For the record, the tattoo on Kristen Powell’s stomach is a hamburger, not a cheeseburger.

In some bored Internet surfing not long ago I stumbled upon a picture of Maud Wagner, the first female tattoo artist in the U.S.

There’s no mincing words about this: girl is fine. From her Gibson Girl hair to her completely covered décolletage, aesthetically she’s a woman I look up to. And I can’t help thinking she helped pave the way for me, as well.*

I got my first tattoo when I was 18. It was on this list that I had of things to do before I died. And since it didn’t seem like I’d be headed to Paris anytime soon, I decided that getting tattooed would be one of the easier things to cross off the list. Now, I’m finishing up a full sleeve and have a good handful of others. It’s hard to say why I can’t stop getting tattooed.

In reading up on Maud Wagner, I discovered an article by Christine Braunberger that was published in the National Women’s Studies Association Journal (now called Feminist Formations) in 2000. Entitled “Revolting Bodies: The Monster Beauty of Tattooed Women,” the article was like a warm inky hug to this monster beauty.

The piece delves into the cultural history of tattooed women in the U.S. and the different reasons women got and continue to get tattooed, what getting tattooed means to them and how society then reads them. Ultimately, tattooed women are troubling because tattoos highlight and hypersexualize women’s bodies, but they also are a masculine text.

The first heavily tattooed women in America were sideshow tattooed ladies and they’re an excellent example of this confusing dichotomy. Braunberger refers to them as “self-made freaks.”

Tattooed women had to work to be freaks; tattoos are not formed by an errant allele.** Sideshow ladies were allowed to show more skin than other women of the period which literally and figuratively exposed them to male gaze. But they also had significantly more financial and geographic independence than the vast majority of Victorian women.

Stories of “tattoo rape” usually accompanied these women. More often than not, they had supposedly been forcibly tattooed by Indians, their abusive father or both. In reality, these women chose a tattooed life consciously and were supporting themselves. What’s more, thanks to Victorian fashion, when they weren’t performing, their tattoos were usually covered.

Perhaps though, their hidden tattoos were more terrifying. After all, what’s more dangerous than a women with a secret?

Basically, Braunberger’s look at tattooed women calls to mind an anthropological mixed bag of terms like “agency,” “talkback” and “Introjection.”

As a modern-day tattooed lady, this piece meant a lot to me. I don’t know why getting tattooed is so appealing to me. I will say that the first tattoo I got below my wrist came in conjunction with the decision that I would never work a desk job. And that crashing the veritable dick-fest that is the back of most tattoo shops often feels like a subversive experience in and of itself.

My tattoo experience is probably best summarized with a conundrum I recently presented a tattoo artist. “How am I supposed to make an anchor girly?” he asked, responding to my request.

I don’t know; I’m figuring it out.

*In some moderately bizarre facet of “noble savage” ideology, tattooing was actually relatively popular among upper class women and men in the second half of the 19th century in Europe. Winston Churchill’s mother had a snake tattooed around her wrist, guys. But you probably wouldn’t know that, because it seems “wrong.”

**Though prominent tattooed lady Artoria Gibbons once told a reporter that she was born covered in tattoos because her mother saw too many movies while she was in the womb

Canoneers: spring is here! In with the new! Etc! In that spirit, we’ve come to you, dear readers, to ask, “What are we reading now?” List your favorite feminist/womanist/social justice books and blogs in the comments, and help everyone update their spring reading lists. Specifically we’re looking for hidden gems. Maybe your awesome — but oddly, not famous — friend writes an awesome blog? Maybe you’re reading an under-celebrated feminist essayist? Let us know! Oh and self-promote, self-promote, self-promote!

Mia: As for books, I’m currently reading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, just like everybody else around here. (I read somewhere that it’s the first book that really talks about women’s lives, which is horrifying, considering it wasn’t published until 1962.) I just finished Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero, which is a brutal little book — that is to say, you’ll finish it in one sitting and you’ll cry several times. I’m working on Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, which is a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and tells the story of Mr. Rochester’s Creole wife before she was locked in the attic. Oh and I finished Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton a few weeks ago; it’s noteworthy for honestly depicting the hard lives of the Victorian working class. Speaking of Gaskell and Bronte, I’m also halfheartedly attempting (because there’s too much on my plate already) the former’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte, which is the first biography of a female writer written by another female writer.

Blog-wise, I’m naturally reading everything. But a few blogs I’ve recently started following regularly are What Tami Said (she writes really smartly about gender, race and sometimes books, which of course we love), Lady Journos (it aggregates news stories, old and new, by women) and the Pursuit of Harpyness (I’ve actually been following these ladies for a while, but I have to give them a shout-out for regularly featuring poets).

