Aida Overton Walker: Queen of the Cakewalk

By Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

In New York City on Valentine’s Day in 1880, Aida Overton Walker, originally named Ada Wilmon Overton, was born in Greenwich Village. Born to seamstress Pauline Whitfield and waiter Moses Overton, Ada was their second child with an instinctual love of dance. Recognizing her talent early, Overton’s parents enrolled Ada in a formal dance training program in Manhattan.

Graduating from Mrs. Thorp’s formal dance training school around 1897, Overton briefly toured with the Black Patti’s Troubadours before scoring an opportunity to model with Bert Williams and George Walker. The Troubadours were a group of musical and acrobatic acts comprised of trained classical dancers, singers, jugglers, and comedians. Though Overton was only briefly a part of this troupe, it is important to note that the leader of this troupe, Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, was among the most successful entertainers of her time. Jones, among other firsts, was the first African American person to sing in the famous Music Hall in 1892, which was renamed Carnegie Hall the following year.

Williams and Walker debuted their popular vaudeville performance at the Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, making Overton’s modeling and later cakewalk performance with the men widely viewed. At the young age of fifteen, this visibility propelled Overton to join the Octoroons, one of the most successful black touring groups of the time. During her time with this group, one critic said, “I have just observed the greatest girl dancer.” Her popularity soared as she became a regular on the scene as a dancer and singer.

As her career developed, Overton began performing a sister act with Grace Halliday in 1898. By 1899, Overton began performing in more serious solo acts, singing songs like “Miss Hannah from Savannah” and “Leading Lady.” Her voice was described by one critic as having a “low-pitched… natural sob” which Overton knew “how to use with telling effect in putting over a song.” Another critic spoke of her dancing in all forms, whether a cakewalk, buck-and-wing, or any “grotesque” dancing as a performance full of “gracefulness of movement which was unsurpassed by anyone.”

Marrying George Walker in 1899, the two became the premiere cakewalking couple, performing a form of “black modernist expression” which wowed audiences including royalty, the white elite, and many a concert stage. The couple spent some years touring in Europe before returning to the US in hopes of changing and challenging the harmful stereotypes of black actors and actresses, as well as black people in general.

Changing her name from Ada to Aida in 1903, Overton Walker began performing more complicated and challenging pieces, as well as changing the form of dance known as the cakewalk. The cakewalk was originally part of a slave culture which allowed for black couples to gather and poke fun at the masters by walking as a couple down a line mimicking the slave owner. A cake was given to the couple who did the best walk. As a part of Overton Walker’s attempt to dispel the historically harmful stereotypes of the dance, the couple developed a form of dance they termed “the modern cakewalk” which included a graceful and elegant form of dance. This form of dance was performed in many dance halls and theaters.

The form of dance that the couple developed became an expression of their belief in “racial uplift,” a theory influenced by W. E. B. Dubois’s “talented tenth.” The “talented tenth” is an idea that designates a class of African Americans as leaders in the early 20th century. Overton and Walker began performing in such a way which they believed raised the status of all African American people.

Outside of their time working together to perform a modern take on the cakewalk, the couple performed in many other works, always refusing to perform roles which portrayed racial stereotypes. Among her goals, Overton Walker focused on a commitment to improving the lives of African American women morally, culturally, socially, and in material goods. Overton Walker often verbalized that her form of performance was a reaction to the stereotypes of actresses as “morally unfit,” stating “I venture to think and dare to state that our profession does more toward the alleviation of color prejudice than any other profession among colored people.” This early form of feminism was very empowering for other female African American performers.

In early 1911, Overton Walker’s husband, George Walker, fell ill and died. Though saddened by her loss, Overton Walker pushed on in her career, even dressing as “Bud Jenkins,” the character played by her husband before his death, in some performances. One of the first women to dress in drag, Overton Walker was widely acclaimed for her success in singing her husband’s song “Bon Bon Buddy.” From here, her solo career relaunched.

