What we’re reading: The Handmaid’s Tale, Black feminism, and gender

“reflections on writing ‘self’…while free-falling through words and memories” by @MaraiLarasi

 … I write all the time, but rarely in this way. I write constantly in my work. I write because it’s what I do. I do Black-Feminist ending violence work…and it requires that I write…and my activism, my work, my job…all rest within a space of navigating, challenging and dismantling intersecting oppressive systems. I ‘speak truth to power’ while not wanting to be implicated in those power systems. I walk a tightrope between revolution and reform. I use words to expose inequities and to build bridges. I weigh each moment’s pragmatism against the next moment’s reImagining. It’s a messy space. It’s one where creativity and ‘voice’ are curtailed and managed in the interest of effective advocacy. It’s one where acts of speaking and writing can be powerful in themselves (and in a context of censorship and silencing they are not to be taken for granted or diminished); but they can equally feel like conversations in an echo chamber. I write and speak into a reImagined future, a lifetime of numerous generations, one that allows my ancestors to be as present as those that will be born into my tribe in the years to come. I write and speak words that become lines, paragraphs, references and footnotes in policy papers and briefing notes. My thoughts become sound bites in articles and tweets. I have ‘voice’ yet it is splintered and reconstructed, often in patterns that are not of my own design. This is not a ‘waaaah…poor me’. This is merely a reflection of how ‘di ting set’…

Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future by Naomi Alderman

Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah. …

The Radical Feminist Aesthetic Of “The Handmaid’s Tale” via @annehelen

The television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s iconic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which debuts next week on Hulu, is filled with small, barbed revelations. Even if you’ve read the book, and you know what you’re in for, there’s so much to startle you: there’s Elisabeth Moss’s face, which, through roles in Mad Men and Top of the Lake, has become an emblem of women persevering in the face of sexual violence and abject sexism. There are jarring moments of presentness — the way the characters offhandedly reference Craigslist, or Tinder — that make it impossible to pretend this is a scenario of the distant past or future. There’s the quiet profanity of Offred’s internal monologue — her use of “fuck” and “cum” in particular — which is so dissonant with the sunny, shining world that surrounds her.

And then there’s the way the world is rendered: Gilead, as it’s called, is a startlingly exquisite Eden, with dark, claustrophobic corners — a place where the individual has no power, save the small, essential spaces she carves for herself within her mind. So many dystopic narratives are filmed as fantasy spaces: worlds we can observe briefly and from a careful distance, or in which we are positioned to identify with a bloodied, vanquishing hero. The Handmaid’s Tale quietly forces the audience into the position of the handmaid herself: To watch is to feel the daily realities, the sensations and smells, the invisible constrictions and silent aggressions of living under patriarchy. In this way, The Handmaid’s Tale is both a beauty to behold and a slap in the face, employing a vibrant film language that not only proves itself the equal to, but expands upon its canonical source text. …

If ‘inclusivity’ is a priority, let men make their washrooms ‘gender-neutral’  via @FeministCurrent

In the liberal rush to make anything and everything “gender-inclusive,” who is getting the short end of the stick? I bet you know the answer to this one… We are only too aware, as feminists, that it is always women and girls whose interests seem to be considered non-urgent, unimportant, and irrelevant. It is always girls and women who are politely supposed to step aside for everyone else. With a smile, at that.

When journalist and BBC broadcaster Samira Ahmed attended a screening of I Am Not Your Negro at the Barbican Centre in London she found the women’s washroom had disappeared. Now, in place of the “women’s” sign was one that read, “gender-neutral with cubicles,” and in place of the “men’s” was “gender-neutral with urinals.” How convenient for men to have two different washrooms to choose from! How inclusive.

Ahmed wasn’t the only one who complained about this change. When she spoke to staff at the Centre, they told Ahmed they had already argued, internally, that the transformation was a mistake. On Twitter, one woman wrote, “Gender neutral toilets !!! Never seen so many confused and desperate people!! Whose bright idea?!!” Another tweeted: “Barbican now have gender neutral toilets. They just changed the signs, formerly male ones state they have urinals. Guess what happens?” …

Hysteria, Witches, and The Wandering Uterus: A Brief History by Terri Kapsalis via @lithub

I teach “The Yellow Wallpaper” because I believe it can save people. That is one reason. There are more. I have taught Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1891 story for nearly two decades and this past fall was no different. Then again, this past fall was entirely different.

In our undergraduate seminar at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, we discussed “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the context of the nearly 4,000-year history of the medical diagnosis of hysteria. Hysteria, from the Greek hystera or womb. We explored this wastebasket diagnosis that has been a dump-site for all that could be imagined to be wrong with women from around 1900 BCE until the 1950s. The diagnosis was not only prevalent in the West among mainly white women but had its pre-history in Ancient Egypt, and was found in the Far East and Middle East too.

The course is titled “The Wandering Uterus: Journeys through Gender, Race, and Medicine” and gets its name from one of the ancient “causes” of hysteria. The uterus was believed to wander around the body like an animal, hungry for semen. If it wandered the wrong direction and made its way to the throat there would be choking, coughing or loss of voice, if it got stuck in the the rib cage, there would be chest pain or shortness of breath, and so on. Most any symptom that belonged to a female body could be attributed to that wandering uterus. “Treatments,” including vaginal fumigations, bitter potions, balms, and pessaries made of wool, were used to bring that uterus back to its proper place. “Genital massage,” performed by a skilled physician or midwife, was often mentioned in medical writings. The triad of marriage, intercourse, and pregnancy was the ultimate treatment for the semen-hungry womb. The uterus was a troublemaker and was best sated when pregnant. …

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