no choice at all: the subtle feminism of captain america: civil war

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of articles floating around about the politics of Captain America: Civil War. From its US-centric viewpoint on global conflict resolution, to its potential signaling of a conservative swing in Marvel’s messaging, to its friends-turned-enemies similarities to Hamilton (fortunately without any of the emotionally shattering Hamilton-lyrics-imposed-over-Marvel-gifs images that are all over my dashboard on Tumblr), it seems like half the internet has an opinion on the deeper meanings that can be found within the script. As a comics geek and a political junkie, I’m 100% here for it, and hope to see a lot more of the same as more people see and discuss the movie. The Russo brothers did a fantastic job of creating a film that, despite previews suggesting that it might be a too-busy mess, explored a multi-faceted conflict with a complexity and attention to character over witticisms, which isn’t something you see a lot in superhero movies.

There’s one viewing of the film that I haven’t seen discussed, though, and considering how clearly it stood out to me, I’m surprised.

MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT

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#readingwednesday: crow after roe

Alright, kids, we haven’t done an angry feminist/social justice post here for awhile, but I’ve had a cranky week topped up with a rage-inducing book, so buckle your seatbelts; we’re going for a ride on the S.S. Furiosa.

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beep beep.

I picked up Crow After Row at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference at Hampshire College back in 2012, just after the book was published. At the time, a significant focus of the conference was on abortion rights and the influx of TRAP laws coming out of state legislatures. Since the 2010 midterm election and the flood of Tea Party Republicans taking hold of seats at both the state and federal levels, there have been exponential increases in the amount of anti-choice policies enacted across the country, and in 2012 states were already beginning to see the impact of those policies on pregnant and parenting individuals.

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Written by a political reporter and a legal analyst/attorney, it’s no surprise that Crow After Roe offers an incredibly in-depth legal examination of the multitude of laws that have been proposed, challenged, re-challenged, and sometimes (despite all efforts to the contrary) enacted. What this book really accomplishes, however, is creating coherent connections between laws, cases, regulations, rhetoric, and concepts of constitutionality, personhood, agency, and choice. While some of the statutory information feels a little outdated–four years is a long time in the policy world, especially in this legislative area, and things change quickly–the analysis is still sound, and the recommendations for readers to take action through grassroots organizing, political participation, and outspoken defense of their own rights remain deeply, deeply relevant.

I’ll be honest, team, I had plans for this post–I was going to rant and rave against the misogynistic bullshit that fuels the anti-choice movement; I was going to cite sources on the economic and professional and mental health benefits of the availability and accessibility of abortion; I was going to throw out anecdotes and statistics on all of the reasons why the way abortion access is treated in public discourse is so rooted in sexism and imperialism and paternalistic crap that it makes me want to rip my hair out. But in all honesty, there’s no point. If you’re already pro-choice, I don’t need to preach to you–you’re in the choir. If you’re anti-choice–first of all, fuck you; second of all, what are you even doing reading this?–I doubt that reading another pro-choice essay on the internet is going to convince you, since you apparently get your jollies by forcing people to carry unwanted or unsafe pregnancies to term.

So instead, I’ll leave you with this: If you believe in reproductive freedom, in reproductive justice, in the human right of people capable of pregnancy to make their own decisions about the outcomes of those pregnancies without input from the state, then please, please, do not sit quietly by. Volunteer. Stay informed. Participate in your state and local politics, not just in federal elections, and for the love of all that is holy, vote.

And, if you have it in your heart and in your wallet, consider making a donation to the National Network of Abortion Funds, which makes abortion accessible to people who might otherwise be unable to afford it due to economic barriers.

Every little bit helps. And heaven knows that if things continue the way they’re going, we’re going to need every bit.

#readingwednesday: bad feminist

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I chose an interesting time to read Roxanne Gay’s book of essays, Bad Feminist. We’re getting into primary season here in the U.S., and the feminist discourse around the Clinton campaign–on both the with-her and not-so-with-her sides–has been complicated, to say the least. In just the last two weeks, Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright made headlines with their comments about women who choose to cast their vote for someone other than Secretary Clinton. Steinem, a 1960s feminist icon, drew particular ire by suggesting that young women were turning to Sanders to follow the boys, stating on the Real Time with Bill Maher:

“When you’re younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

(PS, if you choose to click the link to watch the interview, don’t read the comments. Trust me. This should be an unspoken rule of YouTube, but just…Just don’t do it.)

I’m not going to pretend that a ton of the criticism Clinton has received over the course of her campaign hasn’t been sexist and gross, because let’s be real, it has. But there have also been plenty of feminist writers who have tried to call Clinton (and her supporters) in on the ways that they feel her policies and voting record have disenfranchised communities of color and poor Americans. This isn’t to say that the strides she’s made for women in politics aren’t worth acknowledging, just that the message of Clinton, Steinem, and Albright’s feminism doesn’t necessarily connect to feminists coming of age today.

It’s been in this mindset that I approached Bad Feminist. In the titular essay, Gay embraces the “bad feminist” label that we so often throw around these days, and has in fact been flung towards Clinton and her contemporaries left and right in the past few weeks. Gay writes,

I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain… interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist. I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.

In Bad Feminist, Gay doesn’t step away from the feminist idea that the personal is political. She explores issues of gender, race, sexuality, and the myriad intersections of those identities; she talks about being the only woman of color in her faculty department and navigating academia as token representative, about the fear of being called the Affirmative Action candidate. She writes humorously about competitive Scrabble and with heart-wrenching rawness about her own experiences of sexual assault; she rips Fifty Shades of Gay a new one and acknowledges the importance of diverse faces on screen. She shares what she has learned about female friendships (spoilers: they don’t have to be bitchy, and in fact, shouldn’t be) and pointedly declares that women should not be required to justify their reproductive choices to anyone but themselves.

