This Real Issue with Mommy Porn

By Erin Hagen

For the last few weeks, editorials criticizing 50 Shades of Grey turned feature film have been popping up all over my newsfeed. Perhaps it’s because I have been reading them while thinking ahead to our Women’s History Annual Conference, Worn Out: Motherwork in the Age of Austerity, but I have finally pinpointed the reason I cannot get on board with the 50 Shades of Grey shamming: mommy porn. The term refers to this simplistic narrative: middle-aged women who compromised an unsatisfying sex life for marriage and motherhood use 50 Shades of Grey as way to explore what they’ve been missing. In other words, it’s a term that demonstrates how much we still find mothers’ sexuality to be comical.

"Son Leaves Hilarious Note For Mother Reading ’50 Shades Of Grey’," http://elitedaily.com/humor/son-leaves-hilarious-note-mother-reading-50-shades-grey/

“Son Leaves Hilarious Note For Mother Reading ’50 Shades Of Grey’,” http://elitedaily.com/humor/son-leaves-hilarious-note-mother-reading-50-shades-grey/

But before we get into the issue with mommy porn, here’s a brief background of the series: 50 Shades of Grey originated as fan-fiction of the young adult series, Twilight. It’s an interpretation of the relationship between the two main characters in a non-fantasy world, and written created for an older demographic.

Some critiques of the 50 Shades address the misconceptions of the BDSM community, and Dom/Submissive relationship perpetuated by the series. For example, in The Guardian essay written by Sophie Morgan, she critiques the portrayal of the BDSM as influencing all aspects of the main characters’ lives. She writes, “[D]espite what you might have read to the contrary, my sexual urges don’t overshadow every other aspect of my personality and life. I’m also, and this might be a tougher sell in some quarters, a feminist.”[1]

Additionally, there are a number of important criticisms of the emotional abusiveness of the main characters’ relationship, which is not part and parcel with the Dom/Submissive relationship. 50 Shades of Abuse: A Critical Review of the Abuse Relationship in the 50 Shades Trilogy is a blog entirely devoted to breaking down the interactions between the two characters, and presents many convincing analyses that exposes some of the sex scenes as rape scenes.[2]

Then there are not so thoughtful critiques. One of the worst perpetrators was a blog entry I discovered last summer. Written by blogger Matt Walsh, it is addressed “to the women of America.”[3] The blogger  judges women, complaining those who “give [him] a hearty ‘AMEN’ every time [he] write[s] a post condemning pornography, are the same ones gushing frantically about this film.” He goes on to say, “They don’t want their husbands watching porn, but they’ll not only watch and read porn themselves — they’ll advertise that fact to the entire world. As if the hypocrisy isn’t bad enough, they had to add in a touch of public emasculation.”[4] Walsh’s “appeals” to women are not uncommon in the 50 Shades conversation. He calls for women to simply realize they are smart, deserve better men than the fictional character of Christian Grey, and remember they are feminists.[5]

It is easy to write off Walsh’s appeals as sexist. He is, after all, making sexist statements about females who read the series. However, a greater issue is that it is not only the Walsh’s of the blogger-sphere making these appeals. As a woman who identifies as a feminist, I’ve seen numerous articles targeted at me to avoid poorly written pop-culture novels like the plague, and partake in degrading other women’s choices of leisure literature.

Although I sometimes have differing opinions from fellow feminists, I am sensitive of how I discuss those those differences. The biggest issue I have with the criticism of 50 Shades of Grey is that, whether or not it originated in feminist critique, it has come to shame women, particularly mothers. The Saturday Night Live skit in which mothers are found reading 50 Shades of Grey on Mothers’ Day is a perfect example of how mothers’ sexuality become has become the punchline.

Avital Norman Nathman, in her essay “Women Deserve Better than 50 Shades of Grey” poses a question that exposes the absurdity of mommy porn: “If this had been a book marketed toward men, would we be seeing the same sort of equal parts derision and patronizing reactions? Would the media dare coin the term ‘daddy porn?’”[6] Ironically, mommy porn isn’t even an accurate descriptor for the demographic reading the series. According to a Newsweek Magazine article, the majority of women reading the series are in their 20s and 30s.[7]

The problem with calling on feminists and feminism to disassemble the 50 Shades of Grey series is that it assumes a pretty narrow feminist agenda. What feminists like myself find much more concerning is that we’re being called on to do the work of patriarchy: to demean women who read 50 Shades of Grey.

