Temporary Hiatus

•July 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hello All.

Lately I’ve been MIA from the blogosphere – in part to due to constructing a guest lecture on problematic representations of white hipster girlhood (think Juno in Juno), a lecture which finished up on Friday. Though this task is over and done with my schedule is still rather hectic. I’m preparing to take a road trip as part of my 2 week vacation back home to see family and friends and I have no intention of blogging during my vacation (I hope to be too busy visiting farmer’s markets, hanging out in Portland, and dipping my toes in the Pacific Ocean). My schedule doesn’t let up when I get back either since then I’ll be moving. So basically count me out for almost all of July and maybe half of August. Of course if everything runs like a fairytale, and I have this miraculous amount of time in between all these things, I’ll be sure to post an entry or two. But otherwise see you towards the end of summer!

In the meantime consider doing one or both of these things:

A.) Go and see Winter’s Bone. Every year I have one movie that I anticipate and champion above the rest. This year that film is Winter’s Bone, which I saw yesterday and I’m happy to say it exceeded my expectations. Jennifer Lawrence gives an amazing performance and it was a nice surprise to see John Hawkes take on a darker role. Plus after doing that guest lecture and talking about all white girls with privilege it was refreshing to see a film in which a white working-class girl is the protagonist and there isn’t a “happily ever after” ending in site.  Hopefully Winter’s Bone is playing at a theater in your town or city and if so – I recommend not missing this one. Below is the trailer for the film:

B.) If you have a little money left over between now and the end of July please consider helping Emily Hagins raise money to finish her latest film, My Sucky Teen Romance. As you know I’m all about supporting girl made media and here’s one way you can help Emily realize her dream of completing her third (3rd!!!) feature length film. If you can’t help out financially, please re-post or tweet Emily’s IndieGoGo page and get the word out so that she can reach her goal of $8,000. Below is Emily’s own personal pitch for help:

Thanks everyone – see you soon!

support feminist filmmakers: Therese Shechter needs your help!

•June 23, 2010 • 2 Comments

You can support the completion of How to Lose Your Virginity (image courtesy of theamericanvirgin.blogspot.com)

A long, long time ago – okay really back in March – I wrote a brief linked-up post in which I commented on the blog, The American Virgin, which acts as a forum for the documentary-in-progress titled How to Lose Your Virginity. Well Therese Shechter – the director of this documentary who also previously directed I Was a Teenage Feminist – could use your help raising funds to finish her film. Before I get into how you can help – here’s a little information on what the film is about and what you’d be supporting. First off here is a trailer for How to Lose Your Virginity:

Now maybe you’re watching the trailer and you think it looks good – but maybe you want to hear more from Therese on the film and on the subject of virginity. Luckily several ladies have stepped up in promoting the film, and many of these same women are featuring interviews with Therese on their blogs.

Amanda Hess who blogs at The Sexist posted her Q & A with the filmmaker.

Melanie Klein who blogs at Feminist Fatale posted her Q & A too.

and Kyna who blogs at Her Film posted her Q & A as well.

Now here’s how you can help. Therese and friends started a fundraiser project over at Kickstarter. The site works so that people can pledge as little as $10 and upward. Even better you can keep track of how close Therese is to reaching her goal. As it stands right now she has 125 backers for her film. She’s raised $8,555 out of the $10,000 she hopes to raise and she has 8 days left to reach her goal.

Here’s another important tidbit – there are rewards based on what you pledge. See I’m all for supporting independent, smaller films, but I’m also typically cash-strapped thanks to student loans and general bills (gotta eat and drive sometimes). This means a pledge as seemingly small as $25 is a lot to me and not something I hand out willy nilly. But that’s exactly how much I pledged to Therese and How to Lose Your Virginity – why? Because pledging $25 means that I’ll receive my own copy of the film once it’s released – and that reward is important to me.

As a girlhood studies scholar I hope to one day have the opportunity to talk to girls about things like the sexual double standard and the madonna/whore complex – and a documentary like How to Lose Your Virginity that discusses virginity from a feminist perspective could help facilitate that discussion. In this respect my pledge is less of a donation and more of an investment!

If you can assist Therese in reaching her goal please do so – even if you can’t pledge a single penny, simply spreading the word during these last 8 days can make all the difference. Thanks!

and the lights fade on Session 1: Girls Rock Camp Wrap Up

•June 22, 2010 • 1 Comment

Head in hands, Cyndi Lauper and I both wonder how Session 1 went by so fast?! (image courtesy of vxvgypsyvxv.wordpress.com)

With an amazing turnout and amazing performances at the Girls Rock Camp Showcase – Session 1 of Camp is officially over! Can’t believe how it all went by so fast! I had a wonderful time co-facilitating the Music History Workshop with Alyx, who posted her thoughts from the workshop on her blog. This time around the girls were eager to share their thoughts and expertise on artists and bands – and as usual – I walked away from the workshop having learned so much from the girls.

At the showcase Paige – who is on the Board of Directors for GRCA and acted as a counselor and Workshop Instructor this session – asked if we had talked about Cyndia Lauper with the girls. I mentioned that not only did we include her in our section on Pop Music, but we discussed her re-writing the lyrics to the hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and we included this song on the mixed CD handed out to the girls. Paige commented that later on in her workshop the girls begged to watch – and then re-watch – the video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Paige pointed out how the video not only highlights girls’ homosocial bonds (yeah female friendships!) but also incorporates a variety of girls from different racial backgrounds and girls with various body types.

