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.

FRIDAY MARCH 1st: Opening Night & Keynote Speaker ALICE KESSLER-HARRIS

Friday March 1, 2013

4:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Registration in Heimbold Lobby — Pick up your conference materials and mingle with other passionate women’s historians!

6:00 p.m. HEIMBOLD AUDITORIUM: THE MAIN EVENT!

Welcome Address: Rona Holub, Director, Women’s History Graduate Program, Sarah Lawrence College

Keynote Address: Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History, Columbia University

Alice Kessler-Harris, distinguished professor of history and keynote speaker at the conference's opening event on Friday March 1st at 6 PM.

Alice Kessler-Harris, distinguished professor of history and keynote speaker at the conference’s opening event on Friday March 1st at 6 PM.

Alice Kessler-Harris earned her PhD from Rutgers in 1968. She is the author of numerous women’s labor histories including Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (1982) and Women Have Always Worked: A Historical Overview (1981). She is a pioneer in her field and a beloved professor; she currently teaches at Columbia University and is the R. Gordon Hoxie professor of American History there. She has recently published a book called A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman. We are so privileged and honored to host her at our Women’s History conference in honor of Amy Swerdlow and Gerda Lerner, two close colleagues and friends of Dr. Kessler-Harris’. 

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8:00 p.m.

Reception: Slonim Living Room

We look forward to seeing you there for this inspiring opening program!

PANEL: Education and Activism

Saturday March 2, 2013 10:00 AM

This panel will be moderated by Dr. Kathryn Hearst of Sarah Lawrence College. 

Feminist Pacifism and Gendered Nonviolence in the Age of New Media

Amy Schneidhorst

The Sixties anti-nuclear and anti-war group, Women Strike for Peace was known for its media savvy. Their creative direct action attracted broad media attention and created a space for moral and ethical critiques of realpolitik policy during the Cold War. This paper analyzes the legacy of WSP on the rhetoric and tactics of post-Cold War era, feminist-pacifist CODEPINK and maternal nonviolence proponent Kathy Kelly. This paper
finds, in an era where citizen journalists have a great latitude to craft their own brand, that Kelly and CODEPINK both perpetuate maternalism to justify female participation in international debates about war and militarism while at the same time they utilize post-modernist and feminist critiques of international relations in their criticism of U.S. economic sanctions and drone warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Amy Schneidhorst received her Ph.D. in History with a concentration in Gender and Women’s studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, England, has completed M. Ed. coursework at University of Illinois at Chicago, and holds a BA in Art History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her most recent publication, from which she draws material for this presentation, is Building a Just and Secure World: Popular Front Women’s Struggle for Peace and Justice in Chicago during the 1960s.

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For the Public Good: Connecting Women’s History and Public Education Advocacy 

Jessie B. Ramey

Public education is a public good. That’s the rallying cry of a new grassroots
movement in the United States opposed to a substantial wave of education “reformers” interested in privatizing public education. These reformers promote the fairly radical belief that public education – an institution widely regarded as a cornerstone of American democracy – has failed. Using the language of choice, competition, accountability, and data-driven decision-making, they argue that public education ought to be subjected to the business techniques of market capitalism. Ironically, those who promote these corporate-style reforms and privatization plans do so in the name of civil rights, equity, and racial justice. Yet privatization efforts of public education have actually harmed our poorest students. To understand how and why local communities are rejecting these corporate-style reforms, this presentation takes Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a case study, situating the struggle for public education in historical and political context.

Jessie B. Ramey, Ph.D., earned her MA in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College in 2002. She is a historian of working families and U.S. social policy and an ACLS New Faculty Fellow in Women’s Studies and history at the University of Pittsburgh. Her new book, Child Care in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages won the Lerner-Scott Prize in women’s history from the Organization of American Historians, the Herbert G. Gutman Prize from the Labor and Working-Class History Association, and the John Heinz Award from the National
Academy of Social Insurance.

