What if they tried to similarly satirize John and Cindy on the cover of The New Yorker?

Debate and commentary of the ‘satirical’ cover of The New Yorker, which depicts Obama as an American flag burning Muslim and Michelle as an afro-haired camo-wearing guerilla warrior has flooded the blogosphere. For a good round up, see Michelle Obama Watch here or take in Jill’s link-filled piece at Feministe here. And, to sign a letter calling upon the magazine to pull this issue from news stands, see The Feminist Majority petition here.

What the question posed in the title of this post tries to get at is that John and Cindy couldn’t be characterized in this way because the cultural imagination does not trade in ready made racist stereotypes for white men or have an array of images with which to animalize/otherize white women. Further, John and Cindy have not been put under near the same amount or kind of scrutiny as Obama and Michelle.

Perhaps if John was displayed in a KKK cape carrying a dead pregnant woman while calling a drug-upped Cindy a cunt with a “Bomb Iran” poster hanging in the background we might approximate the ‘satire’ in the above image. But, then again, no. This is nowhere near anything similar because what is displayed in The New Yorker cover feeds into FALSE accusations and media generated stereotypes, while the John and Cindy caricature I suggest is based on truth – John McCain’s policies are racist, his ‘pro-life’ agenda is anything but, and his bomb happy demeanor is all too true. This is why the first caricature happened, and the second never would.

Of course, the caricature that did run also came about because we live in a racist, anti-Muslim, anti-(black)-woman society. An image like this of a white presidential couple wouldn’t fly – you might be able to mock their sex lives (ala Bill and blow jobs) but as for questioning their patriotism or their religious faith, nope, ain’t gonna see that on any covers anytime soon.

That’s why this cover is not funny-it’s appalling. And I don’t care how many “smart New Yorker’s” are going to “get the joke.” The point is that this satire misfires, and will likely ignite a whole heap of neo-con orgasmic chortles because the real joke, it seems, has been had by the corporatist media when even so called progressive publications trade in this type of racist misogynistic tripe masquerading as humor.

(Note: After emailing The New Yorker, I recieved an automatic reply that read in part as follows:

Our cover, “The Politics of Fear,” combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are.  The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall- all of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover. In this same issue you will also see that there are two very serious articles on Barack Obama inside…

Ok, but why put the “serious articles” on the inside where only readers will find them while leaving this imagery on the cover (and completely out of context) for many more people to see? If the magazine wanted to show these “obvious distortions” it could have put them inside the magazine and instead displayed satiric images that skewered the mainstream media for creating these attacks in the first place on the cover.

The cover as it stands does not “hold up a mirror” to prejudice, but perpetuates it. One thing it has brought “out in the open” is The New Yorker seems more interested in selling mags and generating PR via incendiary images than through putting a stop to “the hateful, and the absurd.”)

What if teachers were allowed to teach?

What if teachers were allowed, let alone encouraged, to actually teach? Instead, teachers are given umpteen standardized tests to force-feed to their students, supplied with ready-made euro-centric, male-centric curriculum, and put into classrooms without enough supplies let alone enough support to provide students with an education.

The recent firing of Karen Salazar is only one incident in a national trend to outlaw any real teaching in our schools. According to an assistant principal, Salazar was dismissed for “brainwashing students.” This so-called brainwashing consisted of lessons that incorporated “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and the poetry of Langston Hughes. Presumably, it also consisted of serving as the faculty adviser for campus student activists. Yes, how dare she? How dare she teach students the true racist past (and present) of the USA? How dare she actually encourage students to think outside the purview of the scan-tron?

In a letter posted at Vivirlatino, Salazar indicates some other motivations for her dismissal:

My contract is being terminated because according to the principal, I am “indoctrinating students with anti-Semitism and Afrocentrism.” The anti-Semitism accusation comes solely from the fact that I have an Intifada poster hanging in my classroom (a symbol of support for a free Palestine), and the Afrocentrism accusation comes from the fact my culturally-relevant curriculum reflects the demographics of my students, though I am surprised I am not being accused of Raza-centrism as well.

