Hear the 150 Greatest Albums by Women: NPR Creates a New Canon of Albums That Puts Women at the Center of Music History

What is it with all the trendpieces on great women artists, writers, directors, singers, etc.? What, indeed. To ask the question is to acknowledge the premise of such pieces. Why should they need to be written at all if women in these fields received fair representation elsewhere? That lists and articles can be written in the hundreds puts the lie to phony claims that "great" women do not exist in every field in numbers. This is especially true in the 20th century, when hard-won political gains opened cultural doors unimaginable to many previous generations. But those gains did not fundamentally alter how cultural histories have been written.

Music critic Anne Powers and Lincoln Center program director Jill Sternheimer recently considered this problem, one which, Powers writes at NPR, persists even in the ways “music history’s being recorded and revised in the digital age.”

They wondered, "why... was the importance of women so often recognized as a trend instead of a source of lasting impact? We came to a conclusion that, in 2017, will likely strike no one as a surprise: that the general history of popular music is told through the great works of men, and that without a serious revision of the canon, women will always remain on the margins.”

This is a truth reinforced in many different ways: by the shelves weighed down with books about Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, while only one or two about Aretha Franklin or Patti Smith sit nearby; by the radio playlists that still only feature women once or twice every hour.

This isn’t a problem of “representation”—the term we so often hear applied to casting decisions and awards shows. Powers isn’t making a case for diversity in hiring, but for accuracy in writing the historical record. To that end, Powers and Lincoln Center, together with “nearly 50 women who play a role in NPR… compiled and voted” on a list: "Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums by Women.” You can hear nearly all of those albums in our Spotify playlist below. Calling the list “an intervention, a remedy, a correction,” Powers writes, “These albums were released between 1964, the year The Beatles invaded America… and 2016, when Beyoncé arguably ushered in a new period with her ‘visual album’ Lemonade.”

The point is to offer a view of popular music history with women's work at the center. The list does not represent an "alternate history." It stands for music history, touching upon every significant trend, social issue, set of sonic innovations, and new avenue for self-expression that popular music has intersected in the past fifty years.

Against the argument for “affirmative action”—or simply rewriting old “great album” lists to include more women—Powers argues, “once a canon is formed, it gains an aura of immutability.” Plenty of lists include female artists. Almost none of them include women in the top spots, suggesting that “the paradigms that define greatness remain masculine at their core.” Tokenism, no matter how well-intentioned, does not make for “a shift in perspective beyond the simple mandate to adjust the numbers.”

Ava Duvernay has made a similar argument against mandated “diversity” in Hollywood as a mollifying tactic that maintains status quo power relationships. “The fact that the mainstream starts to gaze at this space doesn’t make it a moment,” she tells Hollywood Reporter, “it makes it a moment for them.” As Powers writes of the way Joni Mitchell was often treated by the rock establishment, "the female musician is a dream, a surprise and a disruptor. She can claim the center of attention, but her rightful point of origin, and the place to which she returns, is a margin."

Instead of marginal inclusion in existing cliques, Powers argues for a cultural shift, a “new canon,” that isn’t hedged with the usual standards that often exclude women on arbitrary purist grounds. Keeping “wide parameters,” the contributors “left room for acknowledged rock-era classics as well as pop hits dismissed by others as fluff.” That disclaimer aside, there’s precious little “fluff” on this list—meaning it’s hard to find albums here that wouldn’t qualify for “greatest” status on more narrowly-defined genre lists. It is a list, that is to say, of 150 great albums, written, recorded, and released over the course of fifty plus years, by some of the most talented writers, players, and musicians in modern music history.

