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I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a while. Even as I sit here now beginning to type, I can feel my stomach tying up in knots. I’ve written at length about my sexual assault on this blog, but most of it has been in relation to some political rant or another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in “the personal is political,” but this is a different type of post here.

I’ve decided to write this post today because the 1-year anniversary of my sexual assault is approaching. And so much has happened and changed in the past year. The truth is, though, it’s all been for the better. If you had told that to myself in October, 2010, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was at the lowest low in my life. The fact of the matter is, when a sexual assault happens to you, it’s like a domino effect of your entire world being shattered. It’s not just the assault–it’s the way others treat you because of it (no wonder so many choose to stay silent). My assailant was my best friend and a collaborator. I lost all of our mutual friends. I broke up with my boyfriend despite him being my biggest support system, because I couldn’t fathom the idea of being romantic with anyone ever again. I barely had the strength to go to school and complete my homework, despite my being just a few credits away from graduation. Literally, my entire world had been shattered.

And the assault couldn’t have come at a stranger time in my life, either. I had just gotten back from New York City a few hours before, where I’d seen my all-time favorite band, Pavement, perform the last leg of their reunion tour from the front row in Central Park (which, at that time, was probably #1 on my list of coolest experiences). I was set to perform in The Encyclopedia Show, one of the world’s (let’s be honest, probably the only) fastest-spreading literary variety shows, in the coming days, and I’d just finished writing the perfect poem on my topic: somewhat ironically given the events to come, “Bare Naked.” The same night I got back, I jet-laggedly rushed to meet up with my musician to show him the piece and finish writing the song–after all, the performance was just in a few days. When he offered me an adderall, I accepted, even though I’d never tried it before and had no idea what to anticipate, because I wanted to stay up all night to perfect the piece. How could I have known his intention would be to wait until I passed out, drugged out of my mind, and take advantage of me?

It was a Friday night. The show was on Tuesday. I won’t focus on the event of the assault here, because that’s not what’s important. What is important to me, today, is that I decided to do go through with the performance. Despite the fact that I had spent all weekend in a hospital room getting a rape kit done and talking to various authorities about the event, despite the fact that for at least an entire month after the event I was so depressed I literally did not get out of bed, I had to make a decision about what was important to me. And that decision was whether or not I would let my assailant take away an important opportunity in my life, or be strong, and find a way to perform my piece without the way I had practiced and prepared it with the man who had taken advantage of me. I asked my sister, a musician, to help me, and we came up with something the night before the show.

It’s strange for me to watch this video. The trembling in my hands and legs, the sadness in my eyes, seems all so obvious to me, although there were only a few people in the room who knew what had happened. I remember the moments while reciting that poem when my mind would wander back to what had happened to me just a few nights before–and I remember pushing those thoughts away to stay focused on my performance. There were several moments when I almost started crying, and didn’t. And in the end, when I crack a smile and look back at my sister, who smiles back at me–I can see the shared moment of trust and triumph. Needless to say, I feel very blessed to have this video as a relic of this small victory.

What’s more, this performance was a very important moment in my life for another reason–not that I knew it at the time. Like I previously mentioned, I lost all of my close friends in the wake of my assault. But today, I have something even more valuable–my sister, the people in the room, the poets who performed and came out to support me, would come to be my lifeline in the coming months, although they would be almost completely oblivious to it. Who would have thought that something like a sexual assault and the loss of all my close friendships would come to be the event that propelled me forward in my passion? Who would have thought that the utter despair and loneliness I experienced would send me somewhere completely unexpected, into a poetic community, that would welcome me with open arms and a type of love and understanding that I would never have to question or doubt?

There was another moment that came a little later that was very important in my recovery as well. Like I said, I spent literally months so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. Then, one day, instead of choosing to do nothing about my emotions, I decided to write a poem. I’ve often said that I write a poem when I feel so much of a certain way that I can’t do anything else–this was precisely the moment when that first happened. I wrote a poem that contained all of my sadness and struggle from the past year. I made all of my emotions small enough to be contained in letters on a page. And then, a few months later, I performed again, in the Louder Than A Bomb College Indy Slam.

To be honest, I didn’t score that well in the slam (well, in my opinion–my goal was to win the whole thing of course). I was more interested in getting involved in LTAB for the opportunities to work with high school poets than to compete. I’ll be the first to admit that my competitive side isn’t pretty, and I’m a pretty sore loser. I cried a lot after the competition. But getting on stage and sharing a poem I’d worked so hard on, both in terms of literariness and performance, was incredibly important to me. As Robbie Q. Telfer, the co-founder of the aforementioned Encyclopedia Show and director of LTAB, says frequently: “The point is not the points, the point in the poetry.” And although I didn’t know it at the time, and certainly wouldn’t try to perform that poem again, opening up about my experience to a room full of strangers, unafraid of their judgment, was a profoundly empowering experience, and one that’s propelled me forward in the aftermath.

