Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Soujourner Truth: I sell the Shadow to support the Substance

portrait of Soujourner Truth

Laurie says:

I was listening to a Nell Painter video that Ta Nehisi Coates linked to, talking about, among other things, her book The History of White People. I just finished the book, and it’s fascinating.

She mentioned on the video that Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and suffragist, (whose biography she’s written) had used photography. Of course, that immediately registered with me and I had to find out more.

Sojourner Truth was perhaps the most famous African-American woman in 19th century America. For over forty years she traveled the country as a forceful and passionate advocate for the dispossessed, using her quick wit and fearless tongue to fight for human rights.

Nell Painter says:  No other woman who had gone through the ordeal of slavery managed to survive with sufficient strength, poise and self-confidence to become a public presence over the long term.

One of the ways Truth supported herself was by selling portraits.

… Many former slaves depicted themselves in these photos with whip-scarred backs and clad in the rags of slavery. But Sojourner Truth — who sold the cartes-de-visite to support herself — chose to represent herself as a respectable middle- class matron, sometimes wearing glasses, knitting, or holding a book. “I think we can see Truth becoming strong enough to refuse to define herself as a slave,” (Quotes are from a The Chronicle of Higher Education review of the book)

Looking at the contemporary photos of Truth on the web there is a clear self presentation. Syreeta, in a review of the movie Lincoln on Feministing discusses this brilliantly.

Sojourner Truth, according to the Willis/Krauthamer book Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans And the End of Slavery, understood the power of photography, and actively distributed photographs of herself:

“Those pictures were meant to affirm her status as a sophisticated and respectable “free woman and as a woman in control of her image.” The public’s fascination with small and collectible card-mounted photographs, allowed her to advance her abolitionist cause to a huge audience and earn a living through their sale. “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance,” proclaimed the famous slogan for these pictures.

Truth was not alone in her understanding of the power of photography. A host of other African-Americans, both eminent and ordinary, employed the medium as an instrument of political engagement and inspiration. “Envisioning Emancipation” argues that photography was not incidental but central to the war against slavery, racism and segregation in the antebellum period of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s.”

… Truth understood the power of images was just as powerful a weapon as any. Even the composition of the photograph of Truth (noted above) has a subliminal power, appropriating classic European portraiture in her seated posture, her resolute gaze, showing a black body as American. Human.

The truth-telling photography and empathy that photography conjures isn’t new but understanding it as a mode of cultural and social activism during the Civil War era is and certainly worthy of a look back.

Truth-telling photography and empathy are what my work always aspires to. I need to learn a lot more about this history.

(Photo from Syreeta’s post on Feministing)

My Work in US/Chinese Feminist Exhibition

Laurie Says:

I wrote a few days ago about the US/Chinese feminist exhibition Half The Sky: Intersections of Social Practice Art in Shenyang, China at the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts. It runs from April 15th to the 30th.

As I said, I’m delighted to be in the exhibition. The catlogue is beautiful and the reproduction of my photograph of Fumiko Nakmura is excellent. And my photo is also one of the art works featured on the back cover.

The post last week focused on the work of three of the Chinese women. See these two previous posts for far more about the story of the exhibition.

Today I want to focus on work by three US women, including my own. There are a number of installation works, so you may want to check the Women’s Caucus of the Arts gallery page and explore it.

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Nahamura Fumiko

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I met Fumiko Nakamura through Okinawa Women Act Against [US} Military Violence, who sponsored me there when I was working on my Women of Japan project. In my Women of Japan work, I combine my artistic sensibility with my commitment to capture the person in the photograph: cultural, personal, environmental, and physical cues, what is and is not said or communicated. Centrally, I collaborate with the person in the photograph, who makes many aesthetic choices. Combined with extensive community work, this approach encourages communication across cultural boundaries.

Fumiko Nakamura, filmmaker and peace activist, retired after 40 years as a school teacher to found non-profit Ichi Feet to document the horrors of the battle of Okinawa and the subsequent suffering.

Brenda Oelbaum

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BrendaO_orig..

How can we women hold up our half the sky if we are busy worrying about the numbers on a scale? “Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history.” – Naomi Wolff. There is so much hysteria about fat that women today in the United States obsess about their bodies and what they eat to the tune of 66 billion dollars a year. Dieting is not only counterproductive, making a dieter’s body better at storing fat, but it also dulls the mind so that we have little energy to do more than count calories. How can we hold up our half of the sky when we are busy worrying about the numbers on a scale? Scales are for fish!”

