Laurie Toby Edison


Ansel Adams: Photographs Of The Manzanar Relocation Center

Laurie says:

Ansel Adams is known as a magnificent 20th century photographer of black and white of landscapes of the West. But he said that “from a social point of view,” his Manzanar photos were the “most important thing I’ve done or can do, as far as I know.”

adams camp00200r

Landscape with watch tower


He took these photographs in 1943, documenting … one of the most shameful events in U.S. history. In commemoration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the Library of Congress (LOC) blog directs readers to an online set of rare photographs that Adams donated to the Library between 1965 and 1968, placing no copyright restrictions on their use.


Editor Roy Takeno reading a copy of the Manzanar Free Press


As the LOC notes: Several months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were forced from their homes on the West Coast and sent to “relocation centers” by the United States government, which had declared war on Japan.

Documents accompanying the Adams online photo collection say the evacuation “struck a personal chord” with Adams after an ailing family employee was taken from his home to a faraway hospital. When Ralph Merritt, director of the Manzanar War Relocation Center, invited Adams to document camp life, he welcomed the opportunity. He shot more than 200 photos, mostly portraits, but also scenes from daily camp life with the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains often visible in the background.

quote is from i09



Bridge game, Nurse Hamaguchi and friends, Manzanar Relocation Center, California

The photographs have all the exquisite tonalities and composition of Adam”s work. But what strikes me in the political context is that everyone is named and is an individual and is photographed as such. It means that we feel like we are seeing the lives and incarceration of real people.


Benji Iguchi driving tractor, Manzanar Relocation Center, California

Here’s the link to the Library of Congress site. It’s well worth taking the time to explore these photographs.

At the Will of the Body: Part I (Pain)

Lisa Freitag says:

Dr. Lisa Freitag is a former pediatrician in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She wrote some guest posts for us in 2013, and we are delighted to have more of her insightful presence here. This is the first of three or four parts; watch for the others over the next month or so, between posts from Laurie and Debbie. 

It is not clear to me whether it is a side effect of having gone to medical school or an inborn personality trait, but I have always had a rather distant relationship with my body. This, I believe, is not completely uncommon. David Sedaris, in an essay called “A Shiner Like A Diamond” (in Me Talk Pretty One Day) says that he and his brother thought of their bodies as “mere vehicles . . . machines designed to transport our thoughts from one place to another.” (p. 133) His sisters, by contrast, were not allowed to ignore their bodies; they were expected to maintain and decorate them, presumably in order to attract a mate. It seems to me that this could be considered as merely a different form of distancing body and self. But, either way, I gave up early on the feminine decorating bit, and completely subscribed to the idea of the body as a convenient form of transportation.

I just expected my body to walking across a parking lot, straight into a negative 20-plus wind chill. There was a layer of ice at least an inch thick over everything, but it was way too cold to be slippery. All I wanted was to reach a restaurant where it would be warm. Then suddenly my feet swept sideways, and in an instinctive action that I had no time to consider, my entire body weight landed on my left elbow and shoulder. There was pain. No further description is adequate. I waited for it to subside, like it usually does after your mind takes back control, but it did not. With no other choice, really, I got to my feet and walked the rest of the way into Noodles and Company where I sat down at the nearest table. Collapsed actually might be a better word. My body would no longer obey my will.

I stole the title for this essay from a 1991 book by Arthur Frank, a “medical anthropologist” who is quite famous in ethics circles for his writing on the nature of illness and the doctor-patient relationship. He wrote At the Will of the Body after a heart attack at age 41 and a diagnosis of testicular cancer the following year. He is still alive and lecturing about this at ethics conferences, so there is no suspense involved. The book is not about learning to die, but about learning to live in a body that is not performing as expected.

Before the heart attack, Frank was a physically fit man, who was able to run marathons. He unfortunately doesn’t describe what it was like for him to live in this body, as if he never noticed it at all, except to keep it tuned and running like a good car. After the heart attack, he could not depend on his body to help him keep up his image as an athlete, but he was still functional. The cancer put an end to that also, for a while.

And the cancer was heralded by pain, which became the subject of one of the first chapters of the book.

He noticed, as I have, that it is impossible to describe pain. You can point to locations and play with pain scales, but nothing approaches a coherent description of the experience of being in pain. I have found that the more someone complains, the more exaggerated the words chosen to express pain, the less likely one is to be believed. Fewer words have almost exactly the same effect, since pain endured stoically becomes pain ignored by others. Frank believes this is a form of silencing. “Unable to express pain,” he says, “we come to believe there is nothing to say. Silenced, we become isolated in pain, and the isolation increases the pain.” (p. 30)

Pain, Frank thinks, takes over everything else, isolating us inside our bodies and setting us apart from others. The mythology of pain makes it into an external enemy which must be fought, but pain is not a thing separate from the self. Frank feels that his pain, which was a warning signal that something was wrong, made him more aware of his body. The pain was not an external enemy, but a fact of his embodied existence. He says, “Dealing with pain is not war with something outside the body; it is the body coming back to itself.” (p. 32) Pain comes from the body, and so facing pain is facing oneself.