Reviewing the video over the weekend, I enjoyed looking at all the different looks the girls have even just in terms of fashion and hairstyles. Also something about Lauper’s expressive style in the video tickles me. Watching the video over and over my eyes kept focusing on her mouth – there’s something highly performative about the way in which she moves her mouth in the video – in some respects almost being over-expressive about her singing. Not sure what to make of this – but I like it and I’m glad the younger girls at camp gravitated towards it!

Another artist some of the girls are always interested in is Lady Sovereign. Alyx and I include her in the hip-hop section and every year – every session – we have girls ask if she’s on the mixed CD (she isn’t – but maybe next year we’ll get around to adding her). In googling the “biggest midget in the game” I came across this video she did when she was 17 or so. Released in 2002, the film is called X-ed and is described as an “educational film” by wikipedia. The story revolves around Jade Williams – played by Lady Sovereign – who is kicked out of school and leaves town in the hopes of pursuing her dream of becoming a DJ/hip-hop artist.

It’s unclear how much of the film is autobiographical given that Sov was kicked out of school when she was 15 and indeed became a hip-hop artist. In an article for news.com Lady Sovereign notes that while she shares similar backgrounds with Jade, the producers actually wrote the script before they even met her. However, it’s appears as though Sov could relate to the material – in fact she even recorded a song for the project. I’m curious as to how or why X-ed is considered an educational film and what sort of distribution this film received back in 2002.

Though some girls from camp may be Lady Sovereign fans I wouldn’t recommend showing this video to them, not because of questionable language or anything, but rather because the film is quite boring. Clocking in at 35 minutes there’s little to no character development and the narrative structure should have been tightened up a bit. Moreover – and this is the saddest part – there’s hardly any screen time devoted to Lady Sovereign’s musical talents. She mostly pouts a lot . . . oh and wears hoodies.

Before ending this post on Session 1 of Girls Rock Camp – I want to give a shout to 3 girls from camp who are now blogging. First up is Monica who blogs at Head First. Her blog focuses on musicians who are against animal cruelty and who promote vegetarianism. Next up is Nina who blogs at Shark Bait. Right now you can read Nina’s review of the latest album from Vampire Weekend. Finally on the Girls Rock Camp Blog, LaRessa discusses issues of style and conformity in the latest MGMT video.

And with that I say farewell to Session 1. If you or your friends missed out on the showcase you’ll have another opportunity with Session 2 this July. Camp runs from July 26 – 30, which means gearing up for more Music History Workshops (yeah!!), and the showcase will be on July 31st.

where my girls at?: Ageism, Auteurs, and the YouTube Play Project

•June 15, 2010 • 2 Comments

Note: This will be my one and only post this week as my schedule is a little hectic right now. Tomorrow is the day I co-facilitate the Music History Workshop at Girls Rock Camp Austin (can’t wait!) and I’m attending a workshop on “Making Movies Matter in the Classroom” at the Harry Ransom Center on Friday. But I’ll be back next week – hopefully with a post on Claire and Season 1 of the HBO show Six Feet Under. Have a great week and remember – if you’re in Austin come to the Girls Rock Camp Showcase!

Guggenheim is looking to add digital media artwork to their exhibits (image courtesy of jmg-galleries.com)

Over the weekend the New York Times reported that the Guggenheim Foundation and YouTube are joining forces to search for and then showcase digital work from up and coming video artists. Labeling their project YouTube Play the idea is that video artists around the world will have a chance to upload and submit a video via YouTube. Curators at the various Guggenheim museums will then have a chance to look over the submissions and select videos they wish to include in video-art exhibits that will be opening in the Fall.

Nancy Spector, the deputy director and chief curator of the Guggenheim Foundation, stresses that they are looking for originality – not necessarily the “best” videos. In various interviews Spector and others stress the notion that anyone with access to a video camera can potentially create a digital video that could end up on display in one of Guggenheim’s locations. In an attempt to level the field between video-art pros and artists with limited resources and/or knowledge, Hewlett Packard is offering tutorials on editing, lighting, and animation – tutorials that are featured online through the YouTube channel for YouTube Play. HP will also be providing all the technology required for Guggenheim to showcase these video-artworks.

Now I understand there’s a lot of self-interest going on here. YouTube is hoping to gain some attention (maybe some credibility since the site is known for hosting a ton of cat videos among other things) and obviously HP has plenty to gain in offering various tutorials (which may or may not push their own software or products) and in providing the tools required to put on the exhibit. YouTube Play could be a great publicity opportunity for all included – even Guggenheim, which is described in Discover as the “ultimate arbiter of contemporary art success” – an image that suggests elitist (read stuffy, classed, raced) notions of art. Partnering with YouTube for this project has prompted some to call YouTube Play a mash-up between high and low art, and in the NYT piece Spector states that the goal in all this is to “brea[k] down traditional art-world boundaries.”

Here is a video that outlines the goals of the project:

While this all sounds great, and my immediate reaction was sheer joy in the idea of Guggenheim showcasing girls’ video-art, my enthusiasm faded when I read some of the fine print regarding submission criteria. First and foremost, no one under the age of 18 can submit a video. So even though the youth of today are generally the most familiar with digital and social media – they are almost completely excluded (unless they’re 18) from participating in the project. How is that breaking down barriers? Maybe there’s some legal reason for this guideline, but their site doesn’t mention it . . . prompting me to wonder if there’s some ageism at work here – in that maybe people at Guggenheim don’t think youth can create video-art that would be worthy of their time or consideration for YouTube Play.