"Lists have their limitations," Powers admits, "They reflect biases and whispered compromises." She and her contributors offer this one "as the beginning of a new conversation" rather than an authoritative statement. At such depth and breadth, however, "Turning the Tables" makes room for nearly every possible genre, from all over the world. Read the full list of 150 albums, with commentary, here. A few of the 150 albums, including Lemonade, Bikini Kill's Yeah Yeah Yeah, Joan Jett's I Love Rock 'n' Roll, Joanna Newsome's Ys, and Laurie Anderson's Big Science aren't on Spotify, so didn't make our playlist above. The top ten albums on the list are:

  1. Joni Mitchell, Blue (Reprise, 1971)
  2. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1998)
  3. Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You (Philips, 1956)
  4. Aretha Franklin, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You (Atlantic, 1967)
  5. Missy Eliot, Supa Dupa Fly (The Goldmine/Elekra, 1997)
  6. Beyoncé, Lemonade (Parkwood/Columbia 2016)
  7. Patti Smith, Horses (Arista, 1975)
  8. Janis Joplin, Pearl (Columbia, 1971)
  9. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (Island, 2006)
  10. Carole King, Tapestry (Ode, 1971)

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Strange Story of Wonder Woman’s Creator William Moulton Marston: Polyamorous Feminist, Psychologist & Inventor of the Lie Detector

Most young male fans from my generation failed to appreciate the gender imbalance in comic books. After all, what were the X-Men without powerful X-women Storm, Rogue, and, maybe the most powerful mutant of all, Jean Grey? Indie comics like Love and Rockets revolved around strong female characters, and if the legacy golden age Marvel and DC titles were nearly all about Great Men, well... just look at the time they came from. We shrugged it off, and also failed to appreciate how the hypersexualization of women in comics made many of the women around us uncomfortable and hyperannoyed.

Had we been curious enough to look, however, we would have found that golden age comics weren’t just innocent “products of their time”—they reflected a collective will, just as did the comics of our time. And the character who first challenged golden age attitudes about women—Wonder Woman, created in 1941—began her career as perhaps one of the kinkiest superheroes in mainstream comic books. What’s more, she was created by a psychologist William Moulton Marston, who first published under a pseudonym, due in part to his unconventional personal life. Marston, writes NPR, “had a wife—and a mistress. He fathered children with both of them, and they all secretly lived together in Rye, N.Y.”

The other woman in Marston’s polyamorous threesome, one of his former students, happened to be the niece of Margaret Sanger, and Marston just happened to be the creator of the lie detector. The details of his life are as odd and prurient now as they were to readers in the 1940s—partly an index of how little some things have changed. And now that Marston’s creation has finally received her blockbuster due, his story seems ripe for the Hollywood telling. Such it has received, it appears, in Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, the upcoming biopic by Angela Robinson. It’s unfair to judge a film by its trailer, but in the clips above we see much more of Marston’s dual romance than we do of the invention of his famous heroine.

Yet as political historian Jill Lepore tells it, the cultural history of Wonder Woman is as fascinating as her creator’s personal life, though it may be impossible to fully separate the two. A press release accompanying Wonder Woman’s debut explained that Marston aimed “to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men.” It went on to express Marston’s view that “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.”

The language sounds like that of many a modern-day NGO, not a World War II-era popular entertainment. But Marston would go further, saying, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is the psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” His interest in domineering women and S&M drove the early stories, which are full of bondage imagery. “There are a lot of people who get very upset at what Marston was doing...,” Lepore told Terry Gross on Fresh Air. “’Is this a feminist project that’s supposed to help girls decide to go to college and have careers, or is this just like soft porn?’” As Marston understood it, the latter question could be asked of most comics.

When writer Olive Richard—pen name of Marston’s mistress Olive Byrne—asked him in an interview for Family Circle whether some comics weren’t “full of torture, kidnapping, sadism, and other cruel business,” he replied, “Unfortunately, that is true." But “the reader’s wish is to save the girl, not to see her suffer.” Marston created a “girl”—or rather a superhuman Amazonian princess—who saved herself and others. “One of the things that’s a defining element of Wonder Woman,” says Lepore, “is that if a man binds her in chains, she loses all of her Amazonian strength. So in almost every episode of the early comics, the ones that Marston wrote... she’s chained up or she’s roped up.” She has to break free, he would say, “in order to signify her emancipation from men.” She does her share of roping others up as well, with her lasso of truth and other means.