In July of the same year, Overton Walker formed her own vaudeville unnamed troupe with one male and eight females. Dressing up as and singing as a man became a part of her new performance in this troupe, something which many crowds enjoyed. Of the times she performed with her troupe and with others in the dance community, the only critique she regularly received was that she was not on stage enough, as audiences always seemed to be wanting more.

Though her last public appearance was in July of 1914, Aida danced up until two months before her early death in October of the same year. At the young age of 34, her death was caused by kidney disease. Aida Overton Walker is remembered today, the day after her birthday, as a woman who paved the way for a more whole and less problematic view of African American performers and African American women at large. Her work built a path for many who came after her, pushing the boundaries ever further toward acceptance on and off stage. On this day, we remember and thank a woman who broke barriers and set the stage for many black women performers to come.

Sources:

  1. https://www.revolvy.com/page/Aida-Overton-Walker
  2. https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/walker-aida-overton-1880-1914
  3. http://racingnelliebly.com/strange_times/aida-overton-walker-broke-stereotypes-of-victorian-era-stage/
  4. http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.music.tdabio.182/default.html
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aida_Overton_Walker

 

Redefining Representation in Comics: Jackie Ormes

By Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History Program.

Zelda Mavin Jackson, famously known as Jackie Ormes was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1911 to William and Mary Jackson. In 1917, an automobile accident resulted in the death of her father, causing she and her family to relocate to Monongahela, a suburb of the Pittsburgh area. During high school, Ormes realized her passion for drawing and writing. It wasn’t long until she submitted her pieces to the weekly African American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. The first article she wrote covered a boxing match, resulting in her professional career as a full-time journalist at the paper.

While Ormes enjoyed writing on local and national news, as well as reporting on sporting events as an avid fan, her true passion was drawing. In 1937, the Courier distributed Ormes’s first comic strip Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem. Once the paper published Torchy, Jackie Ormes became the first African American woman cartoonist, and is regarded as such to this very day. While the strip only ran until 1938, she continued to create new and innovative cartoons that depicted African American life, family, and relationships.

Once having left the Pittsburgh based paper, Ormes moved to Chicago in 1942 and the single panel comic Candy appeared in The Chicago Defender. It was the longest running and most popular African American newspaper in the United States at the time. With Ormes as a contributor, the popularity of the paper continued to grow across the nation. Her short-lived panel in the Defender featured Candy, an attractive African American housemaid that was comical and wisecracking. When Ormes moved her work back to the Courier, she created her longest running comic titled Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, featuring a big-little sister dynamic duo. Patty Jo, the younger sister, was a socially and politically aware child that called out injustices in public and in conversations with her older sister Ginger. As a result of the popularity of Patty-Jo, Ormes signed a contract with the Terri Lee doll company to produce the revolutionary Patty-Jo doll.

The doll held a larger meaning by symbolizing an empowered black girl that didn’t put up with social or political injustices. Patty-Jo was a remarkable and revolutionary character, and her sister Ginger symbolized feminine beauty and strength for African American women. She subverted media stereotypes of black womanhood as non-sexual and unattractive. Ginger was not a sex-symbol so to speak, she was a character that combated racist depictions of African American women by contradicting them.

After the eleven year run of Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, Torchy reappeared in the Courier in 1950 as the eight-page color insert Torchy in Heartbeats. The insert featured the titular character searching for true love. On her journey, she rejected misogyny, sexism, and overtly sexual flirtations. Ormes’s intent to create an African American feminist icon were realized in Torchy. She was politically active, and in her last issue, so was her significant other. When the last comic featuring Torchy was released in 1954, she and her boyfriend combatted pollution and the environmental crisis. Ormes instilled the importance of activism in all sectors of life in the comics she created.

Shortly after the end of Torchy, Ormes retired from creating cartoons. While living in Chicago in 1985, Ormes unexpectedly passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage. The National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Ormes in 2014 for the activist work she portrayed through her comics. In 2018, the Will Eisner Comics Hall of Fame inducted her for redefining the representation of black women in comics. Truly a revolutionary, Ormes consistently fought against racism, sexism, misogyny, and political injustices. This Black History Month, I call on you, the reader, to look deeply at the materials that you are consuming, the creators behind them, and remain cognizant of the importance of representation in all platforms. Jackie Ormes ensured that African American women nationwide would witness empowering images of themselves and her activism continues to reverberate throughout generations.