I’ll get to the point, here. A year ago, I was a senior in college, the president of a student poetry organization, oblivious to the fact that school was going to be over soon and I’d have to figure out how to make this whole “being a career poet” thing work. My priorities lied in getting drunk with my friends and having a boyfriend at all times. Of course poetry was important to me–it always has been–but it wasn’t my life. And for most people, it probably shouldn’t be their life. After all, everything I’m trying to say is that it took a life-changing, post traumatic stress-inducing event for me to get to that point.

But that’s not it, exactly. Yes, I threw myself into my poetry as a way to get my mind off of what had happened. But I did something else, too–I threw myself into the community here in Chicago as well. I surrounded myself with people who were poets, a couple of whom were my age and had merely been friends through association, who now are my very best friends in the entire world and have my back in a way no friend has ever had before. What’s more is that the poetry community in Chicago is a very special place where things like sexism, ableism, homophobia, and the rest won’t fly or get politely golf-clapped off stage when performed (unlike in New York where I watched a guy perform a poem about how “all women are whores” and “gay marriage isn’t in the Bible” get wild applause at the Nuyorican Cafe). I’ve become more than just a poet, but an organizer–someone who has given back to the community a hundred fold what it’s given to me–because I wanted to surround myself with intelligent people who had the strength to share their pain the way I did, but also the strength to just keep trying to be better. I think about the people who have become important in my life in the past year and scoff at what was important to me a year ago–people who held me back and distracted me from my dreams.

It’s weird how, a year later, I can look back at something like my own sexual assault and subsequent depression and see it as such a valuable and life-changing experience. I can’t say I wouldn’t have found my way to the 24/7 poetry lifestyle if it weren’t for my assault, but I do know that my life would be profoundly different. I wouldn’t have the good, supportive friends I do if I didn’t have a good reason to forget about the old ones. I wouldn’t have had the balls to compete in a slam if I didn’t write a poem that I thought was good enough for it. My life and work as an artist has taken a dramatically different turn–from organizing SlutWalk Chicago to having the opportunity to work with some of my most idolized poets–if I hadn’t had the hard life experience to propel me in that direction. And I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to speak out about my own experience and help others who are going through similar situations if I hadn’t lived it.

So, here’s a final video: me, today, performing a new poem that addresses my beliefs as a feminist in a different way than the videos above. I wouldn’t have had the strength to do this, either, if I hadn’t let go of the pain that haunted me for so long.

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I’m lucky to live in the wonderful city of Chicago. It’s my favorite place to live, my adopted hometown, and an important city for poets as the hometown to the Poetry Slam. Recently I traveled to New York and took part in the slam at the world-famous Nuyorican Cafe (the former home to Def Poetry Jam) and noticed a key difference between their scene and ours–feminist poetry was pretty much non-existent, and in fact some openly misogynistic poems scored pretty well. Meanwhile, in Chicago feminist poems are prevalent at pretty much any poetry slam, and often come from unexpected sources.

I like the Chicago poetry scene because political poems are encouraged to be shared from all prospectives, even when it’s a white woman talking about race issues or a black man talking about domestic violence. I’d like to share some of my favorite poems about issues of gender, empowerment, and female oppression that belong to big-time poets and newcomers from the Chicago area. Watch the videos to let the poems speak for themselves, and then let me know what you think.

1. Tony Denis, “Mothers”

One of the few poems that’s made me cry, read by a classmate of mine at Columbia College. He got a perfect score in the slam but, in turn, got slammed by the time restraint (still placing fourth overall despite the 4 point deduction). It still remains a memorable poem, and I was impressed by the insight and empathy young Tony demonstrated. Mothers are understated heroes and I admire that he made an attempt to pay his dues with this poem.

2. J. W. Baz, “Anointing the Hand”

This poem is a poignant statement on what could be called “masculinism” but is nevertheless important in the context of a larger discussion on gender and violence. Baz is a former Def Poet who slams Hillary Clinton (rightfully so) for being old money and equating soldiers to barbarians. I like this poem because as a feminist, it’s easy to forget the everyday struggles that people face other than women, and this poem totally made me see the world differently.

3. Robbie Q. Telfer, “2002 Silver Chevy Cavalier”

Okay, so, this is a feminist poem, huh? Well, maybe not. But I still love it for its hilarious satire of manliness equating to how many “bitches” you fuck and how nice your car is. Robbie Q. is probably my favorite poet, not just for his mad skillz, but also because he’s made a career working with at-risk youths through his efforts with Young Chicago Authors. Respect.

