Monday, April 29, 2013

Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937)

Amelia Earhart - photo by Steven Fadellin

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can change and control your life; and the procedure, the process its its own reward."

Amelia Earhart, a daring pilot and creative author, gets respect from us here at Wall of Femmes. Earhart was strong in her convictions and defied conventional gender stereotypes by challenging many obstacles that she encountered in her life. She supported other female pilots, believing that women must work together to counter gender discrimination. Earhart saw aviation as liberating for women, and with her courageous ideas and life, she remains to have an impact on women's history today. 

"Amelia Earhart was tied for first place in the inaugural 1929 Women's Air Derby going into the final leg of the race. Just as she was preparing to takeoff from the runway, however, she noticed that something was wrong--the plane in front of her hit a tractor while it was taking off, and fell nose-first into the ground, where it burst into flames and subsequently exploded. With the clock ticking on the final stage of this super-imporant race, Earhart did the one thing any real badass with nerves of steel would have done--she stopped her plane, jumped out of the cockpit, ran through the flames, and pulled the helpless pilot to safety. As soon as she confirmed that the somewhat-scorched woman she just dragged from the jaws of death was conscious and breathing, Earhart jumped BACK into the plane, took off, and finished the race. She came in third; not too bad considering that she had to make a little detour to save someone's life in the process." (For an entertaining read, check out more Earhart on Badass of the week!)

"In her short time doing ridiculous insane shit in the skies over the planet Earth, Amelia Earhart was totally awesome. She kicked ass at a time when "proper women" weren't supposed to be allowed to kick ass, she gave the finger to anybody who told her what to do, and she is still remembered as the most popular and well-known female aviators of all time." (Badass of the week)

Since putting up the Earhart stencil in the streets, the stencil has garnered a response, "World was amazing with you // Keep flying" -- We think so too!

And, we completely agree, Amelia, "adventure is worthwhile in itself."

More info:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Feminist graffiti artist, Stela: Think critically or die tryin'

think critically or die trying, Stela // Starchild Stela 
If you are in Montreal, and you are like me, you've been getting out more since the days are warming up. It's been much nicer to take walks and bike rides on sunny days with snow-free sidewalks and back-alleys. Maybe, on your excursions, you've been paying attention to what's on the walls and in our public spaces? What's really caught my interest is the work of Montreal graffiti artist, Stela--I promise that you will be drawn in by her beautiful pastels, swirling cursive, and powerful feminist messages.

In an interview on The Art of Getting Ovaries, I've learned that Stela sees her work not as "street art" but more as a "hybrid form of graffiti" most often using spray-paint, but not painting letters. In relation to the historical significance of graffiti she speaks to it as a form of resistance, "talking back, reclaiming the space that is controlled by people beholding power." 

Stela was asked if her graffiti takes on a social message, in addition to style, or if it was a combination of both. She says it's both. "I love adding a little feminist twist to my pieces. I don't' really intend to add a social message to my pieces, the words I add often reflects the discussion I'm having with friends. But indeed we are talking about what matters to us, and what makes us pissed off. I guess the social message resides in the eyes of the viewer too."

cats against cat-calls
fuck you and your macho bullshit
While Stela talks about how her graffiti is a combination of both style and message, for her, it is primarily about self-care. "It's a way to make me feel better first, a way to cope with society's and personal bullshit. I like adding sentences like, "Think critically or die tryin'" or "Fuck your macho bullshit" under my characters." It's clear that the presence of Stela's work in our public spaces is resonant with viewers.

If you are interested, I really suggest checking out her interview where she touches on "the value of finding a peer to paint and talk feminist politics with, her social and political aesthetics, public reception and how painting helped her 'reclaim her girlhood' and her feminist identity, the value of illegal graffiti, and being an out queer graffiti writing wishing for a community." 

Wall of Femmes loves what you are doing, Stela!

More info:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Not Buying It

So, Dove Soap has released the newest instalment of their "Campaign for Real Beauty," with this video called Real Beauty Sketches. In it, women are asked to describe their own faces to a former police sketch artist, who sketches them sight unseen based on their description. 

