Cowgirl narratives—films, shows, and books featuring women and horses—often show women who are at home in their bodies, connected with nature, and many times, disrupting traditional gender roles. As cowgirls, women are shown in acts of blissful physicality. They follow their dreams. They are independent and strong-willed. But the horse seems to be essential in these experiences, and the contemporary relationship between woman and horse, particularly in our cowgirl narratives, is undeniably gendered. What is it about girls and horses? What do cowgirl narratives tell us about young girls and women?
As both a life-long horse owner and a gender-women's-studies teacher, I think about this a lot. Obsessively, even. I've always personally connected to cowgirl stories, but the tales of daring women and horses have not often been considering within the larger media landscape.
In this two-month long blog series, I'll be examining representations of women and horses in film, TV, and songs. Looking at films like, Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, Secretariat, National Velvet, and Dreamer(among others), television shows like Heartland, and books like Princess Smartypants (I will argue later why this falls in with our cowgirl narratives) I will be asking the question: What do these representations tell us about our ideas of gender?
Last week's weirdly controversial Girls episode "One Man's Trash", was defined by melancholy. This week's episode, "Boys", articulates that melancholy in a precise way with a metaphor about—what else?—Staten Island. Ray describes Staten Island as a place where people who want to live in Manhattan but can't are relegated to watch the city in a "quiet rage" on its fringes.Ray's not talking about Staten Island—he's talking about himself, Adam, Hannah, Marnie and all the other young characters on the show.
Even with book deals, fancy art parties, a seemingly perfect relationships,Girls' characters want more from their lives. The main characters all present a veneer of being okay with where they are, while actually longing to change their lives.
In this episode, Hannah finally she seems motivated. She's sent out some essays and has met with the editor (played by John Cameron Mitchell fromHedwig and the Angry Inch!) of Pumped magazine. He's read her essays and describes them as "sweet, naïve and infuriating" but asks Hannah to write an e-book for him. The only catch is that he needs it in a month.
We live in an era where anyone can increasingly curate their own personas, even us "normals" as 30 Rock'sJenna Maroney would say. Any nobody with the internet can create and filter the public perception of their personality, but of course this self-conscious curation is most obvious with pop stars—Lizzy Grant turned into Lana Del Rey, Christian pop singer Katy Perry became whipped-cream-loving pop superstar Katy Perry.
No one is better at this than Beyoncé. With Life Is But a Dream—the documentary directed, written and produced by Beyoncé herself that aired on HBO this weekend—Beyoncé appeared to give fans an intimate peek into her life while actually delivering, of course, a carefully constructed portrait.
The film is a mishmash of home videos, selfie Photobooth confessional videos (always sans makeup and looking flawless) and more typical documentary style video. It's not completely linear—it's more like you are watching a collage, a scrapbook of moments in Beyoncé's life.
Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't. This week: when to mention you're a feminist to someone you're dating.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,As a woman in her early 20's and an adamant feminist, I am having the hardest time balancing my feminist beliefs with dating. When is the right time to "come out" as a feminist without dragging certain negative societal connotations into the mix? I want a potential romantic interest to share my passion for the feminist plight, but how can you tell if they share that commonality without first putting oneself on the line?
In India, the roof is used as an economic indicator. Whether your roof is made of thatch, tin, or tiles sends a message about your place in society.
Academia has a less-literal ceiling that serves as a symbol of status: the new book Presumed Incompetent describes the difficulty of Latinas climbing the ladders of academia as an "adobe ceiling" (a reference, of course, to the traditional corporate "glass ceiling").
Recently, Latinas have been gaining a high-profile foothold in academia. Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor—the court's first Latina—described herself as a feminist in a recent interview with Eva Longoria. And, despite the fact that it is much overdue, Yale finally gave tenure to its first Latina law professor.
"When did Chicana studies become cool?" a friend of mine asked me, after looking at the website of our own Alma Mater, Pitzer College. I don't know when exactly it was, but the field of study has become a topic of conversation on the heels of the news that America is a nation of "minority majority" babies.
