What if the “best books” were not always centered on male protagonists?

Today we have a guest post from Meg of Planning the Day. Meg responds to Nicholas Kristof’s list of best children books, a list that featured mostly male writers/protagonists. Granted, Kristof’s list was much more diverse than Publishers Weekly Best of 2009 book list that was male/white biased in the extreme. He included some books I would count among “bests” — Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables. Yet, he, as Meg points out, has chosen a list where ONLY ONE GIRL is front and center. In keeping with the call at She Writes to speak out against the still male dominated world of publishing/writing, Meg offers us a more diverse, less penis-privileged list in what follows:

“I usually enjoy the writing of Nicholas Kristof, the New York times columnist who often uses his space to bring attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the plight of trafficked women in Southeast Asia. So I was excited when I saw that his column this week was a list of the best children’s books; I expected selections that would inspire social-consciousness and empathy among their readers.

What I did not expect is that nearly every book would feature male (and when he is a person, white) protagonist. Out of thirteen suggestions, only one is based on the story of a young girl. Who is the lucky lady? Anne of Green Gables, “one of the strongest and most memorable girls in literature.” And not one of them centers around the story of a person of color.

Some of his other suggestions have great girls in supporting roles: Charlotte’s Web, with beloved Charlotte and Fern as Wilbur’s best protectors and friends, topped the list. The Harry Potter series was also recommended, which features such strong women as Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley.

So what’s the problem with his suggestions? There’s nothing wrong with any book in particular on his list, but it fails to offer characters that young girls or children of color can immediately relate to. There is something special about picking up a book and connecting immediately with its main character by seeing yourself in that person. While it is not out of the question for girls or children of color to relate to a white boy protagonist, it would be great for children to see themselves, with all of their historical particularities, represented in their books.

Kristof invited his readers to comment on his article with their own additions, so I’ve made my own list to add to his. Not all of them feature girls or people of color, but I hope that they represent a more diverse set of characters:

  1. “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell. I vividly remember buying this from our school’s book fair when I was in fourth grade, and then retreating into my room for three days to read, emerging only for meals. This book is based on the true story of a 12-year old Native American girl, Karana, who survived alone on an island for 18 years.
  2. “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt. I was enchanted by Winnie when my mom read this story to me in first grade.
  3. “Number the Stars” and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. These are two of my absolute favorites from elementary school. I read them countless times between third and fifth grade, and remembering them now makes me want to check them out of the library again. Number the Stars is the story of Danish girl whose family helped her best friend escape from the Nazis in Denmark. And The Giver… just read it, it’s great.
  4. “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor is the story of Cassie, a black girl growing up in a segregated and oppressive southern community in the 1930s.
  5. “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech. Native American Salamanca Tree Hiddle travels across the country with her grandparents, trying to find her disappeared mother. I don’t remember much about this book except that I loved it.
  6. “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E. L. Konigsburg. This book-on-tape kept us kids silent for countless car trips, as we listened to the adventures of Claudia and Jamie, two kids who secretly live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art while they try to solve the mystery of the new statue.”

(Please add your suggestions in comments!)

Professor, What If…? Short takes 11/29/09

1.Wal-Mart in Upland, California forced to close for two hours when shoppers got out of hand on Black Friday. Please, can we all stop shopping at this horrible corporation? Do we want the future to look like the one in Wall*E? (Not the fat-hating part, but the world taken over by Wal-Mart part.)

2.Huffpo reports that “First Ever Store for Porn Apps Launches.” Yup, that’s just what we need in this world, more porn. Especially porn on the go. And we thought texting while driving posed a problem. Wait until porn apps promote wanking while driving…

3.More troops to Afghanistan? Yeah, cuz we need more war in the same way we need more porn. I am disappointed in you Obama. Sorely.

4.IRS filed $79,000 lien against Governor Schwarzenegger. So, we in Calif our governed by a man who can’t pay his own bills? Hmmm, no wonder our state is in such an economic dilemma. Maybe he could sell off some of those Hummers to pay his debts.

5.Entertainment Weekly ( 12/4/09) notes in it’s Hit List that “Heidi Klum hits the runway in lingerie six weeks after giving birth.” Guess, the mommy myth so cogently critiqued by Susan J. Douglas is still going strong. Soon women will jump off the delivery table straight into a pair of high heels or exercise shoes. Nothing more important for a new mom than losing the weight or getting the sexy back. Gag.

What if we refused to feast on the sugar-coated version of Thanksgiving? (Reconsidering Thanksgiving, part 3)

Here is part 3:

For most people I know, Thanksgiving is not about celebrating Pilgrims or acknowledging the history surrounding the holiday. Rather, it is about spending time with friends and family, being thankful for loved ones, for having the day off work, and, of course, about stuffing oneself silly.

Yet, even though many do not intend to celebrate the historical underpinnings of the holiday, they nevertheless allow patriotic, racist lies to continue UNLESS they at least acknowledge the true history of the genocide upon which this nation was ‘founded.’

