Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Frances Sheridan and Mothers of the Novel

Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan, Novelist and Playwright (30 October)


Frances Chamberlayne was born in Dublin some time during the year 1724--the date of her birth is unknown, and, unfortunately, her role as a novelist has been little known. I am posting about her today, 30 October, because it is the birthdate of her famous son, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, born on this day in 1751.

The daughter of the Rev. Dr. Philip Chamberlaine, an Anglican minister, and his wife, Anastasia Whyte, Frances was the youngest of five children. Her mother "dying soon after her birth," Frances had many obstacles to overcome in order to become a writer.

Not least of these obstacles, as her granddaughter noted, were the "disadvantages of education" Frances experienced--disadvantages that would have "crushed" a "less ardent mind."

Although Philip Chamberlaine was "an admired preacher," one who was "strict in the performance of all his duties," he wasn't in favor of educating his two daughters. He was "only with difficulty prevailed on to allow his daughter to read." As for teaching her to write? The good reverend doctor judged writing to be "perfectly superfluous in the education of a daughter."

Teaching a girl to write could only lead to disaster--to love letters and to the "exchange" of "confidential effusions" with other young women. Horrors!

Like many other aspiring women about whom I have posted in this blog (Moderata Fonte comes immediately to mind), Frances's three older brothers helped to educate her. Her oldest brother, Walter, not only taught her to write, he taught her Latin, for example. Her brother Richard taught her botany, which seems to have been of some medicinal use as she was said to have helped to treat the sick in her father's parish. 

By the age of fifteen, Frances had written a two-volume romance, Eugenia and Adelaide, somehow finagling the paper on which to write from the family's housekeeper (or, at least, this is the account that her granddaughter provides). This romance was published only after Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan's death; her daughter, Alice, successfully adapted it as a comic opera for the stage.

Her granddaughter relates that the young Frances also wrote a sermon that was so admired by those who heard or read it that she wrote a second--though her granddaughter says she has not been able to find a copy of them. These sermons "were long in the possession of the family," her granddaughter wrote, "and were reckoned to display considerable ability."

Frances seems to have written nothing else in the new few years until she produced two pieces in defense of the actor Thomas Sheridan--a fracas had broken out at the Smock Alley Theatre (Dublin), which he managed. Frances defended his behavior in verse, "The Owls: A Fable," and in a pamphlet. The two were married in 1747.

Over the next few years, she gave birth to three children: Charles Francis (b. 1750), an author and politician; Richard Brinsley (b. 1751), the famed playwright; and Alicia (b. 1753), later Alicia LeFanu, also a writer. (Frances Sheridan's daughter, Alicia Sheridan LeFanu, is frequently confused with her daughter, the younger Alicia LeFanu, who authored Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Frances Sheridan, which you can access in full by clicking here.) 

After Francis Sheridan moved to London with her husband in 1754, she became acquainted with many writers, including Samuel Richardson, famed author of Pamela and Clarissa--who read one of her unpublished works and encouraged her to continue to write.

In 1756 she sent him a manuscript of what has become her most well-known work, Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph. (In this novel, Frances pays tribute to her brother and his role in her education; the young Sidney Bidulph is taught by her older brother, Sir George.) The novel, written in the form of a journal, was published anonymously in 1761, dedicated to Richardson. In the mean time, in addition to writing, Frances Sheridan also gave birth to a fourth child, a daughter named Elizabeth, during this period.

She turned to drama, and two of her plays were produced at the Drury Lane Theatre--The Discovery, in 1763 (her husband played a leading role), and The Dupe, produced late in the same year. Both plays were published, the first in 1763, the second in 1764.

The Sheridans moved again, this time to Blois, France, in 1764. There Frances added a second part to her Sidney Bidulph and completed another comedy, A Journey to Bath.  She also completed an "oriental tale," The History of Nourjahad, which was published in 1767, the year after her death. (It was later dramatized by the novelist and playwright Sophia Lee, in 1788)

Frances Sheridan died in Blois on 26 September 1766. She was only forty-two years old. 

Frances Sheridan's works are now readily available: Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph and Oriental Tales are each produced in an accessible World's Classics edition. The early Eugenia and Adelaide is available in print through Eighteenth Century Classics Online (I know that says "online"--and it is online if you have access to the database, but you can also purchase a paper copy through Amazon.)

