A Feminist Reading of The Birthmark and Frankenstein

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Film poster for Pretty Woman - Copyright 1990,...
Film poster for Pretty Woman 1990, Touchstone Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo

Hawthorne’s The Birthmark and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are warnings not to meddle with Nature, at first sight. But at their core they are stories of men, who create and shape women to fit their desires; of women as gifts and possessions of men; stories of men who treat and abuse them as objects, art, or science experiments – stories as ancient as Genesis, Pygmalion, or as modern as Pretty Woman.

In Frankenstein, Elizabeth was a gift for Viktor, just like the female bride was a gift for the Monster. So while Viktor was the Monster’s master, the Monster was the Bride’s master, a logic men have derived from Genesis, even before it was put down in writing. Good men surrender their will to God; good women surrender their will to men.

Boris Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Boris Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

This is the case of Georgiana and Aylmer in The Birthmark. Georgiana has no agency, as most women have historically lacked. When women married they were supposed to be clean slates, to be pure and “perfect”. The hand on Georgiana’s cheek is literally a sign of her impurity, as if she had been touched by someone else. This is a sign of sexual agency, and, much like in Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, a mark that only women bear and that leads to death. Georgiana learns to hate herself under Aylmer’s male gaze and to feel disgusted by whatever he is disgusted by. She reveres her husband and abandons herself, and she pays for that idolization and passivity with her life.

But Aylmer, on the other hand, merely looses a prized toy because his scientific hubris leads him to think he can perfect Nature—a Nature who is invariably female. The fact that Georgiana and Aminadab, the foreign, savage, brute of a lab assistant, symbolize Nature, and that Aylmer represents Man, as in Mankind, is predictably chauvinist and androcentric.

Women in these stories are a subset of Nature to be perfected or tamed. It is narratives like these, so powerful and rich that they continue to shape our understanding of the world, which keep women from being accepted as full human beings, to this day.

Hillary Clinton on Being Asked about Her Clothes

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By Juliana Jimenez

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton at the Munich Security Conference in Feb. 2012. Photo by Frank Plitt.

Amongst this great interview, Hillary files this gem:

MODERATOR 1: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?

SECRETARY CLINTON: What designers of clothes?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Would you ever ask a man that question? (Laughter.) (Applause.)

MODERATOR 1: Probably not. Probably not. (Applause.)

Beach volleyball: let’s all be equally naked, please

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By: Andrea Alarcon

As I watch the Brazil vs. Germany women’s beach volleyball match to the background song of “I’m sexy and I know it”, I keep getting distracted by the absurdly tanned and toned bodies that are oh so exposed. Let me be clear, this is an open stadium. And we are not in sunny Rio this is LONDON for God’s sake. Meaning 19 degrees Celsius. So no, the outfit has not been thought for the athletes’ body temperature.

We have read about women being represented in the Olympics but, what about when they are there? Should the way they are dressed be part of the conversation at all?

Three Saudi women are participating for the first time in the Olympics, but they walked behind the men in the opening ceremony. A reminder that even if present, they will always be relegated to a secondary role. They are also having trouble participating in the actual events, since they cannot follow the dress code of some sports. The judo federation stated that the Saudi athlete could not wear a hijab, and her father explained that she would not participate if that’s the case. The speculation is, of course, that these athletes are decorative figures to be able to get the team to London.

Weymouth Beach Volleyball Classic 2007
Weymouth Beach Volleyball Classic 2007 (Photo: Wikipedia)

As for beach volleyball, the women wear two piece bathing suits, and there are so many shots to their asses that it proves distracting from the sport they have worked so hard to go play. There are alternatives for countries that are more conservative but hey, who would go watch that? The men’s uniforms are bathing suits as well, but more covered. They wear knee-length shorts and wife beaters. No tiny Speedos for them.

“It just doesn’t look as beautiful” said 2008 Gold medalist Todd Rodgers in a press conference.”The reality is, men are driven more by their vision and women are not, so I just don’t think it would help… To see a guy’s package is just not the same.”