Then, they have a chat with a stranger, who also describes their new friend's face to the sketch artist. The new sketch is much more attractive than the sketch based on the women's own self descriptions, since they told the sketch artist about all the things they don't like about their own faces, but the new friend only thought they looked great. 

On the surface, this seems like a nice message. Of course we shouldn't be so hard on ourselves and we should recognize our own beautiful qualities. 

However, I just can't shake my cynicism when it comes to this campaign. I can't help noticing that the ad begins with the women listing things they don't like about their faces. They have crows feet, or they have dark circles, or their face is fat and round, or their lips aren't full enough. You know when I start to feel that I don't like my face? When other people start talking about all the things that might be wrong with it. 

Even when the more attractive sketch is revealed, the women portrayed describe them in terms that are more "Hollywood Beauty" than "Real Beauty." For example, the positive descriptors include "thin," "small chin," "short, cute nose," "much younger," etc. 

The ad goes on to emphasize how important it is to be grateful for your natural beauty (much easier when you're young, thin, have a short, cute nose, full lips, and no crows feet), stating that "It couldn't be more critical to your happiness!"

I can think of a few things that are more critical to your happiness than fitting into culturally dominant beauty standards, and the people I know who focus on them are radiant regardless of the shape of their nose. 

As well intentioned as this campaign seems, at the root it's still about instilling insecurities into women, thereby manufacturing an artificial need to compel them to buy products (that are incidentally full of unhealthy chemicals). 

Sorry Dove, NOT BUYING IT!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

We resist, we rewrite: Representations of women in the media

Screenshot of google image search for "beauty"
Try this out: google "beauty" and look at the images that come up in the search results. Scroll down to see if the images change or not.

  • What do you notice about about who is (or isn't) represented? 
  • What social, political, economic and cultural attitudes are reflected in the images?
  • What do the images imply/say about "beauty"?

While a google search of "beauty" isn't necessarily direct 'corporate' advertising, the overwhelming representation of whiteness, age and body type of the women that come up in the search is remarkable. While we can be critical of mainstream media, knowing that companies pay to have certain images shown in our public spaces, what does it say when we do our own search on google--from our own homes--and see what images come up in the results?

Addressing what they see being represented in mainstream media, students from the University of Saskatchewan, Sarah, Kayla and Dylan, examine gender role representation in advertisements by creating a project for their Women and Gender Studies class. Through the project, they bring attention to sexist, negative and objectified images of women in mainstream media. 

The project looks at gender represented in advertising on a male/female binary and illustrates how women are sexualized, often in submissive or violent ways, to sell products. They contrast this with hyper-masculine stereotypes that portray men as strong, dominant and aggressive. The strategy for their project is to present images that show gender role reversals to demonstrate how mainstream media portrays gender roles and stereotypes in advertising. 

Representations of Gender in Advertising is just one example of a student project that critiques representations of women in the media--maybe you've seen Rion Sabean's popular set of photographs, Men-Ups? Or, you might have taken a look at the article, When Will the Media Start Portraying Black Women Without Betraying Them?, where Tracey Ross highlights the book, Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Womantaking an in-depth look into media's portrayal of black women. 

In a world where our lives are often saturated with corporate messages, it's important to be critical of the media and the corresponding messages. The relentless reproduction of these images, accessible for mass consumption, normalizes sexist and racist representations of women. Because of the way in which these images are circulated--as a norm or standard--it's important to make alternatives visible and challenge gender stereotypes and racist representations in various sources of media. 

Jarrah Hodge, from Gender Focus, asks some good questions about what it means to look at media critically. She writes, "media literacy is asking who is creating this and why. It's asking where the funding is coming from and whether that's influencing the message. It's asking what it means when the majority of messages we're receiving in mainstream media are coming from similar interests. It's also asking, "How does this make me feel?", "Are there people who aren't being reflected here?" "What pieces of society does this reflect?", and "Is this part of a larger pattern in pop culture today?".

