Thursday, July 10, 2008

Poetry you should know

This week's poet is Langston Hughes.

I, Too

I, too, sing America
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

For more poetry for your soul, visit Daddy's place.

What if we gave up the "top model" paradigm rather than expanding it?

Crossposted from Professor What If

This summer has seen the inauguration of two new “top-model” type of reality shows that expand the concept of beauty in both positive and negative ways. On the plus side, Britain’s Missing Top Model and TVLand’s She’s Got the Look each expand the definition of who counts as beautiful by going against ableist and ageist beauty standards.

However, the better option, if you ask me, would be to do away with the beauty competition paradigm altogether. Expanding the definition of beauty does nothing to question or destabilize the beauty imperative wherein (mainly women) are constructed as chess(t) pieces competing for dubious hotness prizes.

Feminism has critiqued this beauty imperative from way back. For example, Mary Wollestonecraft weighed in against beauty in A Vindication of the Rights of Women back in 1792 while Sojourner Truth rallied against white supremacist, classist definitions of beauty in the 1850s. More recently, in one of my favorites, Sandra Lee Bartky riles against disciplinarian beauty norms and practices in “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.”

Yet, the reality shows that trade in women (from bartering them off to Joe Millionairres or cutting them up Swan style) have no truck with feminism. They pander to keeping the ‘woman as object’ archetype firmly in place. As a case in point, check out the great analysis over at The Feminist Underground of yet another recent reality show offender on FOX, The Battle of the Bods.

Missing Top Model and She’s Got the Look endeavor to get more women to join in the ‘fun’ of defining themselves via their looks. The title of Missing… in and of itself is offensive. It constructs disabled women as not fully human with its use of the word ‘missing.’ (For a good analysis of this shows many wrongs, see this post at WIMN’s Voices.)

As for She’s Got the Look, it trades in the oh-so-maddening MILF narrative-a trend that suggests women of all ages can be subjected to a controlling, penetrating male gaze-how empowering! As Jessica at Feministing quips in regards to “She’s Got the Look,” “why should young women have all that objectification fun!” Yes indeed, why should we limit kowtowing to beauty norms to a select few-let’s expand the playing field so all women can chain themselves to beauty mandates and be defined solely as eye candy!

The problem is that expanding the definition of beauty is an assimilationist move. It does nothing to topple the panopticon of beauty wherein (mainly women) are prompted to police themselves and others while (mainly men) are given the warden keys of control. Similar to gay assimilationist moves that attempt to gain access to problematic institutions rather than to overthrow them (such as marriage and its accompanying 1000plus legal privileges), beauty assimilation merely expands who gets to take part in the oppressive beauty matrix.

This is not to say that beauty can’t be fun, that enjoying the body and its appearance is always oppressive. Rather, it is the current ways that beauty is defined, institutionalized, and capitalized that is problematic. We need to queer beauty, to politicize it, to redefine it, not merely expand the existing limiting definitions of beauty that are capitalist, white supremacist, and heteronormative (among other things).

No, this does not mean enjoying wearing make up or fashion or body ornamentation makes you a ‘bad feminist’ (I disagree with Bartky here). What it means is that as feminists we need to be conscious of our beauty practices and analyze our motives. (This is an old debate, one that has been re-hashed over and over, yet the “if you wear make up you are not a true feminist” stereotype refuses to die). Beautifying and appreciating others beauty should be a fun, pleasureful practice-much like sex. It should not be a stick to beat ourselves or others with. It should also involve consent rather than coercion.* And it should not involve competitions - reality TV based or otherwise. Like the collective voices of a number of feminists in 1968 who penned the classic essay “No More Miss America,” let’s protest the “The Degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol” these shows perpetuate, let’s say no to “Racism with Roses,” and let’s say NO to “The Consumer Con-Game” of the beauty/pageant/top model paradigm.

*For an interesting post and follow-up discussion about appreciating the beauty/phycisality of others in non-oppressive ways, see “I Objectify Men” over at Feministe.

Tami's note: Professor What If ought to be on your daily list of blogs to read...really insightful stuff. I admit, I get sucked into these 21st century beauty pageants. They always seem like harmless fun, until the 10th time you hear some modeling agency head berate a woman for some innocuous physical "flaw"--jaw too square or not square enough, face too pretty or not pretty enough, body too curvy or not curvy enough. It gets really depressing really quickly. One day, I hope women stop agreeing to be judged in the way the contestants on these shows are.

To Jesse and the lions of the civil rights movement

Wait...before I get started, I gotta put on a little Jill Scott:

If I gave you sanity
For the whole of humanity,
Had all the solutions
For the pain and pollution
No matter where I live,
Despite the things I give,
You'll always be this way
So go 'head and....

Hate on me, hater
Now or later
'Cuz I'm gonna do me
You'll be mad, baby
(Go 'head and hate)
Go 'head and hate on me, hate on
'Cuz I'm not afraid of it
What I got I paid for
You can hate on me

- From "Hate on Me" (Hear it)

Now, Jesse...I need to talk to you about this:

Successful young black people like me, like Barack Obama, owe you and other folks who marched with Dr. King a debt of gratitude. Because you all did the heavy lifting, faced the hoses, the dogs, the guns, I get to have a position of authority and sit in the board room at my job. Barack Obama, the son of an African man, may just be the next president of the United States. And that was Dr. King's dream right? At least part of it. So, I don't understand why, when you should be celebrating, some of ya'll are just...hating.

Now, no black person is obligated to like Barack Obama simply because he is a self-identified black man. But your criticisms? Man, they sound flimsy. First, we have Andrew Young snickering about how many black women Obama has slept with. Now, we have you bashing Obama's Father's Day speech. He's talking down to black people, you say. I call bullshit, Jesse. You know damned well that personal responsibility is as much as part of the movement for equality as marching and getting a foot in the halls of power. You've been preaching the same thing for the last 30-some years. Yes, the right has co-opted the notion of personal responsibility to use as a sledgehammer, but I know you're not fooled. And Barack Obama is your senator--he's been part of the fabric of Chicago politics for years--so I know you know he is qualified and the real deal.

Know what I think? I think that you and other members of the civil rights industrial complex (TM What About Our Daughters) are a little ticked that Barack Obama isn't one of your group. He didn't come up through your power structure. He hasn't kissed the appropriate rings...and asses. This is about power--yours not the people's. And it just goes to show that being a big shot for too long can go to anyone's head--even someone who started as a community leader in the streets with the people (Barack, are you taking notes?).

Jesse, ya'll can criticise Obama all you want. It's your right. But, next time you get the urge to whisper like a seventh grader, consider whether your criticisms are valid (there are many valid criticisms to be made) or whether you're just...hating.


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