The seemingly clear bondage references in all those ropes and chains also had clear political significance, Lepore explains. During the fight for suffrage, women would chain themselves to government buildings. In parades, suffragists "would march in chains—they imported that iconography from the abolitionist campaigns of the 19th century that women had been involved in... Chains became a really important symbol,” as in the 1912 drawing below by Lou Rogers. Wonder Woman’s mythological origins also had deeper signification than the male fantasy of a powerful race of well-armed dominatrices. Her story, writes Lepore at The New Yorker, “comes straight out of feminist utopian fiction” and the fascination many feminists had with anthropologists' speculation about an Amazonian matriarchy.

The combination of feminist symbols have made the character a redoubtable icon for every generation of activists—as in her appearance on 1972 cover of Ms. magazine, further up, an issue headlined by Gloria Steinem and Simone de Beauvoir. Marston translated the feminist ideas of the suffrage movement, and of women like Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, his wife, lawyer Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and his mistress Olive Byrne, into a powerful, long-revered superhero. He also translated his own ideas of what Havelock Ellis called “the erotic rights of women.”

Marston's version of Wonder Woman (he stopped writing the comic in 1947) had as much agency—sexual and otherwise—as any male character of the time. (See her breaking the bonds of “Prejudice,” “Prudery,” and “Man’s Superiority” in a drawing, below, from Marston’s 1943 article “Why 100,000 Americans Read Comics.”) The character was undoubtedly kinky, a quality that largely disappeared from later iterations. But she was not created, as were so many women in comics in the following decades, as an object of teenage lust, but as a radically liberated feminist hero. Read more about Marston in Lepore’s essays at Smithsonian and The New Yorker and in her book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

George Eliot’s Middlemarch Gets Reborn as a 21st Century Web Series: Watch It Online

In 1856, novelist George Eliot—real name Mary Anne Evans—issued a vicious critique of other women English writers in language we would expect from the most self-satisfied of misogynists, a group of people with an unqualified monopoly on the culture, but who had very little new to say on the subject. But Eliot certainly did, in “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.” Though she couches many of her critical observations in the condescending vocabulary of a male antagonist, the language only serves to make her argument more effective. The essay, writes Kathryn Schulz, “does a remarkable number of things deftly and all at once.”

Although she is an uncommonly compassionate writer, Eliot has knife skills when she needs them, and the most obvious thing she does here is chiffonade the chick lit of her day. Yet even while castigating some women, she manages to champion women as a whole. Her chief objection to silly novels is that they misrepresent women’s real intellectual capacity; and the chief blame for them, she argues, lies not with their authors but with the ­culture that produced them—through inadequate education, low expectations, patronizing critics, and fear of the real deal.

The fault, she asserted, lies with the gatekeepers, the tastemakers, the lazy thinkers. Though an accomplished essayist and translator, Eliot would only publish her first novel in 1859, at the age of 37. But “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” writes Schulz, “traces out in negative space, the contours of a truly great novel”—one that wouldn’t arrive until fourteen years later: Middlemarch: a study of provincial life. (Read online or download in various formats here.)

The book’s first chapter introduces Dorothea Brooke, a well-off 19-year old orphan—who, writes Pamela Erens, “has dreams of doing some great work in the world” but gives her life instead to “dry humorless pedant” Casaubon—with an ironic quote from the licentious Jacobean play The Maid’s Tragedy: “Since I can do no good because a woman, / Reach constantly at something that is near it.”

As with the pen name she adopted, Eliot appropriated the armor of a male-dominated culture to bring into being some of the most staggeringly insightful writing of the time, and a beacon to other great women writers. “What do I think of Middlemarch?,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “What do I think of glory?—except that in a few instances ‘this mortal has already put on immortality.’” Virginia Woolf pronounced the book “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” Number twenty-one on The Guardian’s list of “The 100 Best Novels,” Middlemarch, writes Robert McCrum, exerts “an almost hypnotic power over its readers…. Today it stands as perhaps the greatest of many great Victorian novels.”

Do we have the time or the attention to read Eliot’s sprawling 900-page realist epic in the 21st century? Given that Karl Ove Knausgaard's 3,600 page, six-part autobiographical novel, My Struggle, is one of the most lauded literary works of the past few years, perhaps we do. More specifically, in the language of many a condescending critic of today, do “Millennials” have the time and attention to read Middlemarch? At least a certain contingent of young readers has not only read the novel, but has adapted it into a seventy-episode web drama, Middlemarch: The Series—an “attempt worth watching," writes Rebecca Mead at The New Yorker, "for its ambition as well as its charm.”