Lindsay: I will admit that, after reading her Canonball post earlier this week, I spent much of Tuesday afternoon reading and rereading all of my dear friend Laura Z.’s blog and stifling giggles at my desk. Required reading for all. I’d also like to put in a plug for Alyx Vesey’s blog Feminist Music Geek, which is dependably amazing but I will give out an extra special shout-out to her recent post about Odd Future. And, like many other a Canonball writer, I have recently become enamored with Molly Lambert’s pieces on This Recording, although with news of her recent departure from the site I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

As far as dead trees go, right now I am reading Eileen Myles’s totally delectable Inferno (A Poet’s Novel). It’s one of those books that I like so much that I feel I have to give the sanctity of proper reading conditions: never on the subway, never when somebody else has the TV on, only in complete and total silence because then and only then can you become properly enmeshed in Myles’s language. It has been slow-going because I’m treating this way, but that’s a good thing because I don’t want it to end. I also just finished up Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider; I’ll save most of my thoughts for when we discuss it as our next book club selection, but suffice to say (spoilers) I loved it. And, aside from all this lady business, I have been reading a collection of journal entries and letters written by Yves Klein, upon whom I have such a humongous brain-crush. For a pick-me-up, I have been revisiting a letter he wrote in 1958 to the President of the International Conference for the Detection of Nuclear Explosions, suggesting that all A- and H-bombs be painted the particular shade of blue that he used in his famous monochrome paintings. The bombs’ disintegration, he says in this letter (which is cheekily CC’ed to “His Holiness the Dalai Lama” and “Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Science Monitor;” again: brain-and-all-other-kinds-of-crush), will “allow for the most spectacular monochrome realizations that humanity, and dare I say, the cosmos itself will have known.”

Lindsay returns to her alma mater, reveals her love of manatees.

“8 boys are having a craft night. If each boy knits 2 baby hats, how many baby hats will the boys knit in all?”

For D.C. teacher Jessica Hall’s second graders, this is an average, everyday math problem. “As teachers, we get to create what is normal,” she says. “And I want them to see that [boys knitting baby hats] is totally normal.”

This weekend, I attended a workshop that Hall and fellow D.C. teacher Julia Hainer-Voiland lead as a part of the 11th annual Visions in Feminism conference at American University, my and Mia’s beloved alma mater. We spent the day attending panels on activist filmmaking and the racial issues surrounding reproductive rights, as well as wandering the grounds to revisit as many of our favorite campus bathrooms – an experience we found weirdly and profoundly evocative of college’s long-forgotten mundanities. Upon entering a particular bathroom next to the site of a business class I once hated, I felt the back of my neck prickle with a familiar dread at having to spend another hour and fifteen minutes discussing the success of Dunkin Donuts’ branding campaign. But there was something different about the bathroom where I used to flee for a brief moment of respite from my senior thesis seminar: the ViF organizers had turned it into a gender neutral facility. For that afternoon anyway, we feminists were taking over.

Hall and Hainer-Voiland’s talk was called “Teaching from the Margins: Feminist Theory in the Classroom” and it explored the challenges and triumphs they’ve experienced in trying to get elementary school aged students to think critically about gender, race and class. Now, I’m not a teacher myself, but that made the workshop all the more fascinating to me; they brought up a lot of questions about feminist theory and pedagogy that I’d never explicitly thought about before. How do you instill in young children an understanding that history is multivalent rather than one-sided? How can you “run a tight ship” in the classroom without succumbing to traditional models of hierarchy? And, perhaps the trickiest question of all: what are the most effective ways to get young students thinking critically about the gender binaries that pervade our culture? As Hall and Hainer-Voiland demonstrated, it’s not easy. It’s not like you can make a fifth grader to do a book report on Gender Trouble or something.

Instead, they emphasized the importance of thinking critically about the role of the teacher. Not just a neutral figurehead bound to tradition, the feminist teacher understands that s/he is a “transmitter of knowledge, cultural expectations and strategies to gain or access knowledge.” Discussion, they stressed, is one of the most important components of the feminist classroom. Inspired by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings that “to listen is to love,” Hainer-Voiland explains to her students the importance of what she calls “brain listening” – being mentally present while other people are talking. She also encourages her students not only to speak up, but to be aware of how often they’re speaking – and who in the room they’re silencing when they exert too much control over the conversation. It might sound like a theory overload, but trust me, it works! Hainer-Voiland showed us a great video of her kids role playing as a group of union workers on strike. They each took turns speaking and listening, and before one of the group leaders spoke, he handed the designated “talking bean bag” to another student, explaining, “He hasn’t spoken yet.”