This was not exactly my experience. There was a long, horrible time during which I still imagined things getting quickly back to normal. Since I could not move my arm, and even a tiny bit of movement of my shoulder caused impossible pain, I thought my shoulder might be dislocated. I had a vague idea that if it could be quickly relocated, I could still go on to have dinner and go home. But my body would not cooperate, absolutely refused to walk back to my car and drive me home. There was instead a stretcher, an ambulance, an IV, and narcotics, which I declined but was given anyway. When your body no longer obeys your will, I guess no one else has to either.

I did not have a dislocated shoulder. A series of x-rays, during which my language was quite atrocious, showed a very obvious separation of my elbow, and some mild shoulder displacement due to a displaced fracture. And so, instead of going home and doing whatever it was that I’d meant to do with the next few weeks, I became acquainted with pain.

Perhaps I came back to my self as a body, as Frank did, but that awareness did not seem at all desirable. There was certainly loneliness and isolation, with no way out. I was trapped in my body. Oddly, the elbow, which was the most serious fracture, did not hurt at all (then, anyway). But my shoulder was a weight both holding me down physically and keeping my mental focus internal. Nothing else existed.

I had to stay in the hospital that first night, because I couldn’t move, nailed to the bed by pain that became more intolerable at the slightest shift of position. I was sent home the next morning in a splint that felt like it weighed twenty pounds, to a new world that held very little other than pain. Then they had me come back a week later to have surgery on both joints, and the pain began all over again. After surgery, I needed two nights in the hospital before I could make my body do anything. My shoulder hurt too much.

Eventually Frank was able to do something that he called “seeing through” his pain. He was able to accept the pain and the fragility of his own body, by appreciating that there was still beauty in the world. He found this a transcendent experience, and wrote a five-line “haiku” about it.

I had no transcendent experiences involving pain. It did indeed isolate me in my body and then pin my body to the earth. I did not appreciate any extra awareness that this might have provided. No bad haiku for me.

The pain that Frank was able to “see through” was very different from mine, of course, and ultimately of vastly more importance and consequence for his life. He was, at the point he wrote about it, having pain mostly at night, and was often awake and wandering his house alone. He did not yet know that cancer was causing the pain, and part of his experience was the anxiety of uncertainty. What he saw, through this pain, was a beauty in living that he hadn’t understood until grounded in his own body by the possibility of illness. The pain became more tolerable because of its inability to prevent this joy. I think what he learned was that, while the pain was HIS whole world, the pain was not THE whole world.

For me, the pain was instantly identifiable and expected to improve with healing and, indeed, it did. I’m a bit disappointed that I was unable to see anything “through” it at any point. It feels like some sort of moral failure. Perhaps as a woman I already know vulnerability in a way that Frank could not. Perhaps with the pain slowly improving, I got used to it, and became able to ignore it rather than needing to “see through” it. Perhaps I’ve already learned to see the beauty in the world in other ways.

More likely, I’m just not as nice a person as Frank, unable to find beauty in adversity and instead resenting it very much. In a later chapter, Frank watches from his window as people run past the hospital where he is receiving chemotherapy. He takes joy in the unrestrained movement of their bodies. I’m afraid that I watch people with two functional arms and feel mostly an extreme jealousy.

At this point, my worst pain is pain I cause myself by doing the recommended physical therapy, something I understand I must do if I am going to regain full use of my left arm. My body will once again transport me from place to place, but it is having trouble carrying things.

The shoulder hurts, though not at much, but the elbow won’t bend past ninety degrees. This is astonishingly inconvenient. I spend hours a day doing exercises, during which there is no question that it is not “the” shoulder and elbow, but “my” shoulder and elbow that are hurting. I am exerting my will over my body by causing myself pain.

I fear I want my body to obey me again, and as soon as possible, so I can get on with ignoring it as usual.

Broken Again: Pharaohe Monch and PTSD

Laurie and Debbie say:

Hip-hop artist Pharaohe Monch has a new album called PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD Cover master iTunes RGB

PTSD gets a lot of play in the U.S. news, because of American soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, but the news generally implies that it’s a condition that only or generally affects soldiers.That’s only true to the extent that you can be a soldier in a war or in the street or in your bedroom.