Thus, while I often gather with extended family on this day, I do not call it ‘Thanksgiving’ any longer – even the name is abhorrent to me now. For lack of a better term, I call it a ‘holiday,’ as it is, for those of us lucky enough to have jobs (and jobs where we get such days off) a holiday. However, ever since my kids have been old enough to talk, we have spent the day discussing the true history of Thanksgiving and the fact that this country’s bounty comes at the expense other peoples and nations – as it always has done. This is not enough, and this pains me. Yet, ‘traditions’ are hard to break – and perhaps more so when one has young children in the house.

I lived out of the country for many years, and thus Thanksgiving was a non-issue. However, when I returned to the US, it soon became a thorn in my side – as soon as, in fact, my children entered pre-school. The way our education system teaches this holiday is detestable. The books and songs, the color in a Pilgrim/Native American handouts, the activities of making Pilgrim/Native American headwear, the potluck feasts — all of these work to perpetuate the historical lie that we should be “giving thanks” for our history. In one book my daughter read in her early school years, the Indians (the term the book used) were “so happy” when the “nice Pilgrims” arrived. This lie is widespread in our refashioning of the Thanksgiving narrative; it is the lie put forth in Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving (as noted by Renee at Womanist Musings) as well as via virtually all pre-college curriculum.

As an aside, I offer each year to visit my children’s classrooms to teach a non-sweetened history of Thanksgiving and/or to talk about Native American history – my offer has yet to be accepted. I make a similar offer when my kids study the California missions. Again, no teachers have taken me up on this. This refusal to incorporate the true history, the ugly, reality version of history, helps to, as Robert Jensen argues, maintain our tooth-decayingly sweet American mythos:

“Obscuring bitter truths about historical crimes helps perpetuate the fantasy of American benevolence, which makes it easier to sell contemporary imperial adventures — such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq — as another benevolent action.

History does matter, which is why people in power put so much energy into controlling it. The United States is hardly the only society that has created such mythology.

History can be one of the many ways we create and impose hierarchy, or it can be part of a process of liberation. The truth won’t set us free, but the telling of truth at least opens the possibility of freedom.”

In Jensen’s framing, learning and spreading the truth of history does not absolve us, but at least it obfuscates the trend we are in now – that of genocide, warfare, enslavement, and empire repeating itself.

As a reminder of this endless repetition, in a fairly recent Thanksgiving travesty, GW Bush showed up in Iraq for a photo job, fake turkey in hand. In Mitchel Cohen’s estimation, “in one fell swoop, the new Conquistador had tied to history’s bloody bough the 511-year-old conquest of the ‘New World’ ­ whose legions smote the indigenous population in the name of Christ ­ with last year’s bombardment and invasion of Iraq and the torture-detentions of prisoners of war at U.S. military bases.”

The linkages between our present acts and past acts convey that we are still a country guided by the white supremacist notion of manifest destiny, and whether those in power are perpetuating the killing of Native Americans or Iraqi civilians, their aims and motivations are similar: power and greed. GW Bush is merely a modern day pilgrim, a born again one, who similarly uses his religion to justify persecution.

The occupation of Iraq, the genocide in Darfur, the rampant levels of human enslavement globally, all of these are history repeating, in endless iteration, the mistakes we have yet to learn from…

So, what would a socially just response to Thanksgiving be? Well, Jensen argues for “a truth-and-reconciliation process that would not only correct the historical record but also redistribute land and wealth.” Yet, he also accedes that given our immersion in white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, that this is unlikely. Given this, he argues that “the question for left/radical people is: What political activity can we engage in to keep alive this kind of critique until a time when social conditions might make a truly progressive politics possible?”

His answer is that we must speak truth to power and his writing suggests we must do this with everyone we meet – whether it is the well-wisher at the grocery store or to our own grandmother. Yet, Jensen realizes this is no easy feat. However, as he notes, “we need to help each other tell the truth, even when the truth is not welcome.” This part of his answer is something I think those of us who would like to resist the historical grounding of the holiday are able to do, in ways both small and large. We can speak the truth, write the truth, whether amongst our own friends and family or via more public venues.

And, as PetPluto over at Art at the Auction in the post “Why I like Thanksgiving” muses, we can attempt to separate the historical origins of the day to how we personally celebrate it. PetPluto uses the analogy of marriage, and how it has changed as an institution to frame this argument:

“I think we should all be aware that the modern marriage is a relatively new invention, and that sometimes what came before was less than pleasant. But since the modern marriage is, generally speaking, a different animal all together, there is the ability to celebrate it when two people decide that they do want to tie that knot. Same thing with Thanksgiving. The modern Thanksgiving is less about the historical event of breaking bread between Native Americans and Pilgrims and more about family.”

I agree with this sentiment, but, as with the institution of marriage, I am growing more and more critical of the supposed ‘good sides’ of these societal traditions. Perhaps I am growing more radical as I age…

PetPluto further suggests that the historical remembering is a job for us as a nation, rather than a burden that should be taken on by the holiday itself: “It is our job to remember how we got here as a nation – both the good and the bad. But it is Thanksgiving’s job, and holidays like it, to remind us that what we get in return for being part of a family – blood or made –  for being thankful and being giving…”

I like this idea, but unlike PetPluto, I am not able to put aside “liberal guilt about this one day.” Yet, as I learned from Peggy McIntosh, guilt does nothing to change things. Guilt is a pointless emotion unless it spurs one to take action. So, what will I do with my feminist/progressive guilt?  Well, for this year I am writing about it (and in previous years I have taught about it), which certainly isn’t much. But, for next year, who knows… As my family and I gather tomorrow and discuss the non-saccharine version of history, I will ask two people who always give me very honest advice how we should change our observation of this day – my nine year old daughter and my twelve year old son.