One of my favorite of Hainer-Voiland’s feminist classroom practices involved – yes – manatees. When the kids were going to learn about those cuddly cows of the sea (and, if you couldn’t already tell, one of my top 3 favorite animals when I was a fifth grader), she did an interesting thought experiment.  “As a teacher, it’s not just my role to decide what we learn,” she says, “but also how we learn it and from what perspective.” She gave the kids a list of options  of what they’d like to learn about manatees, among them a fact-based approach (“How long can manatees hold their breath underwater?”) and an “emotion”-based approach (“How do manatees care for their young?”). She polled the students on what they’d like to know about manatees, and then she asked them to predict how they thought their male and female peers would answer. Almost unanimously, the class predicted that the boys would vote for the fact-based approach and that the girls would want to know facts about child-rearing and families. In reality, it was the opposite. Interactive exercises like this allow teachers to effectively demonstrate kids the gap between gender roles and reality without beating it over their heads – because no matter what they’re still learning some awesome facts about manatees, too.

At the end of the workshop, Hall and Hainer-Voiland asked us all a question: “If all classrooms were grounded in feminism, what would our future look like?” It’s certainly an inspiring scenario to consider. As they showed us, small changes in traditional classroom dynamics can make great, tangible impact on the way children think about and formulate gender. It’s hard to imagine all teachers exhibiting such a laudable commitment to bringing feminist theory into the classroom, but of this part I’m sure: at this workshop and all the others, Visions in Feminism 2011 provided a space for discussion, community and a whole lot of brain listening.

Audrey Mardavich lives and writes in Austin, Texas, and encourages you to check out the many feminist zines collected here from the Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, M.A.

Tali Stern-Feldman and I lived in Boston. Now I live far, far away in Austin, Texas. Through the power of the Internet and a mutual friend, I found out that Tali was working on a project called Girls At Their Best-A Feminist Zine for Everyone. The zine is an all inclusive collage-like publication with the idea that “there is a place for everything that you have to say.”

It’s so exciting to hear about the cool things women all over the world are doing in the name of feminism and gender equality, and I decided to get in touch with Tali and find out more about how the zine was started and what it’s like to create your own.

Girls At Their Best creator Tali Stern-Feldman.

Audrey: Under what conditions was Girls at Their Best started?

Tali: Well, the idea has been with me for some time, but I never really had the impetus. Then something happened to me and everything changed. I found myself with things to say but lacked an appropriate avenue for expression. At the same time, we started hearing things about the bill that passed in the House, proposing cuts for all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. And more and more states are passing anti-abortion related laws.

So many women in the U.S. think they’re safe, have these vague ideas that they think set us apart from “backwards” places that they’ve stereotyped as being on the other end of the spectrum. But we are NOT safe (and I really don’t mean to diminish other, more pressing problems facing women around the world with this statement). Right now the GOP is trying for a firm hold on our rights, which weren’t so great in the first place and are at risk of being further diminished. If you’re sexually assaulted in the state of Massachusetts, the aggressor cannot be convicted unless there is a witness to the crime. So, is there someone else who’s supposed to be taking notes on what’s happening? Is that what they expect? Ridiculous, right? But it’s the truth.

And it may get worse. There’s currently a senator from Georgia who is proposing that victims of sexual assault be labeled ACCUSER on the record, rather than VICTIM. See the agency switch here? The law is so vehemently anti-woman and anti- victim, it is just awful.

And it’s not that women don’t care, or don’t want to change these things. It’s mainly an issue of ignorance. We don’t know how the laws affect our lives until something happens. So I’m hoping that a project like this will increase awareness of these issues at stake, among other things. And that’s all the negative spin I will give today! Because I really, really want the project to focus on ideas of unity and a positive hopefulness with regards to our ability to effect change.

Audrey: I love that Girls at Their Best seems to be an all-inclusive community project, which were the terms of many feminist collectives/presses/zines in the past. Can you speak a little bit to the history of feminist zines and why that appeals to you versus lets say…a blog?

Tali: The idea of an underground/radical press has been around for some time, but I suppose the ’60s is a good place to start, in terms of really radical movements in print. Here you see the advent of alternative comix, hippies coming out with radical newspapers, Beat chapbooks (though I’m not sure how we can relate those to fights against patriarchal systems!) and other publications offering alternate views on societal structures.

With the ’70s and punk we got MRR, which started as a radio show and then became a fanzine, and all sorts of other radical, political zines.

And then of course, Bikini Kill, which was a zine before it was a band. Kathleen Hanna and her crew got it all going with the Riot Grrrl manifesto. Girl Germs was started by members of Bratmobile and is my favorite of that era; it included interviews with all sorts of bands that were active at the time and important to the movement.

To me, this riot grrrl zine explosion was so effective and historically important because of the concretization of ideas that people were already thinking about. I want to try to reinforce the notion that underground press can really do something. And since the project is centered on ideas of unity, I wanted to keep it to print because it’s easier to be unified by something tangible than the opposite. Blogs can certainly be effective and there are plenty that do better work than I ever could (like Feminsting, for example, or Kathleen Hanna’s blog). But personally, nothing can replace the inherent emotionality of what happens when you put a pen to paper.

That said, I did borrow Web 2.0ish ideas regarding user-driven content. It’s a lot more fun to see a variety of entries from lots of different people and I wanted that framework over one that’s more standard and doesn’t include these communal elements.