[1] Sophie Morgan, “I like Submissive Sex but Fifty Shades is not about Fun: It’s about Abuse,” The Guardian (August 25, 2012), http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/aug/25/fifty-shades-submissive-sophie-morgan.

[2] 50 Shades of Abuse: A Critical Review of the Abuse Relationship in the 50 Shades Trilogy, http://50shadesofabuse.wordpress.com/.

[3] It’s also funny that this blogger also doesn’t seem to be concerned about the fallout of 50 Shades the global phenomenon. Mat Walsh, “To the women of America: 4 reasons to hate 50 Shades of Grey,” The Mat Walsh Blog, (July 25, 2014), http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/25/women-america-4-reasons-hate-50-shades-grey/#3CAIF69OfFgm8gLY.99.

[4] Mat Walsh, “To the women of America: 4 reasons to hate 50 Shades of Grey,” The Mat Walsh Blog, (July 25, 2014), http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/25/women-america-4-reasons-hate-50-shades-grey/#3CAIF69OfFgm8gLY.99.

[5] He goes on to say that he has never fully understood what makes a feminist, but “if 50 Shades of Grey makes the cut, then feminism is dead and buried.”Mat Walsh, “To the women of America: 4 reasons to hate 50 Shades of Grey,” The Mat Walsh Blog, (July 25, 2014), http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/25/women-america-4-reasons-hate-50-shades-grey/#3CAIF69OfFgm8gLY.99.

[6] Avital Norman Nathman, “Women Deserve Better than 50 Shades of Grey,” HLN, (August 22, 2012), http://www.hlntv.com/article/2012/05/08/opinion-fifty-shades-grey-feminism-literature.

[7] Katie Roiphe, “Working Women’s Fantasies,” Newsweek Magazine (April 16, 2012), http://www.newsweek.com/working-womens-fantasies-63915.

Book Review: Borders and Boundaries: How Women Experienced the Partition of India (2000) By Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin

Book Review by Anita Botello

On June 3, 1947, the Partition of India announced by the Hindustan-Pakistan Plan effectively created Pakistan by dividing provinces in India along religious-based borders.[1] The Muslim-majority provinces, which had been part of India became West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and regions of Punjab with a Hindu majority remained in India. As soon as lines were drawn, or even sooner, mass exoduses began on both sides as Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were pushed to their new homes. Those reluctant to leave their communities were forced out by the violence that broke out at the beginning of partition. Rita Menon and Kamla Bhasin study the violence that defined the female experience during Partition and the post-Partition years in their book Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition. Through their research, they seek to present an alternative view of Partition aside from the countless political histories that exist. To do this they rely of oral accounts of women that fell victim to the violence that overtook regions of India and Pakistan and expose the “tangled relationships between women, religious communities and the state.”[2] The female body become a site on which male honor was disputed and the state negotiated citizenship and borders.
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Religious tensions in regions of India among Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs began long before 1947, but the official declaration of Partition escalated the public violence against women. Sexual violence among these three communities included “stripping, parading naked, amputating breast, rape, and the killing fetuses.”[3] Menon and Bhasin argue that the overwhelming displays of sexual violence against women brought about feelings of shame and dishonor for both the family and the community as a whole. Taran, a Sikh woman, shares her story with Menon and Bhasin, stating that when faced with an imminent attack by a mob, her family along with others in her community discussed gathering the young girls in a room and setting it on fire to prevent them from falling into the hands of Muslim men. Stories like Taran’s were devastatingly common; some involved women forced to take poison, others hung themselves and some jumped off buildings. Acts of sexual violence on the female body by opposing communities were considered a sort pollution of the family. The researchers do not shy away from presenting readers with gruesome realities women faced. By showing them, they seek to engage the reader in the realties that marked female bodies in India and the national struggle that dominated that experience.

The process of recovering female refugees in both India and Pakistan was dictated by political debates about citizenship and responsibilities. Both governments established laws to recover abducted women and return them to their families and communities. The researchers rely on the account of a social worker, Kamlaben Patel, who was charged with the responsibility of returning Hindu and Sikh women to their families. With Patel’s account, Menon and Bhasin address the debate that emerged as social workers encountered women in Pakistan that did not want to return to India. Some women had married Muslim men and had children, but Indian abduction laws recognized them as citizens of India and demanded that they be returned to their families. They were considered daughters of India and the state considered it its duty to protect them as such, but what was the citizenship status of their children? Menon and Bhasin address this question through Patel, who states that initially the nations refused to allow women to cross borders with their children. Eventually, as Patel explains, these laws would change, but citizenship continued to be a topic of debate among abducted women.

