Pride Month, Flag Day, and the Heteronormative Laugh of Dismissal

Pride Month, Flag Day, and the Heteronormative Laugh of Dismissal                                                  

Mary Catherine Lawler

Republican Fundraiser, Media Sensationalism

Last night I attended a fundraiser for a state candidate campaigning here in South Carolina. My parents had been invited and I attended, half-disturbed, half-fascinated, having decided that as long as none of my money contributed via my presence, I was ok with observing a different political culture.

I’m trying to process what’s happened in Orlando and how it’s been dismissed that the shooting took place at a gay nightclub. People are stocking up on guns and yelling on Fox News about Muslims and I’m scared for the LGBTQ people I know.

My parents voted this morning – for a conservative state candidate – and I’m very divided. The people (read: Republicans) last night were hospitable and on the whole didn’t seem unkind, but they obviously aren’t what the candidate termed “Muslim sympathizers” and the host’s wife, morbidly pregnant, laughed about me getting out of state just under the wire as the shooting in Orlando happened.
My father’s voting confirmation, stuck to our deck behind which a patriotic half-cockade sags proudly.
In his not-so-brief speech of gratitude that wandered through local politics and gratefulness, the candidate mentioned that his opponent had gone knocking on people’s doors, telling them that he “wasn’t a Christian, was a Muslim sympathizer, and didn’t believe in this country”, to the response of much mmm-mmm-ing and headshakes from the small assembly gathered round. “But none of this bothered me,” he said, “until he attacked me and said I wasn’t really an Eagle Scout”. Har har – who cares about being lumped in with them there ferners but daggone it if someone questions the one afternoon you spent doing “community service”.
I don’t know what to make of all this, and I can’t imagine how the LGBTQ community is feeling if I’m uncomfortable.
This morning I went to work out at the county club gym (close to a voting location across the road), where campaign signs out front encouraged people to participate in the Republican Primary.
Flag Day as the State Election Day. Taken in our driveway after I borrowed the election sign to photograph.
The Elliptical and the House of Commons
After channel-hopping through crap like Cougar Town and reality nonsense, I landed on C-SPAN, which was broadcasting live the US House of Commons; each speaker was given five minutes on the floor. While some spoke about arbitrary, distracting topics like small business owners and the history of some colonel in Michigan, others commanded with moving presence, like Al Green, who expressed gratitude that members of the non-African-American community had helped black Americans to where they are today, and encouraged those Americans who “owed a debt to others” to repay it now by standing with the LGBTQ community, and ended with the pledge of allegiance, clutching an American flag, or Nydia Margarita Velázquez, who did not thank Mr. Speaker, but began by reading the names of those murdered in Orlando, voice often breaking with emotion. She followed this list only with a simple statement that those who were killed would not be forgotten and would inspire action to better the States, finishing early.
Star-Spangled Spatulas – an attempt to recover Americana. Made in the USA. Domestic patriotism.
The Material Culture of Americanness
Where does Orlando leave us in the age of bi-partisan politics that will not end? I bought the star-spangled spatulas in Miami, a place obviously proud and patriotic, as evidenced by the many American flags highly visually present on Ocean Drive and elsewhere. In thinking through the material culture of Americanness, through things like voting stickers, outdoor flags and banners, flag-shaped cooking utensils, and corrugated voting propaganda, I realized that most of my American identity derives from a connection with an American “thing”. A flag, a bald eagle meme, a stars-and-stripes bikini at Walmart made in Cambodia, a US flag speedo worn on Miami beach. Captain America paraphenalia, etc – the more insecure the American identity becomes, the more tangible – and commodified – it becomes. You can literally hold Americannness in your hands; you can rotate red, white, and blue, you can cover your sex with it, and flip your pancakes with it.
The Gun Argument – Cowboys and American Masculinity
This is part of the reason – perhaps a stretch – that guns are so embedded in American identity. The more precarious the male American ego, the more tightly clenches the fist round a clip of ammunition and a hard barrel. This is why – even following mass shootings involving military-style assault rifles – that gun laws are not changed. A gun in the hand is an American in the making. America’s problem – admittedly, one of many – is that it holds so tightly to the identities and supposed ideals of the “founding fathers” that is evolution is retarded almost to the point of regression.
This is an on-going thought process. More soon, from a proud and patriotic American, ex-pat, academic, moderate, June Cleaver Gloria Steinem love child – a walking contradiction in terms.