Moving Beyond the Monochrome of “The Future is Female”

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By Emilyn Kowaleski
Emilyn is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History Program.

If you attended the Women’s March last weekend, you likely saw protestors sporting T-shirts reading “The Future is Female.” Well, maybe they were hidden in the frigid January temperatures, but you’ve seen them – they’ve been everywhere these past few years. The T-shirt came back into feminist fashion in 2015 after lesbian history Instagram account,  h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, posted a photo. In 1975, Liza Cowan took a photograph of her girlfriend, Alix Dobkin, wearing a white crew neck T-shirt with the slogan printed in basic blue letters. The resurfaced photo prompted the hand-crafted goods retailer Otherwild to remake the T-shirt with a similar design. (1) The T-shirt has since been mass produced by a number of different companies in various styles. The pithy, alliterative slogan itself has become a rallying cry to elect female leaders in politics. Hell, I’ve shouted it. I’ve even contemplated buying myself a shirt. They’re cute. Here’s the thing, though – We can’t view the slogan with the same simplicity as the T-shirt’s monochromatic design.

“The Future is Female” implies that there is some sort of universal essence to “femaleness” or “womanhood.” Doing so provides a means of creating unity in order to combat the injustices faced as a result of sexism. The problem is that it ignores other factors of one’s experience that contribute to discrimination such as race, class, ability, sexuality, age, body type and gender identity. This is what Elizabeth Spelman refers to her in her book, Inessential Woman, as “the paradox of feminism.” When we only talk about women in terms of what they have in common, we sacrifice a discussion about difference, and when we only talk about difference, we often sacrifice a sense of unity (a sense of unity that I would argue is created by the slogan and shirt). (2) The real problem with ignoring difference though, as Spelman describes, is that historically, feminists have confused “woman” or “female” with “middle-class white woman,” falsely believing that they are referring to the experience of all women. Feminist thought has shifted as a result of critiques like Spelmans and legal scholar Kimberlee Crenshaw’s 1989 notion of “intersectionality” which focuses on addressing multiple forms of inequality and creating specific ways to resist these forms of oppression. (3) But the ambiguity of “The Future is Female” falls victim to certain kinds of feminist thought prevalent in the 1970’s which promoted notions of “universal sisterhood” at the expense of intersectional thought.

Liza Cowan states in a NY Times article on the resurgence of the T-shirt that “people are re-contextualizing the shirt. Trans-women, men, moms who have sons.” (4) Her comments point to precisely what is so complicated about it. A shirt, in and of itself, does not convey a context. As she insinuates, it is contextualized and re-contextualized by the person who wears it, and by those who interpret it. On each body, our sense of what “female” means will be different.  

Let us then delve into some specific contexts in which the T-shirt has been worn and could be viewed. The photo of Dobkin wearing the shirt was presented in Cowan’s gallery show What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. On Dobkin, the T-shirt and slogan together were used to communicate lesbian identity specifically. In its origin, the shirt was designed in 1972 for Labryis books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City. In this context, it operates in support of female entrepreneurs. Let’s take “female” off the shirt and to the dictionary. Merriam Webster defines “female” as “of, relating to, or being the sex that typically has the capacity to bear young or produce eggs.” (5) Definitions also list it as synonymous with “women,” or “girl.” But sex and gender are not the same thing; not all women possess female sex organs, or the capacity to reproduce, and not all that do identify as women. I’m not suggesting that we must hold stringently to Merriam Webster’s definition in our understanding of what female can be, merely that inevitably some viewers and wearers of the shirt do. For example,  “T.E.R.Fs” (which stand for Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist) believe that trans women are not “real” women. T.E.R.Fs are all over the internet, and they march at women’s marches, and they wear this shirt.