Firsthand accounts provide Menon and Bhasin critical information necessary to study Partition in India from a feminist historical angle, but relying on oral histories can prove to be problematic. Menon and Bhasin address early on in their work, issues of memory and the interviewer-interviewee dynamic in oral histories. The relationship between a researcher and the subject is especially problematic because, as they point out, inequality exists; the subjects provide their narrative based on personal memories to be interpreted and used by the researcher. It is Menon and Bhasin’s responsibility to maintain “accuracy and fidelity to the letter and spirit of the narratives” that women share with them. [4] One way they accomplish this is by allowing the words of the women to stand alone, offering context and analysis in the beginning and end of each section, but ultimately allowing narratives to speak from themselves. They allow the reader to form a human connection with the histories of the women by transcribing interviews with little editing, which allows for the subjects voice to be imagined. While historians often promote a detachment from research, Menon and Bhasin present their bias early on by addressing their family ties. The narratives mean something to them not only as scholars, but also as women growing up in a post-partition India.

Scholar-activist and oral historian Maylei Blackwell uses the term “retrofitted memory” to describe a “form of countermemory that’s uses fragments of older histories” to uncover historical narrative that have been disappeared or lost.[5 In essence Menon and Bhasin’s collection of oral narratives is a form of retrofitted memory because it challenges the established history that exists on the Partition of India to uncover the gendered violence that took place during this time. While Menon and Bhasin explore uncharted waters, their work focuses mainly on the Indian experience with less emphasis on Muslim women in Pakistan. How did Muslim communities reconcile with the violence they experienced? What happened to those children born from sectarian violence? Oral narratives allow for the opportunity to continue exploring critical moments in history that defined individuals and communities.

[1] Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition. New Brunswick (N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998) 33.Bottom of Form

[2] Ibid, 20.

[3] Ibid, 43.

[4] Ibid, 15.

[5] Maylei Blackwell, Chicana Power: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011) 2.

An Interview with Shirley Stewart MA ’10

Shirley Stewart is an alumnae of the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College, and the author of The World of Stephanie St. Clair: An Entrepreneur, Race Woman and Outlaw in Early Twentieth Century Harlem. She will be coming to Sarah Lawrence on December 3rd at 5:30 in Heimbold 208. Here is a sneak peek at her research process and advice for those interested in writing History.

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  1. How did you come to choose Stephanie St. Clair as the subject of your book?

The choice was a no-brainer. I mean it was just so obvious to me. On a shallow level, she was a beautiful and a professionally-successful woman in a time when most black women were not considered beautiful and success was hard to come by for anyone. Early on though I realized that there was so much more to St. Clair, so I was hooked on her story.

  1. What was your process for locating primary documents about the life of Stephanie St. Clair? What was your biggest challenge in locating primary documents, and how did you address that challenge?

The process was haphazard in the beginning. There was no road map (no autobiography or biography), and the sparse information I did find was wrong and continues to be perpetuated to this day (I think because that information is sexier than the truth). Anyway, I had to find a starting point that I could prove was factually correct in the form of a primary document. I then researched backwards from that point and moved forward locating more and more primary documents as I unearthed more information about her. The documents were all dated so that helped a great deal in creating a timeline of her life.

  1. What was one of the most interesting experiences/finds you had while researching Stephanie St. Clair?

I was fascinated with how invested Harlem residents were in their community. Socially and economically it was a diverse place with the tension that can entail. That same diversity, however, also allowed for Harlem’s vibrancy. In New York there is currently a discourse about gentrification. The idea that one group could displace a less economically viable group just did not happen during that era. Elite and middle-class blacks moved from other areas in Manhattan and Brooklyn to Harlem without a substantial displacement of the working-class or poor.

  1. What do you feel you gained from the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence that most shaped the professional path you chose after graduation?

The Women’s History Program confirmed what I suspected all along—that history is not static. As I began the program someone (a highly-intelligent someone at that) said to me, “all the important history has been done already.” She was, of course, referring to all the “facts” found in all those texts found in the countless primary, intermediate and high schools across the country. However, documents are being unearthed every day and with digitization we can now cross-reference a wide range of people who experienced the same event. We can now have a more dynamic, nuanced and democratic view of a historical fact. Stephanie St. Clair was a perfect example of a woman who lived through some of the most important events in America’s history, and we have her actions and reactions to those events.