Written and directed by Yale undergraduate film student Rebecca Shoptaw, the series stars several of Shoptaw’s peers “as students at Lowick College, in the fictional town of Middlemarch, Connecticut,” and it transcribes the novel’s form into that most 21st century of mediums, the vlog. You can see the official teaser at the top of the post; watch the first episode just above, introducing Yale student Mia Fowler as Dot Brooke; and see the full series, thus far, down below. (The show has already won awards and recognition from several film festivals. See "air dates" and more on its busy Tumblr page.)

Up to now, notes Mead, Eliot's fiction has resisted the kind of treatment given to Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen in adaptations like “a chapter book for tweens called Jane Airhead” and the Austen-inspired Bridget Jones’s Diary and Clueless (not to mention Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). And yet, despite the daunting size, scope, and seriousness of Eliot’s novel, Middlemarch: the Series continues in this tradition of light-hearted, pop-cultural modernizations, using the same device as the award-winning Austen vlog adaptation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Brontë vlog adaptation "The Autobiography of Jane Eyre."

Though it is "an impossibly tall order,” writes Mead, “to expect a Web series to approach the nuance of a nineteenth-century novel—of the nineteenth-century novel," adaptations like Shoptaw’s don’t even attempt to do this. They express “a winning affection” for their source material, and a sense of how it still informs the very different gender identities and sexual relationships of the present. In that sense, it may be useful to think of them as, in part, working in a similar vein as another very 21st century medium: fan fiction. Would the knives-out critic Eliot approve? Impossible to say. But I dare say she might admire the ambition, creative impulses, and narrative ingenuity of Shoptaw and her cast perhaps as much as they admire her greatest work.

via The New Yorker

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Recordings by Great Female Jazz Musicians

Browse through an archive of jazz writing from the last, oh, hundred years, and you’ll get the distinct impression that jazz, like the NFL, has been a man’s-man’s-man’s-man’s world. “Of course,” writes Margaret Howze at NPR, “we have Billie, Ella, and Sarah,” and many other powerhouse female vocalists everyone knows and loves. These unforgettable voices seem to stand out as exceptions, and what’s more, “when we think of women in jazz, we automatically think of singers,” not instrumentalists.

Part of the marginalization of women in jazz has to do with the same kinds of cultural blind spots we find in discussions on every subject. We’ve been as guilty here as anyone of neglecting many great women in jazz, sadly. But women in jazz have also historically faced similar social barriers and stigmas as other women in all the arts. There are more than enough female vocalists, pianists, guitarists, trumpeters, drummers, saxophonists, bandleaders, teachers, producers to form a “worthy pantheon,” yet until fairly recently, a great many women jazz musicians have worked in the shadows of more famous men.

Howze’s two-part sketch of women in jazz offers a succinct chronological introduction, noting that “the piano, one of the earliest instruments that women played in jazz, allowed female artists” in the 20s and 30s “a degree of social acceptance.” In those years, “female instrumentalists usually formed all-women jazz bands or played in family-based groups.” One early standout musician, Dolly Hutchinson, née Jones, played the trumpet and cornet in bands all over the country. Hutchinson doesn’t appear in the Women of Jazz playlist below, but you can see her at the top in a clip from Oscar Michaux’s 1938 film Swing!

The Spotify playlist Women of Jazz does, however, offee samples from many other female jazz greats in its 91 tracks, from the very well-known—Nina Simone, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, “Billie, Ella, and Sarah”—to the very much overlooked. In that latter category falls a woman whose last name is familiar to us all. Lil Hardin Armstrong never achieved close to the degree of fame as her husband Louis, but the pianist, writes Howze, “helped shape Satchmo’s early career,” playing in “King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, a group Armstrong joined in 1922. He and Hardin began a romance and eventually married and it was Hardin who encouraged Armstrong to embark on a solo career.”