As we work through this conundrum together, I hope to instill in my kids a yearning to know the real history of our world and, moreover, to yearn to change the world so that holidays CAN be just – so that they can be celebrated without guilt. Yet, I will keep Jensen’s reminder that “We don’t define holidays individually — the idea of a holiday is rooted in its collective, shared meaning” in mind. For, if this reconsideration of holidays is not done by the wider culture, not too much will be gained.

However, I disagree with Jensen’s contention that “When the dominant culture defines a holiday in a certain fashion, one can’t pretend to redefine it in private. One either accepts the dominant definition or resists it, publicly and privately.” I don’t agree with this either/or construction. My family’s private redefinition is not “pretend,” it is the beginning of resistance – a resistance that, if enough people start to similarly resist, has the potential to create a cultural shift.

I do not mean to suggest that this would be enough to ‘make up’ for the genocide of indigenous people that founded this nation. Nothing would be enough. Yet, an attitude of rectifying the wrongs of the past, of refusing to swallow the sugar-coated version of history, of not blindly ‘giving thanks’ for one’s own privileges would at least be a start.

In an earlier piece, Jensen reasoned that “As Americans sit down on Thanksgiving Day to gorge themselves on the bounty of empire, many will worry about the expansive effects of overeating on their waistlines. We would be better to think about the constricting effects of the day’s mythology on our minds.”

This too is something those of us who are reconsidering the holiday can do – we can endeavor to be aware of how the holiday affects not only our individual psyches, but the collective psyche of our culture. And, while arguments may be had over who does the cooking and who sits and watches football, over the patriarchal carving ritual where men are honored (and often photographed) for their knife skills while female’s hours of work in the kitchen oft are expected rather than lionized, while many will comment on their ‘overweight’ bodies, what most will NOT do is consider the constricting effects of this celebration of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy on their minds…

At my house, we will certainly consider the “constricting effects of the day’s mythology on our minds.” We will also look forward to the day when we truly live in a post-colonial world, when imperialism has been eradicated, and when conquests such as those of the white intruders on this land, what is now called the United States, no longer take place. This will be a time for a true thanksgiving celebration.

***

Addendum: Before a final read through for errors, I took a wee break and went to catch up on some much needed blog reading. At Don’t Do That, I came across this great link to a piece on “Deconstructing the Myths of ‘The First Thanksgiving.’” Check it out!

Published in: on November 26, 2009 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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What if Thanksgiving was not about happy Pilgrims sharing turkey with industrious Natives, but about giving thanks for a successful massacre? (Reconsidering Thanksgiving, Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of my Thanksgiving posts from 2008:

At the outset, I would like to note that I have relied on many useful scholars and writers to put together this post. The pieces I cite throughout the piece are as follows:

I would also like to give a nod to my anthropology professor of years ago, who, when I was a sophomore in college, was the first person to truly begin to open my eyes about Indigenous History. That semester, we read Changes in the Land. My feelings towards Thanksgiving, and US colonization, have been radically altered ever since.

To begin with a speculation, I would hazard a guess that probably 95% of Americans do not learn that there were at least two ‘first Thanksgivings.’

The story most of us know is of the day in 1621 when Pilgrims and Native Americans supposedly shared in a harvest feast. For what really happened at this time, I defer to Dr. Tingba Apidta. He notes that

“According to a single-paragraph account in the writings of one Pilgrim, a harvest feast did take place in Plymouth in 1621, probably in mid-October, but the Indians who attended were not even invited. Though it later became known as “Thanksgiving,” the Pilgrims never called it that. And amidst the imagery of a picnic of interracial harmony is some of the most terrifying bloodshed in New World history.

The Pilgrim crop had failed miserably that year, but the agricultural expertise of the Indians had produced twenty acres of corn, without which the Pilgrims would have surely perished. The Indians often brought food to the Pilgrims, who came from England ridiculously unprepared to survive and hence relied almost exclusively on handouts from the overly generous Indians-thus making the Pilgrims the western hemisphere’s first class of welfare recipients. The Pilgrims invited the Indian sachem Massasoit to their feast, and it was Massasoit, engaging in the tribal tradition of equal sharing, who then invited ninety or more of his Indian brothers and sisters-to the annoyance of the 50 or so ungrateful Europeans. No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served; they likely ate duck or geese and the venison from the 5 deer brought by Massasoit. In fact, most, if not all, of the food was most likely brought and prepared by the Indians, whose 10,000-year familiarity with the cuisine of the region had kept the whites alive up to that point.”

The fact that the hospitality, the sense of community and inter-humanity is what kept the whites alive is lost in the stories we learn in the US education system. So too is the savagery of the Pilgrims – yes, the Pilgrims were the savage ones, not the indigenous peoples. As Apitda notes, “Any Indian who came within the vicinity of the Pilgrim settlement was subject to robbery, enslavement, or even murder.” Yes, gotta love those happy, God-fearing Pilgrims.