In a deliberate attempt to avoid the shirt existing in this context and present a more inclusive interpretation, Otherwild writes on their purchasing page for the shirt, “Otherwild believes in an inclusive, expanded and fluid notion of gender expression, identities and feminisms. We support liberation, embrace our trans sisters and brothers, and call for the end of patriarchal ideology, domination, oppression and violence. We believe that ‘The Future is Female’ is the past, the present and the future, and is language that resonates.” (6) Awesome. But if that’s what the slogan insinuated, would the disclaimer be necessary? What the slogan does in practice is place these identities under the homogenous umbrella of “female,” ignoring their individual realities, and the specific forms of discrimination they face due to their race, class, sexuality, and gender identity, etc. If one is to assist in the creation of a future devoid of the white, cis, hetero patriarchy, we must understand the impact of ignoring differences that exist within and outside of womanhood. (Global warming may destroy the planet before we see that future, but let’s keep on chipping away at it, comrades.)

Since Otherwild reprinted the shirt, the slogan has been used to proclaim support for that future. Its sentiment, which in this context we can understand to mean, “In the future, females will lead,” has been used to support the bid for office of female candidates – from Christine Hallquist, Vermont’s first openly transgender gubernatorial candidate, to the first major party African-American female gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, to the cis-white female candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, to name a few as examples. (7) While the solidarity with which the T-shirt and slogan are employed is useful and commendable, solidarity cannot replace an understanding of the specific factors involved in each of their bids for power. The homogeneity of the slogan implies that they will rise to political power at the same time, with equal difficulty, as if the obstacles in each of their paths are the same. As an African-American woman, Stacey Abrams faced a unique set of obstacles in the form of racial discrimination in her quest for leadership in Georgia, which are not the same as the hurdles of transgender discrimination Christine Hallquist faced, which are not the same as the impediments of gender discrimination that Hillary Clinton faced. It is here that eclipsing difference has practical implications because recognizing the uniqueness of each of their challenges is vital to successfully supporting each of their rise to power.

It may seem as though I’ve zoomed miles ahead of the T-shirt. I’ll take it back. Consider a cis-white-straight-female Clinton supporter: Her vision of “females” in power might solely be ones that are in her likeness: white, cis, and straight. When this woman wears the shirt, she could actually be implicitly affirming an ideology which does not include a place for LBGTQ individuals and women of color in power. In fact, using the word female as the “implicit referent” is its own assertion of dominance by cis-women because the word is so easily linked to biology. It insists that those who do fit neatly into gender binaries squeeze under this categorical umbrella that comes with its own connotation.

It would be spectacular to see this umbrella lift up all those that have been historically denied power. But in the attempt to soar, we cannot ignore the specific forces of oppression that will try to pull the specific groups of individuals under it to the ground. Wouldn’t Otherwild’s statement printed on a shirt charter a clearer path towards the future it envisions? Yes, a slogan is by design succinct, but we can’t afford to trade cleverness for a contextually ambiguous vision of the future. We have to specify whose leadership, entrepreneurship, and artistry our vision includes. Perhaps for now, we can settle for recognizing the vital nuance lost when we emboss what should be a multi-dimensional, multi-colored, intricately-shaded future in concise, black and white terms.  

 

Sources:

  1. “The Future is Female T-Shirt” Otherwild, accessed November 9th, 2018, https://otherwild.com/products/the-future-is-female-t-shirt
  2. Elizabeth V. Spelman, Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), 3-4.
  3. Patrick, R. Granzka, Intersectionality: A Foundations and Frontiers Reader (Bolder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2014), 4.
  4. Marisa Meltzer, “A Feminist T-Shirt resurfaces from the 70s,” New York Times, November 18, 2015,   https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/19/fashion/a-feminist-t-shirt-resurfaces-from-the-70s.html
  5. “Female” Meriam Webster, accessed November 9th, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/female
  6. Otherwild, https://otherwild.com/products/the-future-is-female-t-shirt
  7. I will note that all three of my examples of candidates lost their races, however I am referring to the quest for power in the form of government leadership in the present tense as I do not assume that in all cases the quest is over.

