March 4, 2010

Comics, Cleavage, and You (or…well, me)

Posted in Art, Body Image, culture, diversions, Patriarchy, sexuality, Society tagged , , , at 2:06 pm by Eostre

I will state right up front that this is a topic that most people who will read this will only care about in the context of Bigger Things, as a small sign of more widespread cultural attitudes and whatnot. This is perhaps as it should be for those of us in school who spend most of out time thinking about Bigger Things.

But for me, this is something that is close to my nerdy little heart. You see, I love comics. I love reading them, I love monthly issues, I love origin stories and dark reinventions. That’s right, I am coming out of the comic-nerd closet. I don’t just love the Intellectual ones, either. Sure, I am completely up for Persepolis, but I have a gooshy, happy place in my heart for Sandman, The Justice League, and all of their sundry friends. I love the feel of the glossy pages and the bold typeface. 

Being a female comics reader can often be problematic, however. For, although things have vastly improved in the last 20 years or so, women in comics are often, frankly, ridiculous. To start, they are usually drawn with absurd measurements, and their body stats tend to be listed as something like ” 5’10” 102 lbs” (they don’t mention the Double-D boobs and lady-wrestler like muscles, all of which would make her something closer to at least 180, and that’s being generous), and then there are the outfits. This is well-known territory, so I will be brief. Spandex on a man, while still clingy, is nothing like spandex on one of these barbie-zons, with every curve lovingly drawn and accentuated. Yes, comics were for a long time drawn mostly by men for men, and many assume that is still the case. And titillation has long been a staple of comics fare, both within the superhero genre and outside of it.

So the graphic genre has well-earned its reputation for what can at best be called objectification, at worst misogyny (for example, one of the best known female superheroes, Wonder Woman, originated as little more than a thinly veiled BDSM fantasy), and it doesn’t help that many (if not most) women in the genre are attached to some other, stronger, male character (i.e. Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Supergirl, She-Hulk, etc), which, frankly, is one of my main complaints. If I have to look at overly voluptuous women in spandex, they could at least be more autonomous.

Of course, there are exceptions, and they normally come as part of a group (X-Men, for example, have a lovely cast of

She Hulk beating Iron Man at arm-wrestling, the cover for one of the upcoming Girl Comics Issues

 strong female and male characters). And even those who have been attached to other, male superheroes as part of an entourage are getting their own stories and features (I am particularly excited about the upcoming Girl Comics from Marvel).

So, after that not-very-brief-even-though-it-was-meant-to-be introduction, my point. I am willing to put up with some cleavage and porn-face in my comics, because if I weren’t my options for reading them would be nearly non-existent. And hey, feminism is all about making space within patriarchal structures for female voices, using and twisting those structures to make small pockets for women, but in a genre that is becoming more diversified as to who is writing/drawing the stories, the progress is far far too slow. Yes, there are better stories being told about female super-heroes than there were 40 years ago (and a few better heroes joining the canon), but the objectification is still so widespread and pervasive as to be the norm, rather than the exception.

I love the genre (and believe me when I say that super-hero comics are a genre, not a medium) I am too much of a feminist to not cringe at least once an issue, and I wish that weren’t so.

Since this is a topic I am super passionate about, there will be one more post next week addressing the good side of women in super-hero comics, including the ways that existing characters and norms have been used to create space for feminist readings, and the genre/medium distinction. So, as always, STAY TUNED…

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February 11, 2010

Giving Birth to Myself

Posted in Academia, birthing, feminism, feminist journey, Patriarchy, school and academics, Self Image tagged , , , , , at 6:36 pm by Gina Messina

As a woman in graduate school I have had very little confidence in my abilities.  Every time I entered a classroom I immediately began to judge myself as the least intelligent person in the room.  I was certainly a victim of the “imposter” syndrome, believing that I just did not belong and that eventually someone would realize they made a mistake in admitting me to the program.  As time went on I noticed that in smaller classes that were largely female I was more open to feeling part of the class and willing to participate in discussions.  However in classes that had large male populations my feelings of inferiority would quickly take me over and it was painful for me to offer any comment whatsoever.  Unfortunately, I was half way through my first year of my doctoral program before I realized that I was allowing myself to be intimidated by men and feel inferior to them as a result of being raised in a patriarchal culture. 