European Crises – Europe Crazies: Futures, Racism, and a Different Kind of Silence

European Crises – Europe Crazies: Futures, Racism, and a Different Kind of Silence

Maria Stehle


At a children’s birthday party in a park, I suddenly found myself in a conversation so uncomfortable that I longed for an interruption: for one of our children to call for me, for my husband to need my help, for any of the other guests coming over to say good-bye. This is a rather uncommon feeling at such a party, where, usually, I long for a few minutes of uninterrupted adult conversation with parent friends that I had not seen in a while.

But: the party was almost over, most guests had left, and most children were peacefully playing at the playground after having consumed cake, cupcakes, and strawberries. A bit to the side, I got caught in this conversation with a father, a man I had not met before the party. One of my friends introduced him to me as a scientist from France, who, as my friend insisted, also spoke German. His German was better than my French, I admit, but the easiest way to communicate would have certainly been in English. And, unfortunately in this case, since this allowed for a much more elaborate speech, he switched from his rather broken German to English after I asked him if he was considering moving back to France—or might I have said “Europe”? He answered that he was not sure since the current situation in Europe was so bad. I was not sure how he meant that and I was still not sure exactly what he meant when I finally managed to, however awkwardly, leave the conversation. I listened (see previous blog posting “When to Shut Up and Listen”) but my silence was born out of confusion, which, I believe, he took as ignorance and possibly even interest in what he had to lay out for me. He insisted that the whole idea of the EU was orchestrated by the US. That I should simply look at all the positions the US took vis-à-vis the EU in the past, say, five years, it need not be more than that, and convince myself that this was true; that the EU is, basically, the extended arm of the US. Sure, he admitted, European countries were good at waging wars against each other. I chuckled and said, yes, Germany certainly was. And he quickly stopped me to point out that no, no more talking about the past. He corrected me: we are not guilty of the past—while I had not even spoken about guilt—and that this was about the future. If he were the French president tomorrow (I chuckled again, but his face remained serious), within 24 hours, he said, France would leave the EU. He argued that the structure of the EU was not clearly democratic or participatory, and I agreed, but suggested that maybe it was also because people do not appear to even care to vote in EU elections. His more pressing issue, however, so it seemed, was the fact that the nation-states just needed to make their own decisions and mistakes, in their interests and with their own futures in mind.

Why do I think and write about this anti-EU rant and this, not just man-splaining, but lecturing posture of a man whose name I do not recall and who, most likely, I will never see again? I have not done the reading or “research” into the US positions on the EU that he assigned to me so that I could, as he suggested, “form my own opinion.” I am, however, involved in a research project on European film; we are looking at intimacies on screen, mainly between non-legal or migrant characters and European citizens, to argue for moments that allow an imagination of alternative futures for, in, and beyond Europe. I also presented talks related to the so-called “refugee crisis” and the general perception of Europe in crisis that considered gender, media perception, and political appropriation for right-wing political causes. But somehow, his tirade caught me off-guard and I did not engage; I listened, I asked some questions: probably not the right ones and certainly not provocative ones, since I had no interest in trying to persuade this man who clearly thought of himself as rather persuasive, and: I was not interested in a political argument at a children’s party. I also kept wondering: is my affective attachment to the idea of Europe simply very “German” of me? If this were the case, wouldn’t that confirm his argument, that, in some way, above all, it is all about national belonging and national “characteristics” albeit, in this case, learned and historically determined ones? He tried to persuade me by approaching me as “a German” by absolving me of any sense of collective guilt and by asking the rhetorical question of why the Germans should pay for Greeks’ laziness. Wouldn’t I agree that this makes little sense? I am not sure what, according to his opinion, the US interest in this example would be and I certainly think there are many German interests involved in keeping Greece in the EU and in the Euro-zone, and these reasons are certainly not primarily altruistic ones. I did not engage him about on the question of Greece. As I carefully pointed out that, despite what he appeared to see as the US pushing the EU to accept Turkey into the union, Turkey had not (yet) joined the EU, he ignored me. Turkey is EU’s Other and the EU’s buffer zone. Turkey is a NATO country. Turkey is a very complicated country. Turkey and Germany, well, have a complicated and intricately interwoven past and present, and, in the current refugee crisis, Turkey is a key player. And so is Greece. I did not push him, again, maybe because I just wanted him to stop talking about this. And maybe because I was I afraid to find out what really was behind his rant. That, possibly, this is all about keeping the “wrong” people out of Europe and protecting or luring back the “right” ones?