Wonder Woman and the Importance of Female Comic Book Characters

By Katie Swartwood
Katie is a second year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.  

Since her creation in 1941, Wonder Woman – real name Diana – has become one of the most pervasive female comic book characters of all time. She’s been an inspiration for generations of women. This can be specifically traced to how the creator, William Moulton Marston, envisioned the character. He held a particular reverence for women and crafted Wonder Woman to be a powerful female force based on the women in his own life. He intended for Wonder Woman to be intelligent, independent, strong, and unwilling to submit to men’s power. The themes of Wonder Woman’s origins include an island without men, men as oppressors of women, and female independence, which are significant signifiers of Wonder Woman as a feminist icon.

The original Wonder Woman refused to marry her male co-star, an American pilot named Steve Trevor. She lived on the island of Themyscira which contained no male inhabitant and instead was reared by fearless, warrior women. Prior to meeting Steve Trevor, the only stories of men Diana knew were those of oppressive, slaving owning men that forced the Amazonians into submission. In fact, Wonder Woman’s iconic golden bracelets are worn as a reminder of the Amazonian’s time enslaved by men, and if any man is to connect chains to them, the powerful Amazonians will lose their strength. (1) This could explain Wonder Woman’s aversion to marriage, as she might have feared the idea of men controlling her. This directly contrasted to the customs of the 1940s when many women saw marriage and family as their main aspirations. For young girls and women to see Wonder Woman thrive in her independence, they could understand that women could maintain lives outside of marriage, as well as understand that men’s control over them could be devastating to their own power.

However, after Marston died, so did his vision for Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman’s new writer, Robert Kanigher, dismantled Marston’s feminist Wonder Woman vision. Instead of fighting bad guys, she was reduced to movie star, model, and babysitter; she even wanted to marry Steve Trevor. (2) In this instance, Wonder Women did not only reflect the positive advancements for women in America, she reflected the subservient role they were forced to take after men returned from World War II and demanded their jobs back. Instead of standing tall as an icon for the women’s movement, like she had in the 1940s, her entire character was compromised so that she could fit one man’s ideal of women’s role in the 1950s.

As the 1970s fell upon America, feminists looked to reclaim Wonder Woman from her new roles. In 1972, the inaugural issue of Ms. Magazine plastered a towering image of Wonder Woman on their front cover. Early second wave feminists used Ms. Magazine to publish their concerns and radical ideas for women in America. They generated an ever-growing reader base that was dedicated to the emerging women’s movement. Of all the strong females throughout history, they chose to place Wonder Woman on their first cover, even though at that time she had transformed into the antithesis of the feminist movement.

The iconic feminist leader herself, Gloria Steinem, is largely credited with playing a major role in Wonder Woman’s 1970s reincarnation. In a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair, Steinem explains her role in Wonder Woman’s feminist return. She discusses how she both privately and publicly lobbied D.C. Comics to replace this new Wonder Women with the original. The Ms. founders wanted women and girls alike to understand what they had been missing. By featuring Wonder Woman on their 1972 cover, they hoped to accomplish this. Privately, they lobbied Dick Giordano, who headed D.C. Comics at that time. They encouraged him to replace those who painted Wonder Woman as an ordinary, subservient woman with those who would do her original character justice. (3) As a result, Wonder Woman regained her powers and her conviction to fight for justice. From this moment on, Wonder Woman regained her rightful place as a feminist icon.

Wonder Woman was not just any run-of-the-mill comic book character. The young girls that grew up reading the original Wonder Woman comics saw her as a inspiration- as an example of the great things that women could accomplish in a time when women weren’t allowed very many opportunities. She encouraged these women to grow up and fight against the injustices that hindered women’s advancement. And women like Steinman understood the importance of such a character and made sure that little girls in the future could have the same role model she had growing up.

