Dear Ms. Barr. . .

Dear Ms. Barr,

I hope you are doing well today and that your nut farm is prosperous. I am the current president of The University of Iowa’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA). We are in the process of planning the first (as far as we know) Midwest Feminist Conference. It is just a short 2 months away, on November 4th-6th, 2011. It will be held in Iowa City, on the University’s campus. Our goal is to find the middle ground between academia and activism and hopefully motivate all the young leaders that will attend the conference to go to back to their own communities and spread their new knowledge and network of young progressive folks.

You might be wondering why I am telling you all of this, probably not seeing as how you are a very famous and talented woman. I am asking you to come to Iowa City and talk about your experiences as a woman who has been fought against, but who has still prevailed (so far; keep it up!). We would love to host you in the chilly Iowa November, and treat you to the joys of college town life! You could also briefly discuss your presidential candidacy, as I am sure, people are interested in where you stand, and supporting you.

Please seriously consider coming to our conference and changing the lives of the many young, Midwestern leaders that will some day (soon) change the world. 

I will be trying to contact you through all mediums. Be prepared, for I don’t really go to class so I have some extra time. I just need to figure out the time difference between Iowa and Hawaii.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to. . . potentially stalking and hopefully hearing from you.

In solidarity,

Emily J. Sullivan

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lady leaders of the past. . .

Joan Crawford

When it comes to female role models- real or fictional- the media has little to offer in this time period. While reading Backlash by Susan Faludi and after watching Miss Representation at the Bijou last night, and just by being an observant young woman of the 21st century it isclear at least according to the media, that since I am not a super hot, skinny, woman with a childlike voice or super smart, bossy rude person, or a suffering unloved middle aged woman, I am a social anomaly in the world of women.

I am a 21 year-old woman with ups, downs, and what the fuck moments. I am multi-faceted, just like anyone else, most importantly I am a person.

Katharine Hepburn

And I would like to see a movie with a variety of emotions, ambitions, thoughts, actions, and ideas from a single woman. In Backlash and Miss Representation, the makers made a point to recognize an era where women were more able to be people on screen, granted they were more likely to receive a harsher rating than a violent movie (ie Mae West in 1934).

Marlene Dietrich

Check out films with Mae West, Marlene Deitrich, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, & Joan Crawford next time you feel like the current mainstream movies aren’t quite cutting it.

All photos were found on wikipedia.

something to consider. . .

I started reading the book Backlash  by Susan Faludi while I was in Seattle this past weekend. First off, we must all read it. It’s pushing 20 years-old, but in the first 200 pages it’s made me realize not much has changed in the last 2 decades and if anything, we might be going backwards. . .

via alibris.com

That’s scary. I think the smallest and easiest (kind of easy) way to combat this is by seriously considering the small choices we make every single day and how they impact us as women and feminists and other women within the United States and around the globe.

For instance, I have slowly started seriously thinking about where I buy things. I haven’t bought anything from Forever 21 in a while. I know that doesn’t sound super impressive, but it’s a challenge when you’re semi-interested in trendy stuff sometimes and you want the immediate gratification our culture has to offer and you’re not used to saying “no” to those nearly irresistible $2.80 rings that might (will) turn your finger green, but that just means you have to always wear it. I have stopped shopping there because of the things I have heard and read about the way they company treats their employees. And lets be honest, they rip off other designers, have few pants that fit me and I’m hippy, but not so hippy where I can’t find pants, and it just feels wrong to shop there.

Which brings me to something I came across a few weeks ago that I have been meaning to post. These are the Commandments of Feminism. I found it at the blog Small Strokes, which is pretty neat. Small Strokes is informative and also is very relatable for us younger folks.

The type is a little small, so here are the 10 Commandments according to Ashley

1. Thou shalt not see a sexist, misogynistic ad, say “that sucks,” and leave it at that.

2. Thou shalt view all media through a critical lens.

3. Thou shalt watch every movie while wondering if it will pass the Bechdel Test.

4. Thou shalt critique media when it portrays women as one-dimensional, second class citizens.

5. Thou shalt vote with thy wallet (also known as the “I will not pay $12 to see ‘I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell'” commandment).

6. Thou shalt consume shitty forms of media (i.e. tabloids, reality TV) to be aware of what the “mainstream” is saying about women and girls.

7. Thou shalt write letters, make phone calls, send emails to let Dodge know you won’t buy their cars or to tell godaddy.com that you’ll look elsewhere for a domain.

8. Thou shalt utilize social media to get the message out.

9. Thou shalt not feel bad for still being influenced by the barrage of unobtainable images.

10. Thou shalt criticize the culture, not the women.

Obviously you make your own rules, but I think this is an excellent guideline to start from. There will definitely be more to come from Backlash as I read more and the Iowa City Public Library has a copy. Just so you know. . .

hug a lady day . . .

This comes up all the time. You know when you’re hanging out and some super cool lady walks by. Like she’s obviously cooler than you, and you know that. That’s a tough thing to come to terms with in this world where people are constantly compared to others just from a single look. I still find it incredibly interesting and horribly sad that sometimes when I’m really grouchy, and I see someone awesome, my first thought is, “Whoa bitch, let’s calm down” or something to that extent. “WHY WOULD I THINK THAT?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!”, is typically my next thought. I’m not sure why this jealous thing inside me rears its angry head and attacks the usually great people around me, but I am going to combat it, by combatting the cultural politics that go with it.

