Bring Back Our Girls and “the Politics of Pity”

http://blog.pixlee.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/BringBackOurGirls.jpgIn the early morning of April 16, 2014, over 270 schoolgirls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Nigeria by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is a sin” in the local language. The abduction was not the first time the group kidnapped girls and women, particularly for pursuing their educations. The scale of the abduction, however, as well as the passionate response of the girls’ parents and communities, captured worldwide media attention. At a rally following the abduction, the girls’ communities put pressure on the government to do more to find them, holding signs that read “Bring Back Our Girls.” The slogan was quickly picked up by international organizations, including Girl Rising and Girl Up, as a Twitter hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, aiming to draw media attention to the story and put pressure on the United States government to help as well. Momentum quickly grew as over one-million tweets featured the hashtag and dozens of think pieces were written debating the efficacy of hashtag activism. I think the real issue, however, is the use of the word “our” and the implications of images of sad-eyed white women replacing the original image of Nigerian mothers demanding that the government bring back their girls. Although the campaign is incredibly effective at bringing attention to the abduction and to on-going issues around girls’ education globally, I worry about the longevity of this concern (i.e. was it just trendy?), as well as the neo-colonial implications of the media coverage. In short, while I think attention to these problems is a great thing, I also wonder if a lot of this attention didn’t serve to make privileged Westerners feel good about themselves rather than to actually address the underlying problems that allow such gendered violence to happen continually. I don’t want to criticize anyone specifically, so much as open a space to reconsider the implications of human rights campaigns such as #BringBackOurGirls and how unchecked privilege can undermine good intentions.

Some Feminist Theory Background

Let’s begin with some feminist theory. In Feminism Without Borders, Chandra Talpade Mohanty argues for a feminist solidarity as a political and ethical goal, rather than “vague assumptions of sisterhood or images of complete identification with the other” (3). She also likens transnational feminist communities to imagined communities, “‘imagined’ not because it is not ‘real’ but because it suggests potential alliances and collaborations across divisive boundaries, and ‘community’ because in spite of internal hierarchies within Third World contexts, it nevertheless suggests a significant, deep commitment to what Benedict Anderson, in referring to the nation, calls ‘horizontal comradeship.’” (46) In other words, rather than relying on reductionist or essentialist ideas of what constitutes a woman, solidarity in transnational feminism is derived from the members of the community imagining commonality amongst themselves and investing in the good of the community over and against actual political and economic inequalities that may exist between members of the community. Continue reading

My Essential Gilmore Girls Episodes

You may have heard by now that Gilmore Girls is set to debut on Netflix October 1st. Like many, many young women who came of age in the early-aughts, Gilmore Girls is a beloved part of my young life. My best friend and I had Gilmore Nights on the regular and I remember one of my college roommates and I yelling at the TV together during those last, rocky seasons. I don’t want to even try ranking the series’ episodes by excellence or cultural relevance. It’s too daunting and, I think, too dependent on where a person is in his or her life. I know that I’ve seen the series in its entirety countless times, and the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve sided with Emily over Lorelai. My thoughts on Rory’s boyfriends have changed, too. It’s all as nuanced as it is over-caffeinated. So, instead, I present this list of the episodes that have meant the most to me over the last decade or so of Gilmore fandom.

From this list, it’s clear that Season 4 is my favorite, although I have a lot of affection for Season 1 too. There are also tons of individual moments that I cherish, from makeshift ice rinks to 80s themed sleepovers. And Sookie drunk on Thanksgiving. And all the coffee. And where did all the anvils go?

Anyway, In chronological order:

http://media3.giphy.com/media/lDUB8HxeasOqI/200_s.gif1. “The Deer Hunters” Season 1, Episode 4

I have anxiety and when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, this episode comes to mind without fail. While a lot of Season 1 was particularly relatable when I was a teenager (I particularly loved “The Breakup Pts 1 & 2″), this episode still speaks to me as an adult. Rory has just transferred to Chilton and is overwhelmed by catching up mid-semester and adapting to new social and academic pressures. After she gets a D on a paper (I would feel like dying too), her English grade hangs on her performance on an enormous Shakespeare test. As she frantically drives to the exam after oversleeping, a deer runs into the side of her car. What a metaphor. I regularly pull this one out when I’m attempting an all-nighter to catch up on things like research or grading. Even better than the whole deer incident is the conversation between Rory and Lorelai about pressure and achievement. And Luke is right. If you are driven to the point of throwing pencils, you should get pie.

http://images.tvrage.com/screencaps/19/3683/69729.jpg2. “That Damn Donna Reed” Season 1, Episode 14

As a teenager trying to figure out feminism, this episode was important to me because of the way Rory moves from writing-off Donna Reed as a lobotomized housewife to researching her life and discovering what a mover and a shaker she was in the industry. I think it’s a more academic example of the Lorelais’ general approach of considering the whole of women’s lives and situations. This is a pretty cute, nostalgic episode that I just have a lot of affection for. And that lime jello and Cool Whip dessert is good. I made it for a pre-wedding Gilmore Night with my BFF, Emily.