Even as recent as 2017, Wonder Woman was getting her own major film directed by a woman. While many expected Patty Jenkins to fumble with the big Hollywood production, she proved that having a strong female presence behind the screen is just as important as having them on the screen. Jenkin’s Wonder Woman character lacked the hyper sexualization that many female comic book characters suffer from. Even with her short skirt and corset like armor, none of the shots focused on her ass or her cleavage. Instead, they portrayed her a strong, capable hero- someone that little girls everywhere could aspire to be.

One of the greatest things about Wonder Woman is that she is a character that anyone can see themselves in. As Shelly Eversley and Michelle Habell-Pallán stated in 2015, “…she stood for all of us: Wonder Woman the Chicana, Wonder Woman the South American Amazon.” (4) Wonder Woman’s image has been reproduced to fit the image for every woman and every version of feminism. She represents black women, Latina women, lesbian women, trans women, disabled women, girls, women, seniors, and so many more. Wonder Woman is an icon for every girl that has felt powerless; throughout her history she has embodied the true goals of feminism: equality, love, and acceptance. As a 2017 Party City Halloween commercial portrayed various women in a multitude of Wonder Women costumes and said, “What’s better than Wonder Woman…? Wonder Women.” (5) 

Sources:

 

  1. Jill Lepore. Secret Life of Wonder Woman. (New York: Penguin Random House, 2015), 12-14.
  2. Jill Lepore. Secret Life of Wonder Woman, 271.
  3. Yohona Desta, “How Gloria Steinem Saved Wonder Woman,” Vanity Fair. October 10, 2017. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/10/gloria-steinem-wonder-woman
  4. Shelly Eversley and Michelle Habell-Pallán. “Introduction: The 1970s.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 43, no. 3/4 (2015): 14.
  5. “Wonder Women,” Youtube. October 4, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcgBszNWcVU

Creating a Creature: Millicent Patrick and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

By Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

On March 5, 1954, Universal International Pictures released the groundbreaking Science Fiction film Creature from the Black Lagoon across the United States. The film details a scientific exploration of the Amazon River when the discovery of the prehistoric fossils of the “Gill-Man” are found in the Black Lagoon. Returning from his ancient sleep, the Gill-Man resurfaces and falls in love with Kay Lawrence (played by Julie Adams). With its intricate costume and make-up design for the Gill-Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon impacted the future of Sci-Fi b-movies, and creature features. Often, George “Bud” Westmore receives credit for the entirety of the design efforts that went into creating the creature. In recent years, fans of the feature demanded that Millicent Patrick receive credit where credit is due, and where Westmore denied it.

Born in El Paso, Texas, Millicent Patrick (born Mildred Elizabeth Fulvia di Rossi) became a talented make-up artist, actress, and costume designer in Hollywood, California. During the 1940s, she began working in the animation department at Walt Disney Studios. Patrick was the first woman hired to the animation staff at Disney, and her credentials continued to flourish as a designer and animator. There is heavy speculation as to specific times and dates that she worked at specific studios, as well as which films she worked on. For this reason, writing a fully developed history on Millicent Patrick is difficult, but also necessary. She was a pioneer for women working or wanting to work in animation, and set a precedent for the future of the Science-Fiction genre as a whole.

In the early 1950s, Universal International Pictures (better known as Universal Studios) sought out designers for their upcoming feature length film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. With her talent and credentials, Millicent Patrick was an undeniable choice for the design team that the famous Bud Westmore was head of. As a member of the design team, Patrick designed and created the head for the Gill-Man suit (Jack Kevan created the body). When the film was ramping up to hit theaters, the Studio requested that she go on a promotional tour called “The Beauty who Created the Beast.” During the tour, Westmore sent letters to Universal objecting to the idea of a woman receiving credit for the creation of the creature. As the head of design department, he had the power to make or break her career. Westmore threatened to fire Patrick during the tour, and true to his word, did so a year later.