4. Marty McConnell & Tristian Silverman, “The Female Body”

My favorite poetry power couple. I loved them both separately before realizing they were dating, and had the pleasure of hearing them perform this piece in person during class called Queer Poetry. They both are stellar poets apart from each other who are perfect examples of “the personal is political” without being boring, overstated, or pretentious, using their personal stories as vessels for a range of topics from confused sexuality to checking their own privilege. They never isolate anyone with their poems. I think in the context of that conversation, this poem largely speaks for itself, and I like the juxtaposition between Marty’s rambling definition of “the female body” and Tristian’s nervous apprehension when seeing a naked lover for the first time.

5. Andi Kauth, “Orchestra of Bones”

Andi is another old classmate of mine from Columbia who has recently propelled herself to National acclaim as a slam poet (go girl!). This is her signature poem and for good reason–it addresses issues of body image and self-esteem in a completely original way, one that takes gigantic risks through exposing the ways bulimia had failed her and the way the bodies of starving people are commoditized through photographs. It’s a controversial favorite, but one has to admire the fact that she was willing to share her very human story and prospective, even when unflattering, on a national stage.

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Black Swan is summing up to be one of the most controversial Oscar-hopefuls of the season.  There seems to be a strict divide on audiences’ opinions; “Either you view it as a flawed, gritty take on the rigors of ballet and how they affect this particular character, or you choose to view it as a Freudian nightmare of a woman contending with her repressed sexuality with the world of ballet serving simply as a backdrop.” Being the savvy peruser of all media on the internet, I found a DVD screener of the film and was able to watch it twice; the first try, I was unimpressed.  Natalie Portman’s performance was reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s superior portrayal of the damaged yet talented beauty throughout her career, but days later my mind was still reeling, dissecting the film, so I decided to watch it again. The second time around, I had the completely opposite reaction–I was moved to tears, feeling a deep sense of empathy and understanding for the protagonist Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman).  I definitely feel that it’s a film that haunts you, and it hits on a type of suffering that is very universal for women or artists (of which I am both), if you’re watching it in the right frame of mind.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against the film’s perceived originality.  The psychological thriller is not a new genre, and in many ways Black Swan isn’t doing anything to its audiences that wasn’t done in Sixth Sense; its ambiguity is a bit frustrating in the context of its intense portrayal of female sexuality, more openly Freudian than Hitchcock’s best works.  It is clear at every moment that you’re watching a film written, directed, and produced from a male prospective, even down to the lesbian wet dreams and feminine sexual rivalry.  It’s perhaps the most open attempt at examining the male/female unconscious but it’s a Hollywood film that’s made over $60 million dollars.  With that in mind, Black Swan is not going to find a place among the great works of feminist cinema.

So it’s not the most groundbreaking film.  Compared to Darren Aronofsky’s other films, it’s not as original, nor does it offer an untold story as his other works (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, Pi).  In fact, unlike his other works, Black Swan is a contemporary idiom on the story of Swan Lake–all the aspects of the original story are, in essence, borrowed from an early reference.  However, the film is still ambitious, relevant, even important as a testimonial to gender politics in post-modern cinema, if you’re willing to take the over-all ambivalent nature of the film with the highest expectations, placing a responsibility on the production values and semiotics in the visual aspects of the film.  That is to say, if you’re a person who is willing to see the film as the product of vision and struggle, rather than another voice yammering on in some conversation of what a man thinks it means to be a woman, you’re probably on the pro-Black Swan team.

For me, the beauty in watching Black Swan was knowing that all of the struggles of Nina Sayers were being felt by Natalie Portman through her preparation and portrayal of the role.  When Toma (Vincent Cassel) grabbed Nina’s face and shoved his tongue down her throat, the sexual aggression Portman had to endure in order to be professional was very real.  Although Portman is a trained ballet dancer, she spent a year preparing physically; Portman used the real, physical pain she felt as fuel into the psychological mindset of a prima ballerina, her stage being the silver screen rather than Lincoln Center.  Turns out Portman’s real life mother had some similarities with Nina’s as well: “She was always worried and scared about me working, asking me, ‘Do you really want to do that?’ And I would beg and cry and plead, but both my parents were very protective in not wanting me to act that much…. but she wasn’t a pushy mother at all.” The symbolic ending of the film added what I felt was a poignant statement on what it means to be an artist, visually portraying the physical manifestations of suffering one must endure through their bodies and minds in order to fulfill their purpose.

