So what happened to rave utopia? This isn’t a simple case of decline, of a lost golden age. Every dance subculture the world over reaches its own compromise with dominant culture - is it fair to say that the ‘dress to impress’ ethos of UK Garage circa 2000 is inherently sexist? Or that Grime’s macho energy and testosterone-fuelled lyrical acrobatics should be dismissed as illegitimate because it appeals largely to young men? Obviously not. But there has been a visible trend, in the UK and elsewhere, away from the unprecedented sense of unity that the dancefloor can provide.

Perhaps it’s in line with the relentless onset of a Neoliberal ideology - set in motion by Thatcher and Reagan - which values the sanctity of the individual over any form of collective spirit. When there’s ‘no such thing as society’, where does that leave social dancing? Rave culture originally set itself up as the antithesis of this shift, but whether through co-option by commercial forces or a more general dispersal across the confused geography of contemporary culture, its boundaries have been eroded over the years, making the battle lines far less clear cut. It’s also harder and harder to find accessible urban spaces in which DJs and dancers can congregate to create this sense of togetherness - soaring property prices and the imperatives of real estate signalled an end to the illegal warehouse circuit which was rave’s backbone, in London and elsewhere.

From Lesbian Propaganda & Other Myths: Misogyny In Dance Music”

Hat Tip to the Women in Electronic Music Facebook Page for the link. They post great content on their page and it’s definitely worth liking (or loving)!

All the Single [Straight] Ladies

You know that feeling when you like the initial idea of something and then it’s execution is so terribly offensive (but arguably well meant) that you can no longer support the idea? Subsequently, the terrible execution makes the mere mention of the idea irritating to no end. For me, Kate Bolick’s recently published piece, "All the Single Ladies" in the The Atlantic is a perfect example of that feeling. 

The article starts off with an interesting premise: what are the socio-cultural and economic reasons undergirding the trend of single females? A larger philosophical question about what it means to be single as a woman has the potential be a really interesting, insightful and engaging piece, even if the author’s arguments are not points I agree with. Needless to say I read this article excitedly with the aforementioned hope in mind. What I ended up reading was, frankly, five webpages of a relatively privileged heterosexual white woman bemoaning the state of her love life, looking to the blacks and the dutch for an explanation (or solace?) for her singledom. I won’t spend too much time discussing how racially insensitive Bolick’s discussion of single females in the African American community was, as others no doubt have already done so - a former graduate school classmate of mine, Ali, has a nice post about this article. I did, however, find this particular passage horrifying:

But the non-committers are out there in growing force. If dating and mating is in fact a marketplace—and of course it is—today we’re contending with a new “dating gap,” where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players. For evidence, we don’t need to look to the past, or abroad—we have two examples right in front of us: the African American community, and the college campus…Given the crisis in gender it has suffered through for the past half century, the African American population might as well be a separate nation. [emphasis mine]

What troubled me beyond the biologically deterministic, Gloria Steinem obsessed feminist rhetoric was an absolute disregard for what being single woman means outside of a heterosexual union. Bolick gives a hat tip to gay men and how homosexual marriage creates an opportunity to rethink the notion of marriage. But nowhere in her article does she discuss non-heterosexual women and how they too might be freaking out about being partner-less.

This is a missed opportunity because discussing queer women would have been a chance for Bolick to tackle a larger philosophical question about the social function of love, of intimate connections between two human beings without the immediate reference of a biological ability to reproduce (e.g., “love is just a precursor to making babies”). Singledom, whether self-imposed or an undesired by-product, is a very pertinent issue in the queer community, especially so because being queer for many means a life in the margins or being ostracized by family and friends. I promise you that there are as many queer single women freaking out about being single as there are straight women worried about the lack of ‘marriageable men.’

But instead of treating the discussion as an analysis of the marketplace of marriagable men, maybe we could talk about the marketplace itself. Why is there a marketplace at all? Why frame love in a capitalist model, relegating it to a mere transaction between two beings? Is marriage or partnership the only acceptable outcome for love between two people? What does it mean to feel like you’re not ready to “settle down”? What forms-life-does love take on in the context of connecting to another person whether they’re “the one” or a future ex? Anything would have been better than “I have so much privilege thanks to second wave feminism and now all this agency has left me single.”

"Domestic violence groups to protest Odd Future at Pitchfork"

Here’s my opinion of Odd Future: Their whole “shock as art, our words are just theoretical and don’t mean nothing” shtick is tired, just tired. They’ve got some good beats and some funny lyrics, but overall I’m bored by their work. Misogyny and homophobia are not new lyrical devices and if Odd Future were actually (consistently) using them in the some creative fashion, maybe I’d be inclined to treat what they do as art rather than a bunch of teenage punks being obnoxious because they’ve been given a spotlight. I’m not one to protest a musician for having offensive lyrics, but when an artist’s response to charges that his music is homophobic or misogynistic is to imply that the person (a lesbian) needs a good dicking, something has to give. Seriously bro? That’s all you’ve got? Clearly this kid is a genius. Can we all agree that Tyler the Creator is NOT some Kurt Cobain-cum-Nietzsche lyrical maestro articulating the alienation of American youth as he speaks truth to power? 