So, right there in this park in a university town in the US, the question of reading the “crisis” became central. Whose crisis is this? A crisis that might prevent a highly educated, clearly patriotic, ex-pat of France from returning to France while many refugees from Syria, Africa, the Middle East, are stranded in camps somewhere or drown in the Mediterranean Sea trying to enter the EU. And right here, under the large Oak trees on the side of a playground, the kind of unique racism of Europe can be voiced as a politically persuasive argument: it is just about our future. Leave the past behind, genocide, colonialism, etc… and move on, think of the future. Let the Others of Europe, of the other Europe, outside of Europe, make their mistakes and let us (in this case the French, but this could easily be the Germans, the Britons, etc…) make our own decisions about our futures. Who are these French people and whose future is this? The future of the people who live in Europe or of the people this European, French-man, thinks should live in Europe and decide on Europe’s future?

Musical Cliteracy: The Clitoris and Womyn’s Herstory

Musical Cliteracy: The Clitoris and Womyn’s Herstory

Mary Catherine Lawler


Dorian Electra and Refinery29’s music video on becoming “cliterate” touches on Freud, Master’s and Johnson, and why women were tortured and killed for being “witches” (read: engaged in sexual pleasure).

While the pastiche pop, over-the-top aesthetic calls to mind a Barbie dreamhouse vibe and ’90s style, with props like a hot pink plastic flat clitoris held up by a carefully poised clear plastic hand, the retro feel infuses the video with a historical distance to the present that forces the viewer to think about how the clitoris and female pleasure are categorized and discussed today.

By making visible a part of the body normally hooded from view, Refinery29 and Dorian Electra expose the patriarchal discourse around the visibility of pleasure and gender. Additionall


Our Musical Ode To The Clitoris We proudly present a musical ode to the MOST fun part of the female body

Posted by Refinery29 on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

#askeljames or, Q & A and literary antifeminism

#askeljames or, Q & A and literary antifeminism

Mary Catherine Lawler

EL James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, was catapulted to success by the incendiary interest in her triptych of Twilight fanfic qua BDSM fantasy. The BDSM community was understandably upset by James’ lack of respect for mutual boundaries, safety, and caution, while (wo)men* everywhere wondered how a thinly veiled abusive relationship could pass for romantic (as long as he’s rich and hung, he can hit me, stalk me, and isolate me?).

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.24.55 AM

James’ dead horse-tired plot of a virgin (of course, the female protagonist) meeting a dangerous and sexually experienced man who introduces her to technology (wow, a laptop!), patriarchal condescension (he acts without permission both in and out of the bedroom), money (sex for things – prostitution?), and, of course, sex, is only marginally better than Stephanie Meyer’s lackluster Twilight, featuring paper-thin character Bella (no talents, no interests – a canvas for YOU!). At least main character Anastasia Steele (a shade of grey, get it?) can do something – write. She’s an English major and does land a notable publishing job post-graduation, although hubby-to-be Christian Grey then buys out the company “to keep an eye on her”.

Readers (presumably) chimed in during Twitter’s Q & A , asking sarcastic advice and rhetorical questions, referencing allusions to Meyer’s Twilight, and pointing out how poorly the event itself went (not as predicted, to be sure).

