Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is feminist "craft" possible?

Stella Minahan and Julie Wolfram Cox describe the growing movement/ collective called Stitch'n Bitch as, "...the global movement where women meet virtually, through the internet, and physically, often in local cafes and hotels, to socialize and share their craft" ("Stitch 'n Bitch" 6). Of most interest to me in this conversation is the traditional belittling or condescending views of "women's craft," or of craft in general. Minahan and Cox write that, "Craft is often seen as solely physical labour, messy and dirty, without an intellectual or aesthetic component and a perceived minimal contribution to cultural development" (11). In terms of craft, such as knitting and embroidery, being labeled as "women's art," Gisela Ecker writes that “What has been imposed on women through oppressive social conditions or prejudice should not be made part of our definition of woman’s art and thus be further perpetuated (Feminist Aesthetics 16). Ecker does not believe that what we call craft should be considered feminist or women's art as these are practices that women were relegated to when they were not allowed into the "real" art world. Ecker does not consider a reworking or redefining of such craft possible to fit feminism. She holds the same dismissive view of craft that Minahan and Cox outline. Minahan and Cox even discuss their issues with the continued, and often more severe, practice of relegating women to this craft: "It appears that while crafts such as stitching and embroidery may be a positive and social occupation for many, there are still far too many women around the world who are required to work at these tasks for poor pay rates and in difficult conditions" (15).

What then can be conclude from these statements? Can "craft" be feminist? Does it matter? As Minahan and Cox argue, there is a growing sense of community between women online in this movement. Is that not something positive for women? Many of those involved may not even identify as feminist but find strength among other women and are able to discuss important issues because they feel a connection with one another over this particular craft.

Marianne Jorgensen began this particular project to protest the Dutch military involvement in Iraq. Jorgensen asked for people worldwide to crochet tiny pink hearts and squares to cover a tank and then stitched these pieces together. She says that “…the tank is a symbol of stepping over other people's borders. When it is covered in pink, it becomes completely unarmed and it loses it's authority. Pink becomes a contrast in both material and color when combined with the tank.” For a full description of the project please click on this link to the artist's personal website.

I use this as an example because this is one potential site of feminist intervention using networks similar to those described in "Stitch 'n Bitch." What, however, makes this feminist? Fran Lloyd maintains that “…feminist art [is] any intervention in the dominant system of artistic production and reception which has historically excluded or marginalized women” ("Painting" 38). Jorgensen, however, takes a traditional feminine craft that has historically held little or no meaning, and used it as a site of intervention against war. This craft is seen as traditionally feminine, and war, although its meaning has changed more than once over the past century, is traditionally associated with the masculine. By playing on this relationship, is her protest successful? Could it be argued this protest piece is feminist?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gazing Online

I came across this post, How objectification silences women - the male glance as a psychological muzzle, when I was reading Jezebel this morning. I find it interesting and problematic that this is presented in a scientific study even if the original website it was posted on calls itself "Not Exactly Rocket Science - Science for Everyone." The study was conducted in the following manner:

[Tamur Saguy] recruited 207 students, 114 of whom were women, on the pretence of studying how people communicate using expressions, gestures and vocal cues. Each one sat alone in a room with a recorder and video camera. They had two minutes to introduce themselves to a male or female partner, using a list of topics such as "plans for the future" or "four things you like doing the most". The partner was supposedly sat in the next room and either watching the speaker from the neck up, watching from the neck down, or just listening on audio. The camera was tilted or blocked accordingly.

These are the results:

Saguy found that women talked about themselves for less time than men, but only if they thought they were being visually inspected by a man, and particularly if they thought their bodies were being checked out. They used the full two minutes if they were describing themselves to another woman (no matter where the camera was pointing) or if they were speaking to a man who could hear but not see them. But if their partner was a man watching their bodies, they spoke for just under one-and-a-half minutes.

And the importance:

The fact that men didn't react in the same way is important. For a start, it shows that it's a man's gaze and not just any downward glance that affects a woman's behaviour. It also puts paid to the false equivalence arguments that are often put forward when discussing gender issues (i.e. "women look at male bodies too").

The article does not go into much more detail to explore the implications of these findings. I said I found this problematic because it is presented as "scientific." Maybe it is just me but when I read "science" I hear biology when examining gender differences. Although it is not said or written in the article, by labeling this science I feel like these results are to be interpreted as biological differences, that is consequences of the participants' biological sex. I have a difficult time believing that women are born with a particular trait that makes them more subdued when speaking with a man than another woman. Similarly, I do not feel men are necessarily born lacking any self-conscious gene in their bodies.

Theorists such as Laura Mulvey and John Berger critically explore the relationship between gender and the gaze and come to the conclusion that "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at" (Berger, Ways of Seeing). Although Mulvey explores how this is maintained through film, Berger attempts to look at this phenomenon in both the art world and everyday life. He argues that " be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men." To Berger, it is not an inherent female trait that makes women passive to the gaze, but rather it is the society into which she is born that produces this effect. Therefore, I feel it would be much more productive to explore why the results of this study were this way, than simply proving that women feel dominated or objectified by men. What social constructs are there that create this?

I also am interested in exploring what happens with the "male gaze" in an online world. Does the gaze disappear or is it multiplied? As previously posted, I felt embarrassed and exposed when my avatar was naked and on display. This was not only a result of others being able to see "me" this way, but also because I was watching "myself" in this situation. Berger writes"The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight." If women already turn themselves into objects by viewing herself in the outside world, what happens when we are viewing not only ourselves but also some online self as well?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Initial Thoughts about Second Life

I created an account on SL a few months ago but couldn't figure it out and let myself get frustrated and give up. I am trying it again now and it starting to make sense since I have learned how to communicate with others online and travel around SL. Even being new to SL I am surprised with some of the reactions I have. For instance, I was experimenting with how to change outfits and was on one of the freebie islands with free outfits (skins?) and I did not know I could drag and drop outfits on top of other ones to change. Instead, I used the "take off" option before changing outfits and all of a sudden my avatar was exposed, completely naked in a very "public" place. My initial reaction was shock and embarrassment. I was then surprised at this. Technically, that is only an image on the screen of a "not real" person/avatar - it is not actually myself naked in the middle of a shopping mall. At the same time, however, despite only being online for less than an hour I felt like part of myself was already a part of the avatar or at least represented by it, so it felt like it was myself naked and exposed. At least the avatar had some clothes on by the time Professor Farber showed up, although it was in the first free outfit I could find and it resembled something a stripper might wear. I feel like my avatar should be dressed in a "decent" fashion that I myself might wear when I have a meeting with a professor. I also recognize that SL is a chance to recreate oneself, or to completely create a new person/character. It should just seem like images on a computer screen that really do not matter, but it does. I also feel somewhat superficial using my first entry to blog about clothes, even if they are online clothes, but I think the relationship between myself and the avatar might be an interesting one to explore.