Category Archives: Culture

“The Boss” in the Post-Patriarchy – Self-Promotion

Envers

“Sticking It To The Man? – The Crisis of Masculinity in the Post-Patriarchy” is the title of an article I wrote for the French journal on political culture Envers. The topic of their first edition is the concept of “the boss” (le chef), and my essay is approaching the subject from a feminist perspective. You can buy the visually stunning first edition at Amazon or Tituli.

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Female Audiences and the Male Universal

I am immensely excited to see Gravity tomorrow night, the new science fiction movie by Alfonso Cuarón of Children of Men fame. Sandra Bullock plays the lead role in this picture, alongside George Clooney, and I am thrilled to see another sci-fi production featuring a female lead in an otherwise male-dominated genre. According to the director, however, not everyone was this excited about the prospect as I am. During a press conference in July he indicated that producers were pushing for a male lead instead, as “science fiction is a male-dominated genre, with a male audience that wants to relate to a male lead.”

image via shakesville

image via shakesville

This is funny, because the majority of Hollywood productions features male leads, and in my over twenty years of moviegoer experience as a woman I still managed to enjoy myself quite often. My preferences didn’t really matter; I had to relate to a male lead and managed to do so, sometimes more, sometimes less successfully. Though apparently this is an impossible exercise for some… Continue reading

France: Pomophobia in Action

Not too long ago, I wrote about how in France the enemies of equal marriage outed themselves as the truly hypocritical bullies they are, when they reacted to counter-protestors with physical violence. Since then, I am saddened to report,  the situation has worsened.

Protests and counter-protests are staged at least once a month, with impressive turnouts on both sides, while the law guaranteeing same sex couples the right to marriage and adoption is slowly but steadily moving through the bureaucratic system towards ratification. Like German journalist and blogger Antje Schrupp has said about the women’s quota: It’s coming, no matter what; it’s only a matter of time. The same can be said for equal marriage: In societies that are founded on the principles of democracy and equality, denying certain people basic rights cannot be justified and upheld in the long run. Clearly, Western democracies are at that threshold at the moment, some more than others, but all the signs point towards progress. Continue reading

The (Female) Artist is Present – Marina Abramovic vs. Maeve Binchy

clearly not an icon: marina abramovic for v magazine

I am not very familiar with Abramovic’s art. I came across her work a few times at art exhibitions and, most recently, in a news article which stated that she does not identify as a feminist, because she never felt she had to struggle more being a woman. Yet this afternoon, as part of the Meltdown Festival in London, she gave a lecture to a women-only audience at the Southbank Centre. Considering her previous comments, I can only assume that this decision came from artistic rather than political motivations. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but in any case, I was intrigued. Continue reading

The drop in the ocean, or the drop that wears away the stone? Street Harassment

I have been very conflicted about this topic for a while. Mostly, because I wasn’t sure of how significant it was in comparison to other issues, and whether this significance merited  the amount of feminist responses, initiatives and organisations that have developed over the years (Hollaback, Stop Street Harassment, Pro Change, to name a few).

Obviously, this is a problem that concerns all women, whether cis or trans, femme or butch, coloured of colour or white, or androgynous looking (even “feminine” looking men)… The list goes on. So the many responses are justified by the amount of people involved and interested in them. Clearly, we have a problem here! I guess, my hesitancy can be explained  by a perception of normalcy of the problem, resulting in more or less callous acceptance. Come to think of it, what a terrible way to live!

I am 25 years old. One can rightfully assume that I have been subjected to street harassment for over ten to fifteen years. Needless to say, it has become a part of my every-day life, a constant variable in the way I behave in public. For more than ten years I have been exposed to comments, leering, catcalling and groping, and I have learned to deal with that. I had to. Now, at 25 years old, I have graduated with honours in the art of making myself invisible in public (if I want to), but there are no rewards. The bullying continues, only now I am better at looking away, leaving, pretending to ignore it, but it has never stopped to bother me and it seldomly fails to lead to its most devious effect: I want to make myself smaller, hide inside myself, run away.