As her words here reveal, she not only teaches “dangerous” curriculum but she supports a free Palestine (a stance not allowed in UZA – United Zionist America) AND, she is Chicana! Holy minute-man crap – how did she get hired in the first place?

Salazar’s firing is sadly not a unique case, though. An Indiana hish school teacher was recently suspended for using The Freedom Writer’s Diary. Connie Heermann, who has been teaching for 27 years, should really know better than to try and inspire her students. Stick to the bubble tests Connie!

In 2007, two LA teachers were fired for including lessons about Emmett Till, a 14 year old lynched 58 years ago for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Don’t you teachers know not to teach history Howard Zinn style?

But, let’s not let the McArthy/Horowitz censorship fun stop there. For, if we don’t also censor the crazy leftie socialists polluting our universities, it could mean the end of civilizedsexismrasism as we know it.

Luckily here in California, the CSU system is able to jettison instructors who refuse to sign a loyalty oath adopted in 1953 to root out communists. Cal State Fullerton was recently spared from having to harbor a commie in their midst when new instructor of American Studies Wendy Gonaver refused to sign a loyalty oath swearing to “defend” the U.S. and California constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This refusal ended her appointment as a lecturer. (Thankfully, I have never been asked to sign such an oath at the CSU where I teach.)

Thank the heavens(because you know evolution is a lie perpetuated by mad science teachers) that those who dare to question our imperialist wars or the truth about 911 are being rounded up and suspended, fired, or forced to retire. And thanks to the man himself, David Horowitz, for creating an “academic hit list” so the truth can be avoided, even in college. (Used to be that students started learning some true history once they got to college – but, with the likes of Horowitz and others, maybe we can keep true learning at bay indefinitely).

As Jack at Feministe warns us:

Keeping American students in the dark about America’s wrongdoings, keeping Latino, Black and other students of color from truly understanding their histories in the U.S. – that’s all key to maintaining white supremacy and white privilege in this country.

So, teachers, would you stop trying to teach already–unless that is you want to change  the white supremacy, white privilege, racism, sexism, ableism, heteronormativity, etc that rules our world. And, just in case any of you want to  to PROGRESS things rather than conserve the same old injustices,just in case you want to TEACH your students rather than instruct them in rote memorization, here’s a little book list (in no particular order) to get you going:

  • A People’s History of the United Stats.
  • Us and Them: A History of Intolerance in America
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbooks Got Wrong
  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (Arizona public school system is attempting to ban this book. See info about this here.)
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  • Teaching to Transgress
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
  • Democracy for the Few
  • Against Empire
  • 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Women’s History
  • 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African-American History
  • Who Cooked the Last Supper: The Women’s History of the Wolrd

What if we gave up the “top-model” paradigm rather than expanding it?

This summer has seen the inauguration of two new “top-model” type of reality shows that expand the concept of beauty in both positive and negative ways. On the plus side, Britain’s Missing Top Model and TVLand’s She’s Got the Look each expand the definition of who counts as beautiful by going against ableist and ageist beauty standards.

However, the better option, if you ask me, would be to do away with the beauty competition paradigm altogether. Expanding the definition of beauty does nothing to question or destabilize the beauty imperative wherein (mainly women) are constructed as chess(t) pieces competing for dubious hotness prizes.

Feminism has critiqued this beauty imperative from way back. For example, Mary Wollestonecraft weighed in against beauty in A Vindication of the Rights of Women back in 1792 while Sojourner Truth rallied against white supremacist, classist definitions of beauty in the 1850s. More recently, in one of my favorites, Sandra Lee Bartky riles against disciplinarian beauty norms and practices in “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.”

Yet, the reality shows that trade in women (from bartering them off to Joe Millionairres or cutting them up Swan style) have no truck with feminism. They pander to keeping the ‘woman as object’ archetype firmly in place. As a case in point, check out the great analysis over at The Feminist Underground of yet another recent reality show offender on FOX, The Battle of the Bods.

