"YA Lit Bitch" is the new Page Turner series about my ever-so-slight (or ever-so-obvious) obsession with young adult literature that's not only good, but represents a wide-open range of teenagers' lives with a feminist heroine (or 2, 3) thrown into the mix. The series features interviews with YA authors about their work as well as feminism, gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and other issues.
This week we talk with author Laurie Halse Anderson, who's written five YA novels, including the New York Times best-seller Speak, one of the most compelling depictions of the trauma of the interior space of a teenage sexual assault survivor. Anderson has been getting letters from teen rape and incest survivors ever since she published Speak, which was her first novel, ten years ago. Her latest,Wintergirls, covers the well-worn, adolescent terrain of eating disorders through the lives of two 18-year-old girls, Lia and Cassie.
Page Turner talked with Anderson about growing up feminist, what she loves about the teen audience, personal power in a consumer-driven culture, and how Wintergirls brought to light her own issues with disordered eating and body image.
This isn't a post about feminism specifically, but it is about an item some feminists hold near and dear: penises. The U.S. government's Center for Disease Control (CDC) is considering promoting routine circumcision of all American males. They hope cutting off men's foreskins will also cut their risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS. But the CDC's study shows that circumcision does not reduce HIV transmission among the group most at risk in the U.S.: gay males.
Almost 80 percent of American males are circumcised already and many consider circumcision a routine surgery for cultural reasons as well as to reduce the risk of infection. But some people, especially some men who had no say in the matter, push back against the norm.
Obviously, anything that science can do to stem the AIDS epidemic is a welcome discovery. But it's not clear at all that recommending all American males get circumcised would have a significant impact on HIV in America. Groundbreaking studies showed that in Africa, circumcision could reduce transmission of HIV up to 50 percent. But those studies focused on heterosexual sex. The CDC found that the HIV transmission rate among American gay men was the same regardless of whether or not they possessed a foreskin. It looks like circumcision doesn't provide the same protection against AIDS during anal sex as it does during vaginal.
Personally, I find it troubling to promote a surgical procedure on millions of people without their consent (even if they're too young to do anything more than pee and gurgle) without some solid stats proving it could save their lives later on. It's bunk to recommend circumcising all men based on research showing it may only benefit the straights.
I'm a big advocate of the political power of popular culture. I want to make every single person who is still saying, "I just don't understand why they have to be so public about it," sit down and watch The Laramie Project. The ability of narrative to move us is a side of feminist activism we don't talk about much, but it is, to me, the best one we have, which is why I love writing about pop culture from a feminist angle. I don't go, as I've said before, for monocausal explanations of just about anything. But I do think there's some relationship between seeing something depicted in a story and finding it easier to approach in real life.
The exception that's been proving my rule lately is the appearance, suddenly, of a spate of television shows about fat people: More to Love, The Biggest Loser, Drop Dead Diva. I put it this bluntly because in general, I'm an advocate of fat acceptance, and that includes calling fat what it is: fat. The Washington Post, in what one supposes was a hamfisted attempt at solidarity, recently proclaimed that "fat is fabulous" on television these days. They went on to speculate: what could possibly be behind this trend of having so much adipose tissue on display? Could it be that the fat people are taking over (the article slyly notes that "adult obesity rates increased in 23 states last year, and nearly one-third of all children in 30 states are considered overweight")? Alison Sweeney, the host of The Biggest Loser, limply offers that it must be about people connecting with the "human spirit."
The ambitious, and successful, documentary Going on 13 will begin broadcasting on Public Television this September. The 73 minute film (which is in English, Spanish and Hindi, with English subtitles) takes place over a period of four years and reveals the interior lives, family commitments and school days of Ariana, an African American, Esmeralda, a Mexican American, Isha, an immigrant from India, and Rosie, a mixed race Latina, as they navigate crossing the threshold from childhood to adolescence.
Directors Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Dawn Valadez's award winning project is an intimate look at a difficult transitional period for any child; their compassionate study is landmark not only in its ambition but that in it addresses the concerns of a diverse group of pre-teen and urban girls of color.
Moments we get to share include Ariana crying at her mother's wedding, Rosie discovering Allen Ginsberg at a local bookstore, Esme's sister's Quinceañera, and Isha's trip to India. We see them questioning the changes their bodies are making – or what they've heard those changes will be. One schoolmate asks, "Have your parent's talked to you about pube-er-tee? Do you have internal or external bleeding – or something like that?" Another friend says about a boy crush, "They are in love, even though they don't know what love is." A later scene featuring a woefully unqualified male schoolteacher conducting a sex education class makes it all the more painfully clear that our children receive mixed and confusing messages at a critical time, and that girls in particular are in need of female role models and support systems.
But they grow up anyway –with or without it. As Esme wisely puts it, "I'm turning into a young person and I'm supposed to change. I can't stay little all my life. I would if I could, but I can't so I shouldn't."
Co-directors, Guevara-Flanagan and Valadez graciously took the time to answer interview questions by email on their filmmaking careers, finding the girls (and where they are now), the logistics of such an ambitious project, and what they're currently working on. The first part follows; part two will be posted on Friday!