But riddle me this, Odd Future fans. Why is that when a bunch teenage/early 20 something black kids talk about mutilating a woman’s clitoris with a shard of glass they’re musical geniuses and when ICP does it, they’re white trash from the suburbs of Michigan? Is it the clown makeup? Is that what makes ICP’s work lowbrow beats for ‘trash’? Do hoodies make Odd Future’s music ‘highbrow’ for hipsters? Is it the novelty of their young blackness that makes Pitchfork fawn all over them?

I see a certain kind of irony that 56 years after the death of Emmett Till, a young teenage black boy who was horribly murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman, our society has “evolved” to valorize someone like Tyler who raps about beating and raping women and then subjects female fans at his concerts to the following:

She kept the look when, just after two in the morning, a blonde girl surfed her way onstage and kissed Tyler, who announced, “I might legit have herpes.” The crowd laughed and started a “show your titties” chant, and she refused, looking bashful. “Then get the fuck off the stage!” Tyler yelled, and she jumped into the outstretched hands, just as easily forgotten as the things he’d said.

Is this the post-racist American society Obama’s election ushered in? I see racism, albeit in very different extremes, at work in the examples of Till and Tyler. Perhaps I don’t ‘get’ hip hop and the ‘joke’ of Odd Future is lost on me - I admit hip-hop is not a genre that I am as familiar with as electronica or indie rock. But I’m not entirely convinced that Odd Future would have the buzz they have in the indie/hipster world if they weren’t young black kids rapping about ‘faggots’ and beating women. But I’m open to someone offering a counterpoint or two about Odd Future. 

As for the groups that want to protest Odd Future at Pitchfork’s festival, props to them for trying. Maybe something good will come of it but my guess is that they’ll have endure Tyler and co hurling some dick and rape jokes at them during their set. And Pitchfork’s leaders will continue to rake in the bucks, as they continue to conflate a certain kind of musical elitism with socially conscious commentary. 

My friends and I always talk about with all the ’90s resurgence, would riot grrrl be able to happen in the current climate with the Internet? I kind of think it wouldn’t. I think it made it really special that we all communicated through letters and that we didn’t have cell phones. It didn’t seem hard at the time, but in retrospect, it wasn’t as easy to communicate, and I think it made it more special. It’s like you go a thrift store and you find that weird one of-a-kind thing, and it means more than going to Marc Jacobs and buying this $500 dress that anybody who has a lot of money could get.

Kathleen Hanna discussing whether riot grrrl culture would be able to exist in the digital world of YouTube. 

If the affective qualities/experiences afforded by Slutwalk are a source of comfort and empowerment for the women who participate in them, that’s fine with me. Who am I to make judgments about the feelings of others? As I said earlier, ‘slut’ is not a point of empowerment for me but I don’t begrudge others for wanting to participate in the protests. I just ask that people maintain a little critical reflexivity in whatever political project or movement they participate in, Ali. 

What's your objection with "slutwalk"?

watchoutsally

I was kind of hoping someone wouldn’t ask me this because i’ve been struggling to fully articulate what it is about “slutwalk” that bothers me. I’m also aware that if I don’t tow the line or say the “right” feminist thing here, I’m bound be on the receiving end of a lot of angry liberal feminists and frankly that’s a debate/conversation I have zero energy or interest in. 

Slutwalk’s general ideology of complete female autonomy, bodily integrity and the right to physical safety (i.e., not worrying about being raped for wearing a short skirt) is NOT what rubs me the wrong way. In fact, I agree with all of those things. I feel bothered by the use of the word “slut,” this kind of embrace and reappropriation that feels almost colonial in its use. For me, Slutwalk comes off like an imposition of this kind of “this is what complete sexual freedom and female autonomy looks like” statement, which would not only be problematic if exported to other cultural contexts but potentially dangerous as well. 

Women should have the right to complete autonomy, no question. But when I look at some of the signs some people carry during these protests or the outfits they’re wearing, I can’t help but wonder if they’re just trying to be provocative to be cool and not because they’re trying to make a larger political statement. Part of my general aversion to Slutwalk (and perhaps this is unfair) is that I associate some of its participants with this kind of post-modern, apolitical/apathetic politics: everything is fluid and we can be and do whatever we want, so we’re not political in a formal sense because we don’t vote or push for any structural change, but we’re politically ironic when its convenient for our own social status and our ability to look cool. I realize working within a structure for change is as problematic as trying to work outside of it. Maybe it’s cynicism or one-too-many negative experiences with a certain tenor of feminist in college, who knows. To be clear, I’m not discrediting Slutwalk as a statement or a form of political protest. I’m just stating it rubs me the wrong way and it’s not for me. 

Appropriation is a fine line, yes. I personally don’t like the idea of using slut as a word to celebrate my agency and autonomy as a woman. How about human? How about Humanwalk? Humans who want agency and autonomy with the freedom to dictate the terms with which they will be called or call themselves sluts if they choose. That’s my walk. And that’s my rant.

