Birth control advocate Margaret Sanger is often held up in political debates as a simple symbol: She must be either revered as a fearless crusader for reproductive rights or dismissed as a racist, extremist abortion-monger. Sanger has become such and politically loaded figure in American history that it’s easy to forget she was actually a flesh-and-blood person.
Artist Peter Bagge’s new comics biography of Sanger, Woman Rebel, out from Drawn and Quarterly this fall presents the iconoclast as we’ve never seen her: a kooky comic hero, full of bad ideas, wild adventures, big ambitions, and a fiery spirit.
Racism is an integral part of US culture, but the shape and nature of racism changes with every generation. This country’s roots in slavery and colonization gave way to Jim Crow, reservations, and racist immigration policies. Since the late 1960s, we’ve been living in the post-integration era where real progress in a few areas has created a pretense that racism is over. This things-are-so-much-better-now narrative continues in spite of people of color continuing to testify about how racism still affects every aspect of our lives on a daily basis.
As the context of racism changes, what it means to be a white anti-racist “ally” has transformed, as well.
Far from being a union of one man and one woman, marriage, for most of human history, has been the union of two men: the husband and father-in-law's wealth and property. Marriage was a business arrangement in which love was highly incidental. Forget kids or compatibility, the only thing guaranteed going in was a well-negotiated contract.
As a little girl, Samantha Knowles didn't stop to consider why most of her dolls—her American Girl dolls, her Cabbage Patch Kids, her Barbie dolls—were black like her. But black dolls were not common in her upstate New York hometown, whose population remains overwhelmingly white. So when Knowles was 8 years old, one of her friends innocently asked "Why do you have black dolls?" And she didn't know quite what to say.
But that question stuck with her, and in college, she started to consider how she would answer as an adult. Finally, as an undergraduate film student at Dartmouth, she connected with a small but passionate group of black doll enthusiasts who gather at black doll shows around the country, and for her senior honors thesis, Knowles, now 22, completed a documentary called "Why Do You Have Black Dolls?" to articulate the answer.
What the Brooklyn filmmaker didn't know was that her mother felt so strongly that her daughters, Samantha and Jillian, have dolls of their own race, that she would stand in line at stores or make special orders to make sure they got one of the few black versions. "My parents made sure to get us a lot of black dolls in a wide variety of hues and shapes," Samantha Knowles says. "We didn't have exclusively black dolls, but we had mostly black dolls. After I started working on the film, I had a lot of conversations with my mom, and she would say, 'Oh, you don't know what I had to go through to get some of those dolls!'"
A discussion of alcohol and gender politics is pretty much incomplete without a discussion about the space where many of us take our first drinks (not to mention our first women's studies classes): college. I decided to rent the two movies that (for better or for worse) shaped my youthful expectations about college life, and my understanding of Greek life, which are at least perceived as the center of alcohol consumption on many campuses. I was interested in seeing if the sexual politics, and portrayal of college drinking (and other drug use) would be more or less palatable to my crotchety 30-something self versus my young, impressionable self. But I was also interested in whether popular portrayal of the Greek system matches up with history: that is, were Greek societies always centers of hedonism on college campuses? And why does pop culture so often portray fraternity guys as underdogs?
While Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds ostensibly portray two different types of male cliques, they had, I realized, a startling number of things in common: first, they both portray groups of college men who are "outsiders" within the Greek system, though for very different reasons. Animal House consists of a bunch of guys who are too goofy or too underachieving (and, one suspects, too working class) to get into the other houses (which consist of "legacy" blue bloods); the university administration dislikes not the Greek system in general, but Animal House in specific. The guys in Revenge of the Nerds are better liked by the university administration, presumably for their high GPAs, but actively hated by other Greeks, most of whom play on the football team (coached by a very young John Goodman).
In 1966, when Jean Rhys was 76 years old, her novel Wide Sargasso Sea was published. The novel, a prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, is told from the perspective of the Caribbean Creole "madwoman in the attic" who was Mr. Rochester's first wife. Her editor, who worked with her on Wide Sargasso Sea,highlights the difficulty of Rhys' life, saying, "It is impossible to describe briefly the burdens inflicted on her by poverty, loneliness...It remains a mystery how someone so ill-equipped for life, upon whom life had visited such tribulations, could force herself to hang on, whatever the battering she was taking, to the artists at the centre of herself."
Welcome to Lady Liquor, where, for the next two months, I'll be writing about the relationship between, well, ladies and liquor. Primarily. I'm interested in the ways women's attitudes about drinking -- and society's attitudes about women who drink -- have shaped history and pop culture. But it's pretty much impossible to talk about those things without also talking about other mind-altering substances (I'm looking at you, War on Drugs); I'd also be remiss not to talk about the relationship between booze and other social justice movements -- like the gay rights movement, which actually started in a bar.
Domitila Barrios de Chungara was a labor rights leader and political activist from Bolivia. In addition to advancing the status of the working class of Bolivia, Barrios de Chungara was also an advocate for women's rights.