21 January 2014

Are We Still Sitting on the Backs of Our Sisters?

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Internet became suddenly incensed over a photograph of a Russian fashion model gracefully sitting in a chair that seems to be made of the naked body of a black woman tied in a bondage pose. 

Outrage: Buro 247 used the horrendously offensive image, pictured, of Dasha Zhukova Monday to illustrate an unrelated interview about the former model's new magazine, GarageI saw Facebook posts. Twitter trends. Lots of outrage and people shouting in various forums. Headlines in online news papers like: 

"Russian oligarch's girlfriend sparks MLK day firestorm after posing on naked 'black woman' chair for fashion blog"

I wondered: was the photograph meant to be making a political statement about hierarchies of exploitation, people as furniture? Fashion exploiting the naked? Wealth juxtaposed with the bondage of the consumer? A statement on what? Racism? Forniphilia? Hedonism? (Did no one else notice that the photo on the wall behind her looks like it is of a man in bed between two women?) 

I remember a coffee table book of photographs I have somewhere with a series of photographs by Judy Olausen called "Mother" from many years ago where the artist's intent (using her own mother as a model) was to see the way a mother becomes a background object in a sort of nightmare '50s suburban setting--pushing the imagery with an intent to depict the marginalization of woman as wife and mother by and within societal expectations. 

I wondered if there was a similar artistic intent here. I mean, really, does anyone chose to sit in a chair that is that ugly? (And I mean visually ugly as much as politically ugly!) What was the intent here? Who is Dasha Zhukova? Is this a chair she personally owns? If so why did she use that chair? Or is it a chair the photographer / interviewer placed her in? Was that purposeful? What is the take home message? 

So this made me go do some research on the "chair"--I wanted to know if it was intended as an artist's statement (albeit in bad taste) intended to encourage an understanding or at least a closer look at oppression. Apparently it is part of a series by a British artist, Alan Jones, circa the late 1960s. He made a series of pieces of furniture using naked or nearly naked mannequins (black and white) in bondage positions, "Strippers as Furniture." In the 1960s Jones' "furniture" outraged feminists, too. We may be able to give him some benefit of the doubt if his intent was to showcase the fact that women are demeaned by the porn industry, but I can't seem to find much of the artistic statement on this--just the outrage

In the case of Zhukova's chair all I can find is the outrage as well. No one has questioned whether she owns the chair, why she bought the chair, or what she was thinking by posing in that chair. Bear also in mind that this is a Russian woman--the same cultural baggage an American sees here vis a vis slavery and race may not be as evident to her. Mind you, her ethnicity and wealth (she dances with billionaires, afterall) doesn't excuse insensitivity; it just explains it. 
Zhukova,also posted the photograph on her own Instagram feed. Then when the firestorm hit,she and the magazine that interviewed her cropped the photo to take out all but the "boots" of the chair--a very mea culpa moment that tells me she never realized how ugly this photo could be. 

It really is doubly ironic that the picture was posted on MLK day and that a woman who made her fortune in the fashion industry is relaxing "on the back," so to speak, of a naked woman. I doubt that,in this case, that anyone actually intended the photograph as an artistic statement about the exploitation of women--especially of black women--since Zhaukov was simply posing for an interview about her new fashion/art magazine Garage. Yet in someways this photograph and its incarnations--the original and the cropped out chair--now become a part of the record of the process of cultural awareness and change. Just as Jones' chair in the 1960s made us think about women's issues, so the photo of Zhukova reminds us that times change and people forget. Do we blame her for being a part of a generation or that has not faced the struggle for equal rights? Or for being part of a priviledged class that doesn't see the implications to others in the iconography of oppression in the very art she wants to support? For ignorance or for nsensitivity? Maybe the very thing we need to remember is that we are all loaded with our own cultural baggage and that photos like this are the things that allow us to react, to express our anger and our fears and our positions. Maybe that is the take home message. That we need to rejoice that people do react with outrage at such things! And that in reacting to such things, we too need to be sensitive--this is a teachable moment, not a reason for a lynching.  