Missing Top Model and She’s Got the Look endeavor to get more women to join in the ‘fun’ of defining themselves via their looks. The title of Missing… in and of itself is offensive. It constructs disabled women as not fully human with its use of the word ‘missing.’ (For a good analysis of this shows many wrongs, see this post at WIMN’s Voices.)

As for She’s Got the Look, it trades in the oh-so-maddening MILF narrative-a trend that suggests women of all ages can be subjected to a controlling, penetrating male gaze-how empowering! As Jessica at Feministing quips in regards to “She’s Got the Look,” “why should young women have all that objectification fun!” Yes indeed, why should we limit kowtowing to beauty norms to a select few-let’s expand the playing field so all women can chain themselves to beauty mandates and be defined solely as eye candy!

The problem is that expanding the definition of beauty is an assimilationist move. It does nothing to topple the panopticon of beauty wherein (mainly women) are prompted to police themselves and others while (mainly men) are given the warden keys of control. Similar to gay assimilationist moves that attempt to gain access to problematic institutions rather than to overthrow them (such as marriage and its accompanying 1000plus legal privileges), beauty assimilation merely expands who gets to take part in the oppressive beauty matrix.

This is not to say that beauty can’t be fun, that enjoying the body and its appearance is always oppressive. Rather, it is the current ways that beauty is defined, institutionalized, and capitalized that is problematic. We need to queer beauty, to politicize it, to redefine it, not merely expand the existing limiting definitions of beauty that are capitalist, white supremacist, and heteronormative (among other things).

No, this does not mean enjoying wearing make up or fashion or body ornamentation makes you a ‘bad feminist’ (I disagree with Bartky here). What it means is that as feminists we need to be conscious of our beauty practices and analyze our motives. (This is an old debate, one that has been re-hashed over and over, yet the “if you wear make up you are not a true feminist” stereotype refuses to die). Beautifying and appreciating others beauty should be a fun, pleasureful practice-much like sex. It should not be a stick to beat ourselves or others with. It should also involve consent rather than coercion.* And it should not involve competitions – reality TV based or otherwise. Like the collective voices of a number of feminists in 1968 who penned the classic essay “No More Miss America,” let’s protest the “The Degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol” these shows perpetuate, let’s say no to “Racism with Roses,” and let’s say NO to “The Consumer Con-Game” of the beauty/pageant/top model paradigm.

*For an interesting post and follow-up discussion about appreciating the beauty/phycisality of others in non-oprressive ways, see “I Objectify Men” over at Feministe.

What if fat jokes and cultural (mis)appropriation weren’t considered so darn cute? A review of Kung Fu Panda

The kiddies have been a-begging to see Kung Fu Panda and, whether it was the lure of an air-conditioned theatre or a weakness for Jack Black, I capitulated. I am not glad I did so. While the theatre was cool, the movie was not.

Filled with fat jokes, fighting, and not much else, this filmic (mis)appropriation of Asian culture upheld a number of fat stereotypes. While Liz Henry over at The Body Politic felt the film was body positive, I disagree. Liz writes that:

The movie has a very clear message of respect for bodily differences. The Furious Five, a tigress, viper, monkey, crane, and mantis, all have radically different bodies. The mantis is notably tiny and fragile, and a great fighter. While there is a lot of humor and mockery based on fat jokes at the panda’s expense, he learns to believe in himself. He trains hard to become wise, fearless, and talented – not to lose weight. He becomes a hero, but stays a big fat panda.

I agree that the Furious Five have radically different bodies, but this bodily diversity is not emphasized in the film. The only character whose body is consistently focused on is Po’s – the panda of the title (voiced by Jack Black). Moreover, Po’s size is used not to subvert fat stereotypes but to reinforce them. According to the logic of the film, those who are fat (like Po)

  • are motivated by food
  • are unable to control their desire for food
  • are emotional eaters
  • are unfit and klutzy
  • are funny and jolly
  • are talkative but not all that bright