Suzanne Beutler

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hts1_orig

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In my India series of paintings, I used information from pictures I took in Pune and Bangalore, India.  I have scenes of homeless people in makeshift shelters by the side of the road, along with Rotarian supported schools where I took pictures of enthusiastic students.  I believe education is the hope for the many poor in India.  I plan to show this hope with the school children in juxtaposition to the street scenes.

The conjunction of the US and the Chinese work should be fascinating. I wish I could be there.

Natural Hair vs. Military Regulations

Laurie and Debbie say:

Since the forthcoming military regulations on hairstyle and grooming were leaked in March, we’ve seen a lot of discussion of the hairstyle limitations for women, and especially how those limitations affect African-American women. The regulations in general are much more specific and more limiting than previous regulations.  For example, according to Army Times, “Soldiers will likely face punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice … Hair grooming standards will become more restrictive and better defined. …”

The regulations for men are, as military regulations about men’s hair traditionally are, homogeneous and designed to suppress difference. Military regulations have always been super-precise; it’s one way “military discipline” is enforced.

All of the regulations, for men and women, are focused on being “professional.” Outside of the military, “professional” is a profoundly racist and classist word; inside the military, says our friend the military historian, it’s not much different: “professional” is code for looking white and middle-class, and especially for not having any hairstyle or grooming choices that show up as outside the middle-class norm.

three unauthorized hairstyles

The new regulations for black women, however, take everything steps further in the wrong direction. Sesali Bowen at Feministing lays it out in no uncertain terms:

Cultural sensitivity has to come from some sort of understanding. This is where these regulations — and even some of the criticisms of them — are truly lacking. Reading up on this story, there are several things that I would like to clarify.

  • The rule requiring the “bulk of hair” to not exceed 2″ clearly does not take into account shrinkage, which can take 10″ hair to 3″ with just a few spritzes of water. Most black girls also have these things called “edges” which account for a variation in hair length.
  • “Dreadlocks” is a historically offensive term to many people who wear them.
  • While it’s cute that folks are thinking of the potential damage that braids and weaves can cause, black women who wear and prepared these styles know that wearing weave can actually be a great protective style and help grow your hair.
  • And the most important point about weave: it isn’t cheap. (Well, some weave is cheap but that kind of weave certainly wouldn’t survive a long tour of duty or even basic training.) If wearing weave is the only way to meet these regulations for many black women, that represents a significant additional expense. Unless you can do it yourself or have some kind of hook up on salon services, you will also have to pay for the installation of said weave. Weave has to be maintained. Weave has to be removed (so that you can treat your real hair) and re-installed. It simply isn’t a viable option for many of us.

While we knew some of this, we didn’t know all of it. And no one ever knows the consequences like the women whose hair is being regulated.

The bright spot in this culturally blind and insensitive story is the amount and range of pushback that black women in the Army, and their allies, are mounting.  Coverage of the issue has ranged from Time to Fox News and many other major media outlets, and often includes quotations like this one.

“I think that it primarily targets black women, and I’m not in agreement with it,” said Patricia Jackson-Kelley of the National Association of Black Military Women. “I don’t see how a woman wearing three braids in her hair, how that affects her ability to perform her duty in the military.”

It’s great to see widespread, determined opposition to the Army’s racist and culturally insensitive policies, and we wish these women luck in making change before the regulations are implemented.

Chinese/US Feminist Exhibition in China

Laurie says:

(We’re still dealing with the after effects of the website being hacked. Hopefully things will be running smoothly soon.)

I wrote a while ago that my portrait of Fumiko Nakamura was part of an exhibit of Chinese and US women artists at the Luxon Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, China.  It’s an international project of the Women’s Caucus of the Arts.  It opens on April 15th in Shenyang.

The Luxun Academy of Arts was founded in 1938 by Communist Party of China leaders, including Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.

The theme “Women hold up half the sky” quotes Chairman Mao Zedong’s famous statement.  The intent is to explore the role that social practice art has in changing the world.  It’s an art-based cultural exchange and exhibition between US artists and essayists juried through the WCA and women artists curated in China.

I wanted to focus in this post on the work by the Chinese artists.  It’s a beautiful collection of diverse work.  This was the work that spoke to me the most at the moment.