3. “Red Light on the Wedding Night” Season 2, Episode 3

This episode has really stuck with me because of Lorelai’s bachelorette party. I’m somewhere between Lorelai’s romantic side and Emily’s pragmatic side, so I’ve long had this fear of marrying the wrong person. I’d get really committed and then balk. What if I find my soulmate years from now, and I’m stuck? It’s not a great quality, but I’m engaged now to someone who I feel confident that I can love forever, so maybe it worked out. Anyway, for her bachelorette party, Lorelai and company go to a drag club and Emily talks wistfully about the feelings she had in the days before her wedding, sending Lorelai into enough of a tailspin that she calls off her wedding. It’s a fun and really lovely scene, but it haunted me for years.

4. “Take the Deviled Eggs…” Season 3, Episode 6

This episode is great just because of its beginning and end. First, it opens with the hilarious scene about the different names Lorelai’s given to companies, resulting in duplicate catalogs mailed to the likes of “Squeegee Beckenheim.” It ends with Lorelai and Rory devil egging Jess’s car. When a certain guy blew me off, he lived in the same complex as Emily. We spent many Gilmore Nights talking about devil egging his car. We never did it, but we talked about it so much that it feels like we did.

http://i69.photobucket.com/albums/i46/BlueyMcPhluey/new%20main/GilmoreGirls-3x17-ATaleOfPoesAndFir.png4: “A Tale of Poes and Fire” Season 3, Episode 17

Like the Bracebridge Dinner episode of Season 2 (episode 10), this episode stands on its own really well in its absurdity and how it brings the town together.  In the episode, Rory decides she’s going to Yale, but, more importantly, we get dueling Poe impersonators and Kirk’s topical t-shirt business, which gave us the gem “Faux Poes Foes.”

5. “Those are Strings, Pinocchio” Season 3, Episode 22

This is Rory’s graduation from Chilton, which is memorable mostly for the gorgeous speech she gave about books and her mother. I think it clearly encapsulates what was so wonderful about the relationship up to that point and Rory as a character in general. The episode was also meaningful to me as I was getting ready to graduate. Plus, at our graduation, Emily and I stuck our tongues out at each other Gilmore-style.

http://static.tumblr.com/bzpsjxw/ri6m5smop/hug.gif6. “Ballrooms & Biscotti” and “The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale” Season 4, Episodes 1-2

I watch these episodes whenever I’m feeling homesick or am approaching a big change. In the first episode, the girls come back from backpacking around Europe to find that they have a few days instead of two weeks to get ready for Rory to go to Yale. And Emily holds Rory hostage watching ballroom dancing tapes. Because, why not? In the second, they move Rory into school and Lorelai ends up staying the night, orchestrating a big party to sample the local delivery places. My dog is named Rory, and the scene in which Lorelai and Rory howl back at the boys’ dorm is the only time she’s ever noticed the show. Anyway, the frantic energy and fresh start of these episodes helps get me braced and even amped up for change.

http://wwwcdn.channel5.com/assets/images/000/034/410/large_size_GG416-2427_9fb04deb_640x360.jpg?13522819827. “The Reigning Lorelai” Season 4, Episode 16

This episode pairs with “The Deer Hunters.” It’s a great episode for when I’m feeling anxious, because it falls after a series of episodes in which each Gilmore girl has been breaking down. But, in this episode as they’re pulling it together, Emily is hilariously melting down in the most brassy manner, after Richard’s mother passes, and she finds a note in which Lorelai-the-elder implored Richard not to marry her. It’s a good episode for when I feel like a mess, but want to pull it together, like Emily would.

8. “Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin’ the Twist” Season 4, Episode 17

I’m not much of a partier, so in college, I loved this episode. In it, Rory and Paris decide to go to Florida for Spring Break and spend the beginning of it in the hotel eating pizza and watching Mythology. They test out the hardcore Spring Break lifestyle, but end up accepting that it’s just not for them. It’s a really fun and cute episode and Rory eating Mac’n’cheese to cure her first hangover came in handy when I finally did start drinking.