I thought the intense focus on the body that came with such a film was a greatly understated aspect.  Dance is the art of controlling one’s body, and I thought this played out in a very complimentary way in terms of this film being a product of post-modernism.  There is, again, the aspect of the interdisciplinary genre work–the fact that the actresses were all trained dancers, and also Clint Manswell’s reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky’s original Swan Lake score in order to create a new relationship between the choreography and cinematography.  But the other connection is one between female sexuality and the relationship with one’s body–at every turn, Nina’s body is rebelling against her, even to the point of psychosis.  This metaphor was perhaps a bit too obvious for most women, especially combined with all the prevalent bitchy dancer stereotypes that hinder Nina’s relationships with every woman she interacts with.  There’s also the fact that the famous French choreographer, Toma, was a huge pervert, with not even especially good pick-up lines, who basically gets away with sexually inappropriate relationships with his dancers because he’s just that good-looking and brilliant.  Not anything redeeming about that character, but, hey, maybe that was the point.

In the end, I liked Black Swan because I felt it was a film I could relate to.  I interpreted a lot of the more “ambiguous” parts of the film to be the product of Nina’s psychosis, which I think speaks to all artists who have ever struggled with mental illness or depression. The gender dynamics of the film didn’t offend me because I took them as a critique.  I came to accept the film’s similarities to previous works because of its success of reintroducing concepts that seldom seem to come out of Hollywood these days.  I related both the character Nina and the actress Natalie Portman’s process to writing a poem, and using your art to manifest all of the demons inside of you.  And I’d definitely recommend it to anyone prepared to stomach such a work. Like I said, there’s DVD screeners floating around on the internet, so take a look, and let me know if you think the film deserves any Oscars.

Or, just watch Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Black Swan on Saturday Night Live to get the gist of it all.

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On September 25, 2010, I was raped.

There. I said it. So what? Well, I really haven’t spoken much about the experience since it happened. Because I’m knowledgeable about issues of violence against women, I knew exactly what to do in this instance. I called a crisis hotline to calm me down and give me advice. Then I went to the emergency room and did a rape kit. I spoke to an advocate at the hospital who further helped to calm me. I was required to file a police report; a week later, after much deliberation on my part, I decided to go ahead and press charges against my perpetrator. I sought out free counseling at my school, and when that wasn’t enough, I started seeing a counselor at Rape Victim Advocates. I told those who were closest to me about what had happened. But still, despite the existence of this blog and the fact that there is very little about my personal life that’s off-limits in terms of discussion, it’s been excruciatingly difficult for me to speak about the experience. The only thing more painful than my own experience is the fact that once I did open up to people and talk about what had happened to me, so many women I spoke to in private in turn confided in me about their own experience with sexual assault. However, although they all recognized what had happened to them as non-consensual sex, none of them were able to use the word “rape” to describe what had happened to them, in part because of trying to repress the memories surrounding the event, but also because of the blame they had placed on themselves for not being able to stop it.

Let’s back track a little bit. In my first semester of college, I took a little class called “Service Learning: Women’s Issues.” I didn’t know exactly what the class entailed, but already being a raging self-proclaimed radical feminist at the time, I signed up. The class, taught by Michelle Sayset, a wonderful woman who deserves more credit for all the work she has done with students and survivors, focused specifically on educating us about rape and domestic violence through direct action in protest and volunteer work, reading and critical responses, class discussion, and lectures given by guest speakers. It was there that I learned about the sobering statistics surrounding rape, as well as what to do in situations where you or a loved one have been assaulted. In a world where college women are 25% more likely to be victims of sexual assault, the importance of such a class is not to be understated.

The semester culminated in facilitating The Clothesline Project along with featuring student performers. It was at this event, more than three years ago, that I met my perpetrator, who was bandmates with a classmate I had befriended and would come to be a part of a large group of friends who I’ve subsequently all lost in the aftermath of the assault. He came to be my best friend, my confidant, my collaborator in terms of my art work, before he drugged me and took advantage of me while in a semi-unconscious state. If the fact that someone who had enough insight to speak out against rape would also have the balls to do it themselves wasn’t enough of a unpredictable twist in the epic of my life, I was coincidentally wearing a free t-shirt I had gotten through doing volunteer work with a women’s shelter as part of the class at the time of my assault. So, last week, when someone from this semester’s class stopped by my student poetry organization’s meeting to invite us all to read at The Clothesline Project’s open mic, I had a feeling of my experience coming full circle. I made the decision to get up in front of a room full of people–some strangers, some colleagues–and speak about my experience through my poetry and through discussion, not only because I felt it was an opportunity to exemplify how to combine the knowledge gained from the class with artistic craft to a room full of art students, but because I felt it was necessary in the process of healing myself.

(Here is a video of an older version of the poem I read; you can read the version from the event here.)