PTSD gets started when people experience violence in their daily lives: in their homes, in their neighborhoods, or in their livelihoods.  You can have PTSD from being an incest survivor, or a fireman, or living in a dangerous neighborhood. You can get PTSD from what you do and from what’s done to you … frequently both.

Melissa Harris-Perry interviewed Monch about the album. One  especially visceral track is “Broken Again.”

In this song, Monch nails the experience of PTSD by putting you there, both with the music/lyrics and with the video images.

PTSD is everywhere and everyone needs to be aware of it. Pharaohe Monch isn’t making anything easy here; he’s telling the truth instead.

Notes from the Burnout Zone

Lynne Murray says:

Lately I find myself having trouble engaging with the world enough to write a blog post. A post I read about burning out caused a flicker of recognition and I realized that, once again, I am in that place. I’ve been here before, mostly for emotional pain and angst.In this case, sickness with a generous dose of pain has engaged my attention.

For a few years in my 20′s I worked at sorting out how to continue my Buddhist practice without the cult that introduced me to it. I wandered in the wilderness of my own mind and drank a lot. I also dieted, binge-ate and felt deeply ashamed that I was (I thought) a failure at everything. I talked to the walls a lot. My favorite text was Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack Up.

From this point in my life, Fitzgerald’s essay looks to me like eloquent and entitled whining. If you read the essay in its entirety, you will be struck by Fitzgerald’s casual racism, but when this was my favorite essay in the 1970s, my white-kid-from-the suburbs consciousness was still being raised and I read right past the offensive language in a way I can’t do now. Suffice it to say that at that time, Fitzgerald’s words perfectly captured the cynicism of damaged egocentric idealism with a side order of alcohol.

After I emerged from a few years in that burnout zone, I had found my center in my Buddhist practice. I had also written an unreadable first novel and learned that I love to write novels, the activity that now makes my life worth living.

I didn’t know what would happen until after the burnout was over.

In the years since, I’ve managed to go through life without slipping into isolation, even through the deaths of loved ones, onset of physical disabilities, and extreme financial hardship.

Lately though, I’ve hit a more intense stretch of pain and frustration in dealing with persistent illness, and I’ve been tipped into the burnout zone. When Laurie asked me if I had a potential blog post nothing struck a chord.

I’m not going to go into details about the nature of the physical illness, because I’m just not able to deal with any advice. I’ve tried seven to ten strategies over the past three months, conventional and “un.” One plainspoken friend asked why I’m trying so many different solutions to the painful consequences of my disability.

Why so many?  The answer is: some made it worse, some did little and some helped. So far nothing has worked well enough to completely heal my illness, or effectively relieve my pain. I’m still trying. My daily life is sidetracked and relationships with other people are a bit … attenuated.

But two recent blog posts (both about burnout related to fat activism, rather than to pain and disability) actually raised a flicker of interest that brought me out of the deepest isolation.

On the Health At Every Size® blog, Fall Ferguson, JD, MA, Assistant Professor of Health Education at John F. Kennedy University writes:

There are anti-obesity articles published every day, so I can’t tell you why this one in particular hit me harder. It probably had as much to do with whatever else was going on my life than the article itself. The question that interests me here is what next? How to regroup and reignite the activist fires within? I have three ideas to start the list:

1.    Strategic Retreat: It has to be OK to retreat and “reboot” from time to time. A little R&R away from the front, as it were.

2.    Support: It’s important to seek support from others. I am not very good at this; I tend to brood alone and in silence. But when I overcome that instinct and reach out, the HAES and size acceptance communities are incredibly warm and supportive.

3.     Perspective: Fighting the good fight can’t be about winning every skirmish. I see the cultural shift slowly happening; we all do. Our success breeds outrage among those who have the most to lose. The more acceptance accorded to the HAES approach, the more strident some voices will become in opposition. I am deeply interested in building bridges and finding commonalities of purpose as a long-term strategy, but I also know that there will be those who are not open to making alliances, and you can’t win everyone over.

The HAES® files: And yet it moves…

The other post, FATigued: Finding a second wind in body acceptance was from Dr. Deah Schwartz, PhD, a therapist with a Doctorate in Education, an MS in Therapeutic Recreation, and an MA in Creative Arts Education. She is the author of Leftovers: The Ups and Downs of a Compulsive Overeater and Dr. Deah’s Calmanac, a 12-month interactive guide designed to transform negative body image and disordered eating patterns into a body positive health at every size® approach to wellness.

I am tired. The endless intrusion of diet mandates and body hating messages that wheedle their way into my world via billboards, television, radio, movies, magazines, books, blogs, trolls, and the insidious drive by shoutings has left me fatigued.  Considering we are in beach-body-season, this is to be expected…and I know that because this is my area of personal and professional concern I am perhaps exposed more than most…but I just have to admit that sometimes I hit the wall and feel depleted and hopeless. …

But I am better now.  Because today I read four wonderful body positive articles that gave me hope and infused me with just enough energy to rally, write this blog, and head off to my son’s college graduation. 