9. “Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom!” Season 4, Episode 18

This episode is essential because of Kirk’s subplot about the Easter Egg Hunt. Kirk is easily one of my favorite parts of the show and this plot is possibly his best. Aside from the independent movie. Or his terrifying dance. Or when he revealed how much money he’d saved by working all those jobs. Who am I kidding, the show should be called Kirk.

10. “Lorelai’s First Cotillion” Season 7, Episode 3

The last few seasons were pretty hit and miss and didn’t have the charm that the first four, maybe five, did. I love this episode, however, because of how Lorelai reacts to her mother. First, the question of whether Lorelai has based most of her life on doing the opposite of what Emily would want is significant. Also, however, that Lorelai can see her mother working with the girls for Cotillion and see how Michel admires her is a step toward healing that relationship. I love that Lorelai goes to the Cotillion and has fun. It’s just one of many episodes focused on Emily and Lorelai (including the great “Like Mother Like Daughter” and “‘There’s the Rub”), but it’s possibly the most mature.

See Also:

Gilmore Girls Drinking Games and Gilmore Girls BINGO

What is your favorite Gilmore Girls episode? Why?

The Sister-Sister Book Club: Reading, Guidance, and Freedom

When I was young, I was a voracious and pretty mature reader. By mature, I mean I wanted to read above my reading level and, probably, my emotional level. My parents basically much let me read whatever I wanted. There was something so exhilarating about that. I felt free to explore, and when I read things that were too mature for me, which happened accidentally and often, it both helped me grow intellectually and emotionally, and felt like a scintillating secret. When I was 16, I had a job that required a half hour commute each way, so I started checking out audiobooks from the library. I popped in Lady Chatterly’s Lover and was surprised by all the information about the obscenity trial in the introduction. I had never heard of any of this scandal before and, for whatever reason, I was pretty shocked. I still vividly remember bringing it up at the dinner table. The response went something like this:

Mom: You know people had sex in the 1920s, right?

Dad: Should she be reading this?

Mom: It’s a bit late for that, Charly.

Mom was such a badass. I don’t know if she meant it that way, but it felt so good to have my mom allow for and accept my intellectual freedom. I felt like an adult. Lady Chatterly was both profoundly uncomfortable and beautiful for me. It’s still one of my most meaningful experiences with a book. Occasionally, there were teachers who were surprised by some of the texts I had already read and hinted at them being inappropriate for a younger reader. Mom felt kind of threatened by those reactions, but I always held firm that her letting me read what I wanted to was one of the most important experiences of my young life. I still think that. And I know that the background to that decision was that I could talk to her about anything that I wanted to.

Now, I have a little book club with my 10 year-old sister. 10 is a far cry from 16, but I’m starting to think more about what a commitment of trust and acceptance it takes to let someone read whatever they want. So far, Marissa and I have read three books together. The first was The Hunger Games. I was hesitant about the level of violence, but Mom said yes, so we read it. Marissa picked up on the themes about class and rebellion and had both great answers to my questions and pretty good questions herself. Part of our conversation focused on the difference between prejudice and oppression. As I explained oppression, Marissa’s face fell. Her eyes welled with tears. I felt like I was bursting some sort of bubble. I asked her what she was upset about and she responded, “I hate oppression!” and pounded her little fist on the kitchen island. I love this kid. Since then, we’ve read The Giver, and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Next up is Tallstar’s Revenge, a huge novel about cat warriors that I’m only reading out of love.

My sister is hitting pueberty and she has a lot of questions about her body, about the world, about getting older. Since to her I’m in a nebulous category between child and adult, a lot of those questions get directed to me. I don’t lie to her and I don’t deflect, but I’m aware that my answers have consequences for how she thinks about things and what she repeats to other kids. It feels like a lot of pressure sometimes. While we haven’t read anything all that mature yet, each time I pick a book I haven’t read, I have a moment when I hesitate, wondering what tough questions the book could raise and how I will answer them. It makes me really think about how much monitoring children’s reading material is about protecting them and how much is about protecting adults from uncomfortable questions.

So, thank you, Mom!

50 Excellent Novels by Female Writers Under 50 That Everyone Should Read

Originally posted on Flavorwire:

It’s pretty much been settled that everyone should read more books by women. But when looking for recommendations, it’s often all Woolf, Morrison, Lessing, Austen, Brontë. Of course, these are essential authors for a reason, and you should definitely read all of their books. That said, there’s something to catching a writer at the beginning of her career and following her for years that is supremely satisfying — not to mention the fact that young female writers need readers rather more than Jane Austen does. So in an effort to get you in on the ground floor (or at least, like, the third floor), after the jump you’ll find a compendium of 50 novels written by 50 female novelists under 50 that are worth your time. But these aren’t the only 50 books that fit this description! Read through and add on as you will in the comments.

