A Poem a Day Challenge

Last Friday, Joyce Carol Oates read her poetry at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago.. To be honest, I didn’t know Oates was a poet. I knew her more for her short stories (specifically “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”) and the novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (which I took out from the library recently but have not had a chance to begin).

As a writer, I tend to introduce myself as the writer who writes everything but poetry. I write fiction, nonfiction and drama. End of story.

But I’m coming to realize that the end of the story, is really just the beginning. I wound up sitting next to a woman at the reading who said she had spent the last three years writing a poem a day. That struck me as feasible and a simple way to gain comfortability in a genre where I have the least experience.

As I pursue female authors this year, I’m extending my own reach as an author and I encourage you to do the same.

a_poem_a_day

Advertisements

Books By Women: No One Belongs Here More than You

I want this book title tattooed on my arm.

No One Belongs Here More Than You

indexI want to remember Miranda July’s collection of short stories for the rest of my life because this was the book I needed to read. Every story is a testament to loneliness and the struggle toward self love. I found No One Belongs Here More Than You at a Barnes and Noble when I convinced myself, even after reading the first story, that I was not going to buy this book. I was not going to buy this book. I was moving to Chicago in two weeks. Why did I need one more book?

I should have bought the book, but it was an incredible accident that I found a copy at the local library and it was the last book I read while I was still in Georgia.

Nearly all the stories were narrated in the first person and most of them were narrated by female characters. These people are flawed, as deeply flawed in numerous and terrifying understandable ways. The woman who falls asleep while her neighbor has a seizure. The teenage lesbian runaway who works at a Peep Show. The woman asleep with her boyfriend who hears someone coming up the stairs.

Miranda July describes our world with such honesty that the weird and the off kilter I look for in speculative fiction was laid bare in the human mind and the normal progressions of our day to day lives.

This was the best book I have read all summer and I will keep you updated on if I get that tattoo. Because more than the literary merit of Miranda July’s work, the title speaks to an essential feminist concept: you belong in this space (and every space); you have value; your words have meaning. 

I can’t wait to see more from Miranda July who is talented not only as a fiction writer, but also as an artist, screenwriter and film maker. To get a sense of who she is as a person, check out the website for the book here.

Next on my list: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. Happy reading!

Books By Women: The Lady Matador’s Hotel

Suki Palacios is a half-Mexican, half-Japanese female bull fighter. Cristina Garcia‘s novel only gets more intriguing from there. The story chronicles the lives of a cast of strangers (or near strangers) for the few days they all live in an unnamed Hispanic country’s most expensive hotel. The country has recently come out of a long and violent civil war.

Won Kim is a failing Korean businessman, at the hotel with his pregnant mistress. Aura is an ex-guerilla, no working as a waitress in the hotel’s restaurant. Gertrudis is a German international adoption lawyer. Martin is a colonel behind gross acts of violence during the civil war. Ricardo is a poet who, along with his wife, are adopting a baby girl.

lady matador

I first read this novel for a course I was tutoring and couldn’t devote the time to it I wanted. I was in the middle of taking my own college courses. When I made the commitment to read books by women for a year, this was on my list as one of the few books I planned to reread.

There are a four things which automatically make this book stand out as an inclusive feminist text.

1. Suki owns her sexuality.

As I’ve noticed as a trend in Garcia’s work (I’ve since read Dreaming in Cuban and will post on it shortly), her female characters do not shy away from sex or taking their own pleasure. For Suki, this means that part of her ritual before a bull fight is to find a male stranger with handsome feet she has sex with. In the novel, he pleasure her in a beautiful jarring scene between Suki and a man from room service.

Throughout the novel, all the male characters want to have sex with her, but Suki is always the one in control of how she uses her body. Better yet, there is no rape or coerced sexuality at all in the text.

2. Garcia plays with gender roles. 

Each character subverts or works from a gender stereotype. Suki, for all her beauty, competes in the masculine world of bull fighting. Won Kim wants nothing more than to study butterflies. Ricardo desires to be a great father, but no one trusts him because he’s male. Martin is the epitome of masculinity and we watch it consume his thoughts and violent desires. Although there are no queer, trans or gender divergent characters, Garcia purposely uproots our ideas about simple gender roles.

3.  Aura.

Aura’s my favorite. Garcia plays on gender expectations (again) when “the ex-guerilla” turns out to be female. Her plot arc, one of the most action based in the novel, is a revenge story which does not rely a gun in a female character’s hand for her to be strong. Her strength comes from her morality and her decisions. As Aura seeks revenge for her brother’s murder she has to really consider the consequences of jumping back into a life where she is a murderer: a life she gave up and does not want.