I don’t know what personal growth will come out of my own patch of bad road. One never knows that until way after it’s over. The trick is getting through it.

I trust that I will.

2014 WisCon/Tiptree Speeches: Body Image and Much More

Debbie says:

This year’s WisCon had a particularly extraordinary set of guest of honor and Tiptree Award speeches at the Sunday night dessert banquet.

The first guest of honor to speak was Hiromi Goto, author of (among others) The Kappa Child (Tiptree Award winner), Hopeful Monsters, and various young adult books including Half World. Hiromi spoke mostly about story as lived experience.

Story is what has brought me here, today. Story is what has brought you here. We are alike and very unalike in many, many ways. Our bodies, our genders, our sexuality, cultural and historical backgrounds, class, faith, atheism, migration, immigration, colonization, have had us experiencing our lives and our sense of place (if not home) in distinct and particular ways. These differences, at times can divide us. These differences can be used against us to keep us divided. But here we find ourselves. Look around you. The faces of friends and the faces of strangers. We came here because of story. There is much power in story.

There is a Japanese term: kotodama. Word spirit. When you invoke a word you animate it. It becomes. We see echoes of this in other religions/philosophies. I.e. the word is god. When writers try to imagine different ways of engaging, humans to other humans, humans with aliens, humans with animals, all these different relationships, we can make possible new kinds of engagements. To bring stories alive in this way is to try to make change in the workings and fabric of our world. If something is not of this world already, it first needs to be imagined. After it is imagined, it needs to be shaped by the parameters of language. And in writing, in the utterance, the story can begin its life. It can become.

And so we begin. With each telling. With every retelling. A slight skewing of the familiar toward a different plane. The perspective shifts and the way the light falls upon the world casts it anew, ripe with possibility.

N.K. Jemisin‘s guest of honor speech was a call to arms, and war is something we conduct with our bodies:

Maybe you think I’m using hyperbole here, when I describe the bigotry of the SFF [science fiction and fantasy] genres as “violence”. Maybe I am using hyperbole — but I don’t know what else to call it. SFF are dedicated to the exploration of the future and myth and history. Dreams, if you want to frame it that way. Yet the enforced SWM dominance of these genres means that the dreams of whole groups of people have been obliterated from the Zeitgeist. And it’s not as if those dreams don’t exist. They’re out there, in spades; everyone who dreams is capable of participating in these genres. But many have been forcibly barred from entry, tormented and reeducated until they serve the status quo. Their interests have been confined within creative ghettos, allowed out only in proscribed circumstances and limited numbers. When they do appear, they are expected to show their pass and wear their badge: “Look, this is an anthology of NATIVE AMERICAN ANCIENT WISDOM from back when they existed! Put a kachina on the cover or it can’t be published. No, no, don’t put an actual Navajo on the cover, what, are you crazy? We want the book to sell. That person looks too white, anyway, are you sure they aren’t lying about being an Indian? What the hell is a Diné? What do you mean you’re Inuit?”

But the violence that has been done is more than metaphysical or thematic. Careers have been strangled at birth. Identities have been raped — and I use that word intentionally, not metaphorically. What else to call it when a fan’s real name is stripped of its pseudonym, her life probed for data and details until she gets phone calls at her home and workplace threatening her career, her body, and her family? (I don’t even need to name a specific example of this; it’s happened too often, to too many people.) Whole subgenres like magic realism and YA have been racially and sexually profiled, with discrimination based on that profiling so normalized as to be nearly invisible.

Arm yourselves. … Claim the knowledge and language that will be your weapons. Go to sources of additional knowledge for fresh ammunition — histories and analyses of the genre by people who see beyond the status quo, our genre elders, new sources of knowledge like “revisionist” scholarship instead of the bullshit we all learned in school. Find support groups of like-minded souls; these are your comrades-in-arms, and you will need their strength. Don’t try to do this alone. When you’re injured, seek help …. Exercise to stay strong, if you can; defend what health you have, if you can’t. And from here on, wherever you see bigotry in the genre? Attack it. Don’t wait for it to come directly at you; attack it even if it’s hitting another group. If you won’t ride or die for anyone else, how can you expect them to ride or die for you? Understand that there are people in this genre who hate you, and who do not want you here, and who will hurt you if they can. Do not tolerate their intolerance. Don’t be “fair and balanced.” Tell them they’re unwelcome. Make them uncomfortable. Shout them down. Kick them out. Fucking fight.