Audrey: What got you interested in feminism/activism, recently or earlier in life?

Tali: When I was in 6th grade, my class went on a figure-skating trip to Chelsea Piers in New York. I was skating around when an older boy raced up behind me and snapped my bra with such force that I fell onto the blade of my skate and injured myself. I jokingly tell my friends that I lost my virginity to an ice skate, but yeesh, can you think of anything more symbolic? The event was a turning point. I started listening to Sarah McLachlan and the Indigo Girls and scrutinizing commercials that told me I needed to look good in a Little Black Dress. It really is funny to think back on, in a sobering kind of way.

The desire for activism came much, much later. I needed to gain some confidence in my own abilities in order to understand that I was capable of at least trying. And I still have a long way to go in that regard.

Audrey: What do you hope to accomplish with the project?

Tali: In 1988, Carolyn Heilbrun authored Writing a Woman’s Life, which in part details what she viewed as the state of feminism during her time and how it had come to be so ineffective. She pinned the crux of the problem on the women themselves and their lack of unity. I think this is still a problem, I see it everywhere, lots of in-fighting, jealousy, unhealthy competitiveness.

Maybe if we have an avenue for expression, we can discover the ways in which we are connected, because we all are. That’s why I want this to be submission-driven. We don’t need to hear soapbox declarations about feminism or the current state of feminism – we need something to represent the fact that unity is possible. I want to weave these words and drawings together, that’s all my role will be in this. No editing, just layout.

Audrey: When can we expect to see it?

Tali: I’m hoping it can be printed by August of this year. I’m looking at Cambridge Offset Printing, a self-identified “Woman Owned Business.” Very exciting.

Audrey: Do you have plans for upcoming issues?

Tali: I’d definitely like this to be an ongoing project, but it’ll really depend on how badly people want it since it is a user-driven thing!

Audrey: Who is your favorite feminist?

Tali: My favorite feminist! This is like picking a favorite song. How can I? There are just too many that are so great. And how do we define feminist? Do you have to be an activist to be a feminist? Do you have to be comfortable with the word in the first place? These are ideas I think about often. In my mind, any person who has progressive ideas about gender is a feminist.

Audrey: What are some of your favorite books about gender/feminism/activism, etc?

Tali: Again, this is tough because there are so many! Right now I’m really into feminist/queer-positive graphic novelists like Alison Bechdel, Justine Shaw and Ariel Schrag.  And I’m re-reading classics like Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck and Carolyn Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life, as well as Why I Want a Wife by Judy Syfers.

My studies definitely inform a lot of my opinions, much of what I read is on the more academic end of things. I think that a fundamental change in the way we think about issues relating to feminism, like issues regarding the gender binary system, is essential to a future wave of feminism.

Audrey: Do you have any advice for people that want to start their own zine?

Tali: My advice would be just to put all fears out of your mind and go for it. You don’t need a plan, you don’t need a detailed list of the way you’re going to do things, just start with something concrete like a call for submissions. It really is the hardest part. I think passion can guide the rest.

For more information on Girls At Their Best, check out the zine’s Facebook page. To get in touch with Tali and to submit entries, contact her at

Laura Zeugner lives in Allston, writes poorly and wishes she had used the pun “Young Adult Friction” more in this post.

Like most Young Adult readers, I was introduced to Lois Lowry via Number The Stars, an “edgy” book about a young Christian girl’s experience with the Holocaust in Denmark. I remember being completely obsessed with this book, along with every other YA Holocaust book. And then I realized that what I enjoyed about these books was not the genocide, but the dystopian-esque survival stories they all revolved around, and my mother recommended The Giver (yeah, before it was even on my summer reading list, because I was gifted – puns!).

Before I delve into an attack of the role of women in The Giver, let me tell you about Lowry. Because I know about Lois Lowry. You are talking to someone who not only met Lowry, but who cried in front of her and BOUGHT a copy of her autobiography (like $40 bucks!) just so she could sign something.

Like many other world leaders (okay, one) Lowry was born in Hawaii. She went on to do stuff, and fast-forward to her first novel: A Summer To Die. This is a seriously weird book – talk about not cool for women! The two main characters are sisters, one of whom is jealous of the other’s blond ringlets and then is made to feel horrible about that because blondie – spoiler alert – gets leukemia. (I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that Nicholas Sparks wrote this, but he didn’t, he couldn’t have, because he was only 10 in 1977, when this book was written.) Also there is such a long scene in which the jealous sister takes pictures of a live birth, which I guess could be kind of progressive but instead it’s just super awkward.

Lowry also wrote about one billion books in the Anastasia Krupnik series. I didn’t read those. Wikipedia claims she is the greatest female YA protagonist besides Harriet The Spy, but I cannot vouch for this. [Ed. note: I can and will vouch for this, especially as an Anastasia book was the first time I saw a swear word in Literature.]