You can read a brief biography from the Dictionary of National Biography by clicking here (this is not the most recent online DNB entry, which requires subscription access, but an earlier, freely available version). Alicia LeFanu's biography is available through the Internet Archive.

One of the things I love about this mother-of-the-novel is the way Frances Sheridan is the "mother" of women writers--her daughter, Alicia Sheridan LeFanu, her granddaughter, Alicia LeFanu, and her great granddaughter, a woman we've met before, Lady Caroline Norton.




Saturday, October 29, 2016

More Really Great News on the Gender Gap--This Time on a Global Scale

The World Economic Forum's 2016 Global Gender Gap Report


The World Economic Forum has just published its eleventh annual Global Gender Gap Report--this report has been published since 2006 and measures women's progress in 144 countries. 

Here's one way to make lemonade out of lemons . . . 

In its analysis, the index focuses on fourteen variables in four areas: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political participation.

The differences between men and women are enormous. Over all, women are worse off than men by 31.7%. 

Here's the good news, according to the report. On average, "the 144 countries covered in the Report have closed 96% of the gap in health outcomes between women and men, unchanged since last year, and more than 95% of the gap in educational attainment, an improvement of almost one full percentage point since last year and the highest value ever measured by the Index" (7).

But here's the bad news: 
However, the gaps between women and men on economic participation and political empowerment remain wide: only 59% of the economic participation gap has been closed—a continued reversal on several years of progress and the lowest value measured by the Index since 2008—and about 23% of the political gap, continuing a trend of slow but steady improvement. Weighted by population, in 2016, the average progress on closing the global gender gap stands at a score of 0.683—meaning an average gap of 31.7% remains to be closed worldwide across the four Index dimensions in order to achieve universal gender parity. (7)
And here's the worse news (because I'm a glass-half-empty kind of person): "Out of the 142 countries covered by the Index both this year and last year, 68 countries have increased their overall gender gap score compared to last year, while 74 have seen it decrease. It therefore has been an ambiguous year for global gender parity, with uneven progress at best."


And now the worst news of all: at the rate things are going, it will take 83 years to close this gender gap. But that's for all four areas--the pay gap won't close for another 170 years! Or so . . . 

And don't assume that the U.S. scores high on this index--the U.S. saw a 17 point drop on last year’s score. And it places only 45th in the global table

And when it comes to those pesky kinds of unpaid labor--like household tasks and childcare, for example--women do 66% more than men.

To access the entire report, which can be read online or downloaded, click here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"White Slavery," Hysteria, and the Mann Act

Sexuality, Moral Panic, and the White Slave Traffic Act (the "Mann Act")


The White Slave Traffic Act, better known as the "Mann Act," after its Congressional author, Representative James R. Mann, an Illinois Republican, was one of the Progressive era's attempts at moral reform. The act was signed into law by President William Howard Taft on 25 June 1910, but given its association with the Progressive movement, I decided to use the occasion of Theodore Roosevelt's birthday (27 October) for this post.

An image from Ernest A. Bell's
War on the White Slave Trade
(1910)
The act was aimed at eliminating the scourge of "white slavery"--forced prostitution that, it was believed, trapped innocent young white women into sexual slavery in underground networks controlled by gangs of immigrants.

I can't remember the exact date when I first heard about the "white slave trade," but I do remember that summer--we had recently moved to Lancaster, California, and were living just one tract house away from a Mojave Desert that, at least from my perspective as a nine- or ten-year-old, seemed to stretch endlessly.

It was one of the brief times that my mother wasn't working--she held a string of minimum-wage jobs, many of them when my dad was out of work, but for some reason that I don't know now, she was home (maybe because he was then working).

That summer my mom and a couple of the other neighborhood moms were having a contest to see who could get the darkest sun tan. I know, I know--but it was the summer of 1960 or 1961, and nobody was worrying about skin cancer or sun screen.

Each day, the women pulled their chaise lounge chairs into the driveway of one of their houses and settled in for an afternoon of tanning, enhanced by copious slatherings of Johnson's baby oil and fueled by endless glasses of iced tea. Now, looking back, I wonder if there were some shots of bourbon in those never-empty glasses.