How original!!! When was the last time you saw a fat character that didn’t live up to these stereotypes in the mainstream media? From Patrick in Spongebob Squarepants to Carl in Jimmy Neutron to Cartman in South Park, fat cartoon characters tend to exhibit some or all of these stereotypes. Come to think of it, so do non-cartoon fatties. And fat women? Forget it. They are even more negatively depicted than fat males. Fat men get to be funny, jolly, and cool (like John Candy, Chris Farley, Jack Black) while fat women are usually the sad sacks who are considered angry, ugly, and in need of a diet. Or, as in the cartoon world, they apparently don’t exist. (If you want something that IS body positive, skip Kung Fu Panda and see Joy Nash’s recent Fat Rant 3. Or, for the kiddies, have them read Fat Camp Commandoes by Daniel Pinkwater.)

In the film, Po’s fatness is not represented in a body positive way. If it was, his fat would not become his defining characteristic. How about this idea: what if instead of having Po’s breakthrough moment come over an epic battle over a dumpling (there is the motivated by hunger stereotype), Po could have been motivated to achieve Kung Fu greatness by something other than food? The end of this scene is the clincher. After battling for what seemed like eternity over the last dumpling, upon his victory, Po claims “I am not hungry” and refuses the dumpling. Ah, thanks for that – thanks for the message that winners don’t eat, that to be a ‘winner’ Po must overcome that nasty habit of his of actually liking food. Po does indeed train to become “wise, fearless, and talented,” but this scene implies that he will also have to lose his love of dumplings to become a real Kung Fu fighter. Thus, as Melissa puts it over at Shakesville:

this movie also appears to be one long fun-filled adventure in fat hating. Ha ha-the fat panda can’t climb the stairs without getting winded. Ha ha-the fat panda is so inflexible and graceless. Ha ha-the fat panda is fat

However, the movie doesn’t only get a negative F count for its anti-fat messages, but for its blatant appropriation of Asian culture in a way that, you guessed it, perpetuates a number of Asian stereotypes.

As Jennifer at Mixed Race American sarcastically notes:

we need MORE reinforcement of Asian stereotypes, especially those that perpetuate the connection of Asians with Panda bears and martial arts, and DAMN IT, this one has BOTH.

Or, as nickalew writes over at The Asian Code:

First of all, it’s about a panda, which in today’s culture epitomizes oriental (sic) culture. This panda is also named Po (I know, surprisingly not Ling Ling huh?). On top of all this, his family owns a noodle shop (why not a flippin’ dry cleaner for gosh sake). Stereotypical to the max, I’d say. Po is big martial arts fan (because ALL Asians are evidently)

In addition to the stereotypical focus on Kung Fu, panda bears, noodle houses, dragons, and fireworks, the film also manages to appropriate Asian symbols, belief systems, and cultural practices in a way that waters them down into a bland Americanized/Westernized form. The film doesn’t convey anything about the art of Kung Fu or the culture/historical context of the setting – rather its message is “Kung fu is cool and fat is funny! Go fat panda, go!” Like Mulan, which represented Asians as backwards, war-mongering sexist beasts who barter women in a purported message of female empowerment, Kung Fu Panda trades in being ‘pro-Asian’ or ‘multi-cultural’ while being nothing of the sort. I agree with at The Asian Code, who argues “the stereotyping is so completely clear…It may be rated PG ‘for sequences of martial arts action,’ but I’d rate this R, for RACIST.”

Sure, there are the nods to Zen wisdom, but overall the film trades into a facile commodification of Asian culture. By allowing viewers to buy into things they already associate with Asian culture – Kung Fu and pandas – and by doing so in a way that waters each down so they are not even linked to Asian traditions in any relevant way – the film appropriates Asian cultural traditions in order to offer up a very Americanized championing of individualism. This is most evident near the close of the film when Po finds the Dragon Scroll that contains no words but instead reflects the image of whoever is holding it. This personal empowerment message may seem nice for the kiddies (it’s good to believe in yourself), but it also promotes an individualistic credo which is decidedly not in keeping with the supposedly Zen teachings of the film. Further, at the film’s end, the five communal warriors are not part of Po’s battle with Tai Lung – of course not, cuz Po can pull himself up by those Horatio Alger bootstraps and do it all by himself. (For a much better kid-friendly introduction to Zen, see the book Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth.)