In case you missed your entire childhood, here is a brief summary of The Giver: Jonas is an 11-year-old boy who lives in a weird futuristic/dystopian society in which literally everything is controlled in order to eliminate suffering of any kind. Upon turning 12, he is assigned (as all 12-year-olds are assigned their profession in this society) the role of “Receiver,” an usual job, because he demonstrates exceptionalism. He can see color, for example, while everyone else cannot. As Receiver, Jonas meets with an old guy named “The Giver,” who transfers memories into Jonas’ brain of a time before this society existed. Jonas is given memories of both happiness and pain (also things like animals and love, which don’t exist in the society) and is exposed to the reality of his community.

The Giver has only about three female characters who play a significant role. They are Jonas’s mother, his sister Lily and a girl in his age group named Fiona. I always identified with Fiona because her red hair is one of the first things Jonas sees, and because she loves to give elderly people baths. But, looking back, Fiona kind of sucks. She’s quiet and accepts everything around her without question, even when she is told to kill (“release”) her elderly patients (she is given the role of Caretaker, looking after old people – what an empowering role for ladies!). She also dismisses Jonas as a nutter early on. Jonas’s mother and sister, who are portrayed as more rowdy than Fiona, are equally dismissive of Jonas, lack imagination and repeatedly enforce the rules. Isn’t that soo like us girls? Always with our rules, so boring, holding dudes back from their true, awesome dudely potential.

My main argument against the The Giver as female-friendly YA fiction, though, lies in the Receiver before Jonas, who was female. Rosemary, who was selected like Jonas to become the Receiver of memory at age 12, ultimately replaced The Giver (who’s getting up there in age). However, Rosemary suffered a nervous breakdown after receiving memories of pain and sadness from The Giver and is implied to have committed suicide by throwing herself into a raging river. The Giver remembers Rosemary fondly, but claims that she wasn’t strong enough to receive memories and he should have chosen someone else. Just a coincidence that the weak, emotional character who kills herself in a dramatic, Victorian way is a woman? Once again the person who lets her society down and isn’t strong enough to be a leader is a female. Perhaps if there were other strong ladies in this book it might make up for the fact that Rosemary is so clearly weak. Instead we are left viewing her as the clear opposite of Jonas, who can Take It All.

There is not a single forward-thinking, imaginative, or strong female character in this book, while Jonas is all of these things. He’s not a perfect protagonist, for sure, but compared to these ladies, he’s Hercules. He is clearly contrasted to a lesser female character, and constantly negged (but not in the good, Pick-up Artist way) by the women around him.

In case you thought the sequel would be different, I’m here to tell you, no. There are two follow-up books to The Giver, called Gathering Blue and The Messenger, respectively, which I won’t go into except to say that neither portrays women in a great way either. As a Lowry lover and as a WOMAN, I had hoped to go back to my favorite YA book and find a long list of strong female characters. But so far The Giver has really let me down.

[Every Tuesday, Canonball revisits a Young Adult Fiction classic. Previously we featured: Walk Two Moons. As always, email us if you’d like to contribute a piece.]

Annie Rebekah Gardner is a grad student and frequent Canonball contributor. She writes for us from Cairo, Egypt.

As a once-self-professed-woman-hater, I think there was a time in my life where I would have relished being One of the Guys, especially One of the Guys With a Doctorate, but those days are long-gone, and besides, the meme as told by the fine Ms. Molly Lambert is already several weeks old, so I needn’t elaborate on the whys and wherefores of the problematic nature of the Boys’ Club, or the mad sisterhood I have with my female colleagues. Instead, I’ll discuss the Boy’s Club that I’m presently trying to break: The Academy.

“Do you have any comments on Academia being a Boys’ Club?” I asked a colleague and good friend on G-Chat. “Perhaps you want to mansplain it to me, even?” Colleague/Good Friend kept it concise. “It’s true,” he responded. This particular Dude is emblematic of the type of academic social circle – or cozy little bubble, as the case may be – that I generally inhabit. In my particular graduate program, our demographic is composed of guilty white girls and men of color. The male students of other disciplines with whom I rub shoulders more or less share similar politics to mine. My thesis committee is composed entirely of women (in the fields of history, gender and women’s studies, and sociology, respectively), and the male professors I have had are committed feminists. (Also, there’s something about living in Egypt that makes one – male or female – a more radicalized feminist, but I digress!)

This next part should come as no surprise, then. I recently attended my first Big Academic Conference (by virtue of the fact that I have a really gracious advisor, and by no particular accomplishment on my own, I want to add) and discovered that, although women increasingly constitute the world of the Academy, it remains, for all intents and purposes, a Boys’ Club.

On my last afternoon, two well-accomplished conference attendees who are not in my field told me over beers that, when it comes to professorial positions, women are more likely to take on more work and more menial tasks (there was even a conference panel on it!), and all the more likely to get pigeon-holed into teaching or researching subject matter that doesn’t concern them. In the meantime, university departments with faculty composed almost solely of men are trying desperately to recruit women, and with difficulty: a) women are less likely to “progress” in their academic careers because of outside issues (families, for one) and b) Boys’ Clubs actually suck, no matter how much you loved The Little Rascals.