  1. What advice do you have for Women’s Historians that would like to turn their thesis work or budding research project into a book someday?

Instead of thinking of your thesis as a requirement for graduation, think in the long term. Find a thesis topic that will keep you engaged for at least three years. If the subject is not interesting to you, I guarantee that you will put all that hard work in a desk drawer and never look at it again. To complicate matters, life won’t stop because you are working on a book so plan to make choices so that the disparate pieces of your world become a more workable mess. Finally, understand that writing is a solitary process and it is possible that the only one who will see the value of your work in the beginning is you. Some of your friends and loved ones won’t understand your decision to spend an evening writing over other activities. Having said all that, I would not change a thing. The feeling of accomplishment is amazing.

Book Review: Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940 (2001) By Mary Renda

Book Review by Hank Broege

“The American Africa”

In the land of sloth and vice
Where they never heard of ice
Where the donkeys and women work all day
Where the land is full of ants
And the men don’t wear their pants
It is here the soldier sings his evening lay.
Underneath the boiling sun
Let them have their Benet gun
And return us to our beloved homes.[1]

This song, constructed and sung by U.S. Marines during their nineteen-year occupation of Haiti, bears a striking resemblance to The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen Anthem, but unlike the Yaksmen described in the anthem, Haiti is real, yet seldom depicted as such, and thus more often depicted as an exotic African fantasy held within a predominantly white U.S. imagination. Due to the significance of Haiti’s Orientalization by U.S. discourse, I decided to title this book review of Taking Haiti after what the evangelical missionary Wilhelm Jordan described as an “American Africa.'”[2]
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Taking Haiti: Military Occupation & the Culture of U.S. Imperialism
, 1915-1940, by Mary Renda, is a colorful and engaging work of historical scholarship comprised of hundreds of sources that Renda uses to articulate the U.S. discourse of Haiti in journals, letters, pulp fiction novels, theatre, and tourism. She discusses the discourse coming from the U.S. government, especially the Wilson Administration, who commissioned the invasion of Haiti in 1915. Renda even discussed a few of the most prominent writers of the 20th century, including Eugene O’Neill, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston and how they depicted Haiti in their literature. However, the primary focus of analysis for Renda are the U.S. Marines, whom Renda sees as an essential vehicle for U.S. discourse on racism, exoticism, gender, sexuality, phycology, imperialism and most importantly, paternalism, which is used so frequently as a framework for examining political and social relations that it at times teeters on the brink of repetitiveness.

It’s difficult to quibble even in that regard, however, because the paternalist framework existed so firmly on several levels. Woodrow Wilson, as president of the U.S., viewed Haitians as rotten little boy in need of severe punishment.[3] Major general Smedley Butler, AKA “The Fighting Quaker,” who headed the Haitian gendarmerie, who he referred to as his “little chocolate soldiers.” Coincidentally, Butler had three little children of his own whom he viewed in a similar light to his “little fellows” on Haiti: Smedley Jr., Tom Dick, and a daughter nicknamed “Snooks.”[4] The Marines themselves of course viewed the Haitians as children, including Faustin Wirkus, who saw himself and other Marines as “trustees of a huge estate that belonged to minors.”[5]

Nevertheless, this would not prevent Marines from indiscriminately killing Haitians who they suspected of being Caco rebels, overseeing Haitians being literally worked to death on cotton plantations, and the rape and killing of nine prepubescent girls in one night.[6] Since they were white Marines in Haiti, any wrongdoing would be attributed to their circumstances and not to their actions, so they were all let off the hook. At worst, they would be sent back to a mental hospital in the U.S., like sergeant Ivan Virski was after his drunken shooting rampage. According to Renda, this behavior stemmed from exposure to a range of discourse on race, gender, and nation before they even landed on Haiti.

While some Marines were born in the U.S., some were immigrants, nor were all the Marines criminals. Nevertheless, nearly all of the Marines shared a sense of racial nationalism and superiority, which was yet another paternalist framework. Furthermore, the marines also had a shared ignorance for Haiti’s history; a history that up until the 1930s, thanks to the promotional work of black pride, black nationalist, and far left organizations, as well as literature published by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes, had been deliberately omitted by U.S., French, and other Western discourse.