In any case, it was one of those summer afternoons when I overheard the phrase--"white slave trade." I don't recall whether there was anything more that I overheard or whether it was the muted tones of their voices or just my own over-active imagination, but I remember being absolutely terrified, although I never knew about what--and as I think about it now, I am considering that the phrase may have been used while they were just joking around. On most afternoons, they laughed themselves hoarse.

Over the years of my childhood and adolescence, I must have heard the phrase again because I do remember asking about my mom about it (as usual, she was dismissive, deciding not to to provide the kind of answer that would assuage my fears) and then, not having an answer, worrying about it. The white slave trade!!! I can only remember the fear--I can't remember when or how I got a bit more information . . .

The Mann Act was the result of what has been called the "moral panic" that took hold in the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century. Scores of movies, plays, novels, and "white slavery narratives" offered eager consumers a range of salacious tales of young women--"innocent" and white women, it should be said--kidnapped off the streets of their communities, drugged, forced into lives of prostitution, and trafficked around the world.

Several factors seem to have coalesced to produce the hysteria: increased urbanization, immigration, the influx of women, especially single women, into the labor market, and changing social relationships--the emergence of the modern idea of dating, for instance. Social reformers responded to such radical social change--and the resulting "decline" in morality--with outrage and hysteria. 

In a 1907 article published in McClure's Magazine, muckraking journalist George Kibbe Turner sounded the alarm: 
About twenty-five years ago the third great flush of immigration, consisting of Austrian, Russian, and Hungarian Jews, began to come into New York. Among these immigrants were a large number of criminals, who soon found that they could develop an extremely profitable business in the sale of women in New York. . . . 
The supplies of girls for use in the enterprises of the political procurers did not at first come entirely from the families of their constituents. The earlier Jewish immigration contained a great preponderance of men, and comparatively few young girls. The men in the business made trips into the industrial towns of New England and Pennsylvania, where they obtained supplies from the large number of poorly paid young mill girls, one especially ingenious New Yorker being credited with gaining their acquaintance in the garb of a priest. But, gradually, as the population grew and the number of men engaged in the business increased, the girls were taken more and more from the tenement districts of the East Side.
As business grew, according to Turner, the traffickers began exporting their white slaves--to "the Buenos Aires market," to the "mining districts" of South Africa, and then throughout the world: 
Once acquainted with the advantages of the foreign trade, the New York dealer immediately entered into competition with the French and Polish traders across the world. There are no boundaries to this business; its travelers go constantly to and fro upon the earth, peering into the new places, especially into spots where men congregate on the golden frontiers; and the news comes back from them to Paris and Lemberg and New York. After South Africa, the New York dealers went by hundreds into the East--to Shanghai and to Australia; they followed the Russian army through the Russo-Japanese war; they went into Alaska with the gold rush, and into Nevada; and they have camped in scores and hundreds on the banks of the new Panama Canal.
However, and more ominously, "the foreign trade was not large compared with the trade with the cities of the United States, which was to develop later." (For the complete text of Turner's story revealing the horrors of the white slave trade, click here.)

Estimates of the scale of the trade varied. In 1909, the evangelical E. Norine Law, who was also hymnist, claimed in her Shame of a Great Nation that "some 65,000 daughters of American homes and 15,000 alien girls are prey each year of the procurers in this traffic.” New York City police chief Theodore Bingham estimated in The Girl that Disappeared some 2,000 foreign women were brought into the United States and enslaved in brothels. In 1909, the New York Times reported, in "Traffic in 'White Slaves,'" that "scores of thousands of women" had been forced into serving "immoral purposes."

In the mean time, Ernest A. Bell published his enormously influential War on the White Slave Trade in 1910. Bell was a Methodist minister, missionary, and anti-vice activist; according to the biographical note posted by the Chicago Historical Society, in his "struggle" against "vice," Bell "found a field of activity in which he could labor free of institutional constraints, satisfy his desire to preach the Gospel openly in the streets, and involve others in a mission of his own choosing and direction." In 1908 he helped to found the Illinois Vigilance Association; he also met with President Taft, urging passage of the Mann Act.