Here, as nguirado points out at Asymmetric, the film hits on what he (unsarcastically) deems “perfect marketing”:

What better way to capitalize on a growing Chinese-world marketplace than a story set in uncontroversial ancient China and featuring the one uniquely Chinese export that Westerners love- acrobatic martial arts.

Yes, perfect marketing indeed. Take China and make it into bland Americana, add in some popular Asian-style visual affects and a few nods to anime, throw in Jack Black with a catchy “skadoosh,” keep the fat jokes coming, and hey, presto, you’ve got yourself one heck of a marketable fat-hating Asian-appropriating film!

As for the representation of women in the movie, well, there isn’t one – NOT ONE – key female character. Yes, Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie) is represented as the most skilled warrior, but she (along with the other 4 of the Furious Five) remain decidedly in the background. Besides her and Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu), there are no women. As usual, the animated world is populated almost entirely by males! Further, the Tigress and the Viper play into the Asian female Exotic Dragon Lady type- they are both a bit sinister, a bit dangerous – and, they are both sexualized. Why couldn’t the females have been the monkey or the crane? Guess its harder to sexualize a crane or make a monkey seem sinister. Heck, why didn’t they bring back the ‘We are Siamese’ cats from Lady and the Tramp and go old-school racism?* In comparison to older animated films, Kung Fu Panda is less overtly racist and sexist – it hides these impulses under a glitzy exterior of multi-culturalism and nods to powerful females. Yet, the undercurrents of racism, sexism, and fat-phobia (as well as the pro-individualistic, pro-violence messages) are all the more sinister precisely because they go down so easy. It’s the subtle, gentle way of making audience goers agree with (and laugh at) Others. The film thus successfully serves up subconscious racist, sexist, anti-fat propaganda. And, despite the nods to celebrating diversity (both bodily and culturally) the film actually presents a very American message: If you are fat, you better be funny and if you are Asian, you better know Kung Fu.

*For a great overview of racism in Disney films, see the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly

What if you had to cast your ballot for either the white trollop or the black baby mama?

Well, if you did, you would obviously base your vote on Michelle’s original recipes verses Cindy’s plagiarized ones (cuz cooking is one of the main things women are good for besides opening their legs, popping out babies, and housework).

Or, you might consider their fashion know-how. But, how to weigh up Cindy’s Vogue pose in size zero jeans verses Michelle’s violet sheath dress? As Caren Bohan reports at Yahoo News, Cindy and Michelle are “both known for an elegant sense of style, lending glamour to their husbands’ campaigns.” Well, thank goodness for that. What is more important in a first lady than lending style and glamour to her supportive role as presidential arm candy?

For those of you who like a ‘traditional first lady,’ you may wish to cast your ballot for Cindy, a former rodeo queen and cheerleader who knows how to be properly submissive – or, as Bohan puts it “McCain’s deferential manner puts her in the company of more traditional first ladies such as Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush.” However, if you like good home-cooking alongside your deference, Cindy may not be your choice – at least not if what has been dubbed “Recipgate” is any indication of her cooking know-how. It seems Cindy’s “elegant and healthful offerings” were in fact lifted from the Food Network website. Oh well, should we expect a millionairress to get her nails dirty in the kitchen? Perhaps it should be enough that she is blonde haired and blue eyed (and did not ‘insult’ stay at home mothers as Hillary supposedly did some years ago with her infamous “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas” comment*).

No, Cindy seems to know her place, at least if the Times Online has it right:

Cindy McCain, now 53, claims she has no interest in policy making – “I am not the legislator in this family. He is” – and that she intends to keep busy running her charities and her family’s company.