My primary field, Forced Migration and Refugee Studies, is a female dominated space, but one that more often than not is geared towards practitioners. As someone from the theory end of things, my interests lie more in the critical aspects of the field, and as such, I’ve gotten myself swept up in other, related critical fields – borderlands theory (which caters greatly to the gender studies lens), citizenship studies (again, easily accessible from a feminist standpoint), and security studies (Ding ding ding! Boyzone. Doybomb). It should come as no surprise, then, that a panel dealing with security studies – even a panel on the critical theory end of things – is going to be a male-dominated space.

“What did you think?” A colleague asked wryly after sitting in on my first critical security panel. “Well, it’s definitely a Boys’ Club,” I replied. I’ve never given thought to pursuing this line of critical theory seriously (like, say, in a dissertation), but after seeing a (presumably well-meaning) group of dudes listen to themselves wax poetic on the topic, I started to feel a little bit contrary. On one such panel, the discussant even noted that though the audience was split 50/50 sex-wise, the bulk of questions asked were by men. Is it a coincidence? Is it that these particular dudes liked hearing themselves speak? Is it that women are more afraid of being judged for asking a stupid question (I will readily admit as a fledgling academic that this is usually my fear, and always has been)?

Contrast, then, to the only feminist panel I attended (I’ll say that fortunately, there were many at the conference). Though it had the best attendance of any of the panels I went to, it was crammed into a tiny afterthought of a conference room, with about 15 chairs total. Attendees, myself included, had to sit on the floor. Of course it follows that it was the best panel I attended, and ironically enough, several of the panelists discussed the phenomenon of fratriarchy. As defined by the International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities, “fratriarchy” was coined by one John Remy and expresses “a rule of brotherhoods or fraternities…based on a fictitious kinship.” As a phenomenon, fratriarchy is a less decentralized element of patriarchy, occasionally expressed via social deviance (the public displays of faux homosexual acts in hazing rituals, for example).

There are plenty of salient examples of fratriarchy. I mean, fraternities, the military. Duh. In the context of the Academy, long painted as the way nerdy side of the masculine, it’s not an outright formal fratriarchy – homosocial hazing rituals have been replaced by grilling panelists at conferences, for example – but I think that as another Boys’ Club, it serves as one more exemplar of a patriarchal world. Academia already has its long-standing issues tied with racism and elitism. Its continuing to be a Boys’ Club just further cements the fact that an Ivory Tower is still standing, no matter the claims otherwise.

As a co-opted capitalist entity, the present university system, in all its moneyed, Polo-clad glory, is already in crisis. The job market for people like me, who will emerge from my cloisters in four or five years and find myself paying off loans and battling for uninsured adjunct positions in Tea Party-ville (the irony that this will fall right around the time that I want to start birthing children is not lost on me, my friends), is abysmal. The dominant discourses of the Academy are still very much skewed in favor of its bachelor bros (I mean like the unmarried dude, not the degree. Ha, ha. Puns!!).

I wish I had a better answer for what those academics amongst us should be doing about this. As a less-cynical-than-I-am-now 21-year-old, I bopped around at college keggers speaking of knocking down the Ivory Tower and radically redistributing the bricks, and out of college immediately took a job at that most hated of Ivory Tower institutions (yeah, I won’t link it, I’m that embarrassed. I will, however, link one of my favorite Ivy League Internet feminists). I think one important step, and one that I’ve been very fortunate to have learned by my professors, both in undergrad and now, is to view the Academy as one more site of struggle and contestation. Like a streaker on the quad, inequalities run haywire, but we have the great challenge and privilege of living in the midst of uprisings (seriously, I never thought I would see a 1968 in my lifetime, and yet! Every day! From Tahrir to Trafalgar!). The world is a Boys’ Club. It’s time to change that.

This week in Mindblowingly Regressive Attacks on Your Reproductive Rights, South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard passed a statewide law mandating a veritable legislative obstacle course for any woman seeking an abortion. Women in the state will now be subjected to a three-day waiting period before they’re able to get an abortion — and they must also visit a crisis pregnancy center (which, by the way, are privately regulated facilities and thus under no legal obligation to keep your medical information confidential) and listen to a lecture about why abortion is evil. Really. Suddenly that old South Dakotan law that bars you from falling asleep in a cheese factory sounds relatively rational. Amanda Marcotte explains why this law is more than an attack on reproductive rights, but on individual privacy at large:

Republican state senator Al Novstrup claimed the bill is somehow protective of women, offering them a “second opinion,” which indicates not just his disrespect for religious freedom but his profound ignorance of options counseling typical to abortion clinics, especially Planned Parenthood, which runs the sole abortion clinic in the state. I don’t imagine he’d see it that way if the state required citizens to hear a “second opinion” about other private decisions based on personal religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Would Novstrup enjoy having to listen to a lecture from an atheist or Muslim group before joining a church, getting married or making plans for his own funeral? Why then is it appropriate to force women to listen to religious lectures before making a decision that involves their own religious beliefs about life?