Moreover, one rule stipulates that each video can have only one creator – or at the very least only one creator will be recognized. This means that organizations such as Reel Grrls which encourages girl collaboration and teamwork, would either be excluded from submitting a video, or only one of the girls who worked on it would receive recognition. Recognizing only one creator reinforces this idea of the auteur – in which one person, usually the (white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender male) director, is considered solely responsible for the video or film in question while everyone else who worked on it is cast aside. Championing one creator – in instances where this isn’t the case – is also how minority groups’ contributions to film industries and film history (in editing, lighting, sound, costume design, screenwriting, and on and on) have been overlooked and undervalued.

Sadly what seemed like a wonderful, open project seems less so when the various rules and criteria are closely examined. Guggenheim and YouTube plan to make this a biennial event – maybe next go around the creators behind the project will consider the ways in which their submission guidelines break down some barriers, but simultaneously reinforce others.

show up, rock out!: GIRLS ROCK SHOWCASE

•June 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Flyer for the GIRLS ROCK SHOWCASE (image courtesy of girlsrockcampaustin.org)

It’s that time of year again – the time when girls come to camp, rock out with other girls, and put on a show! Alyx (aka feministmusicgeek) and I are tinkering with the PowerPoint presentation and song list for the Music History Workshop and we can’t wait to meet this year’s new campers and talk about girls’ and women’s contributions in music history. If we’re gearing up for camp then that means the GIRLS ROCK SHOWCASE is right around the corner!

Here’s all the information you need to know so you can join us and witness all the hard work these girls put into their songs:

Where: The Highball
Who: everyone! kids, parents, grandparents, neighbors, best friends . . .
When: June 19th
What Time: doors open at 12, show starts at 1
Cost: suggested $5 donation to Girls Rock Camp

For more information about Girls Rock Camp or the SHOWCASE, check out the GRC website.

“You know I’ve got the curse!”: Disney and others tackle menarche

•June 10, 2010 • 2 Comments

In keeping with this archives theme I have going, today’s post is about past educational videos on menarche. To help contextualize the history of menarche in the U.S. I read Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s article “‘Something Happens to Girls’: Menarche and the Emergence of the Modern American Hygienic Imperative.”** Brumberg focuses on how menarche came to be seen as less of a “maturational event” and more of a “hygiene crisis” (101). In her article Brumberg stresses that:

“Although our contemporary response to menarche seems rational and altogether commonplace, the American girl experiences her first display of menstrual blood in a way that is shaped by her own body but also by family, friends, economic forces, and values at work in the larger society. So even though menarche appears to be one of those inevitable, natural, and develop- mental progressions that is “hard-wired” into the female organism, its meaning, and even its pattern, is derived from the particular culture that surrounds the body of the sexually maturing girl” (102)

In tracing this development in the U.S. Brumberg touches on class differences in how mothers and daughters respond(ed) to menarche, while also addressing the increasing medicalization and commercialization of menstruation.

Brumberg argues that prior to the industrialization and urbanization of the U.S. information about menarche (and childbirth) was passed from mother (or aunt, grandmother) to daughter. Surrounded by close knit communities of women, girls adopted the techniques these women shared with one another. Yet Brumberg notes that within the late 1800s women’s and girls’ biological functions became increasingly handled by those in the medical and scientific fields – fields largely dominated by men. As the tradition of women passing on information to their daughters faded away, there was a concern that more and more girls were unprepared for menarche. In the late 1870s after studies suggested that more and more girls knew nothing about menstruation at the time they experienced menarche, several male doctors and biologists openly chastised mothers for failing to adequately teach and train their daughters about female biological functions.

Ad for Kotex sanitary napkins featured in a 1921 newspaper (image courtesy of http://www.mum.org)

Contextualizing mother-daughter relationships at this time, Brumberg suggests that mothers rarely talked to their daughters about menarche and that their “reluctance to talk appears to have been a pervasive maternal strategy related to the middle-class mother’s desire to preserve her daughter’s innocence for as long as possible” since “most middle-class Victorian mothers believed that menarche initiated their daughter’s sexuality” (108). In these scenarios mothers might not divulge information to their daughters until after they became married. However, as time went on this became highly problematic as girls began menarche earlier and earlier, until the average age of menarche for a girl was 13 and the average age of marriage was 22. This extended period of adolescence, and the increasing number of menstrual cycles a girl would experience in her lifetime, meant that girls would need information about their bodies and their monthlies.

Brumberg contends that medical professionals used this issue of extended adolescence to essentially takeover menarche and childbirth, in which male doctors became the “experts” on women’s bodies and their maturation. Though male professionals wrote the manuals and guides girls consulted to learn about their bodies, mothers were expected to stay on top of their daughter’s hygiene during their menstrual cycles and instill in them the do’s and don’ts associated with that time of the month. One crucial part about hygiene involved what type of product to use during menstruation and how to use it.

In her article Brumberg traces the evolution of the sanitary napkin. She notes that menstrual rags were originally reused, in which they were soaked and hung out to dry with the rest of the laundry. However, in the 1880s due to the fear of germs and bacteria – which could be anywhere – there was greater emphasis placed on cleanliness. As a result middle class women rejected the reusable napkins in favor of sanitary napkins, which were commercially made and could be tossed out or burned in order to avoid the spread of germs and disease. This is where Kotex comes in. Kotex was one of the first companies to create and advertise sanitary napkins and for the longest time they dominated the market by working with the professionals creating manuals – so that a girl could pick up a guide to her menstrual cycle along with a complimentary Kotex napkin – (possibly) ensuring that she would be a long time Kotex user.