Westmore’s tirade impacted the way that Patrick and her design work is or is not accredited on films produced through Universal. Rumors that she worked on more than twenty films in her career have spread rapidly online, and have created cause enough to call for the studio to give her the credit she deserves. Patrick is known for other popular Sci-Fi films such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953), and The Mole People (1956). These are only three films (not including Creature) that she undoubtedly worked on the design team for, and it is indisputable that she deserves credit for them; as there is photo evidence of her creating the costumes. This raises the question, does the studio only give her credit for features that there is physical proof of? Or would they give it to her regardless?

While some may not know the name of Gill-Man or Millicent Patrick, more than likely they’ve seen a film or a television show that was influenced by her creation and/or the film itself. Guillermo del Toro’s award winning 2017 film The Shape of Water is notably inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon and is considered to be a reworking of the love story within the original. Other works such as Monster Squad (1987) features the Gill-Man rising from the Black Lagoon, Stephen King’s novel IT (1986) mentions Gill-Man, and The Munsters (1964-66) features Uncle Gilbert, a man who claims he has risen from the Black Lagoon. If one takes a trip to Universal Studios’ park in Florida, the Gill-Man is one of the first creatures you see at the Classic Monsters Café. The creature is one of the most popular Sci-Fi characters in cinematic history, and is making a big return.

Universal Studios has recently been given the green light on creating the Dark Universe, a planned cinematic universe that will feature Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, and of course, Gill-Man. As a longtime fan of Creature from the Black Lagoon, I can only hope (if there is a remake) that somewhere in the credits, Millicent Patrick’s name will be there, and that future audiences see her name attached to the films she made possible. As Patrick was the first woman hired to the animation department of Walt Disney Studios, and the creator of famous creatures in Sci-Fi features, leaving her name out of the credits erases the magnitude of her existence in the drawing room, and in the history of women in Hollywood. I urge you to consider where names of women may be missing or erased from popular culture, and to attempt to make their names just as popular as the creatures they created.

Appropriation of Women’s Work

By Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

In 2002, the popular Food Network television station introduced the series Paula’s Home Cooking staring Paula Deen. Running until 2012, the show featured Deen at home preparing meals for her friends and family. The rags-to-riches story of a divorced, single-mother moving to Savannah, Georgia to pursue her culinary passions pulled at the heart strings of viewers. In the show, Deen focuses on preparing southern style cuisine: grits, fried chicken, and collard greens (to name a few). Her southern identity and charm define who she is in the vast Foot Network lineup.

The meals Deen typically prepares are known as “soul” food: a specific type of cuisine derived from African American culture in the South. Soul food is traditionally believed to have come from middle to lower class African Americans in the south; Deen embodies and appears as the complete opposite. If one tunes in to Paula’s Home Cooking, they find a white woman surrounded by luxurious décor, pricey appliances, and an exuberant amount of wealth. Her Southern cooking style relies entirely on the African American community of the South that she is not a part of. The fame she attained was based on her appropriation and capitalization of black people and black cultural practices.

Paula Deen undoubtedly owes her fame to the black community, but she is notably discriminatory and racist against black people. She has infamously posted photos of her son in brownface and used derogatory language aimed at African Americans. For a white woman to appropriate and capitalize off of the culture of black people in the South, one would assume she’d pay them some form of respect, but she does not.

Most people attribute Deen’s popularity to her comforting and nurturing nature on the cooking television program. When one begins to unpack her presence, and capitalizing off of black cultural cuisine, the thinly layered veil in her appearance of innocence is peeled back. What we find is that Paula Deen utilizes stereotypes of the “mammy” figure that is commonly used to designate a nurturing, matronly, and non-sexual black woman that cares for a household and/or family. It appears that she has become so knowledgeable on black women and black culture in the South that she has created a white version of the mammy figure, and capitalized off of it.

Black women have combated the stereotype and troupe of the mammy in every aspect of their representation, whether in film, television, or real life. When Deen capitalizes off of the problematic signifier of a specific black womanhood, she utilizes the struggles of black women to gain monetary profits and fame. Ultimately, she erases the long-standing activism of black women to resist such stereotypes and creates a white-centric view of the South through commodifying soul food for a white audience.

