by Aiano Nakagawa
Surviving the ballet world is no small feat, even for light skinned, “classically” beautiful dancers. Ballet is seen as a touchstone for European culture, directly reflecting traditional European ideals of gender, beauty, and femininity. If Misty Copeland is the darkest, most curvy, and most muscular professional ballet ballet dancer, you can see not many people fit the bill.
A Ballerina’s Tale gives historical and cultural context of Ballet, from its emergence in the late 15th century Renaissance court culture of Italy, to the modern phenomenon of the skinny dancer which can be dated back to 1963 when George Balanchine began creating ballet and ballerinas to his own ideal. While ballet is one of the most romantic and romanticized art forms, this film shows it for what it is and how antiquated this art form truly is.
by Hannah Bressler
At first glance, this film seems like another dystopian-future and hero-fights-the-fascist-state kind of narrative, but there’s a lot more going on here, namely, feminist influence.
The movie Divergent, based on the book series by the same title, is a speculative fiction about a dystopian walled-city split into five “factions” or social groups. These factions each operate independently and adhere to strict rules of conduct to ensure the peace. Women exist at every level of government, hold all forms of authority, and even compete with men in physical combat. In this futuristic world, gender, race, and wealth do not create social divisions, but even with these noticeable equalities Divergent shows a society with vast social injustices and prejudice between factioned and factionless people.
The story begins during a day of psychological testing for adolescents about to enter their faction for life. Testing requires a hallucinogenic drink and then monitoring the test subject, as they face a series of vividly imagined dangers. (This film spends a lot of time exploring fear-fantasies through tests with psychedelic drugs.) The protagonist of the story is Tris, a 15-year-old about to enter Dauntless, the military-style faction.
As the story unfolds, my first clue that this movie might be more than just another teen-girl-film is the lack of a makeover scene for the female protagonist. I can’t think of another teen-girl-protagonist movie that avoids a makeover--even in The Hunger Games, which uses the makeover scene in a sinister way, the hair and makeup people are central to the plot. Generally speaking, if a movie has teenage girl protagonist, throughout the story (and often during the apex of the story), she will change into a more attractive version of herself to get a boy to like her. However in this film, though Tris’ perspective changes considerably throughout the story, the most she physically changes is to get a tattoo. Even the tattoo doesn’t have much to do with changing her appearance, instead it shows her investigative personality; she gets one while trying to find out information from a secretive tattoo artist.
You might ask, so why doesn’t she get a makeover? Because it’s not important to the plot or her life! Because she lives in a gender-egalitarian society where no one tells women that being pretty or a wife-mother is your only valid option for power.
Another part of the film that seems clearly feminist inspired is the way it explores date-rape. When Tris becomes sexually interested in someone she kisses him, but asks him to take it very slow. She’s interested in dating him but is also afraid he’ll rape her, so much so that her rape-fear shows up in her public psychological fear-test. I have never seen date-rape discussed in a popular, mainstream movie. It’s always some creepy character on the sidelines, never the realistic-to-life story of a close relationship that turns violent. To his credit though, we never see the love interest, Four, pressure her for sex. Tris is just very aware that sexual assault is always a possibility.
Another feminist inspired streak is the way Tris problem solves in social situations. She mostly follows the rules and plays along with her role in society (like many people who feel loyalty to their race and gendered roles in our world) but uses her critical mind to poke holes the logic of the social norms (like feminists, among other social dissenters). More than once in her psychological testing she says, “This isn’t real.” This quality of thinking critically about her society’s rules of order is what makes her “a divergent”, hence, the title of the film.
Of course we should also ask, “Does this movie pass the Bechdel* test?” Absolutely. Not only are there more than two women in the film, but most of the important, plot -progressing conversations between women; between Tris and a power-hungry faction leader, between Tris and her badass, sharp-shooter mother--where they have an action-filled shoot out together where the mother and daughter are on the same side!, another groundbreaking plotpoint because in the vast majority of stories, maternal-offspring characters are pitted against each other--, between Tris and the reluctant-informant tattoo artist character.
