and Ono justified their decision openly, using both the “my black friends said it was cool” defense as well as a more substantive critique based on ideas of “niggerization” – that nigger can be redefined to include anyone who is oppressed.

But can you appropriate a term like nigger if your body is not defined/terrorized/policed/brutalized/diminished by the word? Can we use it in a context that is supposed to belie gender solidarity, without explicitly being in racial solidarity?

I think not. And I am not alone. Continue reading

Who Is the Black Zooey Deschanel?

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, crossposted from What Tami Said

I had a great Twitter conversation yesterday with @AndreaPlaid, @AnnaHolmes and @Amaditalks. We were talking about Julie Klausner’s recent post on Jezebel, “Don’t fear the dowager: a valentine to maturity.” Klausner’s post, lamenting the trend of grown women adopting childish personas, is sort of a companion to all the similar pieces about modern men living in a state of perpetual boyhood. She writes:

There’s so much ukulele playing now, it’s deafening. So much cotton candy, so many bunny rabbits and whoopie pies and craft fairs and kitten emphera, and grown women wearing converse sneakers with mini skirts. So many fucking birds.

Girls get tattoos that they will never be able to grow into. Women with master’s degrees who are searching for life partners, list “rainbows, Girl Scout cookies, and laughing a lot” under “interests, on their Match.com profiles. Read more…

Anna is quoted in a similar article from The Daily Beast about websites launched by Jane Pratt and Zooey Deschanel.

But when the site xoJane.com was finally unveiled a few weeks ago—minus Gevinson’s involvement (though she says she will be launching a sister site in a few months), the reaction was less than stellar. Writer Ada Calhoun, on her blog 90sWoman, called out the site for its incessant namedropping (Michael Stipe was mentioned nine times the first day), writing: “The chatty, best-friends-realness voice feels put-on and costume-y, like too-big heels.”

Perhaps part of that disappointment stems from the improbable goal of including 48 year olds and 12 year olds under one roof. The result is a seemingly permanent state of girlishness that any professional woman over the age of 30 should cringe at, but one that Pratt pushes with abandon.

“I actually blame Bonnie Fuller,” said Anna Holmes, the founder of Jezebel.com, referencing the former Glamour and Us Weekly editor, whose penchant for bright pink cursive handwriting scrawled all over the pages of her magazines and websites has nabbed her million dollar paychecks—and, unfortunately, permeated the lady mag and gossip set.

With such tickle-me-hormonal content online, it makes one wonder, where is the content for women who want the equivalent of GQ, with sharp articles about powerful women and fascinating trend stories, written by writers as good as Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion? Where are the fashion spreads that make you feel aspirational, not inadequate? Must everything be shot through with a shade of red or pink? And does everything have to end with an exclamation point? Read more…

The Klausner article generated a ton of push back on Jezebel. I suspect because the manic pixie dream girl persona is “in” right now and everyone wants to feel like they choose their own choices. In this case, that means that some women want to believe that their predilection for rompers and kittens and baby voices reflects their individual personalities and not some trend toward retro, non-threatening femaleness. But no one chooses their choices in a vacuum and certainly it means something that so many women seem to be finding this super-girlish, childish part of their personalities at the same time, while Katy Perry’s sex and candy persona is tearing up the charts and actual little girls are being bombarded with pink, purple, princesses, tulle and sparkles.

Continue reading

Quoted: Fatemeh Fakhraie on Islam, Justice, Love, and Feminism

“Two things are important to me,” she says over a sushi supper in downtown Corvallis. “Justice and love, and both of them clicked for me in Islam.”

Fakhraie grew up in a family where religion was respected but not forced on her or her younger brother, Anayat, 24. Her father, born in Iran, did not practice his faith. Her mother, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, studied religion with another woman but didn’t attend services.

“I was raised as a white girl with a funny last name and a foreign dad,” she says. As an adolescent, she was “the black cloud” over her parents’ house. “I was sullen. I hated everything.” Today she says she and her family are close, but her brother, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, remembers her black cloud days.

“At Christmas, we’d be opening presents and she’d be sulking in the corner,” he says. “She didn’t want anyone to take pictures. ‘Do we have to do this?’ she’d complain. She embodied the quintessential teenager angst.”

“I was a ‘why’ person,” she says. “I always wanted to know why.” Why, for example, was her father so strict with her when it came to boys? An avid reader, she began reading about Persian culture, which led her to the subject of Islam. She kept on reading. When she got to college, she read Fatima Mernissi’s “The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam.”

It was a breakthrough moment for her.

“I could be a feminist and a Muslim,” she says. “I was a feminist before I knew what a feminist was.” Fakhraie’s mother was the family breadwinner and her dad was “Mr. Mom.” She remembers being upset that her mom came home from work and picked up household chores.

“It was like a double shift,” Fakhraie says. “Fairness has always been an integral issue with me.”

–Excerpted from Fatemeh Fakhraie: A Feminist Muslim Breaks Stereotypes

Photo Credit: Utne

MMW Roundtable: Jonah Goldberg’s Feminist Concerns

By the staff at Muslimah Media Watch, cross-posted with their permission

A few weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg wrote an op-ed claiming that feminism’s work in the West is “mostly done” and that’s it’s time to take feminism “overseas” to Muslim women.

We disagree.