Ah, thank goodness. Wouldn’t want her pretty little head getting all muddled up in politics. However, you may want to take Cindy’s apparent heavy handedness with the makeup into account before you make your final decision. According to John, she “plaster(s) on the makeup like a trollop.” John also calls her a “cunt,” so, despite her rodeo queen cheerleading looks, she may not be the model first lady after all. (for more on John’s use of the c word, see Jill’s post at feministe “Yes we cunt”)

As for Michelle, well, if you are looking for more of an Eleanor Roosevelt of Rosalynn Carter style first lady, she might be your woman. However, if you like a woman who keeps her mouth shut, Michelle isn’t the lady for you. As the Times Online notes,

At the beginning of the campaign, Michelle Obama had confessed that her husband was a mere mortal with sloppy housekeeping habits who was “stinky and snorey” to cuddle with. Her frank, only half-joking criticism was emasculating, critics said, and she quickly gave up that line.

Friends have told her to tone down her remarks and play up her patriotism, but she has an angular style that is difficult to subdue.

Ugh, difficult to subdue? Doesn’t sound like she deserves to don the Nancy Reagan role.

In all seriousness, the reporting tactics cited above should cause a national gag reflex. How is it that “recipegate” can be news? Who gives a flying fig what recipes these women (or their partners) fancy? Does your lemon shortbread know-how translate into how soon you will bring the troops home? Do those size zero jeans signify your dedication to mitigating world hunger? The stereotypical sexism is abhorrent here, too. When do you ever hear about a candidate’s husband’s cooking acumen or fashion know-how? Bill was perhaps the first male partner to garner so much focus due to his former presidential status. Needless to say, he didn’t do a Vogue photo shoot or wax poetic about his love of baking down-home meals.

In the latest battle of what Maureen Dowd calls “the sulfurous national game of kill the witch,” it seems the media has definitely decided Michelle is the wicked witch and Cindy is, if not the princess, at least the good witch. In fact, the attacks against Michelle are coming so fast and furious that a new blog named Michelle Obama Watch dedicates itself to tracking the media onslaught against her. Unsurprisingly, no such blog is needed for Cindy as she is not only a POWP (person of white privilege), but she is also a ‘properly submissive’ wife (at least according to the media).

Michelle, on the other hand, has opinions and states them. She does not defer to her spouse or act as if he is master of the domain. She is intelligent, erudite, well-spoken, and confident. She is, in other words, human (rather than a mannequin sidekick ala Nancy or a smiling robot ala Laura). Yet, as Cara at the Curvature writes, “Any candidate’s wife who doesn’t stand a polite ten paces behind her husband and keep her mouth shut except to smile gets this sexist shit. When you add race into the mix, it all gets multiplied, and we’re watching it happen right now.” Yes, multiplied into what Angry Black Bitch dubs “Fox baby mama fucktuptitude.” It is apparently ok when Fox calls black women ‘baby mama,’ but the term whitey is somehow deeply offensive. (see Jill’s post at feministe for more on this racist double standard)

In fact, the negative stereotypes surrounding black women are so pervasive that Diary of an Anxious Black Woman suggests Michelle’s dreadful double sin (she is a woman and she is black!) could undermine Obama’s campaign:

Obviously, there seems to be a certain kind of cognitive dissonance that takes place in which black women, regardless of who we are, cannot be separated from the main stereotypes that abound about our bodies. That has been our “burden of representation.” Michelle Obama, an Ivy League graduate, professional lawyer, respectable wife and mother, and potential First Lady, is somehow reduced to the “baby mama”/”video ho” that is currently in heavy rotation and circulation. This image is so thoroughly ingrained in our culture as the antithesis of the “All-American Girl/Woman/Lady” that it really could undermine Obama’s chances at winning the presidency – yes, more undermining than any scary black man image that has been in circulation.

So, it doesn’t matter if Cindy cut and pasted her recipes from the Food Network, it doesn’t matter about her shady tax returns or her practice of stealing drugs from charity. It doesn’t matter she demeans herself by standing by a man who calls her a cunt. What matters is that Michelle has black skin. That, in and of itself, makes her suspect in our white supremacist society.