Liu Zhi Yin

liu zhi yin

Born After 1980 Sculpture

As the first generation born under China’s one child policy, We grew up alone, in our own mental world. Our creative works are based more on personal experiences, feelings, but we also incorporate a number of popular visual elements, symbols found in fashion or cartoon. I blend all the ingredients together and use a cartoonish visual schema to describe life, capturing the souls of my generation and emphasizing a kind of self-analysis and individual experience. My work looks pretty even though it vaguely reveals sad feelings. In a metaphorical way, I want to present the loneliness, uncertainty and dullness felt by the born after 80’s generation, behind our prosperous material life style.

Jiang Xiao Mei

 

jiang xiao mei

Creative concepts: the Prosperous World series is made from ancient Chinese coins, using transparent fishing line to tie bronze coins together and form an image of either a chair or clothing. A chair symbolizes a position of power. Clothing symbolizes beauty and splendor. The work, being sealed in a transparent protective shield, gives an impression of grandeur and prosperity. However, the overall shape is very fragile. If each individual coin changes position, the chair and clothing can be easily destroyed. The sense of instability represents the relationship between money, power and prosperity.

Yuan Jia

Yuan Jia

The Prelude of Resurrection Sculpture

In my work, modeling and shaping wood is not the point. The mastery of the texture and characteristics of wood as a medium is not of much significance to me. The desire that leads me to realize a certain feel for a piece of work comes from my love for decorative structures that can only exist in the virtual world of wood in my memory. Through the paradox and the emotional dislocation felt in my work, I try to convey something dramatic that resembles an experience of sudden acquisition of a noble sense of purpose.

I’m delighted to be part of this exhibition and I’ll be writing about the US artists next time.

The Power of the Positive Fatkini

Lynne Murray says:

In July of 2013, Rachele (pronounced “Rachael”), blogger at Fat Babe Designs, artist and fat activist, posted a self-esteem-claiming photo of herself rockin’ a fatkini on her blog and social networks. Her intent was “to spread a powerful message about body positivity.”

Rachele in her fatkini

She captioned the photo accordingly:

Anchors away! I finally have myself a proper high-waisted fatkini. I took my body and put it on a beach and voila! Beach body! Wearing a bikini as a fat woman is an act of rebellion. I felt glorious and glamorous all at the same time. I wore my stretch marks as ribbons of honor and let the sun kiss my lumpy thighs and arms without a care in the world.

Rachele never expected her photo to turn up as motivational fodder for a multi-level-marketed diet program.

I was unfortunately … turned into the unwilling face of a diet company called Venus Factor, without my permission or knowledge. I have heard of this happening to weight-loss bloggers. Their before and after photos are stolen and posted on Facebook and websites with false claims and stories. But my photo seems different (i.e. I am sexy [as] hell in it) and I was completely taken off guard when it starting popping up as an ad on Facebook. I thought I found the source, reported it and Facebook removed the pages. But there was my photo again, along with a few using different photos from my blog, and I couldn’t find all of them. They were starting to be brought to my attention by blog readers and then by people in my workplace.

Companies using pyramid-like affiliate networks to skim profits from both their henchmen (aka affiliates) and the gullible public are particularly attracted to weight-loss schemes. Or as a New York Times.com article on affiliate marketing states, “weight loss is one of the evergreen niches online…”

Because affiliates are not employees of the company supplying the diet product, the company can claim it is only minimally responsible for any claims or images the affiliates use to make “their” pitch.

It’s the old “overzealous underling” ploy: “I just said ‘kill the competition’; I didn’t know they’d actually commit murder!”

Rachele decided to fight back. On March 16th, she wrote:

It’s been a week for my little ole blog! Sunday, I posted a rant about how someone stole my fatkini photo and used it in a diet ad. Monday, I emailed my local news just to see if they would talk about the issue. Tuesday, they came to interview me and by Friday, it was being talked about all over the world on Yahoo, Cosmo, Daily Mail and more! It has been amazing to see so many folks standing up for me and how my visibility has empowered so many women.

On the flip side, there are a lot of fatphobic comments on the articles and the diet company is attempting to bully me with threats and accusations. Commence the eye rolling! They claim that they are victims as well, that I am spreading lies, tainting their company and doing it all for my own personal gain – and will have to pay for damages and loss of business.

The dead giveaway that diet company brought in its lawyers is the sudden shift from, “We’re so sorry for your bad experience” to, “Hey, bitch, you’re costing us money and we can take you to court to make you bleed.” This tactic works to scare off many people with legitimate complaints who just don’t have the stamina or means to deal with the legal system.