Despite the abundance of corporate messages in mass media, viewers can, and do, position themselves as critical respondents to messages that are sent; they resist and rewrite through responses to mass media by culture jamming, doing street art, and self-publishing in zines and blogs. Responses through these mediums provide avenues to represent transgressive ideas and identities that are often not represented in mainstream media and pop culture. 

If you know of any resources that offer a feminist media critique or analysis, please share them!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Scarlet Road: Sex work and disability

"Scarlet Road follows the extraordinary work of Australian sex worker, Rachel Wotton. Impassioned about freedom of sexual expression and the rights of sex workers, she specializes in long over-looked clientele--people with disability."

Catherine Scott's Scarlet Road is a compelling documentary that tells the story of Australian activist and sex worker, Rachel Wotton. The film is primarily situated in Rachel's life in the Australian state of New South Wales, where sex work is legal. She also travels to speak and work with groups in Sweden, Denmark and the UK and trains sex workers to work with clients with disabilities. Through the film, we meet some of Rachel's clients, and their families, who allow the camera into their homes to provide insight on their struggles and what Rachel brings to their lives.

Rachel has also been instrumental in the foundation of the organization, Touching Base, which was developed out of a need to support people with disabilities and sex workers. The organization facilitates workshops, training sessions and provides information that focusses on addressing discrimination, human rights and legal issues in addition to confronting attitudinal barriers and stigma associated with sex work and disability. Touching Base provides options for those who haven't easily found intimacy due to physical or cognitive barriers.

Touching Base has been receiving more media coverage after the 2012 release of The Sessions--a film, based on an essay by Marc O'Brien, a poet who was paralyzed from the neck down due to childhood polio, who hires a sex surrogate to lose his virginity.

Rachel has made it her life's work to raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding sex work and disability. Her philosophy, that advocates the therapeutic benefits of physical touch and intimacy, is evident throughout the film. Through the documentary, we see how many of Rachel's clients primarily experience touch in medicalized ways. It's clear that she makes a dramatic impact with her work by offering sexual intimacy, companionship and comfort to her clients.

"People with disabilities are not seen as sexual beings and on the other hand, sex workers are often portrayed as oversexed, victims or damaged goods. I really wanted to tackle these stereotypes head on," says director, Catherine Scott, who filmed Rachel for over three years. "It was a delicate balance. I wanted to show the touch and intimacy, without objectifying Rachel or her clients and reveal the sexual tenderness without titillating or shocking the audience."

Despite the acclaim for Scarlet Road, there are still some questions worth asking. As Leah Jane from The Quixotic Autistic points out, "not all sex workers are able to do what Rachel does, because of the circumstances surrounding how they came into sex work, they may not have the chance to advocate for themselves, or if they do, they won't have as receptive of an audience or be taken as seriously. Rachel's university education and ability to travel to advocate for sex workers abroad, going all the way to countries like Denmark and Sweden in order to speak out, are not the universal truth for sex workers."

Although the film primarily challenges stereotypes surrounding sex workers and people with disabilities by highlighting Rachel's experiences with male clients, it only touches briefly on the experience and sexual identity of a woman with cerebral palsy who volunteers at Touching Base. While it is important to highlight the positive impacts of Rachel's work with male clients, I'm interested pursuing questions that address the ways in which systems of misogyny might be perpetuated or challenged in her work.

Despite being a moving documentary, might the focus on male clients reinforce the rendering of women with disabilities as invisible, de-sexualized persons and further perpetuate damaging ideas about women's sexuality? While Scarlet Road is a powerful and worthwhile film to take in, I hope to see more documentaries that focus the lens on sex workers and their female clients.

For more information:
Sex Workers Unite!: The SXSW Interview with Catherine Scott and Rachel Wotton
Rachel Wotton, Australian Sex worker
Elizabeth's Story-Touching Base
Scarlet Road - Trailer
Watch Scarlet Road from inside Canada on CBC

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wow, Montreal, so many things!