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.33.25 AM

One Twitter-literature user posted a reference to George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones‘ character Ramsey Bolton, a sadist and sociopath, linking EL James and Fifty Shades of Grey to larger literary culture, but at the same time underscoring the unquestionably negative drive of character Christian.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.34.18 AM

The ironic tone in these posts point to the clarity with which readers recognize verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in the poorly written three-book saga.

As we see here, Twitter as an online platform provides both the means to open up a discussion and also the potential for it to go off-direction, veering off course and dragging all skeletons out of the closet. Intent and reaction misalign here as users simultaneously wield humour and critique to express the affective repercussions of simplistic, sexist, gender-normative storylines such as James’, and to tell the author that her writing is “fifty shades of fucked up”.



Mary Catherine Lawler

Recently in the US, dress codes have been aggressively enforced against young women in high schools. Last year in New Jersey, a group of young women formed to emphasize that dress codes as they are currently being enforced (read: against women and not men) are not only sexist, but also promote rape culture, teach women that physicality trumps education, and teach men that women are sex objects. In May of this year, female students in Toronto joined Alexi Halket, a high schooler at the Etobicoke School of the Arts criticized for wearing a crop top to school, with , while August 2015 saw the rise of the hashtag #IfAnythingSchoolTaughtMe in protest of dress codes being prioritized over women’s learning.

Laci Green, a vocal feminist vlogger, issued a summary of what’s going on and five ways that the dress code epidemic is damaging young women and even girls as young as Kindergarten-age.

Megan MacKay spoke out with a satirical vlog-style YouTube video in which she demonstrates ways to tweak your outfit based on different dress code criticisms:

A high school posted some pictures of herself on Instagram and described her experience at school, captioning it as follows:

“Today, I wore this outfit to Beaufort High School. About 20 minutes into the day, my friend and I were excused from class to venture to the vending machine because our teacher was planning to do nothing all class period, as usual. On our way back, I learned something very important about myself: I am a whore.
As I was walking down the hallway, I heard a voice behind me. “Your skirt is too short. You need to go to in-school suspension and then go home.” Thank you, Mrs. Woods. Thank you for teaching me that looking good for school is NOT appropriate. Thank you for letting me know that while I may think that I am dressing up for my Teacher Cadet lesson, I am in fact dressing to go to a night club or the whore house. Thank you for bringing me to tears in front of my friends and classmates because you do not have the decency to pull me aside and explain the problem. Then again, I did not have the decency to put on real clothes today.
So maybe I am in the wrong. Maybe our society isn’t yet advanced enough to handle 3 inches of my thigh. This is a patriarchal society and I am a woman. I have to be kept in my place, or I may do something that is so rarely seen in Beaufort High School- learn.
You saved me, Beaufort High. As Student Body President, junior marshal, and a recipient of the Palmetto Fellows, I was heading down the path of hard drugs (good thing you’re testing next year!), strip clubs, and sugar daddies. I don’t know where I would be without your misogynistic views. How could I go on without a certain teacher making sexist jokes all class? How could I survive without my science professor letting me know I am an inferior woman? Yes, I am a woman. I am woman with thighs, a butt, and a brain. I am bigger than Beaufort High School. All of us are. Maybe instead of worrying about my skirt, Beaufort High should take notice of its incompetent employees, and sexist leaders.”

Carey Burgess on Instagram – mynameiscarey

Others at the Charleston County School of the Arts​ in North Charleston, South Carolina stood up for women’s rights to wear what they like by showing up to school with a literary and social accessory: a scarlet letter.

Caroline Hamrick on Instagram – caroline.jpg

This summer, the Toronto-based trio Andrea Villanueva, Kerin John and Erin Dixon formed Project Slut, making public a video that explains the dangers of dress codes for non-traditional, non-heteronormative, and non-white students. Their promotional image, seen early in the video, closely resembles Santigold’s 2006 debut album Santogold and issues a call to action to #endthedresscode.