A 1941 ad for Kotex (image courtesy of the chicecologist.com)

Brumberg notes that working-class families generally could not afford to purchase commercially produced napkins and relied on making their own out of old underwear and flour sacks. Moreover, many of these same families still washed and reused their napkins. Brumberg discusses the importance of the family “wash” in relation to menarche, in which mothers would not broach the topic with their daughters until the daughter’s clothes and/or bedsheets signaled the arrival of menarche. She also notes that mothers could keep track of their daughters’ cycles by doing the household laundry. Another class difference in relation to menarche involved the dissemination of information, in which working-class girls often relied on their female peers and friends to inform them about menarche and what to do each cycle as opposed to a guide or manual. In one autobiographical account a woman recalls the girls’ lavatory as being the place to learn about menarche, since older girls would often talk and maybe even brag about their cycles while younger girls listened in.

The commercialization of menarche didn’t erase class differences, but eventually the majority of girls began to rely on commercially made sanitary products. Eventually educational films were created to disseminate information about menarche. These films were typically shown in classrooms and at gatherings for such organizations as the Girl Scouts. Often times manuals or guides were handed out so that girls could have materials to take home and discuss with their parents or refer to outside of the classroom. Between the films and guides, girls began learning a particular “American” (and modern) way to menstruate, in which the number one concern was hygiene (104).

Here are two examples of educational films that circulated around the 1940s and 1950s:

Disney’s The Story of Menstruation (1946)

The Disney film underscores the importance of cleanliness, but also reminds girls that maintaining proper posture and keeping up appearances help to alleviate some of the pain or discomfort experienced during the monthlies (for reals?!). The film ends with our protagonist growing up, getting married, and giving birth to her own daughter – suggesting that menarche is just one small part of this heteronormative path mapped out for girls’ lives. Note that the film is “Presented with the Compliments of” Kotex – suggesting an all too cozy relationship between those creating the guides and films and those creating the products recommended in them.

Discussing the lasting effects of these types of films, Brumberg argues that “although the industry’s educational efforts undoubtedly were part of the important demystification of menstruation, the long-term consequences for girls at puberty may not be so benign. In fact, surrendering menarche to Walt Disney probably contributed in some measure to the difficulties we face today in the realm of female adolescent sexuality. As the industry became an ever-present third party in mother-daughter, doctor-patient, and teacher-student discussions, personal experience and testimony from older women became even less authoritative” (126). In this respect, Brumberg argues, it was seen as unnecessary for mothers to talk to their daughters about menarche, when the subject could easily be handled in the classroom or through the purchase of a menstrual guide for girls.

Here’s another educational film I found courtesy of the Internet Archive. This film opens with our protagonist, 13-year-old Molly, who talks about the very first wedding she’s ever attended – seriously we can’t get away from discussing menarche and weddings (but skipping any kind of a sex talk) in the same sentence in this time period.

Molly Grows Up (1953) Part 1

Part 2

The video suggests that Molly’s growing interest in traditional femininity (fancy hats, lipstick, dressing up) is a sign of her oncoming menarche – though I’m not sure how or if the two really go hand in  hand. In this video Molly is able to talk to her sister and her friend about menstruation, but it is her mother and the school nurse who provide the most information. As with Disney’s The Story of Menstruation, Molly Grows Up also reinforces the need for girls to exhibit excellent posture, which Molly’s mother tells her will help straighten out her organs and relieve cramping (though the words cramping or cramps are never used). In part 1 of the film Molly’s best friend Peggy calls and invites her over for swimming. Molly asks her mother if she can go, but her mother warns that swimming during the first 2 or 3 days of her period might cause Peggy to get chills and catch a cold. Molly gets back on the phone with Peggy and gives the famous line: “Of course I can’t go swimming, you know I’ve got the curse.”

In Part 2 the school nurse explains that menstruation is the “natural normal process leading up to being a mother” – in which it is assumed that a girl will already be married off. Again we have these leaps from menarche to wedding to motherhood – in which these films simply deny the fact that the gap between childhood and adulthood (the gap called adolescence) is widening. Mrs. Jansen’s talk turns into a list of things to do when menstruating, which include changing tampons and napkins 5 to 6 times a day, changing underwear multiple times a day, wearing deodorant, painting one’s nails, doing one’s hair, and wearing that special dress to be “your most attractive self” – heaven forbid you look frumpy during your cycle.

Ultimately, Brumberg argues that while young girls needed basic information about menarche and their bodies, they also “wanted (and continue to want) meaningful exchanges about female sexuality and womanhood,” but that since the twentieth century girls have “grown up equating the experience of menarche and menstruation with a hygiene product” (126 – emphasis added). Brumberg’s final observations suggest that while girls may have access to (a particular kind of) information on menarche and menstruation, these films, books, and guides cannot replace the values and lessons girls learned from being a member of close-knit female communities – that in many respects older girls and women provide a deeper context for understanding menarche, a context that goes beyond hygiene and addresses what this maturational event may signal in a young girl’s life.

This makes me wonder – when Kotex talks about being open and honest with their new line of hygiene products and their new ads for them – how much of this is yet another marketing campaign to get girls to equate menarche with a hygiene product – and how much of this is a response to the fact they, Kotex – along with Disney and others – shaped how girls and women respond to menstruation nowadays . . .

Also given this historical context where do Menarche Parties R’Us fit into this? Is this yet another example of the commercialization of menstruation? . . .