In The New York Times, Kate Zernike reported good news and bad news for female professors at M.I.T. and beyond. The good? There are more of them, they’re ascending to more prestigious positions in greater numbers, and they’re winning more awards. But, says M.I.T. associate dean Hazel S. Sive, “Because things are so much better now, we can see an entirely new set of issues.” The situation described at many top universities speaks to the residual and harder-to-define effects of institutional sexism that linger long after equality has, ostenisbly, been “achieved.” Zernike notes:

[W]ith the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.

Finally, Akoto Ofori-Atta asked an important question in a must-read piece at The Root: “Is Hip-Hop Feminism Alive in 2011?” Ofori-Atta revisits the ideology of hip-hop feminism that writer Joan Morgan coined over a decade ago in her exquisitely titled book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. Hip-hop feminists have always had to grapple with a rather difficult question: “How do women actively participate in a culture that seems to hate them so vehemently?” There are no easy answers, but Morgan has found that ambiguity both challenging and freeing:

The manifestoes of black feminism, while they helped me to understand the importance of articulating the language to combat oppression, didn’t give me the language to explore things that were not black and white, but things that were in the gray. And that gray is very much represented in hip-hop.

This weekend we’ll be returning to our beloved alma matter to attend the Visions in Feminism Conference. Let us know if you’ll be there too! We’ll report back next week with what we’ve learned.

Melanie Kelter, a grad student from Münster, Germany, studies English and German philology and the odd behaviour of adult city dwellers during mating season, alternating between detail-obsessed field work and fearless self-experiments.

“My spouse, my sister”, said he …
“thou with me on my high throne mayst sit …
(so) that thou mightst reign with me.
Henceforth no longer two but one we are.
Thou dost my merit, life, grace, glory share.”
(Order and Disorder, Lucy Hutchinson)

… was she made thy guide
Superior, or but equal, that to her
Thou didst resign thy manhood and the place
Wherein God set thee ‘bove her, made of thee
And for thee, whose perfection far excelled
Hers in all real dignity?
(Paradise Lost, John Milton)

While most of you probably know or at least have heard of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, I am convinced that hardly anyone is familiar with Lucy Hutchinson or her 1679 work Order and Disorder which, among other things, displays Hutchinson’s remarkably feminist ideas about the equality of men and women at a time when there was no talk of a women’s movement. While the parallels between Hutchinson and Milton are striking – both of them were writers in the Early Modern period in Great Britain, both were Puritans and anti-monarchic supporters of the Parliament, both Order and Disorder and Paradise Lost re-tell the biblical Genesis story in verse – Hutchinson’s proto-feminism is what sets her apart. In opposition to the conventional and arguably misogynistic depiction of Eve by the “arch-masculinist Milton,” Hutchinson redeems the primeval female ancestor as well as other female figures of the Bible by strategically omitting, rearranging or rewriting parts of her original material, as well as adding to it creatively herself. In so doing, she postulates the mutuality of man and woman.

I want to explore the reasons why Milton’s poem was inducted to the literary canon as a classic of the Early Modern period while a comparable and perhaps even considerably more remarkable work by a female author faded into obscurity.

First of all, how does canonisation happen? The literary canon is a selection of works and authors that have come to be widely recognised and, by a cumulative consensus of critics and scholars, are therefore considered indispensable. The selection process by which pieces of literature are included in the canon remains linked to political beliefs and power structures, e.g. racism, imperialism or patriarchy, although cultural and gender studies have begun to pressure the canon to open up to non-mainstream literature to some degree.

The problematic nature of the Woman Question within the canon becomes apparent when you take a look at the list of authors who were awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize. There are just 12 female authors out of 107 laureates, and in case you’re wondering why you’re unfamiliar with most of them, none of these already few female authors have made it to the canon. Since the process of canonisation not only considers the relevance of a literary work in terms of being momentous and typical of its time, but is also attended with the ascription of authority, acknowledging it as a benchmark and guideline, the exclusion of female authors from the canon indicates the kind of misogyny that Hutchinson was subject to centuries ago.

Hutchinson’s autobiography as well as other sources show that – in contrast to her fellow females’ traditional accomplishments like needlework and music – she focused on attaining knowledge of foreign languages and writing and, as a young woman, she refused to conform to female stereotypes and instead led the life of a femme savante who was so dedicated to her studies that she did not show an interest in getting married. Even as a wife and mother of eight children, she adhered to the “insubordinate, immodest and unfeminine” writing activity, and, as a widow – the life stage in which the Early Modern woman forfeits her right to exist due to the lack of control and protection by a patriarchal framework – she not only existed publicly by writing but also staged herself as a potentially sexually active elder woman, as well as the self-confident and sole owner of her hereditary estate. (See Anne Clifford and Lucy Hutchinson for biographic information and for many of the essays referenced in this post.)