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Who Needs Feminism? Feminist Pedagogy and Public Engagement in a Digital World

Rachel F. Seidman

As a final project in my class at Duke on Women and the Public Sphere: History,
Theory and Practice, the students created a poster campaign called Who Needs Feminism. In this campaign, individuals from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and gender identities held up signs completing the sentence “I need feminism because…” When the students posted these pictures online, they instantly “went viral.” Today Who Needs Feminism has received over 23,000 “likes” on Facebook, thousands of submissions of new posters from around the world, and the attention of media giants. The students
continue to organize and expand on the campaign, and to use it as a springboard for activism. Faculty on other campuses are using the campaign as the basis for lesson plans in their classrooms. I hope to use our experience to open up a dialogue on how these shifts affect the powerful connections between feminist pedagogy, civic activism, and what we might call public scholarship.

Rachel F. Seidman received her B.A. in History and Classics from Oberlin college, and her Ph.D. in U.S. History from Yale University. She is the Associate director of the Southern Oral History Program at the Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill. Her most recent publication is “After Todd Akin, Why Women – And Men – Still Need Feminism” for The Christian Science Monitor.

PANEL: Women and Cultural Activism

Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 4:45 PM

This panel will be moderated by current SLC Women’s History student, Robert Leleux.

Out South of the Salt Line: Lesbians in the Court of Public Opinion

Debbie Hicks

Tourists recall images of the Gulf South port of Mobile, Alabama: teen Azalea Trail Maids as a pastel curtsy of antebellum hoop skirts; maskers rocking Mardi Gras floats; hurricane flooded bayous, and record-busting deep-sea fishing rodeos. Each image speaks, in part, to an aspect of history, custom, and values shaping the lives of women and their families living in a city which boasts a colonial legacy as birthplace of French Creole culture and Mardi Gras in America. Yet lesbians and other gender-minority women in coastal Alabama, like all women in the Deep South, can rightly claim less significant if less heard herstories of advocacy. Our discussion identifies lesbian advocates, their organizations, and strategies which advanced social justice for lesbians and other minority genders in the Mobile area.

Debbie Hicks is an independent scholar who lives and writes about the lives of women and gender-minorities in coastal Alabama, as well as historically segregated Indian communities in the Deep South. She is an activist whose work has included community organizing for civil rights starting in 1977, during which time she participated in the Student Coalition for Community Health (SCCH) to offer the first integrated health care program serving all residents in a rural Alabama community. She currently coordinates Charlotte’s Tree, a volunteer program that recycles materials destined for landfill to assist low-income persons.

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Womanspace Gallery: From the Laundromat to the Woman’s Building

Elizabeth Dastin

Los Angeles during the 1970s was host to a wealth of significant art historical feminist activity. The best known is the 1972 installation, Womanhouse, organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. As an homage to and extension of these efforts, the cooperative gallery Womanspace (1973-1974) opened its doors and the following year, as did the Woman’s Building (1973-1991), a non-profit arts and education center. Although the Woman’s Building closed in 1991, its legacy has recently generated a surge of interest, culminating in a 2011 Getty sponsored exhibition which historicized its contributions to feminist communities in Los Angeles… I correct the glaring omission of Womanspace within the narrative of the Woman’s Building and locate the gallery as an overlooked and instrumental player within feminist activity in Los Angeles. …I extend the Getty’s energies to unearth a narrative for the post-war art scene in Los Angeles to include Womanspace and its contributions to the regional expressions of 1970s feminism.

Elizabeth Dastin is a PhD candidate in Art History with a certificate in Women’s Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. She holds an MA from Christie’s and a BA from Wellesley College. She has taught and lectured at a number of institutions in New York and California, and she currently teaches at Santa Monica College.

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Women and Political Activism in Selected Novels by Julia Alvarez

Naglaa Hasaan

Julia Alvarez (1950- ), a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist, is known for her engagement with the political dilemmas of her native country, the Dominican Republic. In her novels In the Time of the Butterflies (1991) and In the Name of Salome (1994), she not only grapples with the traumatic historical experiences of Caribbean islands under dictatorship but she also foregrounds the role of women in creating a new revolutionary spring. Alvarez’s novels will be read in light of Foucault’s theory with particular focus on the mechanisms of power and resistance, how power works out to subjugate people and how resistance can take multiple forms, primary among which are discursive practices. To apply Foucault’s concepts to Alvarez’s feminist/political novels will cast mutual light on both writers, elucidating their views in a way that weds theory and practice.