WHAT of course it is! You think women are not as attracted to six packs and pectoral muscles as men are to women’s curves? What he means by this is: women’s bodies are meant for men’s entertainment and pleasure, while men get to be treated as human beings. If you think women are to look pretty for your amusement, then you better be ready to do the same for us.

According to ESPN the women say they don’t mind their uniforms and are used to them. Apparently it allows for greater mobility. If that’s the case, indoor volleyball players should start taking their clothes off. And don’t the men need the mobility? They also admit they see how it would give appeal to the game. They hope the skin gives it a shock factor and then people would stay for the sport. Isn’t that the same delusional belief of getting love through sex? I’m not sure how this would really help to get a true following for the sport.

Yet the athletes do agree that if they do it, so should the men.

“We argue for it all the time” said April Ross. “Men have such amazing bodies, too. They shouldn’t be wearing tank tops. Give them shorts and make them go without a shirt.”

Let’ all be be equal-opportunity objectifiers please.

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Lady Photojournalist Magazine Hurts Both Women and Photojournalism

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By Juliana Jimenez

PIX - Magazine for Lady Photojournalists
PIX – Magazine for Lady Photojournalists

Photo District News released their new photo magazine for women –aaaand they blew it. There is so much that could be done here –women are outnumbered in photojournalism still and the field remains male-dominated, effectively closing many opportunities for women. The hazards of being a female photojournalist are particular (ehm, Lara Logan, Lynsey Addario, etc.) and it would be great to have a publication talk about these issues in a smart, comprehensive way. But this is not that.
Now, I have to say, it is very well designed. And, yeah, some stuff in there is buyable (because that’s what women love too, oggle at shit all day + shopping!), like the handbags; I would just use them all the time, because they have tons of pockets, like most camera bags, and because pockets are overall awesome.

BUT. I still hate it. With all my being. Specially because it’s not for women –it’s a blend of Cosmo, Seventeen and some photography magazine. It’s part of trend of girlifying everything, and it’s getting ridiculous. Photojournalism is one of the few places in journalism (hell, anywhere) where a woman doesn’t have to worry about makeup and “cute accessoriez”. She doesn’t have to worry about being observed, because for once, she is doing the observing. For once she is not the object of the male gaze, and for once she can dictate the terms on how women, and men, are portrayed. Nope, says Pix, can’t escape that shit. Anywhere.

Then comes the issue of actual photography and actual photographers, an actual craft and profession that shouldn’t be disrespected with this kind of nonsense. I’d always learned that as a photographer you don’t want to stand out, you want to be invisible, and that this makes your photos better. Ehmm, anyone who’s shot anything professionally knows this is true. But this Pix BS (what, Pixie dust? really?) is doing the complete opposite. If women photographers start heeding this advice, and start SHOWING SOME SKIN (bleeghhh) their photography will suffer for it. You’re the photographer, not the model –you don’t need to look like one.

As a photojournalist myself, I think, Who the fuck has time for this when you have to worry about having all your lenses, batteries charged, extra cards, getting your subjects to trust you, actually shooting well, etc., etc.? You’re trying to cover a freaking war in freaking Libya and your lens covers are supposed to match? No. I loved going for something with pockets/100% practical/gives zero fucks, when dressing to shoot something. This is what you’re supposed to look like when you’re a badass and you’re doing your goddamn job.

Saudi Arabia Almost Ends Gender Apartheid

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By Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo

English: Young Saudi Arabian woman wearing Isl...
Saudi Arabian woman wearing Sharia-mandated dress and coverings. Via Wikimedia Commons.

After caving in under international pressure, Saudi Arabia will now allow women to compete in the London Summer Olympics – or one woman, at least, Dalma Rushdi Malhas, Ohio-born and Europe-raised. But it turned out the equestrian show jumper doesn’t meet the requirements, her horse is injured and she will not be going to London after all.

A “symbolic and empty gesture,” a “victory for tokenism” and convenient PR move come to mind: Saudi officials are able to quell the international protest and outrage against what is nothing short of gender apartheid, while not having to actually do anything about it –and they get to blame the failure on independent Olympic standards that are out of their control.