Rachele answers the diet company’s accusations:

Obviously … I am not a money-hungry creep and normally a shy homebody. My day job is in the social work field and I blog to empower women and talk about fat acceptance. Any monetary gain from my blogging usually goes back into my blog. It is ridiculous to think that I am making it big or rich as a result of my story being told. Straight up, I am not. Can we say victim blaming?

Then Rachele takes a step back and pulls out the positivity weapon, countering bullying with self-affirming, rabble-rousing guerilla girl activism!

Instead of giving any more attention to the dirtbags, I want to focus on how amazing it can be to accept your body and refuse to succumb to the societal pressures to maintain conventional beauty. My blogging buddy and fat babe extraordinaire, Leah, suggested we start a “Not Your Before Photo” campaign. A way of showing solidarity where rad fats (and anyone else wanting to participate) pose proudly as a big fuck you to anyone who thinks they can steal our photos for their shady ads.


Click on the button to participate. Some tech challenged sorts (like me) will have to express our solidarity with Rachele and her allies in verbal rather than visual terms but I tremendously admire the attitude and the creative flair. Seeing people like Rachele refusing to be used, intimidated or crushed gives me hope for the future of body positivity!

Returning with Links

Debbie says:

As you may have noticed, we were down for most of a week due to a malware attack. Endless thanks to our webmaster for tireless efforts to bring the blog (and the website) back up safely.

When the attack happened, I was just about to put up a links post, so that’s where we’re starting now.

Our own Lynne Murray found a fascinating article on webburgr about a newly discovered photographer, Vivian Maier:

woman walking in cityscape

Perhaps the most important street photographer of the twentieth century was a nanny who kept everything to herself. Nobody had ever seen her work and she was a complete unknown until the time of her death. For decades Vivian [Maier]’s work hid in the shadows until decades later (in 2007), historical hobbyist John Maloof bought a box full of never developed negatives at a local auction for $380.

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I’m not sure when I’ve read a better manifesto about diversity within a marginalized community than this one by smartassjen at Jen Richards.

This is a sample of the kinds of trans people I’ve personally met, talked to, learned from, heard about through mutual friends, or seen in the last two years. It is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, but rather a glimpse from one specific person’s experience, over a relatively brief period of time, and in utterly random order. …

Trans women who are over six feet tall and still rock high heels. Tiny ones next to whom I feel like a beast. Some who wish they were taller, some incredibly anxious about their stature and who instinctively shrink their bodies. Tall trans men. Short trans men. Trans men so masculine that I don’t even notice their height. Trans man/woman couples so comfortable with their inversion of ‘normal’ height differences that the idea of normal becomes laughably absurd.

People who don’t identify as men or women, or who identify as both, or third sex, or as nonbinary or genderqueer or genderfluid or some combination of these. Some who see various stages of gender expression and identity as stops towards a final destination, others who comfortably live outside of any binary structure.

Trans women who love their cocks and have no desire for surgery, some who have always hated them, and every shade of horror, acceptance and enjoyment between. Some who have mutilated their own, through creative and dangerous ways, some successfully, some with painful consequences. Women who have their testicles removed, but do not want further surgery, and some who do that first and save up vaginoplasty later. One who medically transitioned, with hormones and surgeries, but remained their assigned gender in public. Trans men who pack and those that don’t. Trans men that bind and those that don’t. Trans men who sometimes pack or bind and other times don’t, or do or don’t at different times in their transition. Men who want phalloplasty, men who don’t. Trans men who love being penetrated and trans men who don’t ever want to be touched there. Many men and women whose feelings towards their genitals evolve over time.

And so much more.

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At The Weekling, Dr. Santayani Dasgupta has a very thoughtful and complex post about doctors and fat patients

The patient is large. Very large. At more than 600 pounds, he is a mountain of flesh.

“My stomach hurts,” he says, his voice surprisingly high and childlike.

THE OTHER DAY, a colleague brought to my attention an essay from The Washington Post called “A morbidly obese patient tests the limits of a doctor’s compassion” written by a Dr. Edward Thompson. Just the first two lines of it above had me furious. Not only were they a study in the power of negative metaphors, but as a fellow physician, they felt all-too familiar. T…

Indeed, although studies show that physicians are nicer to thinner patients, many of my medical colleagues don’t seem to realize that personal and institutional violence against fat people (and I use that term in solidarity with the fat activism and fat studies movements) is a thing. A real, grotesque and infantile thing. A real, grotesque and infantile thing that negatively impacts the health care that fat individuals receive….

