Category Archives: Femtastic Women

To be a feminist director, you have to not be a feminist

After Kathryn Bigelow’s glass-shattering Oscar win a few weeks ago, there has been endless discussion about the first woman in Oscar history to win best director. Everything from her too “macho” movies to her “willowy” frame, has been discussed, dissected and eventually devoured by feminist writers, anti-feminist writers and writers with out any gender alliance at all.

This Sunday’s NY Times (read here:  featured another glimpse of Bigelow as a female director carefully and skillfully treading the line between empowered Hollywood woman and brilliant gender-neutral director.

Nothing points out this politically daunting feat better than this anecdote about a 60 Minutes interview with Bigelow.

“During the interview Ms. Bigelow explained to the apparently baffled Ms. Stahl [60 minutes interviewer] the meaning of scopophilia, a significant word in feminist film theory, though Ms. Bigelow kept gender out of her definition (“the desire to watch and identify with what you’re watching”). She insisted that there was no difference between what she and a male director might do, even as she also conceded that ‘the journey for women, no matter what venue it is — politics, business, film — it’s, it’s a long journey.’”

While using the language of feminism, Bigelow explains the intricacies of gender in film without offending either male or female audiences. She is able point out obvious inequalities in the film industry, while still making her larger point that audiences want to watch something they identify with whether that is directed by a man or woman.

What the Bigelow’s of this great American art world teach us is that women need to be given free reign to create art without the restrictions of categories and without the obligatory vocabulary of feminism. The art women create should be valued because it is art and beautiful not because it was created by a woman and not because it somehow is a ode to feminism.

We will know that world has changed when a “chick flick,” that is a movie for which female audiences identify, wins an Oscar and nobody even notices if the director is male or female. But as Bigelow so diplomatically says that could be a “long journey.”

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Joyce Carol Oates flouts fiction genres at Literary Lollapalooza

The 14th annual Columbia College’s Story Weeks’ mission is clear: bend the genres, break the rules and tell the best story you can the best way it can be told. No one epitomizes this mission better than pseudonym-toting, genre-denying  Joyce Carol Oates who opened up Story Week, an event fondly known as the Literary Lollapalooza, tonight at the Harold Washington Library.

Oates started the night with a reading of her short story “The Knife,” a tale she told slowly, steadily and calmly juxtaposing the anxious, heart tightening climatic mood of a story of the robbery and rape of a middle class mother. In true Oates’ fashion the story defied traditional labels such as mystery or crime, and brought to light the complexities of the American gender dichotomy. The story compares the woman to the robbers, the weak to the strong, the rationale to the crazy, the small-boned to the big; with every line mixing up what is man or boy, woman or girl.

Harriet, the mother, tries to keep her voice level and calm, telling herself “the men would be impressed by a woman acting so rationale.” And yet even with all the tools of men, even when the 8 inch knife is put into Harriet’s hand, she can not hold onto it and she is raped. Oates manages to take a crime story and turn it into a literary art and a reflection of gender relations today.

After her revealing reading, Oates explained that she writes about her own emotional experience; she writes what she sees and feels in the world. She often writes about “women in peril” because the vulnerability of women in society is intriguing. Oates explained that the vulnerability is different with each generation but it is there. From her generation’s tendency to ignore domestic abuse to the current over-sexualization of teenage girls, Oates understands the struggles facing women and manages to tell their stories in entertaining and enlightening ways.

Although Oates seems to talk in circles around her topic bouncing from her admiration of her grandmother to over use of Ritalin in children today, the small-boned woman always speaks with a steady voice and ends her speech with clear marked understanding of humanity. Oates is an author that flouts fiction genres and asks all of society to do the same.

To check out more FREE literary events this week including at Metro and Small Bar check out:

To learn more about Oates, look her up on Wikipedia as all smart young women do or check out this great, quick Q&A in the  NY Times:

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Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan instruct women to “let pony tails show”

With our new world of shifting borders also comes a new war of border-less front lines and gender-less warriors.

Even though the Marine’s official line is still that women are not allowed into “combat branches” such as the infantry, in Afghanistan every Marine branch from infantry to infirmary has the potential to become a combat zone and every Marine, male or female, is in harm’s way.

For almost nine years, female Marines have been fighting next to their brothers as equals in Iraq and Afghanistan and yet until recently they were treated just another gender-less soldier.

But with a new Marines program called “female engagement teams”, women have been instructed to let their pony tails show and use their gender as a tool of diplomacy. The NY Times ( reported last week on a radical new military strategy that creates groups of female Marines specifically to interact with women in Afghanistan in order to obtain crucial information that groups of male Marines cannot obtain because of cultural restriction.

Female Marines are signing up for the new teams because as Capt. Emily Naslund says, “We know we can make a difference.” The new program is more than just a change in military policy; it is a shift in the view of the role of women in the military and in societies.

The Marines have recognized the power of both women in Afghan society and in their own ranks and after nine years, are starting to utilize that power. Although the results of the new teams have not yet been fully realized, it is clear from the Afghan public that the new teams are welcomed.

According to one Afghan man, “Your men come to fight, but we know the women are here to help.”

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