As exhausting as the dialog can be regarding race, gender, privilege, and exploitation, it will be when we stop being aware, stop talking, and stop making (or even just finding) the inadvertent artistic statements defining such issues that we will have lost the battle. 

02 January 2014

Landfill Harmonic...

In a place with so little beauty, beauty is created from garbage. 
This gives me hope for all mankind. 

02 April 2013

The scary thing about eyes...

. . . is all the stuff you could not do without them. Even scarier is the thought of losing control of your vision.

A little over a year ago I had to have surgery on the muscles in the inner corners of both my eyes to correct crossed eyes. Last week I had to do it again. Although the first surgery worked and corrected my cross-eyedness, it didn't last. So here I am again. This time the surgery was only on the outside of the right eye--the one with the most issues. Like last time, I had to go into the hospital, have a general anesthesia, only this time the stitches are in the outer corner. Last time my doctor cut some eye muscles to loosen the direction of my focus. This time he tightened the muscles on the outer edge of my right eye.  This time was even less fun.

I planned this surgery to take place over Spring Break. That way there would be no classes missed--not that my students wouldn't have liked that. It was supposed to happen toward the end of Spring Break, I thought I might be able to take the early part of that week to visit my son in Arizona (something I haven't been able to do in several years), but then my surgery got pushed up to Monday of Spring Break (my son, though disappointed, is fortunately very understanding). However a couple weeks before the surgery I got invaded by "The Cold" (cue spooky music).

This has been, bar none, the worst flu / cold season ever. In early March I was at a conference in Boston where several colleagues and friend got sick. Coughing, blocked sinuses, sore throats, headache, stomach upsets, all the symptoms of cold viruses or flu or maybe food poisoning? No one knew. One friend was out sick for the week after the conference. Then it started floating around the Department. Then I got it.  Mind you the grandkids had the sniffles, too, as did my daughter and her husband, so I could have gotten it there. But by mid-March I had The Cold That Will Not Die. Dutifully I told my surgery scheduler. She said as long as I had no fever we could still do my surgery. Probably did not help that there was family stress, either.

March 18th, the week before my surgery, I went for pretesting. Blood work. Poked and prodded. Measured. Weighed. And I still had the cold. No fever, I tell them, but I have been stumbling through my days and coming home to fall exhausted on the couch. Weekends I have been sleeping all day, sometimes napping again in mid-afternoon. I have horrible wracking coughs, blocked sinuses, killer headaches. My Grandmother always said sleep is  the best medicine,  but this was ridiculous--I was sleeping all the time. Damn cold was kicking my ass. And I was falling behind on everything. As that last week before Spring Break ran its course, I was far behind. I had email stacking up, papers piled on my desk, prep still needing to be done for events I am running, prep for exams I need to give, writing unfinished, committee meetings missed. Family demands I couldn't meet. Stress in the office. The dilemma: cancel the surgery? or go ahead and let them do it with all its attendant stress on top of all the stress I was already feeling?

The thing that made me go for it was the need to see. All that stuff piling up has been piling up because it has been so painful to read. To look at a computer screen. I need to be able to read to do my job. I need these eyes to function correctly.

Morning of surgery was another stress--family fight that I did not need.  Same issues. My friend Lisa took me to the hospital. Steve had used up his last personal day the week before when he got sick with the same cold. He did take off early to come pick me up, though. Then my doctor ran late. And the surgery ran long. I am beginning to think March was a cursed month. In the end the surgery worked, but it is taking longer to heal than last time. I finally needed antibiotics and a corticosteroid to get over the cold--the cough still lingers. The eye has been three weeks healing and, though the doctor says it is doing fine,  I still can't look at a computer screen or read for over an hour without pain, or headaches. This delays grading my student's papers, means writing and work is still falling behind. And I have less than 3 weeks left in the semester. And bright light outside hurts a lot. And I am still sleeping too much.