Some upcoming events, taking place in Montreal:
Anti-capitalist Teach-in (May Day & Labour)
Sunday, April 7, 2013 - 10am to 7pm
Centre d’éducation populaire de la Petite-Bourgogne et de St-Henri (CEDA) 2515 rue Delisle

Reproductive Work and the Construction of the Commons in the Era of Primitive Accumulation 
(with Silvia Federici)
Sunday, April 7, 2013 - 10am to noon
CEDA, 2515 rue Delisle Room #119

Manifestation/Concentracion: No nos vamos, Nos echan!
Sunday, April 7, 2012 at noon
Spanish Consulate : 1, Westmount Square (dans le carre entre les 4 tours) ( Metro Atwater)

Scarlet Road with Rachel Wotton
Monday, April 8, 2013 - 7pm to 10pm
Cinema Politica, Concordia University, Room H-110

Learning from the ground up: Book launch
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 6pm to 9pm
2150 Bishop Street - Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore

Articulating the Unspeakable: Confronting Gendered Violence through Story-telling
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 6pm to 8pm
1500 de Maisonneuve (Suite #404)

Textiles, Fabrics and Knitting Pro-Choice
Thursday, April 11, 2013 - 6pm to 8pm
Centre 2110 (1500 de maisonneuve Ouest, suite 404)

Radical Formations: Sex, Race, Trans
Friday, April 12, 2013 - 4pm to 5:30pm
Leacock 232, McGill University

An Evening with Alison Bechdel
Friday, April 12, 2013 - 7pm
Ukrainian Federation Hall, 5213 Hutchison Street, Montreal

Friday, April 5, 2013

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

The life and work of Audre Lorde, a self-described black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior, was highlighted at the event, An Evening with Audre Lorde, held in Montreal, Quebec. The event was hosted at Café l'Artère, through Politics & Care--a project that works to make explicit the links between the process of creativity, through holistic healing, street art practices, and an integrated political discourse around well-being and self-care in activism and organizing. A big thanks goes out to the organizers who made this event happen!

The event featured readings from Lorde's book, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, by members of C-uniT, followed by a film screening, The Berlin Years 1984-1992, by Dagmar Schultz. The film focuses on Lorde's relation to German Black Diaspora, her literary and political influence, as well as a serves as a visual documentation of the time Lorde spent in Germany. 

Particularly resonant, was a reading of Lorde's Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, where she discusses the way in which anger is an appropriate response to racism. She explains how "anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in this painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences and who are our genuine enemies. Anger is loaded with information and energy" (p. 127). 

Also highlighted, was Lorde's paper, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, that was originally delivered at the Modern Language Association's Language and Literature Panel in Chicago, Illinois in 1977. In the paper, she makes a powerful call for action with her questions; "What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself--a Black woman warrior poet doing my work--come to ask you, are you doing yours?" (pp. 41-42). 

She draws on a conversation she had with her daughter to think through the ways in which her silences have not protected her. Lorde confesses that of course she is afraid, "because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger." After telling her daughter about the topic and the corresponding difficulty she has with it, her daughter said, "Tell them about how you're never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there's always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don't speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside" (p. 42). Lorde moves beyond her silences and insists that your silence will not protect you; she reassures that speaking will get easier and easier, urging folks to teach by living and speaking their truth. 

Further reading and information on Audre Lorde:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Montreal Goings On

Montrealers would do well to check out a number of compelling events coming up today and tomorrow relating to our interests here at the Wall of Femmes. Here is a quick rundown:

TODAY, Wednesday April 3, 5:30-7:30pm:

TOMORROW, Thursday, April 4, 7:30-10:00pm:    

  • An Evening with Audre Lorde 
  • Hosted by Politics & Care and C-UniT
  • Café l'Artère, 7000 Ave du Parc

ALSO TOMORROW, Thursday, April 4, 6:30pm:
Get out there and join these conversations!