Within my own family, as a girl, I was encouraged to just “pass” my classes and move on because my role in life was to be a wife and a mother.  My grades were not important and finishing high school seemed to be just a formality.  My mom often told me “I hope you find a nice man to marry to take care of you, smarts just isn’t your thing.”  I know, it sounds horrible, and it is, but she meant it in the nicest way possible, especially since she was given the same message her entire life.

That being said, my brother was always encouraged in his academic pursuits, he was a straight “A” student and the family was overjoyed when he was accepted to UCLA.  As a male his role was to achieve great things and his goals were valued.  He was the one that would have an important role in our society.  While there were great expectations for my brother, there was very little expected of me.

It astonishes me that I was in a doctoral program and in my 30’s by the time I made this connection.  It was so embedded in me that I was second rate that even as I was achieving great things in graduate school I could never recognize myself as being on par with my male as well as some of my female classmates.  Once I made this realization, I was able to pay attention to it and work on my overall confidence.

Early on in my graduate career I often thought I would never make a good scholar.  I felt overwhelmed and incapable of achieving anything that would be noteworthy in a world of brilliance.  However, now that I have realized where my confidence issues have come from and that it is not my work that is inferior I have been able to encourage myself if many ways and grow as a person, woman, and academic.  Instead of hiding in the background I have started stepping forward.  I am motivated to demonstrate my true abilities and so I am putting myself out there.  I will be presenting at my first conference in March, submitted an article for publication (which I am still waiting for an answer on), and I have created files of ideas I intend to pursue that I believe will impact the academic and greater community.  It is exciting to finally have confidence and know that I am capable of those things I thought were impossible for so long.

I have stopped allowing myself to feel inadequate and have started encouraging my creative and scholarly abilities.  Making the realization that my confidence issues were imposed and not warranted changed so much for me; I have grown into an entirely different person.  Through my own hard work and dedication to moving past the limits that have been forced upon me all my life, I have given birth to myself, and I love her.

January 5, 2010

Mary Daly: Radical Elemental Feminist and Sinner

Posted in Christianity, feminist theology, Patriarchy, Women in Religion tagged , , , , at 11:16 pm by Gina Messina

I was greatly saddened Sunday evening, January 3, 2010 when I received an email stating that Feminist Theologian Mary Daly had passed away that morning at the age of 81.  As a doctoral student in Women Studies in Religion, I have been greatly influenced by the work of Daly.  I can still remember the first time I read a piece of her work.  It was during my undergraduate career at Cleveland State University in a course entitled Women and Religion.  I was immediately impacted and wanted to know more about this bold, strong and courageous woman.  Shortly thereafter I applied to a graduate program in Religious Studies and became better acquainted with Daly’s work. 

While I must admit that I am troubled by some of Daly’s claims and disagree with some of her contentions, I have also been significantly influenced by her foundational work in feminist theology, her demand for women’s liberation and Spinning of new tales and new ideas.  Daly called for women to have the courage to be, to experience a new fall out of patriarchal systems and into a new being that allows women to discover their capabilities, the dynamic power women possess within themselves. 

According to Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), “Her contributions to feminist theology, philosophy, and theory were many, unique, and if I may say so, world-changing. She created intellectual space; she set the bar high. Even those who disagreed with her are in her debt for the challenges she offered…She always advised women to throw our lives as far as they would go. I can say without fear of exaggeration that she lived that way herself.”[1]

While I never had the opportunity to meet Mary Daly, I have no doubt been inspired by her brilliance, courage, wit, and spirit.  My feminist and theological views have been shaped through her influence. I have been able to spiral into freedom and rename and reclaim my own experiences; I have found my own creative power.  Thank you for having the courage to sin big Mary Daly. 

“There are and will be those who think I have gone overboard. Let them rest assured that this assessment is correct, probably beyond their wildest imagination, and that I will continue to do so.” – Mary Daly

 


[1] Feminist Studies in Religion Bulletin January 3, 2010.