This post should end there. But the WisCon evening follows the Guest of Honor speeches with the Tiptree Award presentation, and N.A. Sulway, winner of this year’s Tiptree Award for her novel, Rupetta, had to follow it, so I won’t cheat. Nike brought in a third voice, perhaps the most directly body-image related of the three. She talked about her novel is, in some ways, a response to Rene Descartes, the philosopher who exemplifies the “mind is more important than body” line of thought of his time.

Rupetta is in some sense a book about compromised mothering. About non-conforming mothers. About mothers who are separated from their children. About grief. And longing.

My first wish is that we—and by we here I mean feminists—learn to speak about mothering in new, honest, complex and powerful ways. Not as an essential aspect of femininity, because it is not that, or as a biological right, but as a process we, as women, are often part of; a process many of us experience as both a source of power, and a means of oppression. As an intimate and deeply private process, and a very public role.

Descartes is, of course, perhaps most famous for the ideas he laid down in his Discourse on the Method and Principles of Philosophy. It is here that he decides that the only thing we can know without any doubt is that we are thinking beings.

That we think, and therefore we are.

My second wish is that we will continue and finally complete the work of undoing the false assumption expressed so powerfully by Descartes that it is our minds—our intellects—that are our only Truth. That our bodies are merely the vessels in which we live. I want to find a way to convince you to understand that we think with our bodies, and feel with our minds.

My third and final wish is that, one day, we will find a way to encounter the new, the unfamiliar or uncanny, without fear or superstition or terror. That we will not, in that moment when the stranger sits up and turns to us, hurl stones or throw them overboard. But instead find a way to open our minds and hearts and embrace that strangeness on its own terms. With courage, and grace, and full acceptance.

Story, rage against injustice, and integration of the body and mind. Or, for those of us who were sitting there, the voices of three extraordinary women.

Photographs In 2014 National Queer Arts Festival

Laurie says:

I’m delighted to have 2 of my nude portraits in Body, body, bodies, a feature exhibition of the 2014 National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco.

One is of my friend Tee Corinne (taken shortly before her death in 2006). Tee was a groundbreaking Lesbian erotic artist whose works included The Cunt Coloring Book, her solarized erotic photographs of lesbians,  and her remarkable final project Scars, Stoma, Ostomy Bag, Portacath: Picturing Cancer In Our Lives.


Tee Corrine


The other is of Samuel R Delany, from my photo suite Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes. From his earliest books as a science fiction writer, his work included issues of sexuality, ethnicity, race and gender, including polyamorous love. He brought queerness into the future.

… It was at this point that Delany began dealing with sexual themes to an extent rarely equaled in serious writing. Dhalgren and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand include several sexually explicit passages, and several of his books such as Equinox (originally published as The Tides of Lust, a title that Delany does not endorse), The Mad Man, Hogg and Phallos can be considered pornography, a label Delany himself endorses.  (Wikipedia)

He was named a Grandmaster of Science Fiction at the Nebula Awards in San Jose earlier this month.



The Bay Area has a long history of political activism that extends to this day. This history of civic engagement has nurtured visual art that pays special attention to the politics of the body as well as the body politic. For those who are denied access to traditional political means, or for those who voluntarily reject this, artists have used their own bodies as sites of political transformation or contestation.

Whether it is in performance art, installation, film/video, photography, or traditional media such as painting and drawing, artists use bodies (their own and others) as site, metaphor, and catalyst for change. This year’s exhibition presents 27 cutting edge artists who take on the body for your pleasure and edification.

This exhibition is produced by the Queer Cultural Center as a visual arts centerpiece of the National Queer Arts Festival 2014. This year’s festival theme is “Body Politic/s,” and more information about upcoming festival programming can be found here.

The opening is at the Somarts Gallery, 934 Brannan Street, in San Francisco on June 7th, from 2PM-5PM. I’ll be there and so will Deb.

5/29 – And there is a walk-through with curators and artists (open to the public) on June 14, 11am. And I’ll be there too.

Fun Before WisCon, or Men Saving Room for Cats

Debbie says:

I’ve often been tempted to blog about the various Tumblr and Instagram collections of men taking up more than their share of room on public transit. For one thing, this conversation always reminds me of the fabulous Fat Lip Readers’ Theatre, from my early days as a fat activist, talking about how fat women have the power to appreciate taking up space on public transit rather than cowering into a corner.

But in the end, I’ve always decided that there wasn’t really enough to say about the topic; (many) men take up extra space, (many) women squeeze into the smallest spaces possible.

But now, the real reason for this male behavior has been unveiled, and it’s too good not to share. They’re saving room for giant house cats!

saving room for cats 3

There are lots more at the link!

Maya at Feministing found this before I did.

Laurie and I are taking off for WisCon, and our annual one-week break from blogging at this time of year. See you next week!