While aboard their ships to Haiti, the only literature on Haiti the Marines could get their hands on was on voodoo, and how Haitians used that to poison their enemies. [7] They even tested what they had learned on the subject by making a Haitian drink an entire bucket of water, and then waited for him to die, which he did not.[8] Therefore, prior to the U.S. occupation of Haiti, the Marines did not read about the thirteen-year Haitian Revolution that concluded in 1804 with the expulsion of French colonialists, and the establishment of the second independent republic in the western hemisphere. They did not read about how American merchants supported the Haitian, which Thomas Jefferson approved of, but could not recognize the Republic of Haiti because of the institution of slavery in the Southern U.S., and the U.S. relationship with France. The Republic of Haiti would not be recognized until the U.S. Civil War was underway. They also did not read about the thousands African Americans who immigrated to Haiti in the 1920s to escape racism and enslavement. Lastly, they did not read about the enormous debt that the French saddled Haiti with for ‘stealing’ their colony, which Haiti could not seem to recover from, especially after the U.S. took control of Haiti’s national bank and its debt in 1910, and then invaded five years later, swiftly dismantling Haiti’s political system (which has yet to be restored), and installed a puppet political system to serve U.S. imperial and neocolonial interests.

 

[1] Mary Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 233.

[2] Ibid, 303.

[3] Ibid, 100.

[4] Ibid, 102.

[5] Ibid, 13.

[6] Ibid, 163.

[7] Ibid, 71.

[8] Ibid, 79.

Persecution of Women in the Public Eye: How Much has Changed?

By Jackie Collens

That the lives and actions of men and women of notoriety are critiqued differently is no new concept. As we watch the media hype over Hillary Clinton’s potential second run at presidency, there are a number of questions I would like to pose:

For what reasons are women in the public eye persecuted today, and how is the language used against them different from, or similar to, that used to persecute women in the past? As a society, has our treatment of notable women improved, gotten worse, or remained the same?

I will be looking at media coverage and public discourse on Hillary Clinton as she is widely recognizable and has been in the public eye for a significant amount of time. The sexist language used during coverage of her presidential campaign in 2008 stirred up a great deal of debate, and as rumors arise that she may potentially run again in 2016, her actions continue to be scrutinized. In an article examining sexism in the coverage of the 2008 election, Joseph E. Uscinski and Lilly J. Goren collected a sample of comments made about Clinton by reporters on various news programs. They also looked at the different ways reporters referred to Clinton compared to other candidates.

A few noteworthy comments include Tucker Carlson’s, “I have often said, when she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs,” and Glenn Beck’s claim that her voice, “sounds like my wife saying, ‘take out the garbage.’”[1] Both of these comments play into familiar stereotypes not only of Hilary Clinton, but also of women in general who appear to have a significant amount of power, political or otherwise. This stereotype portrays these women as nagging, power-hungry, and overall threatening to the men that stand in their way. Uscinski and Goren also discovered that in discussions of Clinton’s candidacy, topics ranged from her laugh, to the pantsuits she wore, and her menstrual cycle; during an episode of The Chris Matthews Show, she was depicted with devil horns drawn onto her head.[2] As a woman in the public eye, Hillary Clinton has certainly seen her fair share of criticism using gendered language and stereotypes. Her presence and influence have drawn a great deal of negativity, much like other women in U.S. history who gained notoriety for stepping outside of their determined gender norms.

For the sake of historical comparison, I will be looking at the language used in discussions of the women participants in the Antinomian Controversy of the seventeenth century.[3] While the persecution of the women involved in the Antinomian Controversy stemmed from their religious beliefs, Hillary Clinton’s criticisms are generally within a political context. Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer are still notable for the attention they gained as outspoken women who became influential members of their communities, particularly because they were outspoken at a time when women were rarely able to play quite as direct a role in politics as they can today. Anne Hutchinson, perhaps the most recognizable figure of the Antinomian Controversy, has been discussed at great lengths in historical writings not only because she was a woman unafraid of sharing her ideas and opinions publicly, but because she did so in a manner that gained her loyal friends and followers. One such follower, Mary Dyer, became a similarly influential member of the movement in her own right. She was forced to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony several times, and each time she returned, was faced with the possibility of being executed. In response to her actions, Dyer was described by her own husband as having, “inconsiderate madness.”[4]

The governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, remarked that she was, “notoriously infected,” by Antinomian doctrine, as well as, “censorious and troublesome.”[5] Perhaps some of the most interesting language used in discussing Mary Dyer’s life comes from the accounts surrounding her birthing of a deformed stillborn child; descriptions of the birth allude to the idea that this, “monstrous birth,” was a sign that Dyer herself was a monster or a witch, or that this event was God’s punishment for her heresy.[6] Another one of Hutchinson’s friends and followers, the midwife Jane Hawkins, had been denied membership by her local church and because of her behavior and mannerisms, was the subject of rumors suggesting she may have been associated with the devil. Indeed, by drawing comparisons between the language used to describe these women and that used when discussing public women today illuminates how absurd the media’s treatment of Clinton is today.