View original 1,907 more words

Book Review: The Bridesmaids (Birchbox Book Club)

I was a bridesmaid three times this summer. Because of the countless TV shows and movies I’ve watched that involved wedding disasters and bridezillas, I was exceptionally nervous when I realized that my brother and two of my best friends were all getting married during a four month stretch. Given the realities of my life as a grad student, I was convinced that I would end up like Annie in Bridesmaids–a stressed, jealous disaster.

In that vein, Eimear Lynch’s The Bridesmaids: True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty, and Terrible Dresses uses the experience of being a bridesmaid to reflect on friendship, sisterhood, and other relationships, as well as on cultural expectations about weddings, love, and femininity. I think what I enjoyed most about the book was how many of the stories, which range from 2-5 pages on average, spent much less time on the wedding and more time on how the wedding reflected the bride’s personality or the bridesmaid’s relationship with the bride. This is about experiences many women share, not the other trappings of the wedding industry. There were some pretty intense wedding stories, though. For example, one wedding was threatened by a tornado and another brought out borderline personality disorder in the bride.

When I saw that Birchbox was giving away copies to Birchbloggers to review for the Birchbox Book Club, I quickly tweeted about my multi-bridesmaid summer and won myself a copy. Yay! I really appreciated the way that the book balanced critique of the role of the bridesmaid with reflecting on how having bridesmaids or being one still holds meaning for modern women. For example, in her introduction Lynch notes, “It’s a treat to be able to spoil sisters or dear friends who mean a lot to you” (xv). The stories also bring out a variety of perspectives from “professional bridesmaids” to bridesmen, gay couples, and jilted exes. I particularly enjoyed two stories from nuns–one an ex-sister who detailed her and a fellow sister’s journeys from protesting as nuns during the sixties to being bridesmaids in each others’ non-traditional weddings. The other wrote about how all nuns are also sort of bridesmaids to each other when they take their religious vows.

Coming up soon, you can chat with the author on Twitter:

For me, reading The Bridesmaids  was a fun and relaxing way to reflect on my own experiences as a bridesmaid this summer. Although I was stressed going into wedding season–I wanted to do everything just-right for my friends and family–as usual, my worry ended up being for nothing. Each of the weddings was really beautiful and fun and it was a joy to be with the couples on their big days. There were some hiccups, naturally. I tripped once, forgot my dress and had to race home for it (then I almost left it in my mom’s car), my skin broke out, and I became The Bossy Bridesmaid. But, I also got to witness some really dear friends take their vows. As I read The Bridesmaids, it got me thinking about the moments of the wedding days that really stand out to me. Aside from the obvious big moments, my favorite parts were the little, intimate moments I got to share with the brides and grooms. For example, I found out I got my fellowship right before getting a manicure with my college friend Abby. I discretely showed her the email, got a side hug, and went on with her big weekend, but it was special that I got to share that with her. Later, in wedding pictures we posed like we were on ANTM, like we did on our European travels together. It was silly, but us. Abby, the groom Keaton, and I went to college together and it was such a joy to see such happy, creative people craft a wedding that so wonderfully spoke to who they are individually and together.

10355520_625132277583360_2934758715965071117_o

Jessica Branstetter Photography

On my brother’s wedding day, it was wonderful seeing our families come together around a couple who we had all watched grow up together. It was also a lot of fun to drink champagne in a limo with my brother and his friends. I might have gotten into a conversation about critical race theory in the back of the limo, but I swear, I didn’t start that. It was really special going over my brother’s toast with him and to be there as he gave the toast to his new wife, Megan, who he had been with since they were 17. I was sobbing.

My best friend of 17 years got married last Saturday. I woke up so full of adrenaline that it was like Christmas morning. I went into the day reminding myself to be cool despite my giddies. I did get a little bossy because I wanted her day to be perfect and I was nervous. What meant a lot to me that day was how many small, fun moments I got to have with Emily. She was a fancy bride, but also my BFF. Because my car is so sad (here’s the only correlation to Annie from Bridesmaids), I got to ride with Emily around in her car and it made things feel normal even though it was an important day. She came to get me to dance for “Brown Eyed Girl.” I caught the bouquet! My dad, the DJ, had a comically stressed reaction to that. And then Emily and I took a baseball themed picture with it by the Fort Wayne Daisies exhibit at The History Center. The moment that stands out to me the most, however, is standing there watching her take her vows and thinking “Holy cow! We’re grown!” I think our friendship has largely been characterized by its elasticity. No matter what else was going on, when we were together we were always young. She always connected me to home and to being little girls. And here she was, a beautiful, gentle, fun woman getting married. It was one of those wow-perfect-omg moments that sticks to you.