Project Slut on Facebook

As fashion changes, it remains crucial for us to use social media as a use to combat everyday sexism such as the enforcing of dress code only for women. With female-only mandatory assemblies, the removal of students from class for hours, detention, and other public embarrassment and harassment of female and non-traditional students, features like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, though too often also an anonymous platform for misogynistic and patriarchal hatespeak, also provide us the means to speak out and fight back.

Gender Reversal YouTube Videos: Responses from India and France

Gender Reversal YouTube Videos: Responses from India and France 

Mary Catherine Lawler

As a visual pushback to responses of ridicule to outspoken feminists, two YouTube videos from India and France, respectively, portray day to day life by showing male actors experiencing social prejudices against women and female actors enjoying the privileges normally and invisibly bestowed upon men. Though at times it almost seems that the video is making fun of how women move, talk, and dress (see the nightclub scene in Man’s World or the daycare drop-off scene in Oppressed Majority), overall the stories do a decent job of throwing into relief problematic gender interactions and highlighting daily sexism.

To start, I will give a brief summary of both videos. Oppressed Majority (Majorité Opprimée English) deals with a day in the life of a man living in a woman’s world; he interacts with neighbors and friends, takes his child to daycare, is harassed both during the day and at night, and met with disdain from his high-profile business wife. Man’s World is a four-part series of videos much in the same vein; Kiran, a young man, is frustrated with the “preferential treatment” given to women and after we see a typical privileged day in his life, he wishes for gender experiences to be reversed. They are indeed, but his attempt at a reverse wish fails, and he marries and has a child in a woman’s world.

Man’s World, Episode 3 / 2015

Oppressed Majority / 2014

Though on the whole on point, the French YouTube video betrays its stance as staunchly secular, in a scene in which the father (who lives in a feminist world) drops off his child at a daycare run by another man in a mock-hijab. He confronts his acquaintance, telling him that as men, they’re “not objects”, but his friend protests that “it’s the law” and “God will protect me”. This rather simplistic view of Islam is disappointing, but we understand the feminist point trying to be made, as this man’s wife had asked him to cover himself.

While the Indian YouTube series can at points be somewhat silly (we see Kiran getting his period and a pull-back shot of him screaming a drawn-out “Nooooo!”), the ending of the series is both the best and most difficult moment to stomach. After Kiran monologues to his newborn son, rejected by most of the women of the family, one of whom even offered to “take care of it” for her daughter, Kiran’s wife has a realization about the woman’s world in which the characters live. She makes chai, serving it to Kiran, which in the context is a progressive gesture, but to us as viewers who still live in a patriarchal environment, almost seems like a 180 back to the original world Kiran wished for.

Both videos assertively tease out daily problems faced by women such as workplace harassment, difficulty on public transit, sexism in interactions with the police, and overall safety concerns and discrimination within the family. More work is needed, however, to create a video response that doesn’t read as sometimes borderline mimicry or ridicule; sometimes the acting comes off as a straight man trying to play a gay man rather than a man living in a woman’s world. Perhaps this itself is a symptom of the man’s world in which we live and the stereotypes of gender and sexual orientation with which we operate.

ASMR and Comment Pushback

ASMR and Comment Pushback 

Mary Catherine Lawler

ASMR, an acronym for autonomous sensory meridian response, is a scientifically unfounded phenomenon described by the YouTube community as experiencing “tingles,” or having physical sensations of tingling in different parts of the body. The goal of this audio-visual content is to enact relaxation and to combat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, depression, and insecurity, along with other mental health issues, and it comes in various forms, such as role-play (visit to the doctor, caring friend, spa) and specific “trigger” videos that employ particular sounds or visuals to “trigger” ASMR in the viewer, always including a form of personal attention (eye contact with the camera, having a “conversation” with the viewer.

Recently, a new ASMRtist has begun posting videos, calling herself Bella ASMR (most ASMRtists operate under a “pen name”). Her videos, while somewhat pubescent in humor and content (see “Friend with Weed Roleplay”), are also lighthearted and sweet. Much of the community surrounding ASMR can be supportive and encouraging, leaving messages of gratitude for others’ creativity and attentiveness, but many others, commonly known as “trolls”, write hurtful insults and threats, armored behind a wall of internet anonymity.