Normally, I would consider myself a strong, independent woman. I am an outspoken feminist. I never hide my political convictions. If justified, I talk back to my employers at work. I often call out people for misbehaving or making stupid remarks. And no, I am also not afraid to yell back at catcallers, when I feel safe enough. It makes me feel better about the situation, but there is nothing empowering about it. I still feel angry and humiliated, uncomfortable and exposed, and sadly, my body language in public has incorporated these fears.

On the train, I am often crouched in the corner of the seat, my legs and arms crossed, looking away. I don’t like waiting on the street; if I am early I prefer to go for a walk or “look busy” by playing games on my mobile phone. Hanging around unattended on the street is a surefire way of being approached by someone uncalled-for. I avoid making eye contact with men in public, and I try not to touch them accidentally. When men offer me anything in the street (a product, help) or want to ask me something, my initial reaction is to refuse. Immediately, my heart starts beating faster. When I go outside wearing short dresses or skirts, I prepare myself for unwanted attention.  At night, I change the side of the street in order not to run into approaching groups of men, or I avoid certain areas altogether. In my day to day life, I don’t think about the reasons for this behaviour and I don’t analyze its impact. It’s my life, my naturalized means for navigating public spaces with the least risk potential. It has become what the German blog High on Clichés calls a “second skin”.

Naturally, we all guard ourselves in public. It is the space in which we’re most vulnerable. But do men prepare themselves in this way, at every hour, every single day? (That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d really like to know.) How can it be that mere words can have such a violent impact on large amounts of people, yet there is rarely any backing from the public when incidents of sexual harassment occur (at least that’s my experience)?

The worst thing anyone can say about this issue is: “Men simply can’t help it.” It makes me feel so much more unsafe, having to accept that men are completely volatile predators. Fortunately, I know that this is untrue. Most men actually don’t harass women in the street, the same way as I don’t harass men. It would never occur to them; just like it doesn’t occur to me to yell “nice ass” at a guy with a nice ass. That doesn’t mean men aren’t allowed to look, and can’t enjoy a nice cleavage every once in a while, but there is such a thing as subtlety and simple human decency. It is something we all learn eventually, being social beings and all, some perhaps more so than others. But I believe there is a difference in how men take up public space as a matter of course, whereas women are often in a constant state of tension. I could go into the wider implications of this, but I suppose you all agree that this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

Nowadays, I feel like I can handle most forms of sexual harassment without being too shaken by it. But just because human beings are able to adapt themselves to most circumstances, it doesn’t mean they’re acceptable. Knowing that this behaviour is wrong and harmful is the first step to generate a culture that refuses to participate and citizens that will stand up to this injustice publicly. That this hasn’t happened yet is an outrage, but at least it’s better to be angry than scared.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, but not without checking out this awesome Street Harassment Bullshit Bingo, created by High on Clichés (translation mine):

original via high on clichés

Book Challenge

If you don’t already read Clarissa’s Blog, I hereby strongly recommend it. She writes about feminism, academia and current events and always manages to place her own unique opinion in opposition to the mainstream. Sometimes I agree with her, sometimes I don’t, but she always makes me think. She also posts what feels like three times a day, yet remains informative and entertaining.

Just like her recent post titled “30-Day Book Challenge in One Day”. And because I love books and lists and anything that resembles a questionnaire, I decided to have my own One Day Book Challenge right here on this blog. Perhaps my readers can take away some nice recommendations, perhaps it’s just for my own pleasure…

1. Favourite book

That’s a difficult question to answer. For me, it changes over time and often depends on what topics and authors I’m dealing with in my studies. But I am going to go with a book that started my love for American literature, when I read it for the first time at 15 or so: Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I have read it multiple times and I’m still not bored by it, even though the narrative is anything but original or complex. To me it symbolizes the essence of American literature: fast, in your face, (post)modern, a perfect union of style and content, yet it still has so many flaws that are exciting to discover. The book is of course influenced by Joan Didion’s novel Play It As It Lays, which is also brilliant, but I only discovered it later in life.

2. Least favourite book

Anything that doesn’t feel authentic. That reads as though the writer is just desperately clinging to their fame and reputation. Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis was such a letdown. In fact, it felt as though someone had tried to copy his style and failed massively. The whole thing made me cringe.