4. Aura. 

Aura provides the magical realism of the novel, adding just enough magic and mystery that I was engaged with both the characters and the world. Is Aura really speaking to her dead brother on the roof of the hotel? Maybe. Probably. But maybe not.

Garcia is the master of this in-between, ambiguous space. What I love the most is that, like Suki’s mixed heritage, everyone is more than one piece of  their identity. Everyone is messy and struggling. Without straying into dark plots that could never reach a happy ending or even a conclusion, Garcia takes each individual’s struggle seriously even the despicable characters we want to hate. Writing this humanity for even the darkest and most awful characters is what makes this novel a must-read.

Up next feminist nonfiction essays: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Keep reading!

The Too-Strong Woman Cannot Exist: Rose Tyler and Donna Noble in Doctor Who

I am a recently converted Whovian who began watching Doctor Who this past summer. And while I had had friends for years tell me to watch Doctor Who, I never felt I had the time to sit down and watch a television series. I must thank my roommate who, over the summer, convinced me to watch this phenomenal series. But as much as I now love the show and am emotionally invested in the characters and story arcs, Doctor Who is not immune to participating in sexist tropes and practices.

For this post, let’s examine two particular moments in Doctor Who: at the end of Season 1 (9th Doctor) when the Doctor absorbs the time vortex out of Rose to save her life, and at the end of Season 4 (10th Doctor) when the Doctor takes the DoctorDonna’s memories to save her life.

To clarify, I know I am not an expert on Doctor Who. I have only seen the more recent Doctors, and even then I have only seen up to a few episodes into Season 5. All the same, I am not making an over-arching claim that Doctor Who is an entirely sexist program, nor am I claiming anything on the quality of the show. I am looking at two specific moments to identify a harmful trope against women.

For both Rose as the Bad Wolf and Donna as the DoctorDonna, the story line is, at its heart, the same. The female character has extraordinary powers, shines as the hero for a moment, and then the true hero of the show takes these powers away in order to save her life.

Let’s begin by analyzing Rose as the Bad Wolf:

On the surface, this is an incredibly empowering scene. The human female companion controls the action. She is the one to destroy the Emperor of the Daleks, save the Doctor and save the planet. But, as soon as the immediate danger of the Dalek Emperor  has passed, the series shifts back to the Doctor. It is his story we’re meant to follow, not Rose’s. When he says, “It’s all my fault” we are brought back to the reality of a male dominated program: the hero saves the woman.

I’m examining the Doctor absorbing the time vortex from Rose because this is more than a simple hero saves the day plot devise. The woman gains too much power and too much knowledge. For her own good, it has to be taken from her. The Doctor is a Time Lord and therefore he has superior intelligence, superior stamina and pretty much superior everything and that, as audience members, we trust his opinion. If he says the time vortex is killing Rose, he is correct. He sacrifices himself to save her and the world continues to turns on, with the hero saving the woman.

The writers wrote themselves into a jam here. Although theoretically, they could have let Rose continue to be the Bad Wolf and travel with the Doctor as his equal (or potentially superior), the Doctor wouldn’t have regenerated and the classic formula of Doctor and Companion would have been ruined. In short, Rose gained power specifically to for it to be taken away after the defeat the villain. Her power surge, is only to serve the Doctor’s story arc. There is no room for a woman who has knowledge and power because, as the Doctor explains, it’s killing her. For her own good, the Doctor needs to take that power from her.

The same issue of too much power and knowledge being deadly for a woman occurs when Donna becomes the DoctorDonna and the Doctor wipes her memory:

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScUgeZ-fvvU

Again, we have a female character in an incredibly powerful position, who gains knowledge and defeats evil. But, again this power is only temporary. She is not meant to hold onto it, as it is beyond her due. Now, I know some people may say that it is because she is human that this power was taken from her, not because of her gender, but television shows exist within a cultural context. It is not an accident that the man of the story is the alien of superior intelligence, wisdom and the like. It is not an accident that his companion is a human who needs to rely on the Doctor to save the day. The traditional power structure of the man knows best and female subservience is merely cloaked under the disguise of alien superiority.

This is an issue because it spreads the message that women cannot physically handle knowledge and power. It is too much for them. It is too great for them to exist holding onto such power. And for their own good, men need to keep them sheltered. If men do not then women will die as the result of over-reaching herself. The Doctor can possess immense knowledge. His female companion is along for the ride.