** Citation for the article: Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. “‘Something Happens to Girls’: Menarche and the Emergence of the Modern American Hygienic Imperative.” Journal of the History of Sexuality. Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jul., 1993), pp. 99-127.

written on the margins: Girls’ Diary Writing as Cultural Production

•June 8, 2010 • 2 Comments

One of my favorite fictional girl diarists - Veronica from the film Heathers (image courtesy of shelovesyoublog)

I’m still reeling from last week’s tidbit from NPR. As part of the Hidden World of Girls Project, NPR and Kitchen Sisters are archiving girls’ diary pages. From drawings to doodles to confessions and reveries, Kitchen Sisters are asking for listeners to submit their diary pages to their Flickr account to be compiled in a database and preserved for future researchers. This news makes the girlhood studies and the archivist in me grin from ear to ear.

In placing girls’ diary entries into a broader historical context, and in thinking about how the digital age is both preserving pen to paper diaries while rendering them obsolete by offering blogs and livejournal accounts, we can better appreciate the collection Kitchen Sisters is amassing for future reference.

Titled "Anne F. Chenery Scrapbook page" and uploaded by the Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library (image courtesy of the Hidden World of Girls Flickr account)

In her book Girls Make Media, Mary Celeste Kearney discusses U.S. girls’ diary writing in the 19th century and onward in relation to contemporary forms of girls’ cultural production, such as filmmaking. Kearney notes that early on diary writing was connected to religious notions of purity and girls used diaries to develop penmanship and composition skills (30). In “Diaries, On-Line Diaries, and the Future Loss to Archives; Or, Blogs and the Blogging Bloggers Who Blog Them”** Catherine O’Sullivan stresses that diaries functioned as both “regulators of behavior and testimonies of sustained virtue. Adolescents, and girls in particular, were encouraged to keep diaries as a means of self-discipline and a safeguard against idleness.” (61) Both pieces note that girls were often expected to hand over their diaries to their parents for formal inspection and/or were asked to recite their diary pages aloud as a form of family entertainment, suggesting that girls’ diaries were anything but private spaces to record their innermost thoughts and desires.

Kearney and O’Sullivan both emphasize the classed implications in the beginning of diary writing – in which white, middle to upper class girls had both the time and the resources to express themselves through writing. While we can think of diaries as affording girls a certain amount of freedom of expression early on, Kearney argues that “the media [diaries] that fostered young females’ communication also served as muzzles, keeping their voices safely out of the public realm, and ensuring that female youth would be seen and not heard” (32).

Titled "dean" and uploaded by CampbellinaLJ1 (image courtesy of The Hidden World of Girls Flickr account)

O’Sullivan notes that with the industrial revolution and increased modernization “diaries developed as sites of self-exploration, self-expression, and self-construction” and that the pages of a diary “became a space where an individual’s identity was actively conceived and constructed. Diarists were no longer abstracted from their personal experiences for the sake of spiritual assessment or placed on the periphery when calculating the day’s achievements. Instead, they became the focus of their diary’s attention.” (60) As diary writing continued girls not only recounted their fantasies and gave accounts of their lived realities, but as Kearney notes, girls also reenacted the melodramatic language and romantic fantasies from their favorite films, novels, magazines and songs within the pages of their diary (33). In this respect girls’ diaries illustrate their interactions with and relationship to popular culture – as shown in the diary entry posted above, in which James Dean is a prominent figure on the page.

In her article O’Sullivan notes one of the more famous girl diaries – the diary of Marie Bashkirtseff. As a 19th century Ukranian-born Russian painter and sculptor, Bashkirtseff began keeping a diary at the age of thirteen. As an activist for women’s rights, Bashkirtseff used her diary to showcase the struggle she faced as a female artist. At the young age of twenty-five Bashkirtseff died from tuberculosis, yet through her diary entries – compiled and published under the title I Am the Most Interesting Book of All – she gained notoriety and in many respects immortality. Incidentally, I’ve owned a copy of this book for years – since high school maybe. I don’t remember how I came to own it, but I never knew what the book was about so I never picked up. Now that I know I might just have to give it a read and blog about it.

A self-portrait of Bashkirtseff (image courtesy of wikipedia)

In thinking about the future of diaries O’Sullivan argues that “on-line diaries are the next logical step in the progression of diary keeping” (69). As an archivist O’Sullivan sees many issues with the impermanence of on-line diaries, especially when links within on-line entries can become broken or dead, and on-line diarists can edit, revise, and delete entries whenever they choose, often leaving no trace behind (at least that the public can see). O’Sullivan suggests that these issues will “be problematic for future researchers hoping to discover something of the twenty-first century diarist’s writing process, especially where it relates to self-representation in a medium that has always straddled the public/private divide.” (70)

Besides broken links, there’s the broader question of how to actually archive on-line diaries. When most institutions are used to dealing with textual (physical) materials – many are asking what is the best method for archiving textual materials that exist only in a digital realm. When I attended the Society of American Archivists Conference in Austin, TX this was one of the primary questions discussed in countless workshops. Some archivists suggested printing out pages, therefore creating a physical document that can easily be archived using traditional archival methods. However, as everyone noted this method fails to capture the flow of a blog – or all the ways a visitor may interact with a blog (by clicking on links, reading other posts, etc.). Others suggested making screen captures – but then again the question becomes how will those captures be stored and what sort of access will future researchers have to those screen captures.