Those of us who watch HBO's True Blood would have a hard time denying the show's sex appeal (or at least, sex). After all, Bon Temps, Lousiana (the fictional setting for the show) is one seeexxxy town. Vampires banging humans? Check. Humans banging shape-shifting farm animals? Check. A racy sex website hosted by a main character? Check. A crazed ancient goddess who makes everyone around her bang each other? Check. But female rape fantasies realized by gentlemanly Civil War-era vampires? Um, no, actually.
The current issue of Nylon Magazine features an interview with Anna Paquin (main character Sookie Stackhouse), Stephen Moyer (her boyfriend Vampire Bill), and the show's creator Alan Ball. Much of the interview revolves around Anna Paquin's nipples and hair color (thanks, Nylon! I guess blondes really do have more fun!) but this final quote from Stephen Moyer has me sharpening my stakes (and not just because I think Vampire Bill is kind of a douche):
Epilogue: Stephen Moyer, on Vampire Sex:
The thing about vampirism is that it taps into a female point of view – you have an old-fashioned gentleman with manners who is a fucking killer… it's an interesting duality, because in our present society it would be an odd thing for a woman to say, 'I want my man to be physical with me.' How, as a modern man, can you fucking work that? It's one thing to be polite and gentle… But when do you know it's OK to crawl out of the mud and rape her [as Bill does in one scene]?... It's difficult stuff for a bloke, but a vampire gets away with it…. I think that's the attraction of the show – it's looking back at a romantic time when men were men, but they were still charming."
Behold, Sookie Stackhouse living out every modern woman's fantasy (or... not). Image via Icons of Fright
WTF, Vampire Bill? Was raping women a "gentlemanly" activity when you were growing up during the Civil War? (Yes, he grew up during the Civil War.) Do you think that forcing yourself on a woman and sucking her blood is the "romantic" realization of every frigid, non-Vampire-dating woman's fantasy? And am I the only one who read that coming-out-of-the-grave scene as completely consensual (if a bit unhygienic)? Let's discuss.
On their 2006 release Zombie Terrorist, Partyline declared, "we're scared of zombies, not terrorists" and "yeah I had a mother, she taught me to want more than that". Yes please. Formed in Washington DC in 2004 by Allison Wolfe of the iconic Bratmobile, Angela Melkisethian and Crystal Bradley, Partyline has a sound reminiscent of riot-grrrl era call and response lady punk. Party, apparently, is tied to the actual act of partying and also to the political connotations of the word, which sums up the aesthetic of the music. You will dance while being educated, end of story. The ladies literally just finished up a tour with Portland, OR rockers Shebeast and just around the corner is an East Coast Tour with Noisy Pig. Watch a video and become a fan after the jump!
If you haven't been watching America's Best Dance Crew this season, it's time to start. For those out of the loop, ABDC (as it is known in the in-crowd) is a dance competition show on MTV that combines crew battles and audience voting to determine, well, America's best dance crew. Sure, the show is a little corny, and the awesome Artistry in Motion crew was eliminated last week despite their body-positive message, but ABDC has a lot to offer the feminist television viewer. The show focuses on teamwork and togetherness as opposed to the abilities of certain individuals, and every week they give the teams a different challenge (the Beyoncé challenge was particularly kickass). The real reason to watch, though, is Vogue Evolution.
America's Best Queer/Gay/Trans/Vogue/Activist Dance Crew!
The trailer for The Moon Inside You begins like a bad Dan Brown-zombie flick: "A curse on half the planet...a secret kept too well....so...much...blood." Thankfully, the world's in for one less crap slasher and in for a humorous new approach to talking about what most of us hate talking about...periods.
From the looks of the rest of the trailer (available on the film's homepage), the movie will be a mix of personal stories (a group of women share histories of problematic periods), humor (two oblivious women walk around with comically-soaked crotches), irony (a professional man, completely straight-faced, states, "It's a phenomenon humans share with other apes...and old world monkeys"), and cultural analysis (clips from the Carrie, anyone?)...to say nothing of the belly-dancing classes and claymation scenes.
Caster Semenya is fast and strong and far from dainty. When it came to light last week that an athletic organization was secretly testing her sex, the sports world and mainstream media got a refresher course on an important reality: while our society tries to strictly divide people in male and female, the science of sex is far more murky.
South African Semenya is shaping up to be one of the fastest runners in the world, but if the International Association of Athletic Federations' (IAAF) forced battery of tests (including a gynecological exam) find she's too "male", she could be stripped of her medals. The IAAF stopped mandating the outdated sex tests for athletes back in 1992 and the reasons for testing Semenya range from fairness to racism, depending on who you ask.
Over at the Huffington Post, Jane Devin points out that males whose genetics make them sports stars are groomed and applauded, not subjected to embarrassing tests. You have to ask—if Semenya had thinner shoulders and a more delicate chin, would her competitor's allegations ("Just look at her," sniped a fifth-place finisher at a recent race) be given legitimacy for even a second? I think not.