Those moments that stick to you–for better or worse–are what so many of the stories in  The Bridesmaids capture.

Help me! I’ve never read Judy Blume.

http://outofprintclothing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/judy-blume_book-combo.jpgI have a confession. I have never read a Judy Blume novel. As a woman who does girlhood studies, it feels embarrassing–like saying “I’ve never read Hamlet.” But, there it is. My BFF, Emily (who is getting married next weekend (!!!)) was an avid Judy Blume fan so, in my head, I can hear her scolding me. Or was it Beverly Cleary? See. This is the problem. In my young mind, Judy Blume mixed in with other books I should have been reading and wasn’t.

How could this happen? Well, aside from reading every Caroline B. Cooney book I could get my hands on and Harry Potter, I wasn’t much into young adult literature when I was a young adult. I was kind of a snob. I was very serious. In elementary school, I played a game called pick the biggest book I could find at the school library and read it. (It was Robin Hood and my best friend Amanda and I laughed over the frequent use of the word bosom and called ourselves bosom buddies.) In high school, I read Shakespeare’s complete plays, all of John Steinbeck’s novels, lots of Russian literature, Sylvia Plath, and Harry Potter. I looked down my nose at my friends who read romance novels in which the young protagonists always died of some sad, terminal disease.

Now, although I don’t primarily study children’s/young adult literature, my lack of knowledge about Judy Blume weighs on me. I feel guilty about it. This morning, I read a wonderful article about Judy Blume’s legacy in The Guardian and I decided to follow through on something I planned to do last summer. I am finally going to read some Judy Blume, dammit. So, dear readers and friends, where do I start? What is your favorite Judy Blume novel? Is there a particular book that would be good to read with a certain girl of 10 who is on the cusp of puberty? I’ve checked out Summer Sisters and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself as a start, but I’d love to know your thoughts and memories about Judy Blume’s writing.

Emily and me as the wicked step-sisters, back in my book snob days.

 

My Girl: The Drinking Game

http://31.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ltfw5yFnmQ1qaliojo1_500.gifIn 1991, My Girl, starring Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Macaulay Culkin, brought audiences precociousness, adorable coming of age tropes, some bizarre funeral home stuff, and so much crying. By the mid-90s it was playing every summer on TBS or TNT or whatever, just waiting for me to learn about becoming a woman from Vada and cry my eyes out. No story had made me cry so much since the death of Beth March. My Girl is now streaming on Netflix, waiting to be introduced to a new generation or for nostalgic viewings by adults. If you’re in that latter camp, I present to you The My Girl Drinking Game, a means of properly pacing your drinking for the more devastating and angst-ridden moments of the film. I treated myself to some Chardonnay and puppy snuggles to test the game out for you.

The My Girl Drinking Game

You’ll Need:

My Girl on DVD or a Netflix Account

A beverage of your choice. Can be adapted to a pint of ice cream if you prefer.

A box of tissues

Optional: girlfriends or sisters

A mood ring

The Rules:

The Cute and Strange. You must take a drink whenever:

  • Vada expresses hypochondriac symptoms. (Bonus: “I think it’s my prostate.”)
  •  Boys are dumb or gullible.
  • Motown or Vintage TV
  • Embalming, corpses, and such.
  • Grandmoo’s senility is ignored.
  • “I only surround myself with people I find intellectually stimulating.”
  • Hippies and Women’s Lib.
  • Mood ring
  • Seafood

The Angsty. Take two drinks whenever:

  • Child-sized coffin. Foreshadowing. It hurts.
  • Vada is hot for teacher.
  • Vada’s poetry reminds you of your own adolescent writings.
  • Mean girls.
  • “Do-wah-diddy…”
  • Grandmoo’s senility is discussed.
  • Vada’s mother is mentioned.
  • Bees. Run for your life.
  • Shelly acts as a maternal figure.
  • Vada has attitude about Dad dating.
  • Vada is hemorrhaging.

http://31.media.tumblr.com/15f0919e33f1eb64ba67a6e20410a99c/tumblr_mss7lhijFG1s04uboo1_250.gifThe Tears. Chug:

  • Thomas Jay dies.
  • Vada has a public meltdown.
  • Mr. Bixler is off the market.
  • Vada’s last poem

If at the end of the film, you are in tears, finish the glass.

Do you love My Girl? What’s your favorite or most moving part?

See Also:

Temporary Tomboys: Coming of Age in My Girl and Now and Then