Slutwalk Chicago. Not a fan of the name but I do love this photo. 

via bodywallet

I’ve been meaning to post a photo of this book for awhile. Awhile ago I was asked if my artwork could be used on the cover of a book about Arab and Arab-American feminisms. After a few years and several publishing houses, here is the book in all of its material glory. I admit it’s pretty surreal to have a book with my artwork on the cover sitting on my window ledge next to a copy of DFW’s The Pale King. I get a bit giddy every time I see it. This may be the only thing I ever publish so I am going to relish in it for a bit.

The book, which is available for order on Amazon, is full of insightful and intelligent essays. I highly recommend the book, so go buy it. Show it some feminist love! 

The original piece can be seen here and was part of an exhibit commemorating the opening of the Arab American National Museum. 

Power to all the people or to none.

Robin Morgan "Goodbye to All That"

My friend David and I had quite an intense conversation via Facebook about the state of women’s studies and feminist movements. As we were responding to one another’s posts, I remembered this gem of an essay by Robin Morgan. It’s by no means a perfect feminist essay, but its rhetorical style and passion are a sight to behold. If you’re reading it for the first time, I recommend you read it the way I used to read it during my sophomore year of college:

1. Get up on a chair.
2. Put on your sassy pants
3. Belt that essay out like your life depends on it because Robin (and you) have something to say.
4. Snap your fingers because, trust me, you’ll want to.  

Women are biologically wired to shed tears more than men. Under a microscope, cells of female tear glands look different than men’s. Also, the male tear duct is larger than the female’s, so if a man and a woman both tear up, the woman’s tears will spill onto her cheeks quicker. “For men and their ducts, it’d be like having a big fat pipe to drain in a rainstorm,” says Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Boys often come up with mechanisms to calm themselves before they cross the precipice from tearing up to weeping. “Boys are taught over and over again not to cry: to scrunch their faces, to think about the Gettysburg address, to distract themselves,” says Dr. Brizendine, the author of the best-selling book, “The Female Brain.”

Via The WSJ ‘s Read It and Weep, Crybabies”

If the WSJ keeps it up with these biologically reductionist stories about women, I’ll have myself and my female nature figured out before the end of the week. I’ll be sure to send Rupert Murdoch a letter (soaked with my tears) expressing my sincerest gratitude.

All across the planet, what most women seek out, in growing numbers, are not explicit scenes of sexual activity but character-driven stories of romantic relationships….Using similar investigative skills, the female brain evaluates all available evidence regarding a potential mate’s social, emotional and physical qualities to make an all-important decision: Is he Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong? Only if Miss Marple gives her stamp of approval do physical arousal and psychological arousal harmoniously unite in the female brain.

This unconscious evaluation is the source of “feminine intuition.” Though the female brain carefully processes many stimuli simultaneously, it is experienced only as a general feeling of favorability or suspicion toward a potential partner. This feminine intuition is designed to solve a woman’s unique challenge of determining whether a man is committed, kind and capable of protecting a family.

Female erotica demonstrates how the detective agency operates—and how it differs from the much simpler male brain. Whereas two-minute video clips are the most popular form of contemporary erotica for men, the most popular form for women remains the romance novel, an artifact that takes many hours to digest.

From The Online World of Female Desire”

Oh Where to start with this utterly ridiculous, biologically reductionist (and heterosexist) article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal? This story fails to delineate between the categories of romance stories, general erotica and online pornography. If anything, the article collapses them and implies that all across the globe, women are searching for “character-driven” romance content in each of these categories, which seems, frankly, unlikely. Each category serves a different entertainment purpose and reflects differently on each female searcher’s sexual desire. But more troublesome is the assertion that a woman’s desire, which is of course always in relation to trying to find a man (the right one!), is solely a biological function; “female intuition” is just the brain’s way of determining an adequate mate. Desire is as much a social construct as it is informed by biology, if not more so. After all, there are non-heterosexual women whose “desires” are not framed by a dichotomy of “Mr. Right” or “Mr. Wrong.” Perhaps the more relevant question is one about the ontology of female desire(s), of how they’re developed and constructed (and ultimately deconstructed). Perhaps we should ask a question or two about what it might mean to create myriad cultural contexts for women to express their erotic and sexual desires outside of the meta, heterosexual narrative of trying to get married and have babies. 

Delia Derbyshire, pioneer of British Electronic music and my new hero. A degree in mathematics and music and she worked for the UN in Geneva. Really? How awesome is that? I’m not sure if she called herself feminist, but given who she was, what she did and what she was working against, I’m calling Delia a feminist. And an outright badass. Can you tell how absolutely excited I am to have a feminist figure in the history of electronic music to look up to? And I actually like her music.

Why did no one introduce me to her work earlier? It’s genius, ethereal and so clearly ahead of its time. 

Listen to Love Without Sound, Air, Sea and Ziwzih-Ziwzih oo-oo-oo

And to see how she made her music, watch this. I’m in such awe.