Hardin's “Clip Joint,” featured in the playlist, showcases her sweet, clear contralto, distinguished by a tendency to wrap surprising hooks around the end of each line, pulling us forward to the next or keeping us hanging on for more. (Equally charming and effortlessly swinging, see her on the piano, above, accompanied by drummer Mae Barnes.) Another hugely influential woman in jazz, whose legacy “has also been somewhat occluded,” writes Alexa Peters at Paste, “by the legacy of her husband,” harpist and pianist Alice Coltrane deserves far more acclaim than she receives (at least in this writer’s humble opinion).

“An incredibly gifted avant-garde musician, composer, and arranger,” Coltrane’s solo compositions and her collaborations with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, “are as sublime as they are indelibly important” to the development of spiritual jazz. Her incorporation of Hindustani instrumentation “like drones, ragas, Tabla drum, and sitar,” together with long hypnotic free jazz passages and the unusual choice of harp, contributed a new sonic vocabulary to the form.

Though hardly comprehensive, the Women of Jazz playlist does an excellent job of outlining a list of great female singers and instrumentalists throughout the history of jazz. As someone might point out, the compilation has its own blind spots. Though firmly rooted in the traditions of the American South, jazz has, since its golden age, been an international phenomenon. Yet the majority of the artists here are from the U.S. For a contemporary corrective, check out The Guardian’s list, “Five of the Best Young Female Jazz Musicians” from the U.K. and Scandinavia, or Afripop’s “Five South African Female Jazz Instrumentalists You Should Know,” or NPR’s list of four great “Latina Jazz Vocalists”....

And we should not neglect to mention great French women in jazz. In the short film above on French jazz and trumpet duo Nelson Veras and Airelle Besson, the two musicians discuss their collaborative process. Any mention of gender would probably seem awkwardly irrelevant to the conversation. Perhaps all jazz talk should be like that. But it seems that first most jazz fans and writers need to spend some time getting caught up. We’ve got a wealth of resources above to get them started.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Women’s Suffrage March of 1913: The Parade That Overshadowed Another Presidential Inauguration a Century Ago

On Friday, a person who has insulted, demeaned, and threatened tens of millions of the country’s citizens will take the oath of office for the presidency of the United States. That’s an extraordinary thing, and the reaction will also be extraordinary—a Women’s March the following day in Washington, DC expected to draw hundreds of thousands of every gender, race, creed, and orientation. Sister marches and protests will take place in every major city on the East and West Coast and everywhere in-between, as well as internationally in cities like London, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Calgary, Barcelona, Dar es Salaam... the list goes on and on and on.

Why Women’s Marches if these events are all-inclusive? In addition to responding to the public displays of contempt for women we’ve witnessed over and over in the past year, the events intend to reaffirm the rights of all people. The organizers succinctly state that “women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”

A Rawlsian progressive notion, and also a “Kingian” one, a description the march applies to its nonviolent principles. What they don’t say is that there is also significant historical precedent for the action. Over 100 years ago, another women’s march coincided with a presidential swearing-in, this time of Woodrow Wilson in March of 1913.

Marching for the cause of suffrage, women from around the country and the world arrived in DC on March 3rd, the day before Wilson’s inauguration. Many of those marchers had hiked 234 miles from New York in 17 days, bearing a letter to the President-elect, writes Mashable, “demanding that he make suffrage a priority of his administration and warning that the women of the nation would be watching ‘with an intense interest such as has never before been focused upon the administration of any of your predecessors.’” Organized by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the march promised, in their words, “the most conspicuous and important demonstration that has ever been attempted by suffragists in this country.”

The parade was filled with pageantry. “Clad in a white cape astride a white horse,” writes the Library of Congress, “lawyer Inez Mulholland led the great woman suffrage parage down Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital. Behind her stretched a long line with nine bands, four mounted brigades, three heralds, about twenty-four floats, and more than 5,000 marchers.” As you can see in the film footage at the top and the images here from the LoC---including the drawing of the parade route above by Little Nemo cartoonist Winsor McKay---the parade drew a huge global coalition. It also drew ridicule, harassment, and violence from groups in DC for the following day’s festivities. As the LoC writes:

[A]ll went well for the first few blocks. Soon, however, the crowds, mostly men in town for the following day's inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, surged into the street making it almost impossible for the marchers to pass. Occasionally only a single file could move forward. Women were jeered, tripped, grabbed, shoved, and many heard “indecent epithets” and “barnyard conversation.” Instead of protecting the parade, the police “seemed to enjoy all the ribald jokes and laughter and in part participated in them.” One policeman explained that they should stay at home where they belonged.