What is also conveniently left out of our historical (un)consciousness is the fact that in the years following that unhappy meal, the majority of Indigenous peoples were either murdered firsthand or else secondhand via the diseases of white folks. As Eric Vieth of Dangeorous Intersection reminds us, “hepatitis, smallpox, chickenpox and influenza killed between 90% and 96% of the native Americans living in coastal New England.” As Vieth further elucidates, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony called this plague “miraculous.” This was the lovely religion practiced at the time – a belief system that saw death of the indigenous population as a miracle, as something to be praised.

This brings me to another myth – that Pilgrims and Puritans (P/P) were God-worshipping people who merely sought religious freedom (rather than power, land, and wealth). In fact, as Mitchel Cohen points out, these peoples who supposedly only desired to worship how they saw fit, used their religion to justify the persecution, enslavement, and murder of indigenous peoples. And, they were not amiss in the persecution of their own either – the gender and class stratifications meant that there was a P/P elite and an oppressed P/P underclass.

Speaking of persecution and murder brings me to the 2nd ’1st Thanksgiving” – the one of 1637 that occurred near the Mystic River and involved the slaughter of at least 700 Pequot Indians. This is the real 1st Thanksgiving –  the one that was named as such by the leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

As Mitchel Cohen relates (emphasis mine):

“Thanksgiving, in reality, was the beginning of the longest war in the U.S ­ the extermination of the Indigenous peoples. Thanksgiving day was first proclaimed by the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637, not to offer thanks for the Indians saving the Pilgrims ­ that’s yet another re-write of the actual history ­ but to commemorate the massacre of 700 indigenous men, women and children who were celebrating their annual Green Corn Dance in their own house.

Gathered at this place, they were attacked by mercenaries, English and Dutch. The Pequots were ordered from the building and as they came forth they were killed with guns, swords, cannons and torches. The rest were burned alive in the building. The very next day the governor proclaimed a holiday and feast to “give thanks” for the massacre. For the next 100 years a governor would ordain a day to honor a bloody victory, thanking god the “battle” had been won. [For more information, see Where White Men Fear To Tread, by Russell Means, 1995; and Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building, by R. Drinnon, 1990.]“

This 2nd Thanksgiving is the day which was actually recognized as such by the rulers of the time – and what they were giving thanks for was their massacre of indigenous peoples! Yet, in our sweetened version, we learn of the day in 1621. And, even this version is bent so far from truth as to be fiction – there was no turkey, no happy exchange, no ‘sharing’ between Pilgrims and Indigenous Peoples. Rather, Indigenous Peoples GAVE, Pilgrims TOOK.

It is the sweetened 1621 version that President Lincoln harkened back to when declaring the day a national holiday. As Glen Ford notes, “Lincoln surveyed a broken nation, and attempted nation-rebuilding, based on the purest white myth. The same year that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he renewed the national commitment to a white manifest destiny that began at Plymouth Rock.”

This ‘white manifest destiny’ is yet another piece of the imperial puzzle that we sweep under the rug. What all too often goes unspoken in the historical renderings of this time is race – is the fact that we are talking about not merely Pilgrims or Puritans, but about WHITES, and a white supremacist ideology thought sought to enslave and/or eradicate all peoples of color. The “white man’s burden” as analyzed infamously by Rudyard Kipling was not only a project of India and Africa, but also of the US – even though when “colonialism” is studied, the colonization of the US is often left unexamined. According to most curriculum, the US was not colonized, but settled (even though, hint hint, they called them colonies!).

Another bit of historical amnesia is the linkages between the genocide of indigenous peoples and slavery. As Dan Brook pointed out in his 2002 Counterpunch piece “Celebrating Genocide,” “1619 marks the first year that human beings were brutally “imported” from Africa to become slaves in America, if they happened to survive the cruel capture and horrific Atlantic crossing.” And anyone who knows the true history of Columbus knows he attempted to enslave indigenous peoples from the get go. Each of these atrocities was precipitated by the same thing: greed. Each was justified by the same ideology: white supremacy. Each translated into a CAPITALIST system shaped by racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism.

Thus, with Thanksgiving, as Brook argues, what we are in effect giving thanks is “for being the invader, the exploiter, the dominator, the greedy, the gluttonous, the colonizer, the thief, indeed the genocidaire…” We are giving thanks for what bell hooks terms “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” (For a great video link of hooks analyzing this paradigm, see here.)

As Glen Ford argues,

“The necessity of genocide was the operative, working assumption of the expanding American nation.”Manifest Destiny” was born at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, later to fall (to paraphrase Malcolm) like a rock on Mexico, the Philippines, Haiti, Nicaragua, etc. Little children were taught that the American project was inherently good, Godly, and that those who got in the way were “evil-doers” or just plain subhuman, to be gloriously eliminated. The lie is central to white American identity, embraced by waves of European settlers who never saw a red person.”

In yet another astute reconsideration of the holiday, Robert Jensen asserts that “Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.”