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As discussions of another potential presidential candidacy continue, the popular news media will no doubt continue to discuss Clinton’s every move. The nuances of the rhetoric aimed at women in the public eye during the 17th century and today may differ slightly, but overall it appears that not much has changed. When women past and present have chosen to speak their minds publicly, they have quite often been persecuted as mad, threatening, and even evil. While the historical examples discussed here only represent women from one area and period, surely there is something to be said about the fact that the criticisms used against them are still heard today.

[1] Joseph E. Uscinski and Lilly J. Goren, “What’s in a Name? Coverage of Senator Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic Primary,” Political Research Quarterly, 64:4 (2011): 885.

[2] Uscinski and Goren, “What’s in a Name?” 892.

[3] A religious and political conflict in the Massachusets Bay Colony from 1636 to 1638, between the colony’s ministers and magistrates and those who believed in the teachings of Free Grace Theology.

[4] Anne G. Myles, “From Monster to Martyr: Re-Presenting Mary Dyer,” Early American Literature, 36:1 (2001): 8.

[5] Emery John Battis, Saints and sectaries; Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1962), 270.

[6] Myles, “From Monster to Martyr,” 3.

Spider Woman, the Contortionist?

By Kaitlyn Kohr

There is a trend in comic book art to make women look as sexy as possible: from their clothes, to their hair, to the very position of their bodies. The most famous of the poses women are contorted into is called (and pardon the language): the “tits and ass” pose. This form is exactly what it sounds like. The female body is twisted so that the breasts and butt are both on display for the viewer’s gaze. To achieve this stance and many other “sexy” poses, however, anyone with an understanding of how the human body is constructed will notice that comic book artists have deleted some key parts of the human anatomy, such as: spines, ribcages, internal organs, and hipbones.

If the problem with this transformation of the female body is unclear, allow me to explain. While these are superheroes and there is a certain amount of creativity that artists can take with their renderings, male superheroes are not intentionally drawn in this manner. Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man, and Captain America are drawn, for the most part, anatomically correct. Unless it is a recent update that I have missed, Cat Woman, Storm, Wonder Woman, the Scarlet Witch, and other super-heroines do not have super-bendy spines and disappearing bones in their cache of superpowers. The only character that should be drawn in Exorcist-like poses is Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, whose superpower allows him to stretch and contort his body. The distortion of women’s bodies feeds the unrealistic ideals that their bodies are held up to in western society, and is a major source of disenchantment for female fans (who make up the comic book industry’s largest growing consumers).

A recent and prime example of this distortion is present in the variant cover art for the upcoming new title Spider-Woman #1. When Marvel announced that in November of this year, they would be releasing a new solo comic for Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew), female comic fans were elated.[1] This comic emerges as a part of Marvel’s equality initiative (the same campaign that the new female Thor and black Captain America formed from) in an effort to be more inclusive toward their non-white, male, cisgender, heterosexual audiences. With Marvel being so keen to appeal to women, it confused many people when the variant cover art for the first issue was released and viewers saw this:

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In case it is not clear, in this image, Spider-Woman is meant to have just leapt onto the roof of a building, one leg hanging still over the ledge. Why is her butt in the air for this maneuver? Why is her suit digging into the crack of her butt? Why is her head tilted backwards at an impossibly acute angle? Well, according to the artist, that is just how the female body works.[2] Milo Manera, the artist in question, was an odd choice to begin with for a comic meant to appeal to feminists, as his usual work is drawing for erotic comics with male audiences. The image made women everywhere wonder what in the world Marvel was thinking when they allowed the image to be released. But do not fear. Women did not simply let the ridiculousness of this drawing go unnoticed. Instead, they got creative.