3. Book that makes you laugh out loud

The Liar by Stephen Fry. He is so superior with words and I love his humor for kinky intellectuals. Which reminds me that I would love to read it again, but I gave my copy to an ex-boyfriend and he never returned it. Grrr…

4. Book that makes you cry

Books don’t really make me cry, but there are those that have a deep sadness in them. Try by Dennis Cooper is such a book, but it’s not an obvious choice, and if you’re looking for something melodramatic, don’t read this. I’m writing my thesis about Dennis Cooper, so my choice is probably biased.

5. Book you wish you could live in

I don’t usually read “nice” books, so I don’t think I would want to live in any of them. If I had to pick something, I guess I could go with The Garden of Eden by Hemingway. As far as I remember it is about newlyweds who travel a lot in the South of France, and it’s hot, and they drink a lot of Pernod. That sounds pretty good to me right now.

6. Favourite young adult book

Hands down, Die Mitte der Welt by Andreas Steinhöfel. I don’t know if it has been translated into English. I certainly hope so. It is beautifully written and features homosexuality, outcasts, bullying, first love, you know, the mysteries and banalities of being a teenager. I read it for the first time when I was thirteen and I believe it changed my life.

7. Book that you can quote/recite

I have a terrible long-term memory, so I don’t think I can properly quote anything.

8. Book that scares you

Probably Macht and Rebel by Matias Faldbakken. Because in many ways it portrays my generation very cunningly, and turns out my generation is a bunch of douches. The book is very clever, but it scares me because it’s so misanthropic and nonchalant at the same time.

9. Book that makes you sick

I read some pretty sick stuff, however, none of it actually makes me sick. What makes me sick are false interpretations of books, for example people claiming that Lolita is the most beautiful love story ever written. If you think that, you might want to take some literature classes and check your understanding of love.

10. Book that changed your life

Die Mitte der Welt, but I think I am going to explain that in a different post.

11. Book from your favourite author

One of my all time favourite authors I haven’t mentioned yet: Kathy Acker. After all, this blog is named after one of the illustrations in her novel Empire of the Senseless. I wrote an essay about it in a class on dystopian literature, and it was probably the most fun essay I ever had to write, and I’m pretty sure it blew my professor’s mind, whose understanding of dystopian literature didn’t exceed the likes of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451.

12. Book that is most like your life

My life is not that exciting at the moment, so if there is a book out there that is like that, I probably wouldn’t want to read it. Unless it’s called “10 easy steps to have a career when you have a cultural studies degree”.

13. Book whose main character is most like you

Anais Nin’s diary and short fiction. Surfacing by Margaret Atwood.

14. Book whose main character you want to marry

As I’ve said before, most of the stuff I read is pretty grim, so I doubt I would want to get married to any of the characters in them.

15. First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child

I don’t remember. As a child I used to devour books. I read probably twice as much as I do now, so no idea.

16. Longest book you’ve read

The Bible? No idea. I have a dislike for long reads.

17. Shortest book you’ve read

I guess it depends on how to define “a book”. In Germany, we have these tiny yellow Reclam editions; they make everything look very short, but oftentimes they’re really not.

18. Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like

I’m never embarrassed about reading. I’m more embarrassed to say “Oh, I haven’t read that.”

19. Book that turned you on

I used to read a lot of erotica by Anais Nin and Oscar Wilde. They were pretty kinky back then.

20. Book you’ve read the most number of times

Probably Less Than Zero. 

21.  Favourite picture book from childhood

My grandma used to have these fairy tale collections from the Eastern Bloc, translated for the GDR. Those books had the most beautiful and most frightening illustrations I have ever seen. Nowadays parents would think that they were way too disturbing for little children, but I found them fascinating.

22. Book you plan to read next

I still plan to finish Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe. 

23. Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)

The Bible, though I did read large portions of it.

24. Book that contains your favorite scene

Now, that can only be answered by someone who reads like a book a year.

25. Favorite book you read in school

Lord of the Flies.

26. Favorite nonfiction book

In preparation for my thesis I have to read Enter At Your Own Risk a lot, which is a collection of essays about Dennis Cooper’s writing. When I first read it I was a bit annoyed, because it was about the exact same things I wanted to write about (and I thought I had some pretty radical new ideas). Turns out it actually is a great help to back my own ideas without making them redundant.