But my eyes are not crossed . . . most of the time. When tired, they will sometimes still cross. It takes an huge effort of will to uncross them, and sleep to really fix the problem. It does seem to be getting better. Slowly. I'm just crossing my fingers (no pun intended) that this will continue to improve. Because if it doesn't there are no more chances for more surgery.

01 July 2012

Are You Pinterested?

It's true. I've been subverted.

25 June 2012

Fifty Shades of Black and White?

I have been hearing about E.L. James novel Fifty Shades of Grey since it was first released. Some of my female friends have loved it. Some are disgusted by it. There seems to be no middle ground in this debate. It is either the stuff of romantic daydreams or it is creepy misogyny and a lack of feminine common sense.

Me, I like a good erotic read now and again. My idea of incredible sexual tension is primarily as a complimentary addition to good writing--writing with more than just the sex to carry the story. Take, for instance, the scene between Connie and Mellors in Lady Chatterley's Lover, when he watches her watching the newly-hatched chicks and the consequent descriptive action with which Lawrence stokes that fire. (No, I am not going to tell you what happens. If you have read it you know, if you haven't you should!) Some of  Anaïs Nin's work has that elegance of detail as well; read Delta of Venus sometime.

There is a fine line (which is perhaps the difference between erotica and pornography) between that slow build of sexual tension through elegant sensual description and the hard (no pun intended) blunt details of a sexual act. Granted, the description of the sex act in all it's gloriousness/perversity (depending on your perspective) is not easy to portray in words. In literature it has to be developed with the character--we have to like the characters, want them to feel pleasure.

The review that follows (originally posted on Goodreads) was the most compelling review I found. I am still going to (try to) read the book, but I will take it out from a library now instead of buying it.

(BTW, I don't know where she found it, but I love Anzu's first image here of "wanted/expecting/got"! Reminds me of some Online Dating experiences.)

Anzu's Goodread's review of Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James  1 of 5 stars false

I didn’t want to start this book. Many people are praising it, but I’m simply not into erotica, it’s too cheap for me. But here I am in the mind of the innocent waiting to be devoured by the big bad wolf. Sounds pornographic, doesn’t it? That’s because it is…

Christian Grey. A hot dude that melts a woman’s panties off with just one look. The perfect sex toy set out to conquer an innocent girl. Grey (the sick f*ck) is considered one of the hottest characters out there but he doesn’t get to me. His dominance is too much for me to handle and his attitude tends to be annoying and slimy. Plus he’s just wrong in the head so there’s no need to add more about this creep.

Anastasia is an immature insecure desperate idiot who wants to become the whore of Babylon. She just wants to listen to her inner goddess (wtf?!) and have creepy monkey sex with Grey. She has no personality nor will whatsoever, she gets excited over the smallest and most idiotic things you can imagine and even though she sees how wrong Grey (the sick f*ck) is, she still goes for it. She’s always mooning over Grey like he’s some kind of god that she’s supposed to worship. He tells her that he doesn’t want a serious relationship just sex and she’s still ok with it. Why? Just because he’s hot? He’s a damn disgusting pervert. He hurt her the first time they made love, she was a virgin for Christ’s sake (and I don’t buy the crap with it being perfect, surely she had vaginal cracks after that), and is treating her like a slave. Even though he’s a successful businessman and he’s rich and famous he still can be a psychopath. Just watch American Psycho and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Now to pick on one of my biggest problems regarding this book: THE CONTRACT. WTF may I ask? Signing paperwork in order to have sex with him? Is he a natural hazard or what? I get the whole Hey look at me I’m badass, I have my own company and helicopter gig ‘cause the guy is stinking rich but the contract??? Isn’t anyone getting angry with this?

I guess not...
“Why would I do that?”
“To please me”
Wtf?? All women want to please him? Why? ‘Cause he’s hot? He’s a perverted assh*le that’s what he is. He’s acting like he owns everyone! Aren’t you guys angry?