Among the litany of critiques that emerged on the cover art, which ranged from memes, tweets, and parodies, to a horrifying 3-D rendering of the pose; is a video by Alice Dranger, a gymnast.[3] Dranger and two other female gymnasts attempt to recreate Spider-Woman’s pose by leaping onto a faux-skyscraper ledge made of floor mats and freezing in the position they land in to see if women’s bodies do in fact work in the way that Manera draws. To no one’s surprise, not a single gymnast landed in Manera’s stance. If three adult, trained female athletes cannot replicate the pose, it seems highly unlikely that any woman, including a super-heroine could either.

Another response came from artist Karine Charlebois, who runs a tumblr blog, Less Tits N’ Ass, More Kickin’ Ass, and uses her artistic skills to transform women’s unrealistic poses in comic books into the anatomically possible.[4] Charlebois’ blog and other blogs like it are different from the “Hawkeye-Initiative,” which draws the superhero Hawkeye in the poses and outfits of super-heroines to note their absurdity, and has received backlash for mocking femininity.[5] Charlebois does not alter the women’s costumes (no matter how impractical they may be), and she keeps the poses as similar to the original as possible, only altering them so that they correctly reflect the flexibility of real human bodies. Her alterations show women can be drawn in ways that are anatomically correct, yet still display plenty of the breast and butt areas of which comics seem to be so fond. Her re-imagining of the Manera cover loses none of its eroticism, yet puts Spider-Woman in a stance that is physically possible:

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It seems that this bombardment of criticism may have made Marvel see the error of their ways. Manera was scheduled to do two upcoming variant art covers for X-Men and Thor (the new, female one). Yet, as of September 23rd, Manera has been conveniently removed as the artist for these covers due to scheduling errors.[6] The removal of his art from these future comics gives hope that female comic fans have the ability alter the superhero landscape one pose and cover critique at a time. Above all else, one thing stands to be glaringly true, women comic book fans refuse to be silent in both their passion for the genre, and their criticisms.

*Kaitlyn Kohr is a second year student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College. After Sarah Lawrence, she plans to go to school for a Doctorate in Art History and one day work in an art museum. Her hobbies include becoming overly invested in the lives and treatment of female comic book characters, exploring museums, watching British television shows, and reading about representations of women.

[1] Lucas Siegel, “SDCC 2014: Women of MARVEL Panel New SPIDER-WOMAN Ongoing Announced, More,” Newsarama, July 27, 2014, http://www.newsarama.com/21730-sdcc-2014-women-of-marvel-panel-live.html.

[2] Jill Pantozi, “Spider-Woman Cover Artist Milo Manara & Writer Dennis Hopeless Respond To Online Discussion,” The Mary Sue, August 22, 2014, http://www.themarysue.com/manara-hopeless-respond-spider-woman-cover/.

[3] Alice Dranger, “Opposing Images: Women Attempt Spider Woman Cover Art” (video), accessed September 27, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7aQKFPJX4o.

[4] Kanthara (Karine Charlebois), “It’s a two-fer! Courtesy of…,” Less Tits N’ Ass, More Kickin’ Ass, August 20, 2014, accessed September 27, 2012, http://lesstitsnass.tumblr.com/post/95253962172/its-a-two-fer-courtesy-of-dcwomenkickingass#permalink-notes. Another great blog that is conducting similar work is Ami Angelwings’s tumblr: Escher Girls (eschergirls.tumblr.com).

[5] Chris Hall, “The Hawkeye Initiative Pokes Fun at Sexist Comics, but Is It Backfiring?,” SFWeekly, January 8, 2013, http://www.sfweekly.com/exhibitionist/2013/01/08/the-hawkeye-initiative-pokes-fun-at-sexist-comics-but-is-it-backfiring.

[6] Jill Pantozzi, Marvel’s Editor in Chief Says Missing Manara Variants Are Due to a “Scheduling Problem”,” The Mary Sue, September 24, 2014, http://www.themarysue.com/marvel-manara-variants-scheduling-problem/.

Rethinking Imposter Syndrome

By Jackie Collens

I was working an early morning shift at Wooddale Village Retirement Community in Sun City, Arizona the day I found out I had been accepted into the Women’s History graduate program at Sarah Lawrence. As readers might be able to gather based on the fact that I am currently writing this, I decided fairly quickly and easily that I would be attending in the fall. The week of orientation came and went, and my optimism about my place in this program soared. I spent my first weekend of the semester browsing through my required reading lists and talking to my friends back home about how stunning the campus was, and how anxious I was to really get started. Then all of a sudden, classes started, and my hopeful enthusiasm turned quickly to terrified self-doubt.