As a faculty member in the Master’s Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, I know about the power of stories: stories told by physicians, stories told by patients. I know that having health care students read, write and analyze narratives can deepen their training in bioethics, medical professionalism, reflective practice, self-care and patient-centered care. Narrative study can help our students effectively diagnose, treat, and otherwise attend to the lives of their patients.

Yes, stories are powerful. But let’s not get too precious about them. Simply reading any story with a medical student or engaging them in a narrative writing prompt is not the same as actually educating them in structural issues of oppression and inequity. Those of us in the medical humanities professions must teach our students not only to listen to stories, but to listen to them critically; asking themselves questions like “who is speaking?”, “who is being spoken for?”, “what larger narratives is this story supporting?”, and “what additional stories are being silenced by this one?”

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Maybe I just can’t see clearly from my vantage point of being 60+, but I smell trouble coming for Silicon Valley:

Nitasha Tiku at Valleywag, working off an article by Noam Scheiber at the New Republic, says:

If I had $1 million for every time a founder told me “It’s impossible to raise funding if you’re not a twenty-something dude,” I could lead their Series A round. The same bias applies to hiring. The ideal resume shouldn’t be much longer than “Dropped out of Prestigious University.”

The body image connection? Plastic surgery to make men look younger. Scheiber talked to Dr. Seth Matarasso, a San Francisco plastic surgeon:

… the age at which people seek him out is dropping—Matarasso routinely turns away tech workers in their twenties. A few months ago, a 26-year-old came in seeking hair transplants to ward off his looming baldness. “I told him I wouldn’t let him. His hair pattern isn’t even established,” Matarasso said. …

… In ascending order of popularity, the male techies favor laser treatments to clear up broken blood vessels and skin splotches. Next is a treatment called ultherapy—essentially an ultrasound that tightens the skin. “I’ve had it done of course. I was back at work the next day. There’s zero downtime.” But, as yet, there is no technology that trumps good old-fashioned toxins, the most common treatment for the men of tech. They will go in for a little Botox between the eyes and around the mouth. Like most overachievers, they are preoccupied with the jugular.

For the record, I’m 100% in favor of young people having positions of responsibility, decision-making, and institutional power. At the same time, I believe diversity in all categories is the spice of strong choices.

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Eric Stetson at Daily Kos reports that JPMorgan Chase won’t process payments for Lovability, a mother-and-daughter condom company, because they are a “reputational risk”: Anyone want to bet they make the same decision about Trojan? Stetson got his facts from the Huffington Post.

I wanted to let you know that we actually will not be able to move forward regarding processing with Chase Paymentech, as processing sales for adult-oriented products is a prohibited vertical. I apologize for the confusion and wish you and your growing brand the best of luck in the future.

Remember, JPMorgan is an investment bank for the rich, but Chase is around every corner in big cities. You don’t have to bank with them, if you consider them (as I do), a “reputational risk.”

Most usual sources: Feministe, Feministing, io9, and Shakesville. And also, this time, Lynne Murray.

What Drives Good Design? Breast Pumps, Oxygen Tanks and More

Debbie says:

Courtney E. Martin and John Cary have some things to say about breast pump design.

The pump is a symbol of the modern work-life conundrum. In theory, women have the freedom to honor the wisdom that “breast is best,” while still pursuing their own careers. And yet, to do so, they’re forced to attach themselves, multiple times a day, to a loud, sometimes painful machine that makes one feel anything but powerful.

No doubt inspired by the ubiquitous public service announcements about how healthy breastfeeding is for mother and baby, 77 percent of new mothers do it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card.

… the modern pump remains largely unchanged since it was first invented. Edward Lasker, an engineer, produced the first mechanical breast pump and secured the patent in the 1920s. In 1956, Einar Egnell created the Egnell SMB breast pump, a more efficient answer to Lasker’s original design. Nearly 60 years later, little has changed about the fundamental design of the mechanical pump. …

We believe that all mothers deserve a better, more dignifying breast pump. It’s a critical, daily tool for the working mother and a no brainer investment for early childhood health (thus, the federal government subsidizing its use at such a significant level).

And beyond the health benefits of a better breast pump, there is a lot of money to be made by the company that attempts to really understand what would make the lives of working mothers easier and more pleasant. One pregnant friend put it in stark relief, “There were approximately one zillion different kinds of baby carriers to choose from when I was registering, but breast pumps? About three, and none of them looked significantly different from one another.”