Titled "When I was eighteen I proto-blogged" and uploaded by Jill (image courtesy of the Hidden World of Girls Flickr account)

What I appreciate most about the Hidden World of Girls’ diary archive project is that it invites users to participate in the process of archiving materials. Not only can people upload their own diary entries to the Flickr account, but as with Jill’s diary page above – if you see it on the Flickr account – she’s actually tagged different areas of the page. Through tagging Jill is able to show how several sections of writing on the page were written by friends, hinting at the social (and social networking) aspect of diary writing. By capturing these details, and complicating how we think girls use diaries, the Hidden World of Girls’ archival project will prove to be an invaluable contribution to girlhood studies and countless other fields.

**Citation for O’Sullivan’s article: O’Sullivan, Catherine. “Diaries, On-Line Diaries, and the Future Loss to Archives; Or, Blogs and the Blogging Bloggers Who Blog Them.” American Archivist. Vol. 68, No. 1 (Spring – Summer, 2005), pp. 53-73

reunions, omlettes, and bra shopping: Highlights from 2010’s LUNAFEST Festival

•June 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Last week I attended the 2010 LUNAFEST screening held by Reel Women at the Picture Box Studio. I was pleased to see that so many people – men, women, young, and old – came out to support short films made by women for women. There were 10 short films screened for the festival and while I won’t go through them one by one – let me highlight a few that moved me.

First let me talk about the short film at this year’s screening with the biggest names attached to it. I’m talking about The Monday Before Thanksgiving, directed by Courteney Cox and starring Laura Dern. The film revolves around Dern’s character, Theresa, whose anxious about how to handle the holiday season a year after her mother passed away the Monday before Thanksgiving. I admit I love Laura Dern and incidentally I have nothing against Courteney Cox. In fact I was hoping this film would be amazing and sort of explain Cox’s decision to star in Cougartown – a show that I’ve tried to watch several times, but always end up turning off within the first 5 minutes (for a review of Cougartown I recommend reading Alyx’s post at BitchMedia). Sadly, I thought The Monday Before Thanksgiving was okay, nothing horrendous, but nothing spectacular either. If you’re interested in watching the film you can view it on Hulu.

Moving on, here are 3 films from LUNAFEST that grabbed my attention:

Roz (and Joshua) is a documentary short film that addresses issues of race, poverty, and prison systems. The film follows Roz, an older black woman who was incarcerated over 12 years ago when her son was only 7 months old. In the film Roz has been released from prison and is going through a rehabilitation program. Roz hopes to reconnect with her son, Joshua, who is now 12-years-old. Though this film is very short – clocking in at a little over 3 minutes – filmmaker Charlene Music illustrates the hardships Roz faces after being released from prison. Though Roz works long hours as a janitor, she doesn’t have enough money to afford a place, and as a result she lives out of her car. Roz remains optimistic about her situation and still retains hope that one day she’ll regain custody of her son. Yet, her bleak circumstances hint that this might not happen. Here is the film, courtesy of Vimeo:

Nadejda Koseva’s Omlette, is another short film I thoroughly enjoyed. The film shows one mother’s plight in trying to provide for her family while dealing with massive inflation in Bulgaria. One of the most heart wrenching scenes occurs at the local grocery store. The mother – who is never given a name – must wait in line to place her order for eggs, flour, and other basic groceries. As she waits in line, the butcher switches out price tags for meats in a display case as prices continue to soar. The mother manages to purchase three eggs in the hope of making an omlette for her and her two children. Yet a run in with a grocery worker on her way out damages one egg, and her attempt to crack the second egg fails as the yolk and egg whites fall into the kitchen sink. In a moment of sheer frustration the mother throws the final egg against the kitchen wall. Here is a trailer for Omelette (I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles, but you get a feel for the film):

My absolute favorite film of the evening was Ela Thier’s A Summer Rain. The film takes place in the 1980s and follows Ellie, an 11-year-old Israeli girl who immigrates to the United States with her family. Ellie misses her best friend, Shlomit, whom she writes to whenever she can. In focusing on what Ellie and Shlomit share in their letters with one another, the film illustrates Ellie’s homesickness and the cultural shock of adapting to American culture. A Summer Rain offers several funny moments, such as when Ellie goes bra shopping for the first time, and the experience is so new and so strange that she decides to mail a bra to her best friend, who in return often mails Ellie gum from Israel. The film’s portrayal of Ellie’s wonder and dismay never feels false or forced, and her insights into the peculiarities of American culture are funny and poignant. At the very end of the film we see Ellie start to develop a friendship with the girl next door, who happens to be a Vietnamese refugee her age. Here’s a clip from A Summer Rain:

In looking over Ela Thier’s website for Thier Productions, it appears as though A Summer Rain is being made into a feature-length film. While we wait for the release of the full-length film, here is a clip from another short film, titled Foreign Letters, which continues developing the story between these two girls:

dusting off the archives: Girls Beware . . . of victim-blaming

•June 2, 2010 • 2 Comments

Yesterday I was visiting sites and YouTube channels for various archives, since my work is figuring out how to develop a greater presence online. In the course of looking at how other archives monitor comments and tagging, I stumbled on the following girl-related video via the Internet Archive.