Although I was personally motivated in my performance, something happened after the event that had already occurred too many times–someone I had known for several years opened up to me about her own experience with rape. Apparently she had never thought of what had happened to her as an assault; her perpetrator was her then-boyfriend who was sleeping next to her. And apparently, like all the other women who had opened up to me, she had never considered it as rape because she blamed herself for not stopping it. I had, apparently, inadvertently lifted the blame from herself by recognizing my own experience as rape. As with all the other women I had confided in privately about my experience who in turn shared their stories with me, she didn’t use the term “rape” to describe what had happened to her–and who am I to label her experience–but the fact that I could take my traumatic experience and use it to help someone else somehow has made everything I’ve gone through (which, believe me, could be an entire blog in and of itself) completely worth it.

I can’t say that everyone who has ever been raped should speak to a room full of strangers about their personal experience. Doing so doesn’t necessarily exemplify strength or help in the healing process of such an experience, as it did for me. But I will say this: because I mustered up the courage to speak about what had happened to me in a safe space, I felt a huge sense of fulfillment. Using my experience and my art to reach out to people, and, hopefully, help them, while in turn helping myself, made me feel that some justice had been served. The legal process of prosecuting someone for rape is a strenuous thing (something that’s all-too topical given the charges surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange)–I’ve made almost no process in my own case, and even if my perpetrator is behind bars, it won’t undo the damage that has already been done. We can, however–as survivors, as women, as people who feel the need to do something about it–speak out about these issues and educate men and women as a form of prevention against rape. Although these issues are something I’ve come to know all too well, unfortunately most people don’t realize how common place rape is. Not all men recognize their actions as rape even when it’s clear to the victim, and not all victims know not to internalize their blame. As I already mentioned, being educated about what to do when it came time to deal with being raped myself has helped a lot. Unfortunately none of the women who had confided in me were provided that privilege.

This blog post is a call to action. Whatever you know of rape, whatever you are comfortable speaking about, and whatever you can say without causing harm to victims, say it. Say it publicly outloud. Tweet about it or update your facebook status. Start a discussion at your school, workplace, or among friends. Do what I did and blog about it. You can’t always be there to physically intervene and prevent a rape from taking place, but you can raise awareness about the issues surrounding rape. You never know whose life you’ll be changing.

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My good friend Amelia recently wrote a post on how she became a feminist where she gave me more credit than was due for enlightening her to the meaning of the word back in high school. I feel kinda silly that she’d so specifically attribute me in her experience because, unlike me, she can date her realization that women are equal to men to a specific moment when she was very young. But the fact of the matter is, unlike Amelia, who clued in to gender equality at the ripe age of 6, my feminist identity was more the result of teenage angst and rebellion than anything else.

Like Amelia, I also remember the specific moment when gender equality entered my mind, setting into motion my thirst for feminist fury, but it came much later and started an avalanche of enlightenment that would make me into the green-haired, pot-smoking, self-proclaimed “poet anarchist” I developed into my senior year of high school (you know, the person in that little picture on the top of the page). I had a very traditional Catholic upbringing, which was just oodles of fun. My mother was a stay-at-home mom until I was 12, at which point my white-collar father decided to move into a bigger, nicer house that required her to get a job. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my mom was being subjected to a type of new oppression for women in the post-second wave America. She had to work just as many hours as my dad, but get paid less, at a less prestigious job, and then come home and keep house just the way she used to when she was unemployed, while caring for two adolescent daughters and an overgrown baby of a husband. In addition to all that, she continued to teach private music lessons as a way to stay connected with her passion in life. I remember most days when I’d come home from school, my mom would be with a student while periodically checking on whatever was on the stove. I never thought twice about how no matter how much my mom slaved for her family, my dad expected even more from her. In the world of Catholic Conservatives, that’s just the way the world works.

Like my good friend, my feminist enlightenment was also set into motion by one simple comment that blew the top off my head. One night, at dinner, my dad made a snide comment. He was upset that my mom never had dinner on the table when he got home from work because she was busy with lessons. He went on and on about how my great-grandmother would cook her husband eggs over-easy every morning and have a warm meal waiting for him when he got home each night. I remember him saying, “I thought I had a wife to come home to take care of me.” This type of rude conversation was pretty normal for the average Sutton-family dinner, but this night was different, because my older sister, an unabashed daddy’s girl, decided to speak up: “That’s chauvinist.”

I had never heard the word before and timidly asked what it meant. My sister went on to explain how women were exploited: they were expected to be beautiful and successful in competition with males, yet also rear children and keep house. Women were expected not only to adhere to traditional standards, yet also strive for success in a contemporary world. My dad was silenced, and my mind was completely blown. I remember posting about the event on my online journal, misspelling “shovenist” and being corrected by a friend. But at that point, I had found a new way to look at my strained relationship with my father: he disrespected women–he was sexist.