And the US certainly didn’t stop its genocidal practices once 95 to 99% of the indigenous peoples were killed. Rather, the US has supported and facilitated genocide in Indonesia, East Timor, Cambodia, has sat idly by genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, and has carried out military actions leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Vietnam and Iraq (just to name a few).

When an indigenous person was FINALLY asked to speak truth to power 350 YEARS AFTER the invasion by bloodthirsty, savage Pilgrims, his speech was deemed unacceptable. As detailed at the cite United American Indians of New England:

“Three hundred fifty years after the Pilgrims began their invasion of the land of the Wampanoag, their “American” descendants planned an anniversary celebration. Still clinging to the white schoolbook myth of friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag, the anniversary planners thought it would be nice to have an Indian make an appreciative and complimentary speech at their state dinner. Frank James was asked to speak at the celebration. He accepted. The planners, however , asked to see his speech in advance of the occasion, and it turned out that Frank James’ views – based on history rather than mythology – were not what the Pilgrims’ descendants wanted to hear. Frank James refused to deliver a speech written by a public relations person. Frank James did not speak at the anniversary celebration.”

To read what Frank James had planned to say, go here.

The silencing of Frank James serves as one specific example of the silencing of indigenous peoples and their history that has occurred since the colonization of the USA by the white killers (no, not ‘settlers’). This is why, as Jacqueline Keeler, a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Sioux, puts it (rather mildly) “For a Native American, the story of Thanksgiving is not a very happy one.”

Keeler’s account of the Dakota view of giving is particularly telling:

“Among the Dakota, my father’s people, they say, when asked to give, “Are we not Dakota and alive?” It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all — the exact opposite of the system we live in now, which is based on selling, not giving.”

Keeler also reminds us that “Nearly 70 percent of all crops grown today were originally cultivated by Native American peoples.” Do we, as we feast on the 4th Thursday of the month, even acknowledge this fact? Heck no! Our crops come from Costco!

This brings me back to part one of this post, and the capitalist lover that argued the holiday is really about celebrating “capitalist production.” Sadly, she is right on many levels. Our system does not celebrate giving, nor does it promote being thankful.

As those who are privileged by race, class, and other normative social positioning feast on this day, they often give thanks for their bounty. When I go to my mother’s for the holiday, her practice is to ask all in attendance to share something they are thankful for. Yet, rarely does this giving of thanks involve any historical awareness, let alone an analysis, of what the day stands for – both then and now.

According to Glen Ford,

“White America embraced Thanksgiving because a majority of that population glories in the fruits, if not the unpleasant details, of genocide and slavery and feels, on the whole, good about their heritage: a cornucopia of privilege and national power. Children are taught to identify with the good fortune of the Pilgrims. It does not much matter that the Native American and African holocausts that flowed from the feast at Plymouth are hidden from the children’s version of the story – kids learn soon enough that Indians were made scarce and Africans became enslaved. But they will also never forget the core message of the holiday: that the Pilgrims were good people, who could not have purposely set such evil in motion. Just as the first Thanksgivings marked the consolidation of the English toehold in what became the United States, the core ideological content of the holiday serves to validate all that has since occurred on these shores – a national consecration of the unspeakable, a balm and benediction for the victors, a blessing of the fruits of murder and kidnapping, and an implicit obligation to continue the seamless historical project in the present day.”

Thus, when we ‘give thanks’ for our bounty without also acknowledging at what costs this bounty has been made possible, we are accomplices to this “seamless historical project,” we, whether consciously or unconsciously, are giving thanks for genocide, for slavery, and for an imperial project that marches ceaselessly on.

Yet, as Robert Jensen of AlterNet laments, even radicals and liberals resist critiquing and/or rejecting the Thanksgiving holiday. Relating that the most comment argument went like this:  “we can reject the culture’s self-congratulatory attempts to rewrite history…and come together on Thanksgiving to celebrate the love and connections among family and friends,” Jensen counters that:

“The argument that we can ignore the collective cultural definition of Thanksgiving and create our own meaning in private has always struck me as odd. This commitment to Thanksgiving puts these left/radical critics in the position of internalizing one of the central messages promoted by the ideologues of capitalism — that individual behavior in private is more important than collective action in public. The claim that through private action we can create our own reality is one of the key tenets of a predatory corporate capitalism that naturalizes unjust hierarchy, a part of the overall project of discouraging political struggle and encouraging us to retreat into a private realm where life is defined by consumption. “

What can we do instead? Well, my thoughts on that difficult question, with further reference to the wonderful 2007 piece by Jensen, well be posted in part 3 (either later today or early tomorrow, depending on how much  grading I get done)…

Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 11:51 am  Comments (3)  
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What if you would like to give thanks for capitalism? (Reconsidering Thanksgiving part 1)

In the run up to turkey day, I am reposting my three-part piece on Thanksgiving. Here is part one:

If you are looking for a reason to give thanks this Thanksgiving, how about this: give thanks for capitalism! I came across this nifty idea when searching around the internet for “alternative ways to spend Thanksgiving” (as I am one of those crazy radicals that has problems with the holiday.) Anyhow, in so doing, I came across an article that must be read in full to be believed.