Released in 1951 by Sid Davis Productions, Girls Beware is an “informational” film that addresses various dangers the real world poses for girls. Directing these messages to teen girl audiences, the film presents different scenarios in which white girls end up murdered, raped, abused by their partners, and pregnant – all because they didn’t use good judgment. Offering up strange observations and dialogue, such as this line – “You can never find the right words to tell a mother that her daughter’s been murdered” – Girls Beware is certainly an odd film. See for yourself:

I think it’s interesting that the film highlights babysitting and romantic involvement with older boys/men as the two primary pitfalls for white middle-class girls. There is no mention of girls of color, working-class girls, or queer girls and the types of (sexual) violence they encounter in their daily lives. Still well-to-do, white girls don’t necessarily have it easy in this film, especially when the overall message relies on victim-blaming. The narrator even notes: “You see it’s often the things done without thinking that get young people into trouble,” suggesting that white girls with privilege can prevent sexual violence and murder if they use their heads and make better choices.

I also find it interesting that the film never mentions the words “rape,” “statutory rape,” “partner abuse,” or “pedophilia.” Yet, the film focuses on all these issues. In the Mary/Robert scenario, instead of calling Robert out as a pedophile, the film mentions (twice!) that he prefers younger girls because he cannot hook up with females his own age. I think we can read the film’s depiction of Robert as excusing the predatory behavior of older boys and men towards younger girls, especially when in the end, Mary is labeled a juvenile delinquent and sent to a facility for becoming pregnant in her abusive relationship. As far as we know nothing happens to Robert.

I think it’s easy for us to step back and poke fun at, or even mock, these types of films and the messages they convey. Yet, reports such as this one from The Nation that argue that reproductive coercion is overlooked and under-reported make it hard for me to laugh at how this film handles Mary’s situation . . . or any of the scenarios for that matter. It’s moments like these when I wish I could travel back in time to tell teen girls to beware of Girls Beware – the world is hard enough without some seemingly objective film blaming girls for the actions of rapists and murderers.

I’ll be sure to post any other interesting videos I find while trolling through online archives. Also if anyone has any girl-related videos they’d like to recommend, please leave some suggestions in the comments section.

through the eyes of a child: Mad Men’s Sally Draper

•May 28, 2010 • 2 Comments

Sally's world comes to a halt by the end of Season 3 (image courtesy of squareeyes.blinkx.com)

FYI: there are tons of spoilers in this post, please read at your own risk.

I’d been anticipating the DVD release of season 3 of AMC’s Mad Men since many of my friends mentioned that Sally Draper, the eldest child, and only daughter, of Don and Betty Draper, was allowed to shine this season. Last week I finished season 3 via Netflix and the narrative arch for Sally lived up to expectations. I finally felt as though Matthew Weiner and the writers understood how to develop Sally outside of her relationship to Don and Betty, and season 3 offers glimpses of Sally becoming an individual.

This is all great for me – not only because I’m a girls studies scholar – but because, to be honest, Sally is one of my favorite characters on the show. You see I like Mad Men well enough, but admittedly I do not love the show. I understand why critics and academic flock to the show (there were multiple panels at the Console-ing Passions Conference devoted to Mad Men) and why the show scoops countless awards each year. The show looks amazing, the cast is amazing, and overall the episodes are intellectually stimulating. Yet, I have a hard time maintaining interest in the characters’ lives and situations, and I often feel that the show focuses too much on white, well-to-do people, who seem incapable of finding happiness despite (or maybe in spite of) their highly privileged circumstances.

This season left me especially bewildered in terms of the male characters and how to read them. We have Don Draper who has slept with countless women over the course of the show, but who threatens his wife Betty and calls her a whore when she files for a divorce in the hopes of being with another man. This season is also when Pete Campbell rapes – yes I will use the word rapes! – an au pair, but then by the end of the season he’s recruited to be a partner, along with Don, Roger Sterling, and Burt Cooper in a fledgling ad agency. In those final scenes I feel that I, as the viewer, am supposed to cheer for this underdog agency . . . but I can’t let go of the fact that Pete raped a woman, and that his inclusion in this group taints an overall uplifting moment.

Between the unabashed delight in racial and class privilege represented on the show (the show drips with privilege, but there’s a moment of black-face this season courtesy of Roger) and the unsettling gender dynamics, I have a hard time finding points of identification in the series. This is one of the reasons why I gravitate towards Sally. I feel that we’re both navigating a world that we do not quite grasp. This season deals Sally some hard lessons, which resulted in one of the few moments where this show has brought me to tears.

Everything seems idyllic with Grandpa Gene around (image courtesy of tvguide.com)

The first half of this season develops Sally’s character by establishing her relationship with Grandpa Gene, Betty’s father. Gene is coerced into staying with the Drapers after his partner, Gloria, leaves him, and his dementia worsens to the point where the family grows concerned for his well-being. Gene reluctantly agrees to live in his daughter’s house, but quickly becomes accustomed to being part of the family. In the image above the Drapers and Gene attend one of Sally’s school events. A photographer asks for the Drapers to pose for a picture, and Gene inserts himself alongside the rest of the family (much to Don’s dismay). It’s unclear what Betty’s and Gene’s relationship was like when she was a child, and whether or not his attention towards Sally is a reflection of that relationship or maybe a way for him to make up for their lack of a relationship. Either way Gene makes a point to spend quality time with his granddaughter.