I do not say that what Rose and Donna do in the series is inconsequential or that their great deeds as the Bad Wolf and the DoctorDonna should be overlooked as a sexist scam. There is a strong possibility that the writers of Doctor Who are not even aware of the messages they are spreading to their audiences. But, they are spreading them all the same.

As much as I love the show and admire the Doctor as a character, it is not his job, or the job of any man (alien or otherwise) to strip a woman of power. The plot devise of “for her own good” does not hold up as legitimate when analyzed under a feminist lens.

This is not Dragon Ball Z. Or is it?

I keep tabs on the Dragon Ball Z facebook page and frequently find their material strikes a chord with me. The page reminds me of all the reasons Goku is a loveable idiot, but such an amazing individual. The page reminds me why I believe in Goku and that there is so much more to DBZ than strong men beating each other to a pulp. Dragon Ball Z has provided me with heroes who are the epitome of fall seven times, get up eight times. 

But, as I’ve mentioned previously, DBZ is not perfect. It’s sexist toward men and it’s sexist toward women. What I haven’t had much time to explore however, is that as an extension of its sexism, DBZ is also homophobic. I’ll use this image posted on the DBZ facebook page to begin my point then I’ll explain further.

To begin, this image is homophobic. Even if it weren’t connected to DBZ, it would be homophobic. In this set of images, to be gay is something you want to get rid of in yourself. It is something that can be cured where you can walk away and be “better.” Especially in the context of this image set, it is the father telling his son not to be gay, to overcome his gayness, and–even worse–that gay here is used as a generic insult. The Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, that’s so gay! Yes, the Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, but all that means is that he looks stupid and poses funny. It has nothing to do with his sexuality.

When I first saw this image I commented and said how offensive it is. I also said it’s not DBZ. However, I was quite wrong in that second statement. This image set brings to the forefront homophobia that is present in DBZ, but never discussed.

What some people may not be aware of is that homophobia (and any other form of oppressive thought and action) does not need to be as direct as someone proclaiming “I hate gays” or “homosexuality is a sin.” Most bigotry is more subtle than that, but no less harmful. Because it is silent, it is allowed to persist.

So, how is DBZ homophobic? Let’s look at the images presented of men and women. The men are all the absolute epitome of “traditional masculinity.” They are muscular, they are courageous, they take punishment in battle without complaining and they are unfaltering in their straightness. The special cases are Goku and Piccolo. Goku exists in a state of partial asexuality–though more to comment on his purity than to ever suggest he is queer. Piccolo, as an alien, is also for all purposes asexual–but more to express his alien difference than to highlight a queer identity.

Of the main male characters, Tien is the only one without a love interest and fans speculate he is in a relationship with Chiaotzu. If this is the case and Tien and Chiaotzu are the only queer characters in the show, their relationship is entirely speculative and because Chiaotzu looks and acts so different from every other character, even the hint of being gay becomes something to look askance at. If Tien and Chiaotzu were to be openly together, their queerness would be immediately visible because Chiaotzu does not look or act human. If Chiaotzu is written as a gay character he is an offensive stereotype.

As for the female characters, the few there are are unfaltering in their straightness as well. They may not always be perfect paragons of female virtue–Chi-Chi fights in DB and Bulma is a computer tech and scientist–but Chi-Chi is also introduced from the start as a love interest for Goku and Bulma’s original quest is to find the perfect boyfriend. Android 18 winds up marrying Krillin. Even Launch from DB is last seen chasing after Tien. Lesbianism is a foreign concept in the DBZ universe.

So, when the DBZ facebook page posts an image such as this:

it is actually being very honest about DBZ’s homophobia. In DBZ, being queer is speculative (at best) for the men and impossible for the women. It makes perfect sense that this image set would blatantly highlight the resistance to queers. Being queer can be the butt of jokes because there are no openly queer characters to offset the stereotypes. There is no one to defend the queer community and so to be anything but straight puts you in direct conflict with the rigid gender binary of masculine men and feminine women who only desire heterosexual relationships.

My response is that you cannot “get a little gay” and there is no way to “better” from your gayness because there was never anything to be fixed in the first place. I know I would feel better if Gohan if DBZ was not so heteronormative.