Included in Bell's War on the White Slave Trade was an essay by Edwin W. Sims, the United States District Attorney in Chicago. Sims claimed to have proof of the slave trade:
The legal evidence thus far collected establishes with complete moral certainty these awful facts: that the white slave traffic is a system operated by a syndicate which has its ramifications from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean, with "clearinghouses" or "distribution centers" in nearly all of the larger cities; that in this ghastly traffic the buying price of a young girl is from $15 up and that the selling price is from $200 to $600... This syndicate is a definite organization sending its hunters regularly to scour France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Canada for victims. The man at the head of this unthinkable enterprise is known among his hunters as "the Big Chief."
Although Sims was unable to produce his evidence, his political friend, James R. Mann, who was chair of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, drafted the bill that would eventually become the White Slave Traffic Act. For Mann, the "white-slave traffic," “while not so extensive, is much more horrible than any black-slave traffic ever was.”

As passed by the Sixty-First Congress on 25 June 1910, the Act read:
That any person who shall knowingly transport or cause to be transported, or aid or assist in obtaining transportation for, or in transporting, in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or in the District of Columbia, any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent and purpose to induce, entice, or compel such woman or girl to become a prostitute or to give herself up to debauchery, or to engage in any other immoral practice; or who shall knowingly procure or obtain, or cause to be procured or obtained, or aid or assist in procuring or obtaining, any ticket or tickets, or any form of transportation or evidence of the right thereto, to be used by any woman or girl in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or the District of Columbia, in going to any place for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent or purpose on the part of such person to induce, entice, or compel her to give herself up to the practice of prostitution, or to give herself up to the practice of debauchery, or any other immoral practice, whereby any such woman or girl shall be transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or the District of Columbia, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, or by imprisonment of not more than five years, or by both such fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.
It was the phrase, "or for any other immoral purpose," that would cause so many later problems. Unable to find any evidence at all of the vast network of the white slave trade, prosecutors begin using the Mann Act to pursue other kinds of "sexual misconduct."*

In 1911, the Supreme Court ruled that the act applied to the case of  John Bitty, who had brought his English mistress into the United States, ruling that bringing her into the country "as his concubine" was equivalent to bringing her into the country for the purposes of prostitution. 

Young women need to be careful
in ice cream parlors,
where they will be preyed on
by white slave traders!
Two years later, in 1913, the court ruled again: Drew Caminetti and  Maury Diggs, both married men, traveled by train from Sacramento to Reno accompanied by the adult women with whom they were having consensual sex. Police arrested both men, who were tried and convicted. On appeal, Caminetti's lawyer argued that the intent of Congress was to target only "commercialized vice," and that while his client's behavior may have been immoral, it was "free from commercialism and coercion." Citing Bitty, the court upheld their convictions, criminalizing any and all premarital or extramarital sex that involved interstate travel. 

The dangerous result of the Mann Act was its use as a weapon of persecution and politics. Perhaps the most famous case prosecuted under the Mann Act is that of the African-American boxer, Jack Johnson, who was convicted, ostensibly, for having traveled with a white "prostitute" from Pittsburgh to Chicago--the woman was his white girlfriend.

Also notable was the 1944 prosecution of Charlie Chaplin, a prosecution stemming from a case involving a paternity suit, motivated by his politics (and initiated by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, in pursuit of Hollywood "communists").

In 1959, Chuck Berry, an African American singer, was convicted of violating the Mann Act for transporting across state lines an underage Native American girl for "immoral purposes." Berry's defense argued that he had offered the girl, whom he had met in Juarez, a job in his St. Louis nightclub, but he was convicted by a jury (all white) and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. Because the judge in his case had used racist language, Berry was able to get his conviction vacated. He was convicted a second time in 1961 and served nearly two years in prison. 

Although the Mann Act has been repeatedly amended, it has never been appealed. In 1978, the act was expanded to add minors of either sex to its definition of sexual exploitation, and in 1986, in an effort to remove its original intent of legislating "morality," the act replaced its language about "debauchery" and "immoral purpose" with language referring to "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense." 