If you have an empty stomach, go here to read the full piece, entitled “An American Holiday: The Moral Meaning Behind Thanksgiving.” If your stomach isn’t empty, I would wait to read the piece, unless that is, you want to be cleaning vomit off your keyboard… (Or, if you are one of those troll-types who believes in the American Dream and clings to the idea that Native Americans were ‘savage’ and capitalism is the bees knees, well, you can read the piece anytime and, as you do, you can nod in agreement that yes, you, DESERVE to celebrate.)

Anyhow, the Ayn Rand worshipping author of the piece, Debi Ghate, encourages us to celebrate our ‘bountiful harvest’ of  “the affluence and success we’ve gained… the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy… the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on…the good life.” Granted, Ghate’s piece is from November 2007, and thus predates our current economic meltdown. Even so, it is wildly myopic in its vision of America as “the land of plenty.”

So too is Ghate a tad wrong about American history.  According to her, “This country was mostly uninhabited and wild when our forefathers began to develop the land and build spectacular cities.” Yeah, if you call 10 to 15 million indigenous inhabitants “mostly uninhabited.”

These “forefathers” (uh, do you mean genocidal, power-hungry maniacs?) used “the American spirit to overcome challenges, create great achievements, and enjoy prosperity.” Yeah, if killing, enslaving, and raping is what you call the “American spirit.”

As a proponent of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, this author proclaims “We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.” Does she mean, “we are the corporatist bastards who exploit the world’s people and destroy the planet, and Thanksgiving is our day to celebrate this gluttony”?

Now, if you feel a tad bit squeamish about celebrating the wonderful “forefathers” and the glories of corporate capitalism, Ghate has the answer; she insists you DESERVE to celebrate and greed is GOOD. She laments that “We are scolded not to take more than “our share”–whether it is of corporate profits, electricity or pie. We are taught that altruism–selfless concern for others–is the moral ideal. We are taught to sacrifice for strangers, who have no claim to our hard-earned wealth. We are taught to kneel rather than reach for the sky.” Yes, because why should we share the planet? Why should we care about other humans? Damn it, this world is MINE and I don’t give a shit about anyone else. Furthermore, I am eating the whole damn pumpkin pie so screw you! Wow, what a great philosophy. No wonder why the Ayn Rand Institute is so popular.

Ghate continues “morally, one should reach for the sky. One should recognize that the corporate profits, electricity or pie was earned through one’s production–and savor its consumption. Every decision one makes, from what career to pursue to whom to call a friend, should be guided by what will best advance one’s rational goals, interests and, ultimately, one’s life. One should take pride in being rationally selfish–one’s life and happiness depend on it.” Rationally selfish??? Oh my, the ways capitalists find to make their greedy machinations sound moral…

Ghate closes her piece with the claim that “It’s a time to selfishly and proudly say: “I earned this.” Sadly, this is the true, though NOT moral, meaning behind thanksgiving. Thanksgiving truly is a holiday where we rather selfishly celebrate personal bounty (if we are able to do so) while ignoring the historical costs, as well as the present costs, of our individual as well as national bounty. In the posts to follow over the next few days, I will further consider the historical costs as well as the present costs of “US bounty” and how we might better frame the holiday so as not to dishonor the atrocities of the past, condone similar carnage in the present, or perpetuate such myopic, selfish celebrations of US imperialism in the future.

What if ….? Short Takes 11/19/09

As life and other projects are drastically reducing my blog-time here at Prof What if ? I have decided to start posting some short takes consisting of brief musings on recent news and events. Kind of like tweets I suppose, but I have not dipped into that world yet. Maybe soon.  Can someone as verbose and opinionated as me limit herself to 140 characters? Time will tell. For now, on with today’s short takes:

1.    KPBS this evening featured a cosmetic surgeon lamenting that healthcare reform is unfairly targeting cosmetic procedures with a 5% tax hike. He claimed this is sexist, using the rational that  86% of cosmetic surgical patients are women.  No, 86% of such patients are women because we live in a SEXIST SOCIETY that evaluates a woman s worth based on her looks!!! Duh! Profiting off this fact is not some altruistic anti-sexist endeavor as Dr. Knife-man claimed! Another Mr.Cut-em-up told sob stories about women who had been laid off and come into his office hoping to finance surgical procedures so they can look younger and  land a job. While the job-market (especially in certain fields) is undoubtedly lookist, making cosmetic surgery more affordable is not the answer!!! Instead, how about trying to dismantle the beauty/diet industrial complex? Instead, the fake boob factory scalpel boys are boo-hoo-ing their fat-sucking and botox-injecting are being targeted and it’s sexist. How about attacking the Stupid Amendment instead — you know, the one that limits a woman’s reproductive choice. This seems a little more pertinent to the sexist healthcare argument to me…

2.    Read today that the Pentagon is going to launch an investigation into the Fort Hood shootings  — isn’t that kind of like having the fox investigate why there are so many dead chickens in the hen-house?

