Like any good lesbian, I care a lot about my hair. Sadly, as often happens with many a good lesbian, this hasn’t always led to particularly good choices when it comes to my ’do. During my closeted high-school years, I sported the LHB (long-haired butch, for the uninitiated) before shifting to the “can I still pass for bi?” bob in college. Post-grad, there was a coif that somehow rolled all Jodie Foster’s looks into one. And somewhere along the way, there were even bangs involved.
After the National Equality March wended its way through the nation's capital this past October, the New York Times ran coverage of the event under the headline "Gay Rights Marchers Press Cause in Washington." A year earlier, in the midst of California's Prop 8 battle, American Apparel debuted its "Legalize Gay" t-shirts, which were scooped up by supporters of gay rights, gay marriage, gay adoption, and gays in the military. After Prop 8 passed, comedienne Wanda Sykes came out. She was very proud, she said, to be "gay."
At the risk of seeming pedantic or quibbling, one might pause to wonder what ever happened to the word that once seemed to march so firmly hand-in-hand with "gay." Whither "lesbian"?
For decades, self-help literature and an obsession with wellness have captivated the imaginations of countless liberal Americans. Even now, as some of the hardest economic times in decades pinch our budgets, our spirits, we're told, can still be rich. Books, blogs, and articles saturated with fantastical wellness schemes for women seem to have multiplied, in fact, featuring journeys (existential or geographical) that offer the sacred for a hefty investment of time, money, or both. There's no end to the luxurious options a woman has these days—if she's willing to risk everything for enlightenment. And from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert to everyday women siphoning their savings to downward dog in Bali, the enlightenment industry has taken on a decidedly feminine sheen.
Filmmakers Eric Stanley and Chris Vargas met at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2005 in a class on film, video, and gender where Stanley was the teaching assistant and Vargas a student. Both were radical activists on issues of prison abolition, queer antiassimilation, and trans justice, and both were heavily influenced by revolutionary feminist and political films like Lizzie Borden's Born in Flames and Gillo Pontecorvo's 1966 The Battle of Algiers. Naturally, it wasn't long before the two began collaborating—their first film, Homotopia, was released in 2006.
The film reflected Stanley and Vargas's disillusionment with the recent concerns of gays and lesbians in the political sphere. Gone are the days when queers actively and openly resisted heteronormativity; gone are the many prisoner-solidarity projects that Regina Kunzel describes in her 2008 book Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality; gone is the grassroots fervor of past queer organizations like Gay Liberation Front and ACT UP that militated against state invasions of queer lives and politics. In their place are groups like Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who actively set about courting D.C. politicians on same-sex marriage. Instead of arguing that everyone needs health care, mainstream gays and lesbians are now insisting that an unfair system should be extended to include them.
The new film Criminal Queers is the pair's second attempt to confront the rapid mainstreaming of gay politics. Along with a bevy of radical and enthusiastic friends and lovers, they've made a sequel to Homotopia that finds the wedding crashers on the run. One of them, Lucy Parsons, languishes in jail after being denied bail, her gender identity—while she claims female pronouns, her state identity card marks her as male—throwing the state into confusion. Drawing upon the same visual repertoire as Homotopia, Criminal Queers is a mixture of satire and political critique, wrapped up in a classic prison-break narrative. The presence of perhaps the most famous prison abolitionist of our time, Angela Davis, lends weight to the film's rumination on the prison-industrial complex. Yasmin Nair caught up with Stanley and Vargas to talk about the PIC, the HRC, and feminist film in a genderqueer world.
Want to get pregnant? There's an app for that. Want to not get pregnant? There's an app for that, too (and no, it's not condoms). Want to know why you're so damn moody? There's—yep—an app for that. They could be considered the Our Bodies, Ourselves for the tech-savvy women of the 21st century: iPhone applications that inform women about the workings of their bodies without actually engaging with flesh and blood.
Perhaps you've heard of 10-year-old Alec Greven, the author of a series of self-help tomes like How to Talk to Dads and How to Talk to Santa. The wee guru has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, the Today show, CNN, The Tonight Show, and Good Morning America. In December 2008, Twentieth Century Fox announced that it had optioned How to Talk to Girls, Greven's first book and the one that launched his brand.
It's easy to see why the media has glommed on to Greven: He's adorable, nonthreatening, and he doesn't yet have any frown lines to show up in HD. He's bright, but he stumbles charmingly over his words. He's not going to freak out Meredith Vieira by talking about string theory, or intimidate viewers by solving complex math equations on air. And he's hardly the only boy wonder out there.
Call it a feminist coincidence: Two books published in 1963 examine gender, sex, and marriage, but arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan complains that "the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is the pursuit of a man." Meanwhile, Helen Andelin's Fascinating Womanhood urges women to embrace that primary passion, because it leads to ultimate fulfillment and complete happiness. We all know how The Feminine Mystique changed the world for countless women. But Fascinating Womanhood, while lesser-known than Friedan's polemic, has had its own powerful impact on notions of women and their potential.
Now in its sixth edition, Fascinating Womanhood has sold more than 2 million copies. Over the years, the book has grown from less than 200 pages to more than 400, with most of the additional pages featuring testimonials from women whose miserable marriages were saved once they began following the book's advice. And Andelin's legacy is still very much in effect—not only for the adherents who blog about the book's wisdom or enroll in online "Marriage, the Fascinating Way" classes offering personalized advice on how to act like a little girl, but in the female infantilization enthusiastically embraced by popular culture.
You've probably never heard the term "cheetah," but that's okay—no one else had, either, until New York Observer reporter Spencer Morgan coined the slur last December. A cheetah, according to Morgan's trend piece "Rrrowl! Beware Cougar's Young Niece, The Cheetah," is a thirtysomething single woman who's "discovered that getting a man [is] no longer as easy as it once was." Her biological clock is ticking and her desperation for a real relationship is getting more pathetic—and, to Morgan and the cronies he quotes in the story, more comical.
If you're wondering why a leading New York City newspaper published a bogus piece of "news" about women past their prime, the answer is simple: The Observer was using the Sexist Media Stunt, a now-classic bit of media bait, to draw in readers and revenue.
Since 2006, the elusive guerrilla artist known as Princess Hijab has been subverting Parisian billboards, to a mixed reception. Her anonymity irritates her critics, many of whom denounce her as extremist and antifeminist; when she recently conceded, in the pages of a German newspaper, that she wasn't a Muslim, it opened the floodgates to avid speculation in the blogosphere. If her claim of being a 21-year-old Muslim girl was only partially true, some wondered what the real message was behind her self-described "artistic jihad."
Who is Yoko Ono? She is one of the most famous figures in the world, yet also one of the most misunderstood, enigmatic, and, at times, vilified. Quite often, what we think about Ono says more about us than about the artist herself. Do we want to know her, or are we content with myth and stereotype?
For most of her career, Ono has been carelessly marked by the culture at large–as the harpy who broke up our beloved Beatles, the shrieking voice behind those unlistenable records. But what do our images of Ono say about our understanding of otherness? What do they say about art? Or icons? Truth? Transformation?
To coincide with the September release of Ono's new album Between My Head and the Sky, Bitch asked 20 well-known musicians, writers, visual artists, and scholars–some who have met or worked with Ono, some who know her only through their admiration or critique of her work–for their thoughts on how one woman has come to stand for so much.
Who is Yoko Ono? This is exactly who we think she is...