Teen Mothers: Defining and Determining Their Own Communities

Laurie and Debbie say:

Probably because May has Mother’s Day in it, it’s also “National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month,” which might as well be called “National Hand-Wringing Month.”  To talk about teen mamas, let’s start by remembering that the teen birth rate has declined almost continuously over the past 23 years. In 1991, the U.S. teen birth rate was 61.8 births for every 1,000 adolescent females, compared with 29.4 births for every 1,000 adolescent females in 2012. In addition, nearly 20% of these teen births are young women having second babies, so the number of teen mothers is even smaller.

Many of these teen mothers are 17-19, ages that at the younger end are considered adulthood in many cultures, many places around the world, and many communities in the U.S. At the older end, these women are simply adults. Marriage at 18 without parental permission is legal in 49 of the 50 U.S. states, and with parental permission it can be legal as young as 14. Many teen mothers are married. Laurie was not far out of her teens (21), and married, and a successful businesswoman who had been financially independent for years, when she had her first child, and (to say the least) has no regrets.

Nonetheless, the most talked-about and criticized case is the unwed pregnant teen, who chooses to have and raise the baby. People make this decision based on all kinds of familial, cultural, and financial influences, and it is a decision that is frequently shamed and rarely respected. Mary Louise Kuti-Schubert and Natasha Vianna have something to say about what this is like.

Before our high school graduations, we were juggling the internal and external difficulties of being teens while flourishing into devoted young mothers raising babies. It was incredibly hard to be a teen and harder once adding the role of loving caregiver, but we also knew it was rewarding. We imagined how difficult it would be to give birth and raise a child, like any parent, but were dedicated to our mamahood….

From needing to use a WIC card at the grocery store only to face rude stares or having to leave school early to pick up your child only to be greeted by glares of disappointment that it took you so long to arrive, there was always something. There is this high expectation that we need to do it all alone, yet we are held to these low expectations of what we’re actually capable of doing.

This is the classic description of a “double bind,” a rope around your wrists that tightens painfully whichever direction you move in. Move towards your schooling, and you’re a bad mother (“we knew you’d be a bad mother; you’re too young”). Move toward your baby and you’re irresponsible (“we knew you couldn’t hack your schoolwork with a baby”).

Kuti-Schubert and Vianna conclude, as so many people in double binds have concluded before them, that building, maintaining, and relying on community is the only answer:

Having the ability to virtually connect with mamas and allies who were ready and willing to listen and support us have been a crucial part of redefining and improving our community. We aren’t limited to our physical environment but can turn to each other at any time for some guidance, for some advice, or just to talk.

And through our experiences, we know there are times when the support we needed to keep pushing only came from one person or one organization, but this patronage helped us so much. Our motivation to be good parents could be fully ignited when we have that boost of confidence from our community and ourselves.

What young mothers need is two-fold: respect, and support. That’s why it’s so terrific to see these young mothers speaking for themselves, demanding and expecting the respect they deserve, and creating and nurturing their own support.

Thanks to Veronica Bayetti Flores at Feministing for the pointer.

Links Return After Long Absence

Debbie says:

First we had website problems, then I was not collecting links, but now we’re back on track.

I love these “end the awkward” ads from Scope: About Disability, a British organization.

If you follow through from the ad to the quiz, you eventually get to this very useful basics list, great for people who don’t have experience with people with disabilities, and great for PWD who don’t want to keep answering the same questions all the time.

While we’re in quiz mode, this is the funniest, best-written feminist quiz/humor piece Laurie and I have seen in a long time, written by Heben Nigatu, Alanna Okun, and Jessica Probus, all staffers at Buzzfeed. It’s 64 questions long (and still worth the time)! Here’s a brief sample:

Have you ever:

  • Complimented a man as surprisingly “articulate.”
  • Referred to a movie that jacks off to men’s subjectivity as a “dick flick.”
  • Talked over a man in a meeting, because what does he know, right?

At least in our circles, the Hollywood-is-destructive conversation circles around what women have to do to their bodies to succeed, but men are hardly immune. Alan Bostick guest-blogged this topic for us many years ago, and if things have changed, they’ve changed for the worse. J. Brian Lowder writes in Slate about an article by Logan Hill for  Men’s Journal (quotations are from Hill’s article):

Now objectification makes no gender distinctions: Male actors’ bare asses are more likely to be shot in sex scenes; their vacation guts and poolside man boobs are as likely to command a sneering full-page photo in a celebrity weekly’s worst-bodies feature, or go viral as a source of Web ridicule. A sharply defined inguinal crease – the twin ligaments hovering above the hips that point toward a man’s junk – is as coveted as double-D cleavage. Muscle matters more than ever, as comic-book franchises swallow up the box office, in the increasingly critical global market. (Hot bodies and explosions don’t need subtitles.) Thor-like biceps and Captain America pecs are simply a job requirement; even “serious” actors who never aspired to mega-stardom are being told they need a global franchise to prove their bankability and land Oscar-caliber parts. …

There’s lots more (including a lot about steroids and human growth hormone), and it’s all worth reading, in an upsetting way.