Love it or hate it, Girls fits into a specific, maligned literary genre, noted television critic Emily Nussbaum in this week's New Yorker. Nussbaum compares Girls to previous works about young women, most notably Mary McCarthy's 1963 novel The Group. Like Lena Dunham's show, critics at the time called The Group drivel about self-important, privileged young women. But that hasn't stopped dozens of women from continuing to publish similar stories. As Nussbaum writers:
These are stories about smart, strange girls diving into experience, often through bad sex with their worst critics. They're almost always set in New York. While other female-centered hits, with more likable heroines, are ignored or patronized, these racy fables agitate audiences, in part because they violate the dictate that women, both fictional and real, not make anyone uncomfortable.
This week's Girls episode, "One Man's Trash," reads like a short story from McCarthy, Sylvia Plath, or, I would even say, from Raymond Carver. It's a story that's based on the uncomfortable nature of two lonely people who just want to experience something else for a brief moment.
Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't. This week, how to be the perfect feminist by accepting you're not the perfect feminist.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
As a feminist I am always trying to stay up to date on news, research and blogs like Bitch. Lately, though, I have been feeling very muddled. I vocally criticize objectification of women in TV and movies, yet I am a huge fan of artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna who are marketed as sex symbols. I go on about the lack of coverage and opportunities for female athletes but I rarely watch women's sports myself. I tell my friends not to worry about their weight, but I get upset when I put on a few pounds. I confront sexual harassers on the street yet my sexual fantasies often involve domination by men. I tell myself that everyone is feminist in their own way, but it also seems that most activists and websites espouse a "right" way to be feminist. I can't help feeling that I am doing it wrong or not enough. How do I (and other women reading) reconcile all of these contradictions?
Community finally returns tonight for its fourth season, and I, for one, could not be more excited. While Community has been off the air since last season's finale in May, fans' grumblings over changing premiere dates and show times has attracted some serious backlash. What's the big deal with this show, anyway? Folks complained that Community is too weird, too meta, too full of Chevy Chase's sour, unlikable antics (Chase, incidentally, left the show mid-season).
Community's detractors and skeptics take issue with the show's heavy reliance on parody (each episode is loosely organized around a well-known film or genre—Thursday's episode is rumored to borrow from The Hunger Games), sometimes-obscure verbal and visual pop culture references, and constant potshots aimed at the show's shabby fourth wall. But Community's weirdness and fondness for self-reference are precisely what set it apart from other sitcoms' bland, recycled jokes and story lines. Its penchant for parody does more than plant Easter Eggs for film geeks. All of these tactics put Community in a position to be, well… feminist.
When I received the course guidelines for the first year of my Master's here in Denmark and Germany, I immediately Googled my future professors. I was disappointed to learn that all except for one were white men (this has since changed – we have a woman and another non-white man, rejoice!).
Granted, the European context is very different from the American context and there are a wide array of factors that come into play, but still, disappointment is a valid feeling. My disappointment did not last too long, as I was pleasantly surprised when one professor turned out to be well-read in social movement media.
Fast forward a few months. In one course on politics (sidenote: taught by three white men) the course was covering the BRIC's (For those unfamiliar with the silliness of academic acronyms, "BRIC" refers to rising global economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India and China.) In my course, complete with classmates from 45 different countries (though predominantly European), several classmates brought up the fact that though we were discussing the BRIC's, we were reading texts from professors in the US and Europe, but not from the countries being referred to.
In its fourth episode of the season, Girls continues to let us know that our early twenties years contain some of life's best experiences: publishing a piece of writing on a hipster blog, dating an artist of midlevel fame, going to the "best warehouse party ever!", losing your virginity, getting a surprise marriage. But amid these exciting times, Girls characters are exploring those big, troubling questions that maybe they'll never shake. In this episode, "It's a Shame About Ray", even gruff Ray gets a little vulnerable. "What makes me worth dating?" he says to Shosanna. "What makes me worth anything?"