3.    Saw a girl who looked about 5 wearing and  I love Edward  t-shirt. I am wondering how she knows this. Is someone reading the Twilight series to her as a bedtime story?  “Oh mommy, read to me again about how girls are so clumsy and I need a man to make happy!!!”  It’s Snow White but instead of just cooking and cleaning, Bella also trips over her own feet and reproduces sparkly human/vampire babies! Plus, she has headboard busting sex on a private island! Ooh, even better than Beauty and the Beast!

What if PETA joined forces with AFEW (Animals For the Ethical Treatment of Women)?

PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has an ugly habit of sexualizing women in its campaigns (as in their latest ad below). Thus, I am suggesting they need to take on the message of a group just formed by my dog and cats– AFEW, or Animals For the Ethical Treatment of Women.

Here are my cats, suffering from headaches after viewing the new Christian Serratos image:

cats

MeOWWW, my head hurts now.

As female felines who love fur, they nevertheless were insulted by the suggestion that sexualizing women is ok (Madeline, the one on the right, named after Roald Dahl’s feisty feminist character) was further appalled that the picture was an obvious attempt to advertise for the New Moon release, while Matilda (on the left) felt the woman pictured could really use a sandwich…

As for my dog Eloise, this is what she looked like before seeing the latest PETA ad:

ellie

Happy go lucky!

This is her after, sad and pensive and wondering why a group that claims to care about all animals does not care about female human animals…

CIMG1784

So sad...

Capitalizing on female nudity is a norm for PETA, as regularly and brilliantly noted by Renee of Womanist Musings. As she writes of PETA, “exploiting women is their stock and trade.”

Posting a number of their ads, including ones of women in cages and wrapped in saran and labeled as meat, Renee asks:

What more evidence could possibly be needed of PETA’S willingness to exploit women to send their message about animal cruelty. It says that they believe that the only purpose women have in this movement is to supply the tits and ass.  These images are demeaning and reductive.

The ethical treatment of animals is a very important cause, but so is the ethical treatment of women. Commodifying and sexualizing women’s bodies (even when said women are “willing” participants) is not something I can support. I love animals – human, dog, canine, feline, etc – but I don’t agree that the end justifies the means in PETA’s case. They need to find better ways to spread their message – ways that do not rely on the unethical exploitation of women.

What if you lack the ‘penis requirement’ to pen one of the best books of 2009?

As reported at She Writes, Publishers’ Weekly published its “Best Books of 2009″ list on November 2nd. Guess what? It included 0% women authors. Yeah, cuz we all know a penis is defo required for quality writing… Gag.

The post included a call to action to submit lists for the Top Ten Best Books of 2009.

So, here’s my top ten list from ’09 (in no particular order and with not one penis-privileged author):

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession With Purity is Hurting Young Women, Jessica Valenti

The Curse of the Good Girl, Rachel Simmons

The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood

Half Broke Horses, Jeanette Walls

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, Gail Collins

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood, Helene Cooper

The Littler Stranger, Sarah Waters

The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Woman Serving in Iraq, Helen Benedict

Men and Feminism, Shira Tarrant

What if Homophobia was Resisted Twilight style?

The following piece is cross-posted here. As it argues, Twilight is a rampantly heteronormative series. Yet, given its concurrent rampant popularity, why not seize the opportunity to consider the ways  the Twilight cultural phenomonon can be used to furtheer discussion about gender, sexuality, racism, classism, etc? This is the aim of my forthcomign book, Seduced by Twilght (which, by the way, I just secured an agent for yesterday — woo-hooo!)

Ah, more proof that the U.S. is still a homophobic nation. Just what we don’t need. Maine’s rejection of a same sex marriage law earlier this week means that  attempts to legalize gay marriage have now been shot down in 31 states. As such, I thought it fitting to post a few thoughts about heteronomativity, homophobia, and Twilight.

Poking around Google, I found almost no posts that consider the heteronormativity of the series. One exception is Emily Rutherford’s “Heteteronormativity, Again; or, the Experience of Reading Twilight.” As Rutherford writes, “…there is no homosexuality in Twilight. Despite the obvious ambiguity of Edward’s sexual appeal, there are no gay couples in Forks, WA. There are no explicitly gay vampires. Bella herself doesn’t experience same-sex attraction.” As she further argues, “For all that it confuses clear-cut sexualities; for all that it builds upon and complicates our traditional notion of the innocent love story, it is still profoundly and aggressively heteronormative.”

As for the widespread heteronormativity the book upholds, all characters are represented as heterosexual and hetero-monogamous marriage is presented as ideal. Amongst other types of diversity depicted in the series – race, class, age, (dis)ability – there is not one single non-hetero character nor even a nod to the fact that not everyone on the planet is hetero. Given that Meyer’s is Mormon, a belief system that is notoriously heteronormative, it is hardly surprising that heterosexuality is represented as the unquestioned norm.

In addition to the series’ seething heteronormativity, the practice of buying the books and related products results in profits for those institutions that want to bolster heterosexism. Profits from the series are funneled to the Mormon church through the practice of tithing – such funds are used in various ways, but one of them is to prevent same sex marriage laws from passing (as with California’s prop 8). Here are some relevant portions of a piece I wrote on this topic:

Meyer has on multiple occasions stated that, in accordance with her Mormon belief, 10% of all  her profits for all things Twilight go to the Mormon church. (See, for example, The Advocate).