“I have rules, and I want you to comply with them. They are for your benefit and for my pleasure. If you follow these rules to my satisfaction, I shall reward you. If you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn,” 
Learn this! *kicks him in the groin* Creep!
“It’s about gaining your trust and your respect, so you’ll let me exert my will over you.” 
Heh *right eye twitches* exert my will *eye twitches again*
Aren’t you guys angry with this yet??

Question for all the people who gave this book great scores. If Grey wasn’t so hot would you still have given it such great ratings? I doubt you would. So this means that the reason why you love the book is mainly Christian Grey being hot and an uber alpha? Shallow much? Or maybe you’re into all the monkey sex and torture. Psycho much?

But who am I to judge.

This book is just a desperate woman’s sick fantasy to be treated like a sex slave. I’m sorry but it doesn’t work for me. I DNF’d this because I find it disgusting and degrading.

[Thanks, Anzu for allowing me to cross-post this here. ]

27 March 2012

The Best Birth Control In The World Is For Men

If I were going to describe the perfect contraceptive, it would go something like this: no babies, no latex, no daily pill to remember, no hormones to interfere with mood or sex drive, no negative health effects whatsoever, and 100 percent effectiveness. The funny thing is, something like that currently exists.

The procedure called RISUG in India (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance) takes about 15 minutes with a doctor, is effective after about three days, and lasts for 10 or more years. A doctor applies some local anesthetic, makes a small pinhole in the base of the scrotum, reaches in with a pair of very thin forceps, and pulls out the small white vas deferens tube. Then, the doctor injects the polymer gel (called Vasalgel here in the US), pushes the vas deferens back inside, repeats the process for the other vas deferens, puts a Band-Aid over the small hole, and the man is on his way. If this all sounds incredibly simple and inexpensive, that’s because it is. The chemicals themselves cost less than the syringe used to administer them. But the science of what happens next is the really fascinating part.
The two common chemicals — styrene maleic anhydride and dimethyl sulfoxide — form a polymer that thickens over the next 72 hours, much like a pliable epoxy, but the purpose of these chemicals isn’t to harden and block the vas deferens. Instead, the polymer lines the wall of the vas deferens and allows sperm to flow freely down the middle (this prevents any pressure buildup),  and because of the polymer’s pattern of negative/positive polarization, the sperm are torn apart through the polyelectrolytic effect. On a molecular level, it’s what supervillains envision will happen when they stick the good guy between two huge magnets and flip the switch.

Easier than aiming magnets at your junk.

With one little injection, this non-toxic jelly will sit there for 10+ years without you having to do anything else to not have babies. Set it and forget it. Oh, and when you do decide you want those babies, it only takes one other injection of water and baking soda to flush out the gel, and within two to three months, you’ve got all your healthy sperm again.
The trouble is, most people don’t even know this exists. And if men only need one super-cheap shot every 10 years 0r more, that’s not something that gets big pharmaceutical companies all fired up, because they’ll make zero money on it (even if it might have the side benefit of, you know, destroying HIV).
If this sounds awesome for you or your loved one, get the word out. Share this article. Or this link. Or this one. Or this one. Sign this petition. Do something! A revolutionary contraceptive like this needs all the support it can get.
UPDATE: A lot of people are asking to be kept in the loop. So here’s the clinical trial/mailing list sign-upfrom the Parsemus Foundation to get further information about this procedure’s development. And again, please fill out the short non-spam petition to get the procedure funded and keep buzz going.

24 December 2011

The Eyes Have It

When I was a teenager I used to have scary dreams in which I was losing my sight, in which I could see only dim and blurred shapes and had to be led around by someone else. I always wondered if those were some kind of portent about my eyes--would I go blind someday? Just this week I remembered those dreams.

Earlier this year--when I finally got an insurance that would pay for it--I went to see an ophthalmologist about the doubled vision I have had for the last couple years. People freak out when you tell them that you see double all the time. But, honestly, it creeps up on you slowly. For me it started many years ago, but only happened when my eyes were tired after a long day of lots of reading or computer work. A good night's sleep and the eyes were normal again. About two years ago I realized it had become a permanent condition.