Teen Titans Go! Go and Learn Consent

I am a huge Teen Titans fan. It was one of my first introductions to the superhero genre and what I loved the most was that I didn’t get into the show until I was sixteen, but the plots were dark and complicated enough that I was wholeheartedly invested. For anyone who has seen the monstrosity that is Teen Titans Go! (TTG) however, I don’t think I need to make it clearer that this funny take on the original cartoon is an awful desecration of the original genius.

From L to Right: Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Terra, Raven, Starfire

No,Teen Titans didn’t always take itself seriously, but when it did it handled everything from abusive relationships to racism to family issues. A majority of the time it balanced humor and darker plots. It has been an inspiration for me to write children’s cartoons that can appeal to a wider audience and say something worthwhile.

I don’t care that they brought back the old voice actors for TTG. This new show is a minefield and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Then the creators brought Terra into the show  in the episode “Terra-Ized”. If it wasn’t apparent from my previous post about how much I love Terra, she is my favorite fictional female character. I had to watch that episode. So I gritted my teeth and sat down with one of my friends and continued to grit my teeth and by the end of the episode I’m surprised I still had teeth left to grit.

The basic premise of the show is that the Teen Titans had never met Terra before and Beast Boy brings her back to Titans Tower. He gives her all sorts of access codes and secret information thinking she’s in love with him. She (like in the original series) is spying on the team, which TTG makes obvious and derives most of their humor from the blatancy of her “spying”.

I can forgive TTG! that they ruined all continuity by having no one know who Terra is. I can forgive them for completely ruining a fantastic female character who had deep emotional issues and a legitimate story arc over the course of Season 2 in the original Teen Titans. I can forgive them for making her a character who openly hates the team as opposed to a covert spy and traitor.

What I can’t forgive is that this show perpetuates rape culture by blatantly ignoring consent. Watch this clip of the episode and focus specifically on the pictures Beast Boy has of him and Terra at the end of the clip.

It is not funny when a character who clearly says “no” to another character’s advances is brushed aside as a joke. What’s worse is that this is a major and recurring joke throughout the episode. Terra continuously rebuffs Beast Boy’s advances and the writers rebuff her complaints. She’s just a female character, after all. She doesn’t have autonomy over her own body or anything. No one wants to see the boat rocked by addressing issues of consent. It’s not as if consent is a real issue men and women have to deal with in real life or anything!

It’s a kids show yes, but before anyone tells me I’m over reacting, where do kids learn their behaviors if not from the media they’re exposed to? If no one questions this blatant disregard of Terra’s voice ignoring the woman becomes another piece of ordinary life to be glossed over as natural.

When Terra rejects Beast Boy’s advances, he has no right to continue to pursue her and Cyborg has no right to advise Beast Boy to press after her. It is even worse when Cyborg gets involved because that normalizes the behavior even more. Beast Boy can no longer be viewed as anomaly who acts in a way we are not supposed to approve of. No, his choices are validated by Cyborg’s advice. It is the men of the series conferring over and rejecting a woman’s decision. This suddenly doesn’t sound like a kid’s show, but rather a sexist insertion driving the plot as a running joke.

The episode relied on sexism and misogyny to make children laugh. This is wrong. This is wrong on every level because children won’t see the systems of oppression that make these jokes possible. But we who see them need to speak out because no one else will.

I don’t want young children to be indoctrinated into believing that “no” is a joke to be laughed off. “No” is definitive. It is always taken seriously. And Teen Titans Go! needs to learn about consent.

 

Wilde Interview: The Editor and Founder of Wilde Magazine on her Publication

I recently posted a blog highlighting the queer art and literary journal Wilde Magazine. Now I am lucky enough to have been able to interview the founder and editor of the Magazine, Nicole Wilkinson.

Here’s the complete transcript of our interview:

  1. Queer literary magazines have been around for a while already, what prompted Wilde to start now?

It began primarily as a personal endeavor. I was the editor of my high school literary magazine, as well as the vice-president of the GSA. As my senior year was coming to a close, I foresaw an emptiness that was bound to come once my involvement in these two groups had ended. So, I began to plan out Wilde Magazine, a magazine that would combine my need for involvement in the queer community, as well as my love of working on literary magazines. However, once I actually began to get to work on it and correspond with contributors and supporters of the magazine, I realized that Wilde was to be much bigger than a mere personal project.

2. How is Wilde different from other art and literary magazines which also focus on the queer experience?

3. Your website says that Wilde Magazine fosters discussion on the queer experience. Could you elaborate on that some more?