For a scary second, Saudi Arabia was inching away from the Middle Ages. It is now the only country who will not send women to the Olympics. Both Qatar and the Southeast Asian country of Brunei, last bastions of institutional sexism, have recently allowed female athletes to participate, after sending male delegations for decades without much ado from the International Olympics Committee. The IOC, did, on the other hand, ban apartheid-era South Africa from the Olympics for 30 years until it allowed black athletes to compete. They apparently miss the connection and don’t find this as morally repugnant.

But few countries in the world can top Saudi Arabia’s institutional misogyny, on and off the courts. Not only can women not drive, hold public positions, or leave the house without a male guardian; they are also barred from practicing sports merely because they are girls.

So it’s not only a question of nonexistent infrastructure for women and girls to exercise; they also risk social ostracism, punishment and harassment from religious police. The only reason Rushdi Malhas even qualifies is because she did not have to grow up in such state of oppression.

According to Christoph Wilcke, a senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, “Saudi clerics agree there is no religious prohibition on women exercising,” but they “protest that women playing sports may dress immodestly, ‘unnecessarily’ leave their houses, and mingle with unrelated men.” An HRW report from February cited a Saudi cleric who was worried that “too much movement and jumping” would affect the “health of a virgin girl.”

All the while, the Saudi government is trying to paint this as part of a wider reform, not just a desperate attempt to avoid being banned from the games in the form of a token female athlete. “The Olympic decision is part of an ongoing process, it’s not isolated,” a senior Saudi official told the BBC. Sure, King Abdullah will allow women to vote in 2015, (as long as a male guardian allows it), and he overturned a woman driver’s lashings in September last year. But women still cannot drive, they still have segregated facilities, and religious conservatives, like the Grand Mufti, Abd al-Aziz al-Shaikh, still believe and profess that “women should be housewives. There is no need for them to engage in sports.” Though it seems like a step in the right direction, it was merely a distraction to continue human rights abuses few in the international community do anything about.

El Femicidio y la Guerra Contra las Drogas

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Cruces colocadas en Lomas del Poleo Planta Alt...
Cruces en Lomas del Poleo Planta Alta (Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua) donde fueron encontrados ocho cuerpos de mujeres víctimas de femicidio en 1996. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Por Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo

La violencia contra las mujeres ha aumentado dramáticamente en la última decada en Latinoamérica, desde México, pasando por Colombia, hasta al sur en Argentina. En 2009, el abuso sexual en los buses de la Ciudad de México estaba tan fuera de control que tuvieron que crear flotas de buses solo para mujeres. Ahora, tirarle ácido en la cara a las mujeres ya no se limita al Medio Oriente; 119 ataques de ácido han sido reportados en Colombia desde el 2010, aunque ese número quizás sea muchas veces mayor, ya que muchos casos no se reportan por miedo y humillación. El mes pasado, una mujer en Bogotá fue golpeada, apuñalada, violada y empalizada, actos que distinguen al femicidio del homicidio en general — y todos estos cada vez más frecuentes.

De acuerdo al New York Times en un artículo reciente,

Ciudad Juárez se volvió infame por una ola de ataques que empezó en los 90s y dejo cientos de mujeres muertas en el curso de una decada. … La atención internacional siguió su camino, pero las matanzas han continuado, con una segunda ola más intensa que la primera. Aun cuando la violencia en general disminuye, siguen apareciendo pequeños grupos de cuerpos de mujeres muertas.”

Recientemente salió un reporte nuevo de parte de las ganadoras del premio Nobel Rigoberta Menchu de Guatemala y la estadounidense Jody Williams, el cual encontró que los femicidios han aumentado en un 257 porciento en Honduras desde el  2002 al 2010, “un periodo de tiempo en el que se duplicó el dinero estadounidense destinado al ejército y la policía,” según CNN. El reporte argumenta que el ejército y la policía en Honduras, México, y Guatemala, los cuales están patrocinados por los EE.UU. y que supuestamente están luchando contra los carteles, son en realidad parte del problema, “cometiendo abusos e incitando a más violencia.” Y aunque los gobiernos reconozcan esto formalmente, dice el reporte, en la práctica hacen muy poco para acabar con la violencia hacia las mujeres.