Many marchers were injured; “two ambulances ‘came and went constantly for six hours, always impeded and at times actually opposed, so that doctor and driver literally had to fight their way to give succor.'” The event included several prominent figures, including Helen Keller, “who was unnerved by the experience.” Also present was Jeannette Rankin, who, writes Mashable, “would become the first woman elected to the House of Representatives four years later.” Nelly Bly marched, as did journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, “who marched with the Illinois delegation despite the complaints of some segregationist marchers.”

In fact, though the selective images suggest otherwise, the march was more inclusive than the suffragist movement is generally given credit for. Over the objections of mostly Southern delegates, many black women joined the ranks. After “telegrams and protests poured in” protesting segregation, members of the National Association of Colored Women “marched according to their State and occupation without let or hindrance,” noted the NAACP journal Crisis. And yet, when the women's vote was finally achieved in 1920, that general category still did not include black women. The misogyny on display that day was vicious, but still perhaps not as endemic as the country’s racism, which existed in large degree within suffragist groups as well.

Once the press broadcast news of the marchers’ mistreatment, there was a massive public outcry that helped reinvigorate the suffrage movement. Several other artists than McKay found inspiration in the march; Cleveland Plain Dealer cartoonist James Donahey, for example, “substituted women for men in a cartoon based on the famous painting ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware,’” writes the Library of Congress. Another cartoonist, George Folsom, documented the stages of the hike from New York, with captions addressed to male readers. The strip above says, “they are making history mates---be sure you save it for your descendants.” Another strip reads “Brave women all, none braver mates. Put this away and look at it when they win.”

At the Library of Congress’s American Women site, you’ll find a wealth of resources for researching the history and impact of the 1913 Suffrage Parade. To find out more about the hundreds of contemporary Women’s Marches---open to people of every “race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability”---see the website here or read this Rolling Stone interview with organizer Linda Sarsour.

via Mashable

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Animated Introduction to the Feminist Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir

How influential are the writings of Simone de Beauvoir? So influential that even the rushed, by all accounts shoddy first English translation (executed by a zoologist not especially acquainted with philosophy, and only somewhat more so with the French language) of her book Le deuxième sexe became, in 1953, The Second Sex. Though not properly translated until 2009, it nevertheless provided the foundation for modern feminist thought in the West. But what, if we can ask this question surely at least a couple of "waves" of feminism later, did de Beauvoir, born 109 years ago today, actually think?

She thought, as the Harry Shearer-narrated History of Ideas animation from the BBC and Open University above puts it, that "a woman isn’t born a woman, rather she becomes one," meaning that "there is no way women have to be, no given femininity, no ideal to which all women should conform."

The basic biological facts aside, "what it is to be a woman is socially constructed, and largely by males at that. It is through other people's expectations and assumptions that a woman becomes 'feminine,'" struggling to meet male-defined standards of beauty, acting like nothing more than "passive objects" in society, and in the feminist view, often wasting their lives in so doing.

A bold declaration, especially at the time. But de Beauvoir's belief "that women are fundamentally free to reject male stereotypes of beauty and attractiveness, and to become more equal as a result" basically aligned with the existentialist movement then rising up through the zeitgeist. (Demonstrating that the philosophical extends to the personal, she spent much of her life in an open relationship with her fellow existentialist icon Jean-Paul Sartre.) Yet it hasn't really gone stale, and has indeed proven adaptable to various different interpretations, eras, and contexts — including, as we can see in the 8-Bit Philosophy video above, video games.