Only one week into posting videos, Bella ASMR uploaded a video entitled “Not ASMR – Being a Human (People and Hurtful Comments)” in which she addresses both the comments themselves, by which she reads them aloud, almost in tears, and then provides a verbal response to get her feelings off of her chest.

(Update: This video has been removed by the user since I wrote this post. Her channel can be found here.)

In this video, she reads – to name just a few – rape threats (“where can I dump your body?”), racial slurs (“ape face”), and misogynist insults (“whore”, “slut”, “nice tits, bitch”).

While this is an acknowledgement of these comments and in some ways a concession to the “trolls”, it is also a great way for Bella ASMR to reclaim and stand her internet ground, responding to and directly addressing the nonsensical and cruel nature of these insults.

The Art of Gentle Revolution – Experience with a Feminist Wikihack

The Art of Gentle Revolution1 – Experience with a Feminist Wikihack 

Sarah Bekaert

Digital resources offer an exciting opportunity for feminist activity. Wikipedia, written by ‘the people’, is an accessible and ubiquitous ‘encyclopaedia’ where feminist activists can challenge and change androcentric assumptions, and ensure the experiences and realities of women are represented. A feminist masterclass, part of the Motherhood and Culture conference (Maynooth, Ireland 15-17th June 2015), encouraged feminist activism through a coordinated wikihack. Participants chose a topic from their own discipline in relation to motherhood and formulated content to challenge norms and broaden feminist representation on Wikipedia.

Read more

Does Nudity Help to Deliver a Clear Message?

Does Nudity Help to Deliver a Clear Message?

Daria Polianska

Feminist organizations exist around the world for many decades. Nowadays feminists fight not only for women’s rights but they are actively involved in political affairs as well. FEMEN group is often represented by media as a feminist organization and is famous for its provocative way of protest by using their nude bodies. However, it is not the matter of nudity that is questionable but the appropriateness and clearness of the message it is supposed to represent. Our research group is constantly raising the question of the efficiency of FEMEN tactics. To explain our concerns the following video may be analyzed:

On March 6, 2014 FEMEN sextremists staged a topless protest at the Times Square, New York, in order “to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people against the excessive military aggression and opportunism of the Russian government under the command of Putin regime” (cited from the video above). They asked US and EU officials to apply economic sanctions toward Russia by advocating the motto: “Stop Putin’s war before he stopped you!” and “Fuck you, Putin!” Their political intention seems to be pretty obvious. Nevertheless, there are several issues which invoke some doubts. First, if they are addressing their protest to the officials, why have they chosen the Time Square as the location? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to organize the protest in front of the parliament building or any other official state establishment? Second, in many of their interviews, and the video provided above in particular, it is emphasized that FEMEN uses their nude bodies because people are not ready to see naked and aggressively disposed women. At the same time they choose not only to expose their uncovered breasts but also to represent a common stereotype of women who wear high heels and make up. The question then is whether they accept such an image of contemporary woman themselves. Finally, since it looks like FEMEN chose media as the mediator between them and US government, a range of questions arise: what audience is this organization referring to – journalists, government, citizens – and what do they expect from such a protest? Do they anticipate any response from the target audience or is it simply another attempt to popularize their organization around the world by using a defiant way of protesting? How do FEMEN activists promote the feminist motives and do they intend to do this at all? What is the difference then between a commercialized popular brand and a reactionary organization which chooses to consciously fight against various inequalities and under which of these categories can we place FEMEN?

All these uncertainties appear mainly because of FEMEN’s lack of clear platform. They seem to be against many injustices and it is their right and choice to use naked bodies as the tool for the protests. The question remains though whether their message is lucid to people and in which way it is productive. Although the questions raised still remain open, there seems to be a disconnection between FEMEN’s motives, the follow-up results and the intention of using naked bodies in the first place.