My answer for both of these questions is basically the same. The initial concept of Wilde was that it would feature a podcast, as well as have a forum where artists and writers could come and discuss their work, lives, and opinions. We wanted people to be able to workshop prior to submitting to the magazine so they could publish what they felt was made polished and perfect. Furthermore, earlier on we used to send back comments and critique to every person who submitted, whether we accepted or rejected them.

However, it took some time to find a stable group of staff members who had the time to stick with the magazine, so early on it was not possible to get the time or resources to keep the forum active (and clear out all of the spam we got there) and run the podcast. It also proved very difficult to give critique and comments to everyone who submitted, especially as the magazine got more popular.

However, all of these plans, the forum, the podcast, the critique, are simply on hiatus, and we ultimately plan to bring them back into the picture at some point in 2014.

4. What is Wilde’s take on allies writing about the queer experience and how it fits into the overall goal of the magazine?

I don’t want to say that we discourage straight people from submitting, because we don’t. However, Wilde is meant to be an extension of a queer space, and so in terms of having allies contribute or be on the staff of the magazine, we try to be very careful. In a queer space, allies should not try and overpower the opinion of queer people. It’s similar to when men enter feminist spaces – it’s important to insure that their voice will not overpower the group we’re trying to give a voice to. Rather, it is our hope that our straight allies who support the magazine would use it as inspiration to create more queer awareness in primarily heterosexual spaces and magazines.

We have published submissions from allies, and we have allies on our staff, but we try to make sure their voices and input are supported and backed by our queer contributors, supporters, and staff, as their voices are the most relevant in our mission. Therefore, we will always prioritize queer submissions over those from our straight allies.

5. Could you describe what you’re looking for in submissions? What best fits Wilde’s focus? Do you have any tips or advice for writers hoping to get published in Wilde?

Some people wonder if we are seeking submissions only related to queer issues, but as any queer person knows, being queer is only a part of our identity, and we have lives, and therefore art, that are just as varied as any other. We accept pieces explicitly related to the queer experience, we accept pieces where being queer is just an added spice to the piece, and we accept pieces that have nothing to do with queer issues.

It’s hard to say what we’re looking for exactly, because we are always blown away by the things we didn’t even know to look for. The totally unique characters, revolutionary story lines, art and writing we’d never seen before.

For those wanting to get published in Wilde, I would advise them to read previous issues of the magazine, to get a feel for our content.

Also, I would really advise them, as I would with any other publication, please read all of the guidelines, and please don’t disregard them. So many people submit incorrectly, so if you can show an editor and staff that you read and understood their directions, you’re already ahead half of the pack. If you can write a good cover letter as well, you’re ahead ¾ of everyone else.

6. What is the atmosphere like working for a magazine? Could you describe your staff and what a typical day is like?

That’s hard to say, as the staff and I don’t meet in person. I know a lot of them personally, and a good deal of us are from Colorado. We primarily work on the magazine individually and then correspond over Facebook, Skype, and e-mail. And the process we go through for submissions can span days, maybe weeks.

When a submission comes in, the advisory readers often look over it first. They leave comments for the editors and I to go off of. Then the editors and I look over it. Then, once we’ve sorted all of our submissions, I lay the magazine out, first on paper, then on InDesign. I send a rough copy to everyone on the staff and they point out errors and help polish it up.

I really admire the staff for all the work they put into the magazine, and their passion for art and writing. I get to work with a really dedicated group of people. I hope that one day I can meet them in person, like a big Wilde Staff reunion. That would be great.

7. In the upcoming years, where do you see Wilde Magazine heading? What are the future goals of the magazine?

We have big plans for the magazine.

We hope that in the near future, we can bring back the forum and start up the podcast next year.

We also hope to bring back critique and comments for those who specifically ask for it.

We want to eventually stop using HP Magcloud so we can print in bulk and offer the magazine for a much lower price, and make it available for sale at book stores, coffee shops, and any businesses willing to sell our publication.

However, after trying to manage these things early on when the magazine began, I’ve realized that it’s necessary to take small steps to reach these goals and expand. So, it may take time, but we’ll do our best to get there, so Wilde can be an affordable multimedia publication that serves, not only to exhibit the work of the queer community, but to create a discussion within it.

Thank you so much Nicole Wilkinson for sharing your work with this magazine! I know I am not the only one who values your input and the work you have done to make Wilde Magazine a growing success. Once again, thank you very much for your time.

If you have any more questions about Wilde Magazine, their submission guidelines or anything to do with this publication visit their website here. And just another reminder, issue #3 is available and can be purchased either in digital form or a print copy here.