Their article makes me think of my mother, before she died almost ten years ago, struggling to get her arthritic hands to work the clasp on her oxygen tank while having to conserve her breath, and saying almost the same things, once the oxygen was flowing. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is hard enough; can’t we have decent tools to cope with it? 77% of nursing mothers pump; close to 100% of people with COPD use supplemental oxygen.

Martin and Cory attribute the problem to sexism, and to designers who have never lactated, and they are not wrong, but the issue goes deeper than that, because plenty of (mostly old) men have COPD. Breast pumps and oxygen tank apparatus (and crutches and wheelchairs and other durable medical goods) are things that economists call “low elasticity.” In other words, people who need them will buy them, whether they are any good or not. Strollers and other baby equipment are also “low elasticity,” but they are also consumer goods–you see them in stores, you comparison shop, sometimes you get them as presents. You have an opportunity to think about “is this one prettier? is this one better designed? will this one last longer?” You can buy them for a wide variety of prices with a wide variety of designs and options.

Durable medical goods don’t show up in stores much. What comparison shopping you can do is generally done on line, or you order the one your doctor recommends, or the only one your health insurance plan will pay for. Maybe there is some consideration of fit, and maybe not.

I’ve seen friends light up because they found colorful crutches, or ways to bling up their wheelchairs. More and more, I see decorated canes on the street. All of these could use more variety and more style, and some of them would benefit from more efficient basic design. But at least these are things we see in the world. Breast pumps are not only sold in low-profile venues, they are used in low-profile venues. No one ever sees them except the new parents and an occasional visitor. And while you may see oxygen tanks on the street and users with cannulas in their noses, you don’t see how they work; you only see them working.

Design improvements generally stem from two sources: competition and visibility. The items that have neither–no matter how much they might benefit from design attention–languish in the land of unmanageable connectors and ridiculously loud motors.

Sometimes, however, an enterprising designer/entrepreneur sees a need and fills it. Let’s hope several of them read Martin and Cory’s article.

“Groin Gazing”: Taboos, Penises, and “Fashion” Photography (NSFW)

Laurie and Debbie say:

Photographer Claire Milbrath did a fashion photography shoot for Vice (a print and online magazine) called “Groin Gazing,” in which casual clothes are (apparently) being sold to men (sexual orientation unknown) by means of torso and groin shots, showing (apparently) erect penises under the clothes on offer.

brown shirt, brown jeans, bowling ball

Tracy Moore at Jezebel picked this up:

I think it’s all just great. The beauty of it is that the spread can function on multiple levels — 1.) it’s a bunch of dudes’ clothed boners. 2.) They are depicted as types, with no heads or faces, as women are often shot in spreads (“dismembered”) 3.) The effect is a powerful one: It wordlessly comments on how women are shot while also upending a lot of assumptions about what hetero women want, like, enjoy, think about, when it comes to men and images.

Moore seems quite confident that the photography is directed at women, and is making women happy (and she has some tweets to back up her claim). The spread, however, raises lots of issues:

Because of the amazing level of taboo about penis pictures in our culture, we can’t even be sure of Moore’s first point. Is it a bunch of dudes’ clothed boners? Or a bunch of dildos under clothes? (Is that why a lot of the dicks look so much alike? Is that why the poses each have very generic names, like “the baseball player” or “the boy next door”? The dude above is “the chongo.”) How different is this from lingerie ads before the entire female body became acceptable media fodder?
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We can’t help but notice that the penis taboo has two very separate aspects. The taboo against erect penises is primarily an erotic taboo. Outside of gay male porn, there are very few places we can see photographs of erect penises, or learn anything about what they’re like, except for the ones we might have an opportunity to see in real life. That makes Milbrath’s photos (or the earlier Calvin Klein ads) a target of curiosity: how long? how thick? curved? Also, if you take a minute to try to imagine the men in these pictures, in these poses without clothes, the effect changes drastically, in part because the erect penis is so strongly linked with erotic/pornographic imagery. Also, if they were nude, we could see their real bodies, not just a photographic fantasy, and that would change everything.
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The taboo against relaxed penises is primarily a male-protective taboo. With the exception of Laurie’s photographs (more of which can be found in Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes), there are even fewer places where anyone can see photographs of relaxed penises, and most men are uncomfortable showing them except in situations even more intimate than sex. Jonathan D. Katz addresses this issue in Familiar Men. Katz says:

Female nudity can be ubiquitous, but to present the male body threatens to give the lie to the rich meanings we associate with it. All of which may explain why it’s so rare to see naked or near-naked men in art, advertising, popular media, or that host of other venues in which the female body is now coin of the realm. … I think novelist Dorothy Allison said it best when she remarked that she thought the penis was the original source of the literary concept of irony, that something so small and vulnerable could be accorded such impressive powers. To see a penis is to know that it couldn’t possibly be a phallus.
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Given the intensity and complexity of the taboos, who is the audience for this work? Straight women (who seem to be having a good time, and who maybe buy clothes for their partners)? Straight men (who are the bulk of the audience who theoretically might buy the clothes)? Gay men (the only group which has lots of access to erotic penis pictures whenever they want)?

And why are the photos headless? Moore thinks it’s a comment on headless shots of women, and she’s almost certainly right. But this choice, along with the generic names for the men in the photographs, also functions as a comment on penises and taboos: the topic is so charged the men have to be anonymous.

Thanks to Alan Bostick for pointing out the Jezebel article.

(Penis photographs by Laurie Toby Edison, from Familiar Men.)

Links This Week

Debbie says:

This is only the beginning of a wonderful comic from Gallery of Dangerous Women

Cuteosphere, the cartoonist, says:

it always disappointed me that Monster Girls are an anime porn thing rather than something used to explore the way society and the media dehumanises women, but oh well

shout out to all my fellow monsters

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Female condoms are getting a much-needed makeover, because science:

two decades after its much-celebrated introduction, the female condom still isn’t living up to its potential. Less intuitive and familiar than the male condom, the device simply never caught on. Journalists mocked it, clinicians ignored it, and women shunned it, claiming that the condom was aesthetically unappealing and technically difficult to master. Today, only 1.6 per cent of all condoms distributed worldwide are female condoms. …

For years, a handful of researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs have been quietly tinkering with the device. Their efforts are now maturing and an assortment of redesigned and reinvented female condoms are beginning to make their way onto the market. The introduction of new, more user-friendly products – coupled with renewed efforts to promote the technology around the globe – may finally be positioning the female condom for a breakthrough.

The article follows a pioneering company (originally Wisconsin Pharmacal, later the Female Health Company) with an ally in Zimbabwe, which succeeded in getting a substantial buy-in for female condoms in Africa. It then shifts to a nonprofit in Seattle (PATH), which has made several exciting medical technology innovations:

The group’s designers and engineers, for instance, created the Uniject: a disposable syringe pre-loaded with a single dose of vaccine. They built a one-size-fits-all diaphragm, removing the need for women to visit a doctor to have one specially fitted. And they invented a portable, handheld scale that health workers can bring to home deliveries. The scale requires no electricity, can be read in the dark, and is decipherable even to birth attendants with low literacy, making it easy to identify underweight infants….

PATH prides itself on its user-centred design process, and so, in an effort to create a female condom that women would want to use, those at PATH decided to do something both radical and obvious: consult actual women. In 1998, PATH began convening focus groups in four countries – South Africa, Thailand, Mexico and the USA – asking women and men what they thought about female condoms and what they wanted from them.

From Durban to Seattle, it turns out that users’ desires were pretty basic: “a product that was going to be easy to use, easy to insert, stable during use,” says Kilbourne-Brook. Plus, “if it was possible, they wanted something that was more aesthetically pleasing”….

By 2003, they had hit on the solution: a dissolving applicator. The engineers created a condom that looked like a funnel, with a thin sheet of polyurethane that narrowed into a rounded tip. This tip contained the main pouch of the condom, collapsed inside a dissolving capsule. To insert the condom, women would simply push the capsule inside, much the same way they’d insert a tampon. Once it came into contact with the moisture of the vagina, the capsule would melt away – often within 30 to 60 seconds – releasing the full condom pouch.

***

Tara Parker-Pope takes on the breast cancer racial mortality gap, which is no surprise to Laurie and me, and is a national disgrace.

An analysis of breast cancer mortality trends in 41 of the largest cities in the United States shows that the chance of surviving breast cancer correlates strongly with the color of a woman’s skin. Black women with breast cancer — whether they hail from Phoenix or Denver, Boston or Wichita, Kan. — are on average about 40 percent more likely to die of the disease than white women with breast cancer.