Coming away from Bad Feminist, I’ve been working hard to look at the older feminists who paved the way before us, to acknowledge their achievements and to not judge them to harshly by standards that may feel unfamiliar to them. Shasta Willson writes that Steinem “is one of the heroes who moved culture so effectively that her work eventually outgrew her,” and maybe this is true. But just as importantly, Steinem helped to create a movement that was able to grow, and this is no small thing.

I’m a writer by nature, and like all writers, I appreciate symmetry. Gay begins her book with a disclaimer to declare herself a Bad Feminist:

I am a bad feminist because I never want to be placed on a Feminist Pedestal. People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they fuck it up. I regularly fuck it up. Consider me already knocked off.

This paragraph is witty, and heartfelt, and true. It seems like every other week I read something about the “feminist voice of a generation” who becomes a “problematic fave” by the next week. We are bad feminists if we’re into BDSM, bad feminists if we like That One White Actor (it doesn’t matter which one), bad feminists if we call other women out, bad feminists if we don’t. To declare ourselves bad feminists is freeing, and opens us to the ability to explore our feminism and grow with it, to be open to learning and listening rather than burying our heads in the ideals that our movement has outgrown.

But at the end of the day, Gay ends with a point that is just as important as the one she starts with, and gives us a lens with which to view the speakers and activists who, bad feminists or not, give a face and a voice to our movements:

I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

#readingwednesday: this is women’s work

“In stories, women must always be punished for being too big, too beautiful, too brilliant, or too brash, for forever communing with snakes. The lesson is always the same: women like this must be reviled and feared, shunned and shuttered. Yet I am inclined to bring those women into my family and add my name to the list of those with wings and rage and a wide capacity for self-definition. They are all welcome here.”
This is Women’s Work, introduction: “Our Unclaimed Hallelujahs”

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My first year of college, I took a required class called a University Writing Seminar. There were plenty of options of UWS courses, designed to suck first year students into college writing while appealing to our interests. Since I was a huge nerd, I took the Fantasy Literature UWS, which took us through writing a close reading essay, a lens essay, and a research paper with such excruciating slowness that I nearly threw myself out the classroom window.

Putting aside the fact that I found this class absolutely awful in the way it was designed, organized, and taught and probably only survived it by watching the doomed romance between my roommate and one of our classmates and silently exchanging bets with another classmate, one of the primary things that stuck out to me about this class was the totally awful treatment of women in the books and essays we read. We spent a fairly significant amount of class time discussing fantasy archetypes, and nearly every archetypical example of women and girls in fantasy lit was either evil or helpless, and all of them were wrapped up in so much patriarchal bullshit I nearly staged a revolt.

(Instead of officially revolting, I used every possible opportunity to write essays about female writers, female characters who gave a firm middle finger to the patriarchy, and wrote my final essay about BDSM and empowered sex workers in fantasy literature. SUCK IT.)

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When I picked up this week’s book, Dominique Christina’s This is Woman’s Work, from the shelf at my local library, I was expecting it to be about women’s work in the way it’s often discussed in feminist and social justice circles: the often underpaid, if paid at all, emotional, physical, and mental labor performed by women, with little to no acknowledgment from families, workplaces, and social institutions in general. I was expecting a fairly academic text, maybe with a touch of humor or discussion.

The reality of this book, guys? It was so much better.

In This is Women’s Work, slam poet Dominique Christina creates a book that is part poetry anthology, part instructive text, part essay collection, part writing prompt collection, part journey of self-discovery and self-disclosure. She writes that a woman’s work “is to define herself,” and invites her readers to join her in exploring archetypes of women created and identified not through a patriarchal lens but through perhaps the very opposite: the eyes of a brilliant, creative queer woman of color.

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Rejecting traditional archetypes of the mother and the whore, the ingénue and the orphan, Christina introduces the Rebel Woman, who forms her identity in opposition to some external force, the Woman with Cool Hands, who provides a balm to those around her and finds calm in caring, the Howling Woman, who lives in suffering and grief. She pairs each archetype with a poem and a writing exercise, inviting readers to identify parts of themselves with each woman she names and explores. She provides examples, both real and fictional, of each archetype, and guides her readers through finding connections to the feared and loved parts of themselves in each “inner woman”—the parts of ourselves that we both revere and reject, the parts that we hide away and the parts that we display with pride.

After receiving a degree in writing that, even at my super liberal university, still spent a huge amount of time highlighting white male voices in literature, throwing myself into This is Woman’s Work feels like a plunge into a clean, cool lake on a hot, sticky summer day. Christina’s voice is refreshing in its clarity and poignancy; she pulls no punches and does not shy away from sharing the most intimate and vicious of experiences: pregnancy and childbirth, the discovery of sexuality, the sick anger and violation of sexual assault, the raging power of creativity.

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Whether you’re a writer, a woman, a lover of poetry, a student of literature, an avid reader, or any combination of the above: you need to read this book. It’s an eye-opening, gorgeous way to discover archetypes of women that push back against classic roles and instead demand recognition and appreciation. The inspirational writing exercises, poetic descriptions, and brilliant depictions of each and every incarnation of womanhood create a beautiful lens through which the reader explores their own journey of self. Each line spills across the page like poetry, and the text sucks you in soul-first and doesn’t let go.

“Praise the atoms and the cells that make your body a cathedral. Praise. Praise that there is so much of you left. Praise. Praise the otherworldly algorithm that is your heart. Yes, especially that. Praise and praise and praise. Revolution is the sound of your heart still beating. So praise. Praise. Praise.”

photos used without permission from www.dominiquechristina.com