Laurie has been reading Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People, which is high on my to-read list. This article about Iranians, by Alex Shams for the Ajam Media Collective, made her think of how Painter conceptualizes whiteness, and it is also thought-provoking in its own right.

As a light-skinned, biracial Iranian-American, however, the supposedly clear lines dividing White from [people of color] POC are a bit difficult for me to parse. On one hand, I almost always pass as just White, and rarely if ever experience the feeling of being targeted, singled out, or discriminated against based on my looks alone. Despite increasingly bushy eyebrows, my light skin tone has long ensured that I enjoy substantial racial privilege for my ability to pass as (fully) White.

Passing as White meant I looked like “the norm” and was never made to feel out of place, saw people who looked like me whenever I turned on the television, and never had to fear or suspect that negative experiences I had were a result of racism (among many other privileges I enjoyed). I knew for certain that my father’s ability to pass as a well-tanned White man had ensured his own ability to succeed professionally at a time when his Iranian name had closed many doors. I was sure of this because his ability to pass, as well as my own, meant that we were both “privileged” to hear the secret racist and Islamophobic comments directed towards others that happened in the lily-white boardrooms and classrooms that we each navigated.

And yet the more I spoke with White folks about race, the more I began to understand that many of my experiences of bullying throughout childhood were directly tied to my ethnicity in ways I hadn’t previously realized. As obvious as it now sounds, it had never occurred to me before that being harassed for supposedly being a terrorist or being called “Saddam” or “Osama” in middle school hallways was not a universal experience for American children, and that these experiences were not merely unpleasant but were in fact definitively racist.

Everyone with a conscience, and/or a heart, and any involvement whatsoever with the news, is concerned about the kidnapped Nigerian girls and the standoff with Boko Haram. Without in any way detracting from the important part (these girls are in dreadful danger!), this very thoughtful piece by Caperton at Feministe, looks at both sides of how “hashtag activism” interacts with local terror and cultural standoff.

What #BringBackOurGirls won’t do

  • Spur direct individual activism.
  • Give you a place in the tragedy.
  • Spread understanding.

What #BringBackOurGirls can do: Keep the eyes of the world on rescue efforts (or lack thereof).

Caperton expands usefully on each of these points.

Last but not least (except in the eyes of many scientists), George Dvorsky at io9 writes about a scientific paper by Malin Ah-King, Andrew B. Barron, and Marie E. Herberstein, “Genital Evolution: Why Are Females Still Understudied?” Dvorsky draws on a PLOS (Public Library of Science) blog post by Roli Roberts who summarizes the reason for the (quite significant) discrepancy between studies of vaginas and studies of penises:

a)      Biological: Female genitalia don’t vary enough to drive evolutionary change.

b)      Practical: They do vary, and do drive evolution, but are devilishly hard to study.

c)       Intellectual: They do vary and drive evolution, and can be studied, but the field is intellectually blinkered.

When I was growing up, we called this kind of argument:

a) I didn’t borrow it.

b) It was broken when I borrowed it.

c) It was in perfect shape when I returned it.

Most usual sources: Feministe, Feministing, io9, and Shakesville. This time, Kerry Ellis sent us the Scope videos, and nancylebov found the men-in-Hollywood article.





Julia Margaret Cameron: The Art of Imperfection

Laurie says:

I wish I could say that my work was influenced by Julia Cameron’s portraits.  I’ve seen a fair number of the originals and I admire them a great deal.   But I didn’t find her work until my portrait style had been long established.  I think it’s possible that if I had discovered her earlier she might have had a real effect on my work. I became a photographer when I was 47 with no previous experience.  Cameron became one at 48 with a similar lack of experience.  We also share. among other things, an unrelenting focus on our work. She was a member of the British colonial aristocracy so clearly we have only aspects of our art in common. All of the quotes are from Anthony Lane’s review of her work at an exhibition at the Met.  It’s well worth reading all of it.  The link to the museum’s slides of her portraits is here.