In some cities, the risk is even greater. In Los Angeles, a black woman with breast cancer is about 70 percent more likely to die from the disease than a white woman is. In Memphis, black women face more than double the risk…

[Steve] Whitman, [director of Sinai Urban Health Institute and author of the study] says: ““It’s undeniable that this is systemic racism… I don’t mean that a bad person is at the door personally keeping women out, but the system is arranged in such a way that it’s allowing white women access to the important gains we’ve made since 1990 in terms of breast health, and black women have not been able to gain access to these advances.”

Need we say more?

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Sticking with “shameful but not surprising,” we have this article from The Atlantic on how body image pressure is affecting boys. Anyone who read Susan Faludi’s Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Male when it came out 15 years ago (or since) saw this coming, but we could have avoided it if we wanted to.

A new study of a national sample of adolescent boys, published in the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics, reveals that nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. They are also at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes: Boys in the study who were extremely concerned about weight were more likely to be depressed, and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and drug use….

If boys are increasingly concerned about weight, changing representations of the male form in the media over the last decade or two are at least partly to blame. “We used to really discriminate—and we still do—against women” in terms of media portrayals, says Dr. Raymond Lemberg, a Prescott, Arizona-based clinical psychologist and an expert on male eating disorders. …

But while the media pressure on women hasn’t abated, the playing field has nevertheless leveled in the last 15 years, as movies and magazines increasingly display bare-chested men with impossibly chiseled physiques and six-pack abs. “The media has become more of an equal opportunity discriminator,” says Lemberg. “Men’s bodies are not good enough anymore either.”

Equal opportunity self-hatred sells. It’s the American way.

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I was on the fence about pointing folks to a crowd-funding site, but the campaign is over, so now it’s easy to decide. Although she didn’t make her goal, the apparently anonymous blogger at Adventures in Brafitting is opening a shop. I have never seen such an in-depth, thoughtful, quantitative analysis of what makes bras fit and how, and I predict it will do fabulously. All you need is one sentence, though I’ll quote more: “If a bra doesn’t fit you, it’s the fault of the bra, not your body.”

It’s of paramount importance to me that Revelation is a welcoming space. One way I will accomplish that is by approaching bra fit as a collaboration, not a pronouncement from On High. If you are getting a fitting from me, you are using my expertise, but you know your body better than I do, and I will listen to you.

Another way is language. There are plenty of negative words about how people are shaped and I don’t see a reason to use any of them. I’ve seen online fit guides about what to do if you are “saggy” or “oversized” or “abnormal.” Better to use positive or neutral descriptors like “full on top,” “shallow,” or “projected.”

If a bra doesn’t fit you, it’s the fault of the bra, not your body. When you visit Revelation, I hope you will feel supported in more ways than one.

And if you can’t get to Revelation, here’s an older post with a lot of extremely useful detail.

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Most usual sources: Feministe, Feministing, io9, and Shakesville, I got the Cuteosphere comic from supergee and the bra-fitting material from kshandra.

Stunning Industrial Photography: Ethan Miller

Laurie says:

Fine industrial photography always impresses me. I appreciate the aesthetics of a well designed machine and the structural forms lend themselves to work that can have an abstract quality I particularly like.

It’s not a subject matter that crops up a often in my work. But when I was in Iceland I had the opportunity, very contingently, to photograph the Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station. I only had about 45 minutes in the rain because it turned out I wasn’t supposed to be there at all. I was happy with the images I got like the one below.
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I saw these photographs by Ethan Miller of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in this post on In Focus by Allan Taylor on the Atlantic website.
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The three solar thermal power plants that make up the 4,000 acre Ivanpah SEGS near Primm, Nevada, on February 20, 2014. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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In California’s Mojave Desert, about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas (Google map), lies a five-square-mile solar thermal power project called the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (SEGS). The $2.2 billion facility consists of three power plants, each with a 40-story tower surrounded by thousands of sun-following mirrors called heliostats. The mirrors focus sunlight onto boilers atop the towers, creating steam, which drives turbines that generate enough electricity to power 140,000 California homes. The facility, owned by NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy formally opened on February 17 and has a capacity of 392 megawatts. Getty Images photographer Ethan Miller made several trips to Ivanpah recently, returning with these great shots of the massive power plant, now up and running.
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A heliostat with two mirrors reflects other heliostats at the Ivanpah SEGS, on February 27, 2014. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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An aerial view of a solar receiver and boiler atop a tower at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System
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There are 18 of his photos – check them all out!

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