Another common theme for American films is to make the villain of the story a non-gender-conforming (NGC) character. When this happens, instead of the viewer thinking that what makes this character creepy is how they want to dominate the world, or kill whoever gets in their way on the path to power, or just be generally evil, the most noticeable characteristic in a villain is their lack of adherence to a gender stereotype. So then, we learn to associate this NGC quality with a villains, making them easy to spot early in the story. But in the film Divergent, the main power villain, also a woman, is very feminine-looking, and often very logical sounding. Unless you’re paying attention to her craftiness, you might not see her as a villainy at all until towards the end of the story. She’s also not just antagonistic, but calm, thoughtful, and group-oriented (as a opposed to frenzied in the pursuit of personal political gain from other villain characters,) which is just another way this film rocks.
In the many ways that feminism can help us, from reimagining possibilities of what it means to be human, to dissecting forms of power and valuing decentralized voices (the true theme of this story,) I believe the most engaging way to allow feminism to influence you is through story. Thank you to the people who made this feminist themed movie. You inspired me to keep listening.
*Credited to Alison Bechdel, in order to pass the Bechdel test a film must contain
1. more than two female characters,
2. who talk to each other
3. about something other than men.
(It is shocking how many films do not pass this this test. )
by megan amal
I knew I loved you within moments of hearing your music. In the beginning of the song “Me” an interviewer asked you ‘so why the name Junglepussy?’ and you replied with a list of a buncha dicks named Dick. And I promptly fell all over myself in a pile of vicarious vindication.
Your unapologetic connection of self-love, respect, physical and spiritual health, and down and dirty pleasure is refreshing and exciting.
I, too, wanna slow dance in the street like Nelly and Kelly. I, too, wanna own my sanity.
I repeat to myself, when I feel like I’m getting pulled under, “what’s a girl to do when the world’s against you? throw it in they face and let em know that you meant to”. And after that I repeat the mantra “I’m feeling myself, I'm feeling myself, I'm feelin myself, I need an encore.” Your guidance is so clear, you are teaching us how to grow and live.
I am so happy for your new tracks. I am so happy that I’ve found your music. I will continue to share it every chance I get.
I see you Junglepussy.
I love you.
In solidarity and gratitude,
ps. . I saved a screen shot of you being fed asparagus, wearing pig tails, sitting atop a white woman, and look at it frequently for inspiration.
Pps. Your speech at Yale was siiiiiiiiiiiiiick. Grl luv 4evr.
by megan amal
Dear Erykah Badu, the illest the realest,
Today I want to thank you for releasing the play list, “Feel Better World—Love Ms. Badu”. Listening to this play list does just what you intended, makes people feel better.
I am a dance artist and teacher who hopes to use her body, mind, and energy to create greater potential for personal transformation and political change. Sometimes I feel ineffective. Listening to “Feel Better World” strengthens my commitment to challenging oppression.
As you know, when one is involved in struggle, by choice or by circumstance, there are forces beyond their control. These forces can become overwhelming. They can make one feel that their struggle has no end and has no effect. Overwhelmed to the point of stagnation.
Listening to those carefully chosen songs reminds me that there are others laboring for freedom. They remind me that artists can (and should?) participate in that labor. My heart opens, my spirit is lifted. The tracks move from incantatory to celestial. They take the listener away and allow for repose and for a centered re-ignition. I will continue to turn to this play list for inspiration and dance to it for release.
In solidarity and gratitude,
I have more to thank you for! I’ll write more soon :]
by Aiano Nakagawa
Our writer Tara just posted this brand new Missy Elliott video on her Facebook and I about lost my shit.
YAAAAAS SHE IS BACK!!!
And when we need her most!
If you're having a shitty week, a chilly morning, or even an awesome day - IT DOESN'T MATTER - this video will give you SO. MUCH. LIFE.
Just take one moment to improve your living and just...
by Hannah Bressler
This is a tale of lust, foreignness, poverty, and human desperation. Lou, a high school exchange student from Australia, comes from a home of poverty and domestic violence to live with a wealthy family in the United States who are quite strange in their own way. She is hoping they will become her salvation. Spoiler Alert: they don't.
The first person narrative brings her poverty and history of trauma up close. She is an astute observer of nuanced human behavior and unspoken rules. You can hear in her internal monologue that she wants to connect with people but she is in too much of a vulnerable place, and too desperate, to be authentic with anyone. Lou’s pressure looms above her as an interpersonal mistake at any moment means losing her very tentative access to financial and social resources. Naturally, she self-medicates and lies a lot. Unfortunately, her lack of honesty leads the people around her to mistrust her and this creates it’s own set of problems. She also mistrusts herself around other people and that, I think, is the biggest tragedy in this story; the isolation of a brilliant mind and sensitive soul.