Diana: Where do you begin in tearing apart Jonah Goldberg’s “Talking feminism overseas?” I can almost see Gayatri Spivak shaking her head as she waves her finger back and forth, saying as she has before, “white men saving brown women from brown men.”  So much for novelty in the discourse surrounding “third world women.” Can someone please throw something new at us?!

Azra: I’ll admit, after reading Jonah Goldberg’s article, I had to read it again (unfortunately), as I considered the chance that it was an excellent piece of farce. If only that were the case …

Sara: Oh, please, Jonah. Feminism is hardly a completed project in the United States. Who hasn’t ratified CEDAW yet? Measuring access to rights by national boundaries is problematic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the oasis of equality that Goldberg mentions is a myth, and really only applies to certain groups. The rights of women change according to socioeconomic factors and race.  Drawing empowerment or access to rights through national boundaries or groups pushes injustice into invisibility. Saying that the “work is done” is a flat-out insult to the work of modern American feminists.

Azra: Is feminism over in the United States? Continue reading

Quoted: Ashley Judd’s Feminism and Hip-Hop

Aside from the fact that Ashley Judd has no clue about Hip-Hop as an art form and a culture, her comment shows an underlying prejudice towards black men. She says that Snoop and Diddy’s participation in YouthAIDS raised a red flag for her. If she knew anything about Hip-Hop or maybe even had a conversation with either one of these men, she’d know that neither condone rape or create violent music (at least not in the last decade), both are intelligent and savvy media moguls, and both are fathers (each has a least one daughter). So why wouldn’t they use their star power and influence to spread the message to young people, and especially the Hip-Hop community, about the importance of HIV/AIDS prevention? Shouldn’t they be lauded? If their music is so sexually irresponsible, isn’t it a good thing that they are talking about safe sex considering that HIV/AIDS transmission rates are so much higher among African-Americans?
What’s particularly dangerous is the use of the phrase “rape culture” in this context. In the wake of the Cleveland, Texas rape case, we have seen how stereotypes of sexually aggressive black men spin out of control and dredge up historical beliefs of black men being rapists. This is the latest incarnation with Ashley Judd, a well-respected advocate for maternal health and women and girls, attacking Hip-Hop. Commercial Hip-Hop is misogynous. So is underground shit. Rock, metal, house, R&B, techno, etc. all have misogynous and violent content. But none is as popular, commercially viable, or controversial. There’s a difference between talking about the music as being misogynous and honestly deconstructing what’s behind that, and saying Hip-Hop as a whole promotes “rape culture.” It shows a lack of understanding of the diversity of Hip-Hop and the commercial decisions that shape how it is sold and capitalized upon (and who makes those decisions).
I know that she is promoting a book and people think it’s a publicity stunt. I don’t know…maybe it is, generally speaking we as listeners and consumers of Hip-Hop (at least her definition of it) aren’t her main audience. As a publicist and communications strategist, I think that’s idiotic and shortsighted but I’m also not a big supporter of the idea that all publicity, even bad, is good publicity. If that’s the case then mission accomplished…now people who didn’t know or care about her memoir think she is a racist dumbass. Or some people think she is speaking out about negative imagery of women in Hip-Hop and pop culture. That depends on your point of view. What I do believe is that Ms. Judd wants to advance the discussion of attitudes that lead to sexual assault and rape since she experienced sexual abuse. Yet this is hardly a constructive way to do it.
I have looked closely at the feedback I have received about those two paragraphs, and absolutely see your points, and I fully capitulate to your rightness, and again humbly offer my heartfelt amends for not having been able to see the fault in my writing, and not having anticipated it would be painful for so many. Crucial words are missing that could have made a giant difference. It should have read: “Some hip-hop, and some rap, is abusive. Some of it is part of the contemporary soundtrack misogyny (which, of course, is multi-sonic). Some of it promotes the rape culture so pervasive in our world…..” Also, I, ideally, would have anticipated that some folks would see only representations of those two paragraphs, and not be familiar with the whole book, my work, and my message. I should have been clear in them that I include hip-hop and rap as part of a much larger problem. It is beyond unfortunate that I am talking about some, for example, of Snoop Dogs’ lyrics, an assumption has been spread I was talking about every single artist in both genres. That is false and distorted. Here, I am again aware that it would be impossible for me to get this “exactly right.” Some will find fault, no matter how careful I am, no matter what my intentions.

Easily the most ludicrous thing about the Twitter wars has been the perpetuation of the ridiculous accusation I am blaming two musical genres for poverty, AIDS, and the whole of rape culture. Please, people. Seriously? It’s beneath all of us that this even merits a comment. Gender inequality and rape culture were here a long before the birth of the genres and rage everywhere. Someone pointed out American history includes extensive white patriarchal rape. I’d add genocide, too, but that is another essay.

Regarding what is happening on Twitter:

Thumbs Up: In those 2 paragraphs, I was addressing gender and gender only. However, the outcry focused so much on race (and at times class) that it was naive of me to assume that everyone knew I was discussing only gender. My favorite feminist teachers, such as bell hooks and Gloria Steinem, would probably have admonished me, as they write that gender, class, and race are inextricably bound in the conversation about gender equality. My amends for thinking you could read my mind and know I was only talking about gender. I understand why you were offended.

“Why don’t we [help] end rape culture instead of getting mad that we’re getting called out on it?”
Photo Credit: huffingtonpost.com