Moreover, it doesn’t matter what these women have or have not accomplished because in the eyes of the mainstream media, they are suspect merely because they are women. As the sexist onslaught against Hillary made patently clear, our society is far from post-feminist. If our society had taken on the equality messages of feminism, women would not be focused on as the cookie baking wives of candidates (as in Parents magazine’s presidential cookie bake off contests) nor as the witches who shouldn’t be running in the first place.

I still wish I could vote for Elizabeth Edwards, Cynthia McKinney, Maxine Waters, or Cindy Sheehan for president–and I don’t give a flying toss whether they can bake a crunchy oatmeal cookie. I would prefer, however, that they did not wear size zero jeans. (I have a preference that people who eat regularly run the country – food does the brain good — ok, so some brains need more than food to run, but all brains, even those of the very tiny reptilian variety (ala Bush) run better with food).

So, as you go about your daily business of deciding which politicians deserve your vote, I hope you will also make note of (and complain about) the sexist and racist worldview the mainstream media offers you, even if you do like cookie recipes.

What if The San Diego Museum of Man has it right?

So, I should have known given its name that The Museum of Man in Balboa Park would focus only on those with penis privilege. However, I thought maybe, just maybe, it might nod to the fact that history and evolution are not the sole domain of those with XY chromosomes.

While the museum in general acted as if women are just some crazy little blip that don’t matter on an evolutionary scale, the most blatant exhibition of this belief was in the “Footsteps Through Time: Four Million Years of Human Evolution” exhibition. The figures that were supposed to reflect this evolution were all male – apparently the four million years of human history the exhibit documents didn’t involve any women. Silly me – I thought women played a kinda important role in birthing subsequent generations…

In addition to suggesting women don’t matter, the museum also teaches that evolved humans have blue eyes and light hair. In the above-mentioned exhibit, as soon as the Neanderthal looking figures really begin to represent humanoids, their eye color switches from dark brown to blue and the hair and skin both become lighter. Does the museum realize the message this gives – i.e. those with dark eyes, hair, and skin are ‘closer to the apes.’? Talk about museum perpetuated racism.

If the museum has it right, (white) man is the key player in evolution – and man in the sense of male – not as when people pathetically claim that the term man includes women too.

The museum only includes women very rarely – and you guessed it, when women are focused on its pretty much for their wombs only – as in the replicas of different stages of pregnancy (where the female figures have no heads) or as in the pregnant mummy (who is disturbingly in a pose with her hands and feet bound).

Along with this sexist, racist view of history, we also get more messages regarding indigenous people as violent crazies who really got off on human sacrifice. While the museum does include ONE reference to the practices of human sacrifice in Anglo history, it generally promotes the idea we see in films so often – that of the Mel Gibson variety where the crazies in history are inevitably ‘non-white’ and ‘savage.’ The recent Indy film (see my earlier post) was no different in this vein, nor was The Golden Compass. All of these movies and many others play into the idea that ancient, indigenous civilizations are best known for human sacrifice and savagery, rather than for, say, their math wizardry, architectural brilliance, medicinal know-how, or environmentally friendly living.

Ah, Museum of Man, thank you for reminding me how every day, in every way, we are bombarded with messages that suggest males are superior, whites are better, and the ‘white man’ is the true mark of evolved civilization. I would hope that at a museum a more intellectual, nuanced version of humanity might have been put forward. I do realize museums have a long history of stealing cultural artifacts for their own greedy purposes, but I was hoping that as we are now around the bend of the 21st century, that these bastions of culture and history might put a more diverse, equitable spin on things. Alas, at the Cineplex (via Indy 4), at the museum (which, by the way, had a new section devoted to Indy 4 cuz, you know, it’s so true to the history of human cultures), and even in feminist book imagery (It’s A Jungle Out There*), white men are the happening archaeologists, woman are the unimportant sexualized sidekicks, and indigenous people are the savage Others.

*The imagery used in Marcotte’s books created a storm of debate and commentary in the feminist blogosphere and instigated an apology from Marcotte and from Seal Press as well as a call to girlcott Seal from WOC PhD. You can see copies of some of the images in the book here.

Published in: on June 9, 2008 at 2:08 pm  Comments (5)  
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