"This is Samus, defender of the galaxy," says its narrator, introducing the space-suited protagonist of the classic Nintendo game Metroid. "For those of you that don't know, Samus is a woman." This fact, revealed only after the defeat of the final boss, jolted the gamers of the day. Metroid came out in 1986, just months after de Beauvoir's death, and it came out onto a video-gaming landscape where player characters' maleness went without saying, where "man is a savior and the feminine is a damsel in distress. Man is a subject whereas woman is the object of possession." But to de Beauvoir's mind, "a fundamental ambiguity marks the feminine being," leaving women — of any country, of any time, or of actual or digital reality — much greater freedom to define themselves than they may know.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Odd Vintage Postcards Document the Propaganda Against Women’s Rights 100 Years Ago


The vicious, vitriolic imagery and rhetoric of this election season can seem overwhelming, but as even casual students of history will know, it isn’t anything new. Each time historic social change occurs, reactionary counter-movements resort to threats, appeals to fear, and demeaning caricatures---whether it’s anti-Reconstruction propaganda of the 19th century, anti-Civil Rights campaigns 100 years later, or anti-LGBT rights efforts today.


At the turn of the century, the women’s suffrage movement faced significant levels of abuse and resistance. One photograph has circulated, for example, of a suffrage activist lying in the street as police beat her. (The woman in the photo is not Susan B. Anthony, as many claim, but a British suffragist named Ada Wright, beaten on “Black Friday” in 1910.) It’s an arresting image that captures just how violently men of the day fought against the movement for women's suffrage. [It’s also worth noting, as many have: the early suffrage movement campaigned only for white women’s right to vote, and sometimes actively resisted civil rights for African-Americans.]


As you can see from the sample anti-suffrage postcards here---dating from the late 19th to early 20th centuries--- propaganda against the women’s vote tended to fall into three broad categories: Disturbingly violent wish-fulfillment involving torture and physical silencing; characterizations of suffragists as angry, bitter old maids, hatchet-wielding harridans, or domineering, shrewish wives and neglectful mothers; and, correspondingly, depictions of neglected children, and husbands portrayed as saintly victims, emasculated by threats to traditional gender roles, and menaced by the suggestion that they may have to care for their children for even one day out of the year!


These postcards come from the collection of Catherine Palczewski, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Northern Iowa. She has been collecting these images, from both the U.S. and Britain, for 15 years. On her website, Palczewski quotes George Miller’s comment that postcards like these “offer a vivid chronicle of American political values and tastes.” Palczewski describes these particular images as “a fascinating intersection [that] occurred between advocacy for and against woman suffrage, images of women (and men), and postcards. Best estimates are that approximately 4,500 postcards were produced with a suffrage theme.”


As she notes in the quote above, the postcards printed during this period did not all oppose women’s suffrage. “Suffrage advocates,” writes Palczewski, “recognized the utility of the postcard as a propaganda device” as well. Pro-suffrage postcards tended to serve a documentary purpose, with “real-photo images of the suffrage parades, verbal messages identifying the states that had approved suffrage, or quotations in support of extending the vote to women.” For all their attempts at presenting a serious, informative counterweight to incendiary anti-suffrage images like those you see here, suffrage activists often found that they could not control the narrative.


As Lisa Tickner writes in The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-1914, postcard producers without a clear agenda often used photos and illustrations of suffragists to represent “topical or humorous types” and “almost incidentally” undercut advocates’ attempts to present their cause in a newsworthy light. The image of the suffragette as a trivial figure of fun persisted into the mid-twentieth century (as we see in Glynis Johns’ comically neglectful Winifred Banks in Walt Disney’s 1964 Mary Poppins adaptation).


Palczewski’s site offers a brief history of the “Golden Age” (1893-1918) of political postcards and organizes the collection into categories. One variety we might find particularly charming for its use of cats and kittens actually has a pretty sinister origin in the so-called “Cat-and-Mouse Act” in the UK. Jailed suffragists had begun to stage hunger strikes, and journalists provoked public outcry by portraying force-feeding by the government as a form of torture. Instead, striking activists were released when they became weak. "If a woman died after being released," Palczewski explains, "then the government could claim it was not to blame." When a freed activist regained her strength, she would be rearrested. “On November 29, 1917,” Palczewski writes, “the US government announced it plans to use Britain’s cat and mouse approach.”


You can see many more historical pro- and anti-suffrage postcards at Palczewski’s website, and you are free to use them for non-commercial purposes provided you attribute the source. You are also free, of course, to draw your own comparisons to today’s hyperbolic and often violently misogynist propaganda campaigns.


via Dangerous Minds

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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