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As I’ve familiarized myself with the campus, my classmates, and the new material presented to me in each of my courses, I have felt a growing feeling inside of me that maybe I don’t deserve to be here as much as everyone else does. I have been struck by all of the insightful ideas my classmates have brought up during discussions. At the same time, I have found myself repeatedly questioning the worthiness of my own thoughts and allowing myself to sit in silence, fearful that what I have to say is simply not worthwhile. I have grown increasingly self-conscious that my experiences up to this point, educational or otherwise, are not on par with those of my peers. My worried reflection has driven me, on one or two occasions, to question the possibility that perhaps my admittance into this program was some kind of fluke.

Before I go on, let me take a moment to clarify one thing. When I made the decision to go to graduate school, I did not for one second think that it would be easy. I expected this to be an enriching time in my life when I would get a chance to develop the ideas I had conjured up as an undergraduate and turn them into work that I could be proud of. I also, however, expected nights of little to no sleep and days where I found time for nothing but reading and writing. I envisioned two years of headaches and homesickness and feeling mentally challenged like I had never been before. I found myself asking over and over again these past few weeks, “If I knew school was going to be like this, why do I feel so out of place?”

During one of my first days on campus, a classmate and I were discussing our nerves and apprehension about the our places in the program, and she mentioned the concept of Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome, or perceived fraudulence, is a psychological experience, “of perceived intellectual phoniness that is held by certain high-achieving adults who, despite their objective successes, fail to internalize these successes.”[1] It is a constant feeling that any and all of an individual’s accomplishments can be attributed to luck, chance, or some other external factor, but never to their own ability. Although there is some debate on the subject, it has often been suggested that imposter syndrome is far more commonly experienced by women than by men. Pauline R. Clance, the clinical psychologist who coined the term, originally suggested through her research that imposter syndrome, “occurs with much less frequency in men and that when it does occur, it is with much less intensity,” and so a number of her studies have focused primarily or completely on this experience among women.[2] More recent studies performed by Clance and others, however, have found that the phenomenon may be just as common in men. Catherine Cozzarelli and Brenda Major consider the possibility that various gendered societal expectations actually cause men to be less likely to express their feelings and experiences of imposter syndrome when asked, although they may be just as likely to have such experiences.[3]

I began to think more about this idea of perceived fraudulence, because as the days went by I continued to encounter it in some form or another. Slowly but surely I began to recall many other instances in my life when I had felt this very same way: from the time I won a poetry contest in fifth grade to the day I was offered my first job promotion. As I talked to more first year students, almost every one of them shared my feelings of being overwhelmed by our coursework, or intimidated by our classmates and professors. That first person who mentioned Imposter Syndrome early in the semester was not the last. Even as I shared my experiences with friends in different programs at different schools, I found that they were experiencing the same emotions.

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Fortunately, having had time to look into the idea of Imposter Syndrome and talk about it more in depth with some of my classmates, I have started to regain my optimism about my place in this program. If anything, these first few weeks have taught me a great deal about my current environment. While the work I have to look forward to over the next two years will be challenging, I am fortunate enough to have the chance to do it in a setting with peers I can share both my successes and failures with, and with professors who ultimately want to support me. Perhaps by focusing so heavily on my own nerves and doubts I allowed myself to forget what attracted me to this program, and more broadly, to feminism in the first place: the chance to expand my knowledge and the idea that my thoughts and opinions were worth sharing. I wish that I could say that I am writing this as someone who no longer feels like an imposter, but that isn’t necessarily true. I am still worried about my ability to produce meaningful ideas and work, but I also realize that I am attempting to do so in an amazing place that I worked hard to get to, just like everyone else here.

*Jackie Collens is a first year student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. She graduated from Arizona State University in the spring of 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in History and certificate in Women and Gender Studies. Her research thus far has focused primarily on the U.S. women’s suffrage movement as well as the lives of women during the Great Depression. In her free time, she enjoys binge-watching Bob’s Burgers, annoying her cats, and continuing on her lifelong quest to discover the world’s greatest sandwich.

[1] John Kolligian Jr. and Robert J. Sternberg, “Perceived Fraudulence in Young Adults: Is There An Imposter Syndrome?,” Journal of Personality Assessment 56 (1991): 309.

[2] Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne Ament Imes, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention,” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 15 (1978): 241.

[3] Catharine Cozzarelli and Brenda Major, “Exploring the Validity of the Imposter Phenomenon,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9 (1990): 403.