Unfortunately my sister’s outspoken attitude did not change my parents relationship. My mom filed for divorce earlier this year after my dad began a slew of affairs with women he met online who look creepily like a younger version of his mom. He once again cited wanting the envisionment of society’s perfect woman for his immature and inconsiderate actions–someone with good looks, prestige, and a paycheck that competes with his own. Not surprisingly, his quest for love continues, as women of that caliber are not only very rare, but dislike putting up with childish bullshit. Meanwhile, my mom has become the embodiment of a woman in charge of her own life: she’s bought her own home, continues to work–now getting paid more in a better position–and teach flute lessons, and has reconnected with old friends from college.

There were other factors that contributed to my coming-of-age as a feminist; mainly the efforts of my old high school’s social worker who gave an after-school lecture my freshmen year about body image issues that was surprisingly well attended. It was there that I first learned what it means to be a feminist, and knew I was one: it’s simple, if you believe in equal rights for men and women, you’re a feminist. End of story. Whether or not you’re an unaware douchebag is irrelevant, especially considering the fact that there are so many different sects of feminism that completely oppose each other in sub-beliefs.

I also have to give credit to the online community, because without people on online forums and livejournal communities continuously calling me out on my privileged brat douchebaggery, I would have never realized I had engrained attitudes that were racist, homophobic, or classist. It’s also because of the online community that I became enraptured by the abortion debate, declaring myself as pro-choice at the age of 14. “I hate babies and don’t give a fuck what other people do with their bodies” was my logic before my argument became much more complex and personal.

How did I become a feminist? Clearly the answer is complex, and still developing. As a white upper-class woman I recognize that there are many flaws in my outlook and experience; my beliefs are constantly changing based on continuing realizations of how I’ve been benefitted and disadvantaged just for being white and female. To be honest, I’ve changed a lot as a feminist as well; I no longer use the term as a blanket statement to describe my political beliefs because I also strongly believe in ending oppression for racial minorities and the working class. Nevertheless, I think it’s important for girls to become familiar with feminism at a young age in order to combat all the confusion thrust upon them, and if anyone asks, I will defend the “f-word” to the grave.

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This essay offers both a introductory explanation of the male gaze & its value in analyzing film as a mass media as well as a critique on representations of women in Quentin Tarantino’s work.

Creativity is inherently linked to how our brains function. In order to participate in creative expression, one must exercise divergent thinking, or “the ability to produce multiple ideas, answers, or solutions to a problem for which there is no agreed-on solution,” and not just convergent thinking, or conventional intelligence problem solving in a logical way. Further, through analyzing art, one has the opportunity to examine and interpret an artistic thought process. Some psychologists applied theory to this analysis, such as Freud, who considered narrative incarnations (or unconscious phantasies) as an integral part of the unconscious. In theory, one “must believe that he or she has created the object that he or she discovers. Failure to have done so results in trauma” (Grotstein 193). This idea implies that manifestation of phantasies in art would reflect unconscious desires or perceptions at some level of analysis.

Psychoanalysis proposes that creativity is the result of unconscious drives. In acting out unconscious drives, one is expressing repressed desires stemming from an unsatisfactory reality. These feelings can be the result of perceived inadequacies, biological drives, or social pressures. Ultimately these phantasies exist to fulfill the ego. “Theorists in the Freudian school have built further on the premise that creativity is part of the mental functioning operative in the id; i.e., the individual uses it to seek pleasure and avoid pain” (Vantage). Freud paid specific attention to the influence of gender and sex to the influence of personality; he believed it to be intimately related with defense mechanisms in maintaining self-esteem. In his systems of personality Freud believed the id, ego, and superego—the three components of self-image and perception—to be the results of pleasure-seeking drives (the pleasure principal), conscious rationality (reality principal), and moral influence (ego ideal), respectively. In this way, our unconscious phantasies are influenced by both hidden sexual drives and social reinforcement of expectant or exceptional behavior.

In theory, self-expression often reflects these personality components and unconscious views. As a result, analysis of creative works often relies on interpreting an individual’s ego, as well as the collective unconscious. Works of art often reflect both an individual’s repressed desires, as well as social ideas of good behavior. When analyzing mass media—such as television, magazines, and film—a broader consideration to cultural inclinations is taken into account. Mediums such as film, especially when the product of big studios, place a greater importance on superego in order to have the broadest appeal (and make the most profit). Auteurs of the film industry—such as Hitchcock, Felini, and Tarantino—often embody the most primal and persistent social drives in their work while achieving a vision of great personal influence. Such individual influences have shaped the medium of film and how audiences perceive it. By observing visual media, one has the potential to acquire the creative identity of the minds behind it.