27. Favorite fiction book

See number 1.

28. Last book you read

ATTA by Jarett Kobek. It is about the life of one of the terrorists who flew a plane into the WTC on 9-11. It is also full of urban critique; it is disturbing and hilarious.

29. Book you’re currently reading

None, because I just finished Christian Kracht’s 1979 last night. And if you want to know what I think about it: I am completely indifferent.

30. Favorite coffee table book

Oh, you mean those wanky, large books full of pictures that people have lying around at home to seem really cool when they have visitors? I’m sorry, but I can only give you my least favourity coffee table book: that Banksy book that at one point everyone in Berlin seemed to own…

So there’s that. I’m sure you have noticed that I am not a fan of the classics, I am heavily biased towards 20th century literature, and I have a slightly disturbing preference for gay male authors. That is another blog post right there. I’ll get on to it asap.

Feel free to criticize me for my lack of women writers, but I wanted to answer as truthfully as possible. And the truth is, that for a long period in my teenage years, which is probably when I read the most, I hardly read any women writers. I blame publishers, my public library, and most of all patriarchy!

Notes on Facebook

By now everyone should be aware of Facebook’s recent stunt: introducing Timeline, which chronicles the users’ entire Facebook past on their profiles, all the way back to their actual births. Now it will be made obligatory.

Needless to say, I find the whole idea utterly ridiculous, especially  when you look at the information Timeline users are encouraged to share: purchases they’ve made (great for companies), surgeries and illnesses they’ve had (WHY on earth would anyone want to share or know this?), loved ones they’ve lost (I wonder, can you link to their profiles? Is this the next step: a virtual cemetery for all the profiles abandoned by the dead?)…

But what I find also incredibly annoying are all the comments by clearly conservative and clueless people wondering: “Well, why are you on Facebook in the first place? No one’s forcing you!”

Of course, I am compelled to use Facebook! Sure, no one is holding a gun to my head, but have you ever heard of society? When you are a young, tech-savvy (well, I try) and well-connencted person, not having Facebook is simply not an option anymore, at least not a smart one. And I am not talking about the overreaching self-promotion of some individuals, the sometimes excessive networking and oversharing; I am talking about staying in touch, staying informed and staying connected.

1. Staying in touch: If you’ve lived in one place all your life and you have a working phone, then no, you may not necessarily need Facebook. But if you’ve travelled a lot and lived in other places (or your closest friends have), then most likely you will know a considerable amount of people you love and care about, who don’t live anywhere near you, maybe not even in the same time zone. Facebook is a way of keeping track of what is happening in your friends’ and family’s lives, when it becomes impossible to send out twenty e-mails every week. Sometimes all it takes is seeing a picture, liking a status update or sending a link to know that there are people out there who care and think about you, even when you’re not physically present. One may find that superficial; but this kind of superficiality can feel really damn good sometimes.

2. Staying informed: Well, you could read the news and use Twitter, and you probably wouldn’t miss out on much. But you may want to inform yourself not just through Facebook, but about Facebook. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t change the fact that millions of people worldwide are using it, and everything that Facebook does will affect these millions of people. So don’t be ignorant; after all, this is a world-wide phenomenon that continues to shape the world: your world as well…

3. Staying connected: Networking is my worst nightmare, probably because I suck at it. But when you’re a twenty-something looking for a job, and you have a degree in humanities, you better get into it. Because knowledge in social networking is almost a requirement these days, especially when it comes to jobs in cultural and media institutions. Plus, when you have a blog, like this one, and you actually want people to read it, Facebook is indispensible. Sending everyone e-mail updates would take too much time, and it would drive everyone crazy, who actually doesn’t care about what I write (shocking, I know). So unless you have a good alternative I need to hear about, stop patronizing Facebook users!

Just to be sure, none of this makes me a huge fan of Facebook; in fact, I find it highly problematic. And if Google+ and Diaspora finally took off, I would leave the book in a heartbeat. But in the meantime I cannot do without this tool and if I don’t like the new changes, I get to complain about them as much as I want to!