I have founded hug-a-lady day. As far as I know at least, I have founded hug-a-lady day. And honestly I would prefer to call it hug-a-lady-if-she-is-OK-with-being-touched-and-doesn’t-mind-you-invading-her-personal-space/-consent-is-sexy-even-with-hug-a-lady day.

But I decided the acronym HALISIOWBTADMYIHPS/CISEWHAL day kind of sucked.

So go forth and be nice to the women around you. Stop with those nasty thoughts that we all have, and respect the women around you so we can end this culture that puts us at odds with eachother. Cause honestly, there are few things better than your best lady friends and you having a good lady-fest, talking about lady things that men don’t typically have to deal with.

Maybe just start small by calling your mom, sister, or bestie and telling them how great they are or something.

her book . . .

This is a guest post by Rachel S.—an undergraduate at the University of Iowa.  She is currently conducting a research project surveying rare books from the Early Modern Period (1540-1640).

Letitia "The Faery Queen" Thomson her book

I read books like they are going out of style.  I love being an English major because it gives me license to read constantly and call it work.  In my classes, content knowledge and working toward an understanding of the work is always in the foreground, as it should be.  But, I always find myself looking for more: what was the public’s reaction? What did the physical text look like? How was it put together? Was it a serial or a complete book?  After taking a course in Renaissance book history (a relatively new field) I began to examine the book as an object, an artifact, and as something that works with the text in order to give the reader a certain experience while holding the book in hand.

The Renaissance was an explosive time for books: after the invention of the printing press, the circulation of manuscripts was not the only way to receive a text as printing increased the availability and output of news, literature, and religious works.  Widespread availability provided new opportunities for traditionally marginalized groups (lower classes and women) to access the printed word.  Though this was the case, the availability did not necessarily ensure the ability of these groups to even understand what they read, or to respond to it by writing on it.

In the book Reading Material in Early Modern England: Print, Gender, and Literacy by Heidi Brayman Hackel, this literacy continuum is examined—especially in relation to sex.  Women (even in the upper classes) had a range of literacy skills varying from spelling, phonetic reading, to full literacy.  But, this did not always mean readers could write.  Writing was taught as a separate skill reserved for men with occupations directly invested in writing such as scribes.

Combined with this, women as readers and writers were often seen as unchaste or immodest; this caused them to either hide their abilities or to not learn at all.  Brayman Hackel notes this attitude often in her book and shows how some of the most influential religious writers of the period discouraged female readership: “In his advice about women’s licentious reading, [Juan Luis] Vives focuses upon physical access to books: a woman’s excessive handling of them, her father’s forceful removal of them”.  Women readers were not only restricted by their family but by national law.  Henry VIII enacted the Act for the Advancement of True Religion (1543), which criminalized reading the Bible by women and yeoman.  It is also important to note that specific classes of men are spoken of in the law, but women and the lowest class of men are grouped together and that the class of the woman did not matter. (The law was repealed by Edward IV but the damage had already been done.)

This “seen and not heard” attitude toward women’s education and readership continued into the 20th century.  Heidi Brayman Hackel recounts Virginia Woolf’s unpleasant experience at a college library in the early 1900s.  In her book A Room of One’s Own, Woolf remembers wanting to view a rare book and was turned away from Trinity Library at Cambridge because of her sex. This story bothers me because I almost daily view rare books as part of my research, and this restriction from literature and from education overall is horrendous.  Although shocking and disturbing, this tale impels me to look for exceptions to the overall treatment of women in educational settings.  I have found an especially wonderful one of which I would like to share from the Special Collections at the university.

Our 1679 Works by Edmund Spenser was owned by one Will Thomson who later gave the copy to his daughter Letitia Thomson.  As you can see in this photo, our reader wrote, “Letitia The Faery Queene Thomson her book.”  This is important because there is female ownership, a female writer, and a female reader.  The importance of this work only increases as we can see Letitia write literary criticism; she spends her time writing notes attempting to determine the thick allegory of The Faery Queene.  The front flyleaves of the book are covered in her handwriting of select sections of another work by Spenser, which also has two important female characters (Rosalind and Elisa) The Shepherds Calender.

Letitia Thomson had a strong knowledge of classical authors, citing Virgil and Horace.  She knew Latin and Greek; and even more impressively can write in these languages.

Letitia Thomson most likely took interest in this work because Edmund Spenser was England’s first national poet.  But she also had to have been drawn to the The Faery Queene and a female character as protagonist and ruler.

This book not only displays an intelligent female, but the most intelligent person I have come across in the collection during my six months of research.  Letitia Thomson surpassed the low expectations for her sex and seems to be one of the more learned people of her time.

I, too, mark my books avidly with literary criticism and cross-references.  I can only hope one day a future reader will pick up one of the books I owned in awe of my proliferation.

Even today, women struggle for recognition in education; when frustrated with this disparity, I look to the successful exceptions to the rule: Heidi Brayman Hackel, Virginia Woolf, and especially Letitia Thomson.  Each in her own time overcame societal expectations to create room of her own in literature, learning, and society.

Brayman Hackel, Heidi. Reading Material in Early Modern England Print, Gender, and Literacy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Pr, 2009. Print.