Throughout this season Kiernan Shipka’s performance highlights Sally’s deep desire to be loved and recognized by her family. Gene not only provides this type of love and support for Sally, but he also nurtures her rebellious side. This is illustrated in the clip above and in another scene when Gene invites Sally to eat ice cream with him in the middle of the day, though Betty strictly forbids this. Later in the season Sally steals $5 from her grandfather. Feeling guilty she creates an obvious lie to recover the money and give it back. Though Gene sees through Sally’s performance he doesn’t punish her or even broach the subject. It isn’t explicitly spelled out, but the show suggests that Gene wants to instill confidence and agency in Sally. In one of the most touching moments between these two characters, Gene tells Sally to ignore all the awful things Betty says (and will say) to Sally. For those who’ve seen seasons 1 and 2 of the show, we all know that Betty can be very hard on Sally and her disparaging remarks range from comments about Sally’s weight and appearance to comments about her behavior and worth as a daughter. These touching moments between granddaughter and grandfather build only to break the viewer’s heart when Gene dies midway through the season.

The episode “The Arrangements” deals with Gene’s death and how members of the Draper family cope with the news. This episode is crucial in showing how Betty and Don fail to consider how this news affects the children, especially Sally. When the officer visits the Draper residence and informs Betty that her father is dead, Sally overhears the news, but is shut out of the house and left to contemplate Gene’s death on the front steps, alone. Later as Don, Betty and Betty’s brother and sister-in-law discuss Gene, the adults start laughing as they joke about how Gene and Gloria won’t meet up in heaven. Sally overhears the laughter and interrupts the adults, shouting “Nobody cares that he’s really really really gone!” Shocked by Sally’s explosive remarks and unable to fathom that she is grieving as well, Don tells Sally to go watch television, which she does. The camera settles on Sally lying on the floor, watching footage of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation on television, again all alone.

The famous image of Thích Quảng Đức's self-immolation, photograph taken by Malcolm Browne (image courtesy of wikipedia.org)

I’m not sure how to read this scene of Sally in front of the television. I would hope the show isn’t equating Sally’s distress over Gene’s death with the rising conflict and distress occurring in Vietnam at this time. In giving the show the benefit of the doubt, I’d point out that in previous episodes Gene has Sally reads passages from the book Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and he gives Bobby a Prussian helmet of a solider he shot and killed during WWI. In his review of “The Arrangements” James Poniewozik argues that Gene embraces the idea that “sheltering kids from the brutalities of life is indulgent and unwise” and as a result he makes it his mission to “un-shelte[r] his grandchildren, exposing them to the kind of responsibility and risk–and, therefore, accomplishment–that he kept from Betty.” In this respect maybe we can read Sally’s visual consumption of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation as an indication of her growing awareness of a world outside her house, a world embroiled in wars, annihilation, and social inequities.

All eyes are on Sally (image courtesy of squareeyes.blinkx.com)

The show continues to focus on Sally’s stages of grief over the loss of her grandfather. Betty and Don are asked to see Sally’s teacher after Sally gets into an altercation with another student. There’s also an issue with the Drapers’ newest addition to the family, a son, whom Betty names Gene. Sally refuses to hold the baby or interact with him at all, which Betty chalks up to jealousy on Sally’s part. Even gifts from Baby Gene – in this case a Barbie – cannot warm Sally’s heart. In a later discussion between daughter and father, Sally reveals that she thinks Baby Gene is Grandpa Gene reincarnated. Sally states her case by pointing out that the baby has the same name and sleeps in the room where Gene used to sleep.

It is this moment in the season, this discussion between Sally and Don, where I started crying. As ridiculous as Sally’s fears may sound to adult viewers, I could completely relate. As a child my great-grandfather, whom I loved dearly, passed away around the same time my dad bought a puppy for the family. Even though the events were probably months apart, as a child all I noticed was that this puppy loved to take walks and go fishing, things my great-grandfather had also thoroughly enjoyed. While I was never outright convinced that my great-grandfather had been reincarnated into my puppy, I always gave the dog table scraps – like a piece of toast with homemade strawberry jam on it – just in case it was him, and he missed these things. Seeing another girl character have an experience similar to my own, brought back all these memories along with more than a few tears.

Season 3 ends with the Drapers filing for divorce and informing their children of their new living arrangements. As Betty and Don prepare their children for the upcoming changes, Sally is quick to blame her mother for making her father leave. This scene suggests that season 4 will be a rocky one between daughter and mother, and I look forward to seeing how Weiner and the writers further develop Sally’s character and her position within the Draper household.

P.S. Dear Matthew Weiner: Can we please follow Carla home one time this season? Can we please see what Carla’s life is like outside the Draper residence – as in can we see where Carla lives, can we see her family? I have a feeling that once Carla leaves the Drapers’ residence she has even more work to do, taking care of her own family, cooking meals for them, scrubbing and cleaning her own place. This narrative detour wouldn’t be hard to write. Maybe Carla’s car breaks down and she needs a ride. I mean if you can have us believe that Don magically picks up two hitchhikers who just happen to talk about escaping the draft (season 3), or that Don randomly hooks up with some swingers in California (season 2), how much work would it take to find a plausible reason for us to see Carla’s home?

Alas I feel that you may never grant this request – why? Because Carla is denied access to the things Betty and Don take for granted. She is denied these things due to her race and class status. More than likely her home life would reflect her lack of privilege. Her home would not have a fainting couch, or the latest in home furnishings. Her kids may not have the latest fashions, the latest toys, or say . . . riding boots (which Betty gives Sally in season 2). If you allow us to see Carla’s home, and what she is denied in comparison to the Drapers (and the Campbells and the Sterlings and on and on), then it might be difficult for us to go back to enjoying Mad Men the way we did before. I get it, but I’m begging anyway – please let us see Carla’s life beyond her folding the Drapers’ laundry, cleaning the Drapers’ dishes, carrying for the Drapers’ kids.

Thank you,

a sorta fan of the show who wants more than what the show is currently offering.