In her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey approaches this psychological phenomenon through the concept of the “male gaze.” The male gaze is the theory that in observing film, audiences acquire a heterosexual male point of view wherein female characters are always passive while being actively observed. This is the result of both the reflection of an industry of male-dominated creators as well as cinematographic techniques that construct the camera lens as a masculine eye. Because of the acquiring of identity through observing a film, the position of the woman helps to form what Mulvey calls the “patriarchal unconscious” (28): “Her meaning in the process is at an end, it does not last into the world of law and language except as a memory … Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of a woman still tied to her place as a bearer of meaning, not a maker of meaning.” In terms of film, a woman represents symbolically the fears and desires of the male creator—usually through visual or linguistic command rather than subtext—instead of her own unique meaning as a representation. She is the both product and representation of the male unconscious, mimicking the pressures women feel in the real world to uphold male standards.

Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze is one of the most interesting analyses of Freudian desire because rather than pure psychoanalysis of a subject, it analyzes specific visual examples in addition to context; in other words, film aesthetics become a manifestation of the unconscious in a way verbal self-insight cannot obtain. Further, because the behavioral glance is rooted in the id and superego, as well as the collective unconscious, the theory provides valuable insight to identity on a micro and macro scale. Common shots that are concrete examples of the male gaze include medium close-up shots of women from over a male’s shoulder (opposed to close-ups of a male’s face from straight on or extreme angles), shots that pan and linger on a woman’s form (opposed to shots of a male that do not pan and show his full body), as well as scenes that frequently occur which show a man actively observing a passive woman. This last type of aesthetic was common in Hitchcock’s work, which was at its peak of popularity in the 70’s at the time of Mulvey’s essay, and which openly incorporated Freud’s theories of personality. One film in particular, Vertigo, about a man who falls in love with a woman he’s been hired to spy on, offers perhaps the most explicit example of the male gaze. “[The protagonist] Scottie’s voyeurism is blatant: he falls in love with a woman he follows and spies on without speaking to. His sadistic side is equally blatant: he has [freely] chosen . . . to become a police man, with all the attendant possibilities of pursuit and investigation. As a result he follows, watches, and falls in love with a perfect image of female beauty and mystery” (37). Beneath the purely voyeuristic behavior portrayed lies a further critique on identity; as Scottie observes Judy—a woman from Kansas pretending to be his employer’s wife—she takes on the identity of Madeleine, who has become a ghost twofold. In this way, Scottie has fallen in love with someone completely unobtainable because of deception initiated by a man and carried out by a subservient woman. This exemplifies male feelings of victimization rooted in unconscious inadequacies, i.e., Scottie’s inability to save Madeleine from her false suicide and therefore losing his fabricated vision of love forever to his male employer; his drive to keep her alive by searching for Madeleine destroys his reality when he succeeds by finding Judy and discovering that he’s been set-up.

At the time of Mulvey’s essay, alternative cinema, which she recognized for its importance in opposing patriarchal views, was still at its on-set in comparison to its popularity today. Fearing the influence of the male gaze in Hollywood film, she directly called upon alternative filmmakers to use opposition as the pivotal meaning of their works. Although alternative cinema has come to influence mainstream film, the male gaze is still prevalent in visual aesthetics, if not as obvious as in Hitchcock’s openly Freudian works. One filmmaker today who represents both the subversive appeal of alt film and the superego of the patriarchal society is Quentin Tarantino. His films are perhaps the most fantastically violent to ever come out of mainstream Hollywood cinema, and he often portrays females as active characters participating in the normally exclusively male battles, such as in his short film with Lady Gaga, Telephone, which portrays all-female characters in a normally male archetype: as prison inmates escaping from the law. However, despite females being represented as active characters in this film and others, they are still presented under the scope of the heterosexual eye and are intended to be observed rather than relatable. Tarantino compensates for his masculine representations by creating hyper-sexualized female characters.

In Planet Terror, his own wife, Rose McGowen, portrays the epitome of this restitution; the opening credit sequence shows her go-go dancing provocatively from the prospective of the audience. Later, she loses one of her legs from the knee down and can no longer dance; she then completes her now-damaged body using a gun as a peg leg, her provocative dance moves now utilized to slay the enemy. Her representation is not to be mistaken with that of an empowered woman; she does not transcend notions of a desirable woman in the unconscious male mind and the superego of the patriarchy. As a professional exotic dancer, her strengths lie in her willingness to be observed for sexual pleasure. This is at the heart of how she is aesthetically represented as a manifestation of desire and obtainability.