Perhaps the most insightful comment about "white slavery," moral hysteria, and the Mann remains that of Emma Goldman, as relevant today as in 1917 when she wrote: 
Only when human sorrows are turned into a toy with glaring colours will baby people become interested--for a while at least. The people are very fickle babies that must have new toys every day. The “righteous” cry against the white slave traffic is such a toy. It serves to amuse the people for a little while, and it will help to create a few more fat political jobs--parasites who stalk about the world as inspectors, investigators, detectives, and so forth. What is really the cause of the trade in women? Exploitation, of course…
Right now, though, I am still left wondering what spurred my mother and our neighbors to that conversation under the hot desert sun in 1960s California . . .

*For a discussion of the Mann Act, Supreme Court cases and decisions relating to the Mann Act, and amendments to the Mann Act, you can see the West's Encyclopedia of American Law entry by clicking here

Friday, October 14, 2016

Alison Skipworth: A Great Old Broad

Alison Skipworth (Night after Night released 14 October 1932)


The other night I watched one of my favorite pre-Code films, Night after Night--this was Mae West's first film appearance, and although the screenplay was credited to Vincent Lawrence (with writing credits to Louis Bromfield and Katheryn Scoda), Mae West wrote much of her own dialogue (she is uncredited, however). Among the notable West-ian lines: when a young woman checking coats sees West's jewelry, she gushes, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" The irrepressible West replies, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."

Anyway, I love this film--not so much for the main story, with a gangster/speakeasy owner falling for "classy" socialite, but for West. The otherwise dull and predictable movie sparks to life when she is onscreen. But virtually all her scenes are shot with the amazing Alison Skipworth, who rarely gets much attention despite a long and very successful career.

Born in London in 1863, Skipworth began her professional career as a stage actress in both London and New York before turning to film. She appeared in her first film in 1912 and moved to Hollywood in 1929.

As a young woman, Skipworth was famed as a great beauty. When she began her acting career in 1894, Skipworth, then in her thirties, specialized in playing the role of grande dame, a socially prominent and haughty figure (though Skipworth herself was the daughter of a physician). The plays in which she acted were not very successful--at one point Skipworth claimed that she'd been in twenty-one flops between 1925 and 1930. 

Film offered her new opportunities--now no longer a young beauty, she took character roles, plump, often ridiculous "aristocratic" types, a series of dowagers and matrons like Emily La Rue in If I Had a Million (1932), where she was paired with W. C. Fields, and Tillie Winterbottom in Tillie and Gus (1933), again a foil to Fields and his role as Augustus Winterbottom. Her last film was made in 1938, when she was 75, though she continued to act on Broadway into the early 1940s. Skipworth died in 1952, just a few weeks before her 89th birthday.

My favorite Skipworth performance is in this film, where she is Miss Mabel Jellyman, hired by George Raft's gangster to give him lessons in "class," including proper etiquette and speaking. But once she meets Mae West's Maudie Triplett. Miss Jellyman is only too happy to laugh at Maudie's double entendres, get drunk with her, and, ultimately, go into business with her--even though she assumes Maudie's "business" is keeping a brothel (Maudie denies this, insisting she runs a beauty shop). My favorite scene: when the two wake up in bed together after a night out. Now that's a double entendre!!


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trump and Pussy Galore

Donald Trump Doesn't Know that Women Are Human


There's been so much written and said about Donald Trump's inability to distinguish between a real human woman and blow-up sex doll that I hesitate to add to the outrage--and yet I can't quite keep quiet, either. 

Barry Blitt's New Yorker cover,
10 October 2016
And while I'm pretty pissed about his sniggering and salivating on the Access Hollywood tapes, I can't believe that this--this--is what has caused such a furor.

Earlier in the day, just a few hours before the tapes were released, Trump had insisted in a statement to CNN that the five teenaged boys convicted as the "Central Park Five" in 1990--five juveniles who were (unjustly) convicted, who served sentences of six to thirteen years, who were ultimately proven innocent by DNA evidence, and who were exonerated in 2002--were still guilty.

Never mind that the real perpetrator confessed--his DNA matched. (For further analysis.click here

Never mind evidence. Never mind truth. Never mind decency. 

But, no, it wasn't this that caused the outrage.

It was pussy that proved to be the problem.

After Trump's lifelong career of leering and pawing and slobbering, it was a few words on a bus that somehow proved to be too much. 