"How did you cope?" and "how did you drive?" people asked when they found out. The answer is "carefully." What happens is that one eye gradually becomes dominant--in my case it was the left eye. The things you see with the other eye you basically ignore. Sometimes you just close your non-dominant eye and keep going one-eyed. Yes, it does affect your depth perception. Given the problem, I chose not to drive if the conditions were adverse--late night, weird weather, etc. The worst was night time city driving in rain when the lights are all multiplied and reflected off wet streets. If I had to drive in those circumstances I probably annoyed the other drivers by my over-cautiousness behind the wheel.

This year I finally decided something had to be done.

My doctor first did tests to rule out nerve damage, and then an MRI to make sure there was no brain tumor. That was a scary moment. The testing facility gave me a copy of my brain scan (a very cool thing to look at), and in it I saw a huge white mass below my right eye--the one that was turning inward the most. Fortunately the people who know about such things let me know that this was not a tumor--just one of the worst impacted sinuses in Northeast Ohio. With those more serious conditions ruled out, the only option left was surgery to correct the muscles around the eye.

I say "eye" singular, because that was the original plan. Just do the right eye--the worst one. See how that goes and if necessary do the left later down the road. For two weeks before hand I could have no painkillers with aspirin, had to limit certain foods like citrus, tomatoes, almonds, berries. The surgery was supposed to be done in the clinic at my doctor's eye care facility. I would be awake, but under a local anesthesia.  On the afternoon I was scheduled--having eaten noting after midnight the night before--I was prepped, given a mild relaxer, and given a shot into the eye-socket area that would paralyze the eye. Or so they thought. Trust me to be contrary. After two shots and a some considerable time waiting, my eye was still able to move. and I could still feel. The doctor gave up for the day.

That was fine with me as the while prospect of someone coming at my eye and me being able to see and feel it was totally horrifying by this point. They bandaged the eye, told me to leave it alone for 24 hours. That night I was in agony. The eyelids swelled up like a plum and the whole thing was about the same color. Cold compresses were only some help. three days later I was back to normal but looking like I had been punched. Whether it was an allergic reaction to the local or (my suspicion) some small particulate in an already irritated eye, I will never know. I just know I was miserable.

 They rescheduled me for a week later at a local hospital where they would do the procedure under a general anesthesia. As long as I was going under anyway, the doctor said we would do both eyes--make them nice and symmetrical and get it all done at once. Now I was beginning to panic. If it was that painful the first time, and the surgery hadn't even happened, what would both eyes be like?

For entire week before the surgery I annoyed my youngest daughters with my "if anything happens these are my final wishes" proclamations. 2011 has been a year of too many deaths, and I was worried the universe was about to kick me in the ass again.

Day of the surgery my daughter dropped me off at Akron City Hospital. Seven hours later, and this time with some serious painkillers, I was done. Steve came to take me home. They didn't bandage the eyes this time, but I could barely hold them open anyway. That was Tuesday, four days ago.  I went home and slept on the couch (a recliner, had to keep head elevated). I have been spending a lot of time since just sleeping. The doc gave me a prescription for an ointment that was both an antibiotic and a numbing agent--a good thing because the eyes itch and are very tender. My throat is raw as well--apparently I have a very small throat and intubating me for surgery was a problem. Who knew.

By the way, the nurses at Akron City are among the nicest people on the whole planet. Seriously. Angels.

The whole thing has made me think about what I value. The idea of losing my sight is about as scary as it gets. Not being able to read. Never seeing a sunset again. Or my cats. Or a rose. Not being able to watch  my five beautiful grandchildren as they change and grow. That scares me the most.

It has been three days since the surgery. I am happy to say that I am no longer cross-eyed. The white of my eyes in the inner corners is totally red and very sore.  I wake up with my eyes gunked shut, but warm compresses help. Bright light hurts. I found last night that too much TV tires my eyes and they cross a bit when tired. Need to be more careful with these eyes, they are the only ones I have.