After Paula Deen was publicly exposed for her racism, the Food Network canceled her programs. Deen has lost her capital, but her appropriation of African American culture in the South remains problematic as reruns of Paula’s Home Cooking continue to be broadcasted. This holiday season, I urge you to turn off Deen’s show, and instead take note of the talented black women in the culinary world as you prepare your holiday dinners such as Barbara Smith and Pat and Gina Neely.

A Conversation Regarding Women’s Unpaid Household Labor: A Critique of the New York Times

By Katie Swartwood
Katie is a second year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an article on the stress gap between working men and women. Even if men and women share equal responsibility on the job, women continue to be more stressed due to the amount of unpaid labor they are forced to bare. The New York Times concluded that housework and emotional labor are the main contributors to women’s stress. In the end, they offer three tips for “How Women Can Push Back.” These include self-care, knowing your triggers, and seeking validation. While all of these suggestions can be important for women’s mental and physical health, they’re not exactly what I would describe as pushing back.

Although, they do note that women’s household work can be more laborious than outside work, and that women can do up to three times the amount of unpaid labor as men, they compress women’s resources for pushing back against this sexism in one small section. Under the subheading “Seeking Validation,” the article advises women working outside the house to have a discussion with their partners in order to develop equal household work. However, this one sentence telling women to have a conversation with her partner ignores the sexist double standard for women that has been deeply imbedded within the fiber of American History, one that still clearly exists today.

For millenniums, women’s unpaid labor has allowed not only the family to prosper, but society as a whole. Historically, women have cooked the daily meals, routinely scrubbed the house clean, and educated children on morality, religion, speaking, writing, maths, etc. In some cases, women have even ruled in place of their male children if they were too young to take the throne. Women’s underappreciated and undervalued labor has allowed for their husbands and sons to cultivate successful lives, businesses, governments, and more. Failure to acknowledge the historical significance of women’s unpaid labor diminishes how vital it has been and continues to be.

So by the New York Times reducing the importance of this shared household labor to “seeking validation,” they are ignoring just how much work women have managed over the years. Additionally, they are establishing the idea that creating a fair and equal household falls under a woman’s need to be reassured even as they handle massive amounts of unrewarded labor. In this way, the New York Times fails to see the role that society and men play in diminishing the value of women’s domestic labor. Even more worrisome is the fact that women often do not realize the weight of their extra labor that others rely on because they view it as their responsibility. As a wife, as a mother, they often see it as their duty to wake up before the entire household to pack their families lunches and to get the kids ready for school. They stay up late to clean up the dinner they made, to clean up the house, and prepare the kids for work. And when they do all this work, there isn’t always appreciation because it’s expected that women will take a more active role in these duties.

So what about men? We praise them when they step in to make dinner that night, or decide to take the family out to dinner. We congratulate women whose husbands offer to “babysit” the kids for a night. A man “helping out” with his kids doesn’t deserve accolade when women have been the unsung heroes for far too long. This is not to say that some husband’s don’t pull their weight around the house or that women are wrong for finding value in being primary domestic worker in her household. Feminism is about having the opportunity to choose. What I am saying is that women should understand that just because they are wives and mothers does not mean that they need to place too much responsibility upon themselves because society and religion have historically placed it there. Men are no longer the only outside workers in their household, thus women should not be the only partner laboring within it. And if a man does help, he should not receive any more praise than a woman gives herself or others give her.

Should women be having open and conscious conversations with their partners about sharing household duties? Yes! But it’s also important that men be more open to beginning these conversations as well. The New York Times places the responsibility of these conversations on women, once again adding to her stress. Instead of advising women to notice stress markers and contemplating ways to solve them, men should be able to recognize the unfair standard in the household and offer solution for their partners, so that they can share the burden. It is not always women’s job to solve problems, instead men should stand up against outdated gender expectations and their own ignorance so that they can begin to support the women in their lives in a fair and equal manner.

 

See the New York Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/smarter-living/stress-gap-women-men.html