Naglaa Saad Mohamed Hassan earned her PhD from Cairo University in Egypt. Her dissertation, completed in 2009, is entitled, “Cultural Politics in Selected Works of Derek Walcott: A Study in Postcolonial Theory and Practice.” She is a Fulbright scholar and currently lectures in English at Fayoum University. Her other accomplishments include numerous translations from English to Arabic, and articles exploring the Muslim world and Arab cultural identity.

PREVIEW: 15th Annual Women’s History Month Conference in Honor of Amy Swerdlow

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“Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait For Liberty?” — Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress’ Women’s History Month archives. http://www.womenshistorymonth.gov

Hello women’s history enthusiasts and loyal readers!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year– namely, WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH! To kick off the month of March, Sarah Lawrence College’s Women’s History graduate program hosts an annual conference, centered around a theme in women’s history and activism. This year, our conference honors the late Amy Swerdlow, historian, activist, member of Women Strike for Peace, and former director of the WH program at SLC. Swerdlow expertly combined scholarship and activism in her own amazing life, and we draw on her example as inspiration for the work and message of this year’s celebration.

womenstrikeforpeace

As a member of the conference’s committee, I was privileged to read and select from the brilliant submissions to our conference this year. In the next day or two, the Re/visionist team will be posting excerpts from the papers that will be featured at the conference on March 1st and 2nd, 2013.

In the mean time, mark your calendars and don’t forget to REGISTER HERE so that when you arrive at Heimbold Auditorium on March 1st and/or 2nd, there will be a lovely folder with your name on it!

I can’t wait to see you all there for a day and a half of illuminating and diverse presentations on the intersection of feminisms, activisms, and scholarship in the study of women’s history.

Cheers!

Emma

WELCOME TO THE 2012 WOMEN’S HISTORY CONFERENCE ISSUE!

Well Hello There!

March is Women’s History Month which means it’s time for the 14th Annual Women’s History Conference at Sarah Lawrence College {home to first-ever women’s history program and the subsequent founders of Women’s History Month}!

To celebrate this year’s conference, R/V decided to profile some of this year’s most buzz-worthy presenters and performers! And, in spirit of the conference theme, “Women, the Arts and Activism” we’ve reached out to some of our favorite female artists {one of whom belongs to our Women’s History program} who have graciously let us feature their amazing work!

Art isn’t dead. {it’s just not the boy’s club it used to be}.

HAPPY WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH! See you at the conference!

xx

Caroline

p.s. here’s the schedule AND you can register here! x

p.s.s. WE LOVE YOU!

Black Women Defining Themselves in the Music Industry

by Monica Stancu

Editor’s Note: In light of this year’s Women’s History Conference, “Breaking Boundaries,” we are happy to present this previously unpublished work from last year’s conference.

In Check It While I Wreck It, Gwendolyn D. Pough, a Women’s Studies scholar, argues that many scholars have ignored the achievements of black female rappers and limited themselves to criticizing the sexist portrayal of black women in hip hop culture. The author claims that although hip hop is indeed dominated by men, black female singers use this type of music to disrupt dominant masculine discourses.

At the Women’s History Conference hosted by Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, New York) on March 5-6 2010, scholars explored the ways black women expressed politics through music. The theme of the conference, “The Message is in the Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music and More,” reflected Pough’s belief in the potential social and political influence of hip hop. The presenters argued that although hip hop can be problematic at times, female artists are not just marginalized or victimized by it: they use hip hop to offer counter narratives.

The scholars present at the panel “Love, Sex and Magic: Hip Hop Feminism as a Tool for the Creative Renegotiation of Black Female Desire” on March 6, argued that hip hop is not unique in its use of sexist representations of women and its commodification of black women’s bodies. The exploitation of these bodies for the privileged is one of many shameful relics of slavery, when they were used as cheap labor and objects for sexual relief. Continue reading