In terms of sex, this book shows one of the most complex views of teenage sexuality I've ever read in literature. It shows her desire and agency in sex and how disconnected she feels with a lack of emotional connection. Also, the narration explores the slippery slope of choice and coercion, not just in sex, but in so many other areas for minors without adults on their side. It's rare to read a story of commodified sex (for instance, when Lou tries to get a wealthy high school senior to marry her so she can get citizenship) without making the woman a victim of a tragic actions. This is a tragic story, but the sex is mostly through her own agency. The other brilliant part of this book is the way it highlights how Americans like to moralize chemical dependence (instead of seeing why someone might need it). Lou drinks gin to feel confident enough to be in a school musical or to sleep at night because, from what I can tell, she suffers from trauma-related insomnia. She also smokes cigarettes to calm herself down and to think of elaborate plots out of her situation. Her host family sees this as a sign that she is dangerous or acting out instead of self-medicating to tolerate the high-pressure situation she is in.
This book also touches gently on issues of foreignness. The difficulty of being a foreigner is not just about being able to speak the common language or having a legal residency visa, it’s also about a lack of social capital and all the positive and negative assumptions about your country which are prejudiced onto you. Lou doesn’t try to fight any of these presumptions, she only tries to work them out to her advantage.
Some reviewers have criticized the story’s ending because the book finishes without much hope for Lou's future. I would argue, how else could her situation end? So many circumstances and prejudices are against her. I think it is one of the most compassionate narratives I have ever read about teenagehood, the effects of poverty and trauma, and being female in America.
You might ask, what makes this story feminist? When the book first came out in 2005 many critics wrote a review of the story as a knock-off of J.D. Salinger's "Catcher In The Rye"; a coming of age story about a teenage boy and his disillusionment with the world. Whenever you see people desperate to interject the dominant narrative into a story (which happens far too often) you can be sure that the storyteller is trying to tell you something deeper. This is not a coming of age story. In a coming of age story, a character starts out as more of kid, and then realizes something about themselves or the world and grows up into someone else, with different conclusions. In this book, the main character, Lou, does not start out young and end up older. She starts out mentally sharp, hopeful, and desperate for resources. She ends up just as sharp and desperate, but with a less hopeful circumstance. The reviewers who only hear "The Catcher in the Rye" want this to be a book about what we’ve already heard before, about discovering the independent adolescent self, instead what it really is, a story about the kind of poverty that puts you into a corner where you can't trust anyone.
Lastly, though this is a tragic tale of a young woman, it's not the classical tragic narrative we often hear of young women. It’s not the sex or drugs that hurt her chances for a good life, it's the lack of human understanding around her, it's not having any adults who are truly on her side, it's a lack of imagination on behalf of the adults for not understanding the pressures of her situation. This story is about what we do to children (and foreigners) all the time; project onto them what we wish or fear they are instead of hearing their own authentic voices. This is the reason why I think American adults would benefit from reading this book with an open mind.
by Hannah Bressler
This book is a beautifully written and well-organized overview of women's political movements around the world. Even if you are already well acquainted with world history or the many uprisings of oppressed people, this book will teach you the limits of your own perspective.
Freedman documents stories of women reimagining their rights from all over the globe. From the women who demanded the right to vote in Egypt, or the history of genital cutting in Nigeria (and it's use as a show of defiance when the occupying colonialists outlawed the practice) Freedman explores many forms of social engineering or accidental outcomes from political action.
by Hannah Bressler
1. Her story telling feels fresh. I don't know anyone else who writes about loneliness of socially strange people trying to form intense connections to other, equally strange people.
Her characters are so strange and they don't apologize for themselves. Maybe she believes her readers are maybe just as strange, or at least are very capable of empathizing with the strange, lonely characters she invents.
2. She is bold. It's as if no place in literature is off limits with her. She would take you anywhere, even uncomfortable places because she wants you to come with her. It's generous, it's creepy, and it's intimate.
Maybe her type of humanity isn't the kind of thing you would admit to your mother or even book club. But I read "No One Belongs Here More Than You" (her book of short stories) and "The First Bad Man" (her most recent novel) in a matter of hours, not even days. I couldn't stop reading her overly personal tone, her character's intense introspection, or the humor and awkwardness of the interactions. It's as if she invited you into her head to say "See? I knew you'd like it here."