However, the majority of critics receive her as a pious Puritan who advocated the God-given inferiority of women and defined herself merely in terms of her status as the wife of a historical personality, Colonel John Hutchinson, which calls into question the thoroughness with which Hutchinson is being researched.

Her rather exceptional biography shows distinct parallels to the reception of her impressively diversified body of works. Among other works, she submitted the very first complete English translation of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, which makes her pious reputation puzzling, since the ancient poem blasphemously depicts the existence of the world as a random build-up of atoms (see “Adventurous Song” or “Presumptous Folly”). Even more notably, her biography of her husband has become a standard work for scholars of 17th century history, “making her probably the best-known and most highly-praised early modern woman writer,” according to professor David Norbrook in “’But a copie’: textual authority and gender in editions of The Life of John Hutchinson.” Yet, her works are neither being researched thoroughly nor have they been inducted into the literary canon.

In the context of this scholarly oblivion, Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder emerges as a particularly extreme case. Although the poem obviously offers resistance to gender-related and societal ideology, academia hardly takes note of it. On the contrary, the sparse secondary literature refers to it rather unfavourably as a document of Hutchinson’s approval of misogyny as well as a cheap copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Here, one reason for Hutchinson’s exclusion from the canon comes into the picture, namely the significance of biography: there is a correlation between the decency of the woman writer and the reception of her publications (see Kanonisierung als patriarchalischer Selektionszwang? by Orturn Niethammer). While the canon is based on consensus, it is at the same time based on the viewpoint of man, in which the intellectual performance of woman is not allowed. The contradiction that a woman, who, according to her “silent nature” should not speak out in public, is raising her voice, is approached by questioning her female respectability. As a consequence, works by women were integrated in literary histories but were at the same time trivialised and simplified by focusing on the virtue of the woman writers.

In the case of Order and Disorder, the prejudiced reception was based on Hutchinson’s gender, as well as on her neglectfully researched biography. Needless to say, Paradise Lost, one of the epitomes of Early Modern English literature, receives the privilege of being judged according to its textual and stylistic merits without the question of whether Milton himself behaved well. Essentially, literary works by men and women were judged based upon a set of utterly different parameters, which perhaps explains the dearth of women writers from this period who have been canonized today.

Additionally, the induction to the canon is closely related to the self-portrayal of the author, a form of “self-canonisation,” which began to accelerate significantly in the Early Modern period. Through this method of image cultivation the author had to display a great deal of self-confidence by placing himself in a long and meaningful literary tradition. Milton staged himself as a major national poet and historian who was entitled to rank among the elite of English literary men, according to professor Robert Mayer in “Lucy Hutchinson: a life of writing.” Juxtaposing this male self-conception with the attributes that the Early Modern woman was supposed to display – humility, silence, obedience – shows a substantial reason for the obscurity of the works of many female writers. During the Early Modern period, women had neither the opportunity to engage in this process without stepping across the line of gender decorum, nor the opportunity to position themselves within an existing female tradition.

Critics like Joseph Wittreich – one of the very few critics who have compared Order and Disorder to Paradise Lost – defend the “bruisingly misogynistic Milton” against feminist criticism by considerately stating that “the misogyny, indigenous of his times, was a mark of this poem’s authenticity.” On the other hand, he – like most other critics – does not take into account that Hutchinson’s gender-specific caution was equally indigenous to her times, let alone acknowledge that Order and Disorder insistently documents the oppressed situation of the Early Modern woman and woman writer.

Here, another reason for the exclusion of Order and Disorder from the canon becomes apparent, namely the mannishly connoted practices of reception. The formation of the canon is determined by the gender question, not only in terms of recension but also in in view of publishing editions. Niethammer holds that the canonisation of authors is immediately dependent on their occurrences in literary histories, educational collections of texts and other scholastic editions. Thus, female writers become obscure because their work was initially unexamined and therefore continues to go unexamined. The thesis that the canon consists of traditional works with a long history of reception reinforces the dilemma of the canon debate in terms of gender questions: You will hardly become a classic when you do not get a mention in professional journals, lexicons, etc. – in short, when you are not being supported by the literary scene which has been predominantly male up to today.

Thus, the most outspoken paragraph of Hutchinson’s otherwise rather cryptic work, in which she comments on women’s obligation to marriage, hence to their submission to patriarchal society, can also be applied to woman writers’ dependence on men within the literary scene:

Yet golden fetters, … curbs of liberty,
As well as the harsh tyrant´s iron yoke;
More sorely galling them whom they provoke
To loathe their bondage, and despise the rule
Of an unmanly, fickle, froward fool.