..In 1863, however, there was a lull. Charles {her husband} was away in Ceylon, as were two of the couple’s sons. Julia was lonely (“I assume vivacity of manner for my own sake as well as for others,” she said, in a gust of candor), and one of her daughters gave her a present to keep her spirits up, adding, “It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude.” The gift was a camera. She was forty-eight years old. Being given a camera, in the eighteen-sixties, especially if you were a woman, was like being given a new Mini nowadays: the latest boxy object, practical and fun (“It may amuse you”), lending dash to your existence and allowing you to see more of your friends. What Cameron got, in fact, was two wooden boxes, one of which slid inside the other, with a French lens of fixed aperture. Images were recorded on a heavy, rectangular glass plate—the film of its day—measuring eleven inches by nine. In 1866, when the bug had bitten deep, she upgraded to an even bulkier piece of kit, which took plates of fifteen by twelve. Not only would a Mini be easier to operate. It would be easier to carry.

She understood that perfection is not what great work is about, contrary to the dominant schools of 20th century photography.


portrait of Julia Jackson

Julia Jackson

“I felt my way literally in the dark thro’ endless failures,” she stated in a letter of February, 1864. Her hands, not to mention her table linen, grew black and brown with chemicals, among them potassium cyanide, used to remove excess developer. She persevered, printing a negative that more finicky artists would have thrown away. One of her best-known images from that year, a portrait of the teen-age actress Ellen Terry, entitled “Sadness,” was patched up, rephotographed, and reissued in 1875, but I prefer the original (the J. Paul Getty Museum has a fine example), with a gaping black triangle in the lower half where the collodion peeled away from the glass. It tells us what Cameron believed was worth preserving, and what wounds could be borne in that cause. Similarly, at the Met, look at “Sappho” (1865), in which one of her housemaids, Mary Hillier, is posed in profile, wearing a richly embroidered dress, and you will witness a torn white line running from the left-hand border, imprinted by an angry crack in the plate. Do we think the less of this study in dignity, or do we see past such flaws, or through them, much as we accept them in somebody we love?

And she understood that the vision is in the eye of the artist and not an abstract standard of what is “right”.  And she had the necessary complete confidence in her vision.


portrait of Alice Liddell

Alice Liddell (of Wonderland)

..Then, there is the fuzzy matter of focus. Nothing in Cameron’s legacy is fought over with more gusto (“It is not the mission of photography to produce smudges,” one thunderous rival photographer wrote), and nothing in her own pronouncements is more abrupt than the challenge she put to Sir John Herschel in a letter: “What is focus—& who has a right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?” Herschel was highly qualified to enlighten her, being not just “an illustrious and revered as well as beloved friend” and, like his father, William, a leading astronomer but also a photographic pioneer, who discovered hypo (still used as a fixer to stabilize negatives and prints), and was the first to employ the word “negative” in this sense. But Cameron, as usual, was not expecting a reply. Scorning the “definite focus” desired by other practitioners, she preferred to stop focussing when she arrived at “something which to my eye was very beautiful,” an assertion that has encouraged later commentators to wonder about her eyesight. Even when she changed cameras and switched to a lens with a movable aperture, she chose to keep it at its widest, which meant a shallow depth of field—one thin plane of focus, with everything in front of it and behind it slipping into a haze. Factor in the lengthy exposure time, which forced Cameron’s sitters to attempt immobility—described by one of them as “torture”—and you realize how precarious the search for clarity must have been. But what exactly did she wish to make clear? Her most perceptive biographer of recent years, Victoria Olsen, gets the balance right: “Cameron could make perfectly focused images but she did not always want to.” Herschel himself sat for Cameron, over two days in 1867. In one shot, she homed in on the most precise of focal points: the stubble on the old man’s chin. (Too wise for vanity, he said that it “beats hollow everything I ever liked in photography before.”) The Met has two more results from that sitting, very like one another, and less sharp. The rheumy eyes that have seen stars—Herschel had already published his “General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars”—are the lens’s target, yet, despite being viewed not through a telescope but from a few feet away, they are in a mist.

Herschel is encumbered with no props; nothing gives a clue to his labors or a hint of his formal eminence. All we have is a face, emerging from blackness and staring at us with gentle perplexity, sad and unsevere, as though inquiring into the origin of our species. As Cameron wrote to a friend, “The history of the human face is a book we don’t tire of, if we can get its grand truths, & learn them by heart.” A white neckerchief encircles the sage’s throat, rhyming with the messy halo, like a solar flare, around his head. The happiest rumor surrounding this majestic photograph is that its maker prepared the way, shortly beforehand, by getting the great man to wash his hair.

portrait of Sir John Herschel

Sir John Herschel

Her portraits vividly capture the individually of her subjects.  (She photographed many of her famous friends.) The character of many of her photographs of women are strong and vivid and are a powerful contradiction to Victorian stereotypes. Although, we are not seeing what her contemporaries saw. We are seeing brilliant work in the context of our time.

Cameron’s work, unusually for me, makes me feel like I’ve touched another photographer across time.

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