While she has not made any public statement regarding Prop 8, her tithing to the church supports institutionalizing discrimination against those who are not heterosexual. By extension, a percentage of the multi-billion dollar Twilight industry went towards the Mormon Church, an institution that played a huge funding role in initially getting Prop 8 on the ballot, and then kept the funding in plentiful supply in order to grow support for the Yes on 8 camp. The success of this campaign, which relied on dollars and dogma, would not have been possible without the big money that came from the Mormon Church and other religious donors.

….

Meyer’s silence about the issue of homophobia in her church in general, and Prop 8 in particular, comes across as deafeningly loud –it speaks volumes, showing support for discrimination via economic buttressing of an institution that helped California, the state I live in, to etch inequality into law. So much for the sunshine state – so much for dazzling, sensitive vampires…Guess it’s ok for a lion to love a lamb, but not for a man to love another man.

Unfortunately,  such homophobia does not only exist in the USA, but plagues the globe. As evidenced by a Twi Crack Addict piece posted last week, Wales is one such place. The piece, “Wolfpack Poster Removed from South Wales Cinema for being Homoerotic,” reports that a theatre in Cwmbran, South Wales, removed the wolfpack poster because it was “too homoerotic.” Given the rampant heteronormativity of the series, this accusation seems a bit ironic, especially given that the wolf characters are the only ones to give voice to their homophobia in the texts.

For example, in Breaking Dawn when Quil says to Jacob “I don’t notice girls anymore,” Jacob jokes ““Put that together with the tiara and makeup, and maybe Claire will have a different kind of competition to worry about.” Here, Jacob insinuates that Quil’s tiara-wearing antics might lead to some non-hetero ‘competition.’ Quil laughs in response, making kissing noises at Jacob and asking, “You available this Friday, Jacob?” Ah yes, homosexuality is SO FUNNY – especially in a book that presents heterosexuality as the ONLY option with a message that screams “Be hetero! Get married and have babies!”

In Breaking Dawn Leah also teases Jacob about his heartfelt goodbye to Quil, snickering “Thought you were going to make out with him.” Yeah, cuz it’s so homo-esque for a male to care about his guy friends. Leah might as well have said, “Hey, wolf boy, grow some hetero balls and put your focus where it should be – on the ladies!”

The inclusion of various homophobic sentiments from the Native American characters seems to go above and beyond Meyer’s staying true to her Mormon roots into the territory of actually mocking and deriding homosexuality. Further, the fact that the Quileute characters are the only characters to voice their homophobia is ironic given that native culture is historically far more accepting of diverse expressions of gender and sexuality. Such sentiments would be far more realistic out of the mouths of Meyer’s demi-god Mormon-esque vampires.

I am wondering if the above poster would have been removed if it featured shirtless white men instead — if it depicted the Carlisle, Edward, Jasper, Emmett pack? (Who are of course not referred to as a pack – think about the racial implications of that!) I would venture a guess that the poster would be less likely to be accused of homoeroticism if those pictured were white – partly because hegemonic, normative masculinity is linked  to whiteness, and partly because (due to a global system of racism) it’s easier (and more common) to discriminate against non-white men.

The ubiquitous shirt-lessness of the “wolf pack” (written about in my earlier post here) is linked to this notion of hegemonic masculinity and whiteness. White males, more often associated with mental activities and acumen, are often less sexualized (as explored by scholars such as Jackson Katz). Raced, or non-white men, and working class men, are more associated with their bodies and bodily activities. The fact that the male Quileute, as both raced and working class, are often depicted without clothes accords to this sexualization of males who are deemed as “lesser” – either due to race or class. Yes, I know they “run hot” in the books because of their wolf identity, but this alone does not explain why all the actors portraying them are photographed shirtless far more often than their white actor counterparts…

Finally, the removal of this poster due to its “homoerotic” message is ridiculous and repugnant. It smacks not only of homophobia, but of sexism (if those pictured were half naked women, there would not be a problem) and racism (speaking to the fear of the “Other” and of women or men finding raced Others attractive). As you go about being repeatedly seduced by the series and its offshoots, I hope you will once in awhile pause and think about these more troubling aspects. By voicing our discontent about those aspects of the book, the fandom, and the franchise that trouble us, we can bring homophobia (and other discriminatory ideologies) out of the closet. And, by discussing such regulatory ideals often and vociferously we can bring some progressive sparkle to the Twilight table.

This is partly my intent with the parodies from Twi Kids Trio – many who wrote to me thus far about the first skit noted their favorite scene was Jacob sitting on Edward’s lap (and, by the way, if you watch the skit, please leave comments or feedback on You Tube!). Future parodies will continue to mock the cult of masculinity and nod to the latent homoeroticism that heteronormativity attempts to deny. As per the theories of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, homoerotic elements pervade the majority of literary texts. They may be deeply hidden and denied in Twilight, but often that which is most strenuously resisted is also ardently, if shamefully, desired. Don’t know about you, but I find it quite fascinating to ponder a queer version of Twilight… doing so makes the hand-holding abstinence and virginal purity message seem all the more antiquated, and, yes, discriminatory.

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