Between the polarization of representations of women in Hitchcock and Tarantino’s films, which can essentially be reduced to the unobtainable versus the obtainable, a broad spectrum of the ideal woman from both the heterosexual male and broader patriarchal unconscious point of view is illuminated. In Mulvey’s application of Freudian theory to film, these images arise from inadequacies in a masculine unconscious, and an attempt to make reality more enjoyable by constructing a phantasy that sympathizes with these desires. “The image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man takes the argument a step further into the structure of representation, adding a further layer demanded by the ideology of the patriarchal order as it is worked out in its favorite cinematic form—illusionistic narrative film” (38). While films may no longer be purely a manifestation of heterosexual male’s point of view, because they must have a broad moral appeal, they are subservient to distinctive social standards that persist in a patriarchal society; because they exist to make reality more enjoyable, they must appeal to unconscious desires on an individual level. In this way, passive—or aesthetically pleasing, observable women—are still highly prevalent in film and video, and reflect the position of women in a patriarchal society. Although alternative cinema has called these images into question, mainstream cinema reinforces it, even when redefining aesthetics to a socially progressive audience. In this way, the objectification of women persists on both an individual and mass level of unconsciousness.

Works Cited
1. Grotstein, James. “The Overarching Role of Unconscious Phantasy.” Psychoanalytic Inquiry 28.2 (2008): 190-205.
2. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Issues in Feminist Film Criticism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1990. 28-40. Print.
3. Vantage. “Comparative Theories.” Vantage Quest for Creativity and Personal Transformation. Web. .
4. Wood, Samuel E., Ellen R. Green. Wood, and Denise Roberts. Boyd. The World of Psychology. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007. Print.

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I’ve been successfully avoiding Lady Gaga for years now and it’s worked out pretty great. I tend not to pay attention to pop stars until they reach their trainwreck stage. However, tonight, a shocking twist in the Gaga epic took place when my facebook newsfeed informed me that several formerly proclaimed die-hard fans were recounting their fandom on account of her leaked video featuring Beyonce. So, I decided to take a peak at what the fuck exactly is this “pop-culture art” trend I’ve been hearing so many people condescendingly circle jerk has been about all this time.

The comparison of Gaga to Britney and Madonna has seemed obvious to me. What I don’t understand is how people can mistake Gaga for a great thinker in terms of art. Sure, she’s a legitimate artist–the same way Billy Ray Cyrus is a legitimate artist. Her music and image is a cultural commodity–she was signed to a sub-label of Universal not three years ago, and was launched into fame by Akon. Next thing you know, she’s playing a major stage at Lollapalooza, and the rest is history. I recognize some fans might not consider Gaga’s latest video to be her best, it’s still drawn out, exaggerated, and hypersexual. It’s I really don’t see how it’s much different from any of the other mainstream pop videos whose popularity essentially hinges on selling its female star as a sex object. At the same time, Gaga exploits her audience under the premise of “advancing art” and has even become a political speaker. Gaga definitely isn’t making art for art’s sake, and to perpetuate her impression that she is is sheer stupidity. Gaga is acting on the behalf of the major record labels that make money for her, and the “spectacle” is feeding a million-dollar industry.

I first heard about Gaga in my intro to gender studies class when my teacher read us an interview in which Gaga disowned feminism while simultaneously claiming to be fighting against sexist double-standards within the music industry:

G: You see, if I was a guy, and I was sitting her with a cigarette in my hand, grabbing my crotch and talking about how I make music ’cause I love fast cars and fucking girls, you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and in my videos, because I’m a female, because I make pop music, you’re judgmental, and you say that it is distracting. I’m just a rock star.

I: Are you also a feminist?

G: I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…

Apparently Gaga likes to buy into the stereotype that feminism=manhatingism, and although she claims to be at least as ballsy as a shallow, groin-scratching male, she’s not man enough to stop spreading ignorance of the political opinions she claims to believe in. Throughout her career, Gaga has gone back and forth on where she stands with the ‘f’ word. What’s puzzled me this whole time is how Gaga, in addition to being the latest thin, blonde, half-naked super star, has come to be seen as a leader within the LGBTQ. In this same interview two years ago, she speaks revealingly as to her appeal to the gay community:

G: I’ve got three #1 records and I’ve sold almost 4 million albums world wide.

I: So what’s the biggest [thrill] of your career so far?

G: The gay community.

I: Why?

G: ‘Cause I love em so much. ‘Cause they don’t ask me questions like that. ‘Cause they love sexual strong women who speak their mind.

Gaga recognizes that her most loyal fans are members of the gay community, and in this strange political climate, apparently that means she has a right to claim she’s a leading voice within that political sector–even though the LGBTQ and feminists have worked together for decades.

You know who else the gay community loves? Britney Spears and Madonna. Britney Spears and Madonna even made out one time, you know, just for their gay fans, right? It seems to me Lady Gaga–who is an open bisexual–is no more a gay rights activist than either of the former Queens of Pop. Further, if she’s so gung-ho about supporting the gay community, why is she so apprehensive about being an open feminist? I guess I just don’t see how Lady Gaga has really changed anything in the mainstream music industry.

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