“En algunos casos, los gobiernos están directamente implicados en la violencia,” escriben Menchú y Williams. “La creciente cantidad de crímenes de violencia extrema y de represión dirigida a las mujeres continua sin investigarse, resolverse o castigarse.”

Ese es el caso de Debora Barros-Fince, una líder de su tribu indigena Wayuu en La Guajira, en el norte de Colombia, a quien conocí en el 2007. Su familia fue asesinada hace ocho años a manos de los paramilitares, con la ayuda del ejercito colombiano —el cual a su vez está respaldado por el gobierno de Estados Unidos a traves del controversial “Plan Colombia,” un plan de regalos y dineros gringos de varias décadas y varios miles de millones para debilitar y acabar con el narcotráfico. La masacre que mató a la familia de Barros-Fince, en su mayoría mujeres, dejó 12 muertos, 20 desaparecidos y cientos de desplazados. Las amenazas de violencia que recibe por hablar sobre la masacre son sexuales y violentas, y las paredes de su antigua casa, la cual tuvo que dejar por la masacre, están cubiertas de dibujos y mensajes obscenos. Este tipo de intimidación se ha vuelto más común en otras partes del país y de Latinoamérica.

Familiares de mujeres asesinadas en Ciudad Juá...
Familiares de mujeres asesinadas en Ciudad Juárez se manifiestan frente a la Fiscalía Mixta para la Atención de Delitos contra Mujeres. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tradicionalmente, América Latina no es conocido como un bastión de los derechos de las mujeres, pero sin embargo no le va mal en ciertas áreas, a comparación con otros países de tercer mundo. En el 2009, la región tenía una tasa de mortalidad materna envidiable, en segundo lugar sólo después de Europa. Para una cultura que venera a las madres religiosamente (gracias a un Catolicismo culturalmente arraigado y su énfasis en la Virgen María), el aumento alarmante de femicidios es desconcertante, contradictorio e hipócrita, a lo mínimo. El culto a la madre puede tener efectos secundarios positivos, como estimular economías nacionales en el Día de la Madre. Pero en  realidad hace muy poco por eliminar la violencia más tremenda. La cultura podrá vanagloriar la figura de la Madre-Mártir, santa, doliente, pero eso no se traduce a un respeto verdadero por las mujeres que viven en estos países.

Y claro, no sorprende que las mujeres también sean victimas en la escalada de la guerra contra las drogas. En medio de una guerra, y sobre todo una tan sangrienta, todos la llevan. El influjo de dinero, municiones, tecnología y entrenamiento militar  gringo le ha echado leña al fuego, avivando las llamas de un ambiente agresivo, machista, dominado por hombres y para hombres, y ha proveido más herramientas para dejar el respeto por la ley en el piso. Cuando una sociedad retrocede a un estado tal de violencia desgarrada y sostenida, como lo hizo Colombia en los ’80s y ’90s, y la cual México está viviendo ahora, lo peor de la cultura sale a flote, amplificada y con impunidad. Como desfigurarle la cara a una mujer con ácido, y luego culparla, porque “quién la manda a ser tan linda.” 

Great Cause, Not-So-Great Music

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English: Jada Pinkett Smith photographed for V...
Jada Pinkett Smith, Vogue magazine, 2001. Photo by Jerry Avenaim via Wikipedia.

By Juliana Jiménez

Jada Pinkett Smith released a song about sex trafficking called “Nada Se Compara”, as you can tell, in Spanish. The video was  directed by Salma Hayek, and together with Pinkett Smith, they launched a website, www.dontsellbodies.org, to raise awareness about this problem.

Though her Spanish, the video and the music all suck a lot, I have to say I do like these ladies now a lot more, perhaps less as artists but more as people. That is commendable, I suppose, because it usually happens the other way around, with people like say, Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, Who’s-That-Other-Pedophile-Director, etc.

It’s great that they are doing these things, and using their (relative) fame to encourage positive change; we should give credit where it’s worth. I just wish the song didn’t suck so much so I could actually share it with friends and family. That would be the whole point of the thing, no?