Still, however crude Trump's language may have been, it wasn't just the word "pussy" that got him into trouble. Although that was the word that caused much of the outrage, there was something else--it was his reduction of a woman to a series of body parts that was so revealing. It wasn't that the unnamed woman had refused him--it was the way he reduced her to just a "pussy," "legs," and "tits." 

And as Trump and his repellent sidekick turned their puerile conversation to the actress who was to greet them, they again failed to acknowledge that, as a woman, she was a human being, an adult person, much less an equal. For the infantile sycophant on the bus with Trump (who referred to himself in gag-inducing third person as "the Bushie"), she was Trump's "girl." 

But for Trump himself, she wasn't even a "girl," she was an "it." "Maybe it's a different one," he responded. And added, "It looks good." That isn't the only time he has dehumanized women with his pronoun choice--in a conversation with Howard Stern, as just one more example, Trump described checking on "his" Miss Universe contestants with a similar impersonal pronoun: "I'm inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good," he explained. Not everyone--everything.

As one more example of dehumanizing language. After calling the woman who had accused him of groping her on a plane a liar, he wasn't done. At a rally in Greensboro, NC (14 October 2016), he reduced his accuser to a thing--an undesirable thing. "Believe me," he said, "Man, you don't know. That would not be my first choice." Not only was she too ugly for him, she wasn't a person, just "that." (For video and transcript, click here. I can't believe I linked to Fox News.)

Or, then, there's this: Trump at a golf tournament, where he sees an attractive woman. “Hey, look at this one."

Now anyone who has been alive--and thinking--over the last three decades has surely been made aware of the concept of objectification, in particular the objectification of women. If you've watched a music video, seen a film, flipped through a fashion magazine, or even looked at a billboard, you've encountered objectification: rather than thinking, desiring, active human beings, women are reduced to things, or, more frequently, reduced to parts of their bodies. We are not looking at women. We are looking at boobs, butts, and legs. 
Women reduced to body parts in advertising

In a classic discussion of the concept, philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes that "One is treating an an object what is really not an object, what is, in fact, a human being."

Here are the "seven notions" that, as Nussbaum writes, "are involved in that idea":*
  1. Instrumentality: The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes.
  2. Denial of autonomy: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.
  3. Inertness: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.
  4. Fungibility: The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type, and/or (b) with objects of other types.
  5. Violability: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary-integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.
  6. Ownership: The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.
  7. Denial of subjectivity: The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not to be taken into account.
If you run through all of these, thinking just of the Trump tape, you can see that he's 7 for 7! Score! What a dick! (See what I did there?)

Another example of dismemberment
Anyway, this particular kind of objectification--which cultural critic Jean Kilbourne has labeled "dismemberment"--is so pervasive we often ignore it. When I used to teach gender studies, my students would shake their heads in puzzlement until I showed them images from advertising. Even then they thought I had just managed to find a few shocking examples--until I asked them to go through a current issue of Vogue or Cosmo

In an op-ed for The [Tacoma] News Tribune, I wrote about advertisements that featured women's dead bodies--beautiful dead corpses in designer dresses. The editor was so sure I had it wrong that he asked me to bring the print ads I described to his office--just so he could be sure I wasn't making shit up, I guess. And then, much to my dismay, he decided to print them alongside my argument against treating women's bodies this way! (For this and other essays on women, gender, and popular culture, click here)

A Marc Jacobs ad, just one of dozens featuring
bodies of dead women

As just one more example of how this substituting body parts for women works, students in one of my classes posted ads on the bulletin board, one of them a Victoria's Secret ad featuring a series of female torsos in bras and panties. A colleague of mine came by my office to complain about our use of the bulletin board--it was distracting. Fair enough--I agreed to remove the Victoria's Secret ad, which was the one he found offensive. But then he said that he found "the blonde" model in the lavender lingerie particularly troublesome. When I told him there weren't any blondes in the ad--or brunettes or redheads, for that matter--just a series of torsos, he refused to believe me until we went to the classroom. Although there were no heads on any of the torsos in the ad, he still argued that he wasn't wrong. The torso in lavender must be a blonde because of the fair complexion on the exposed skin of the headless body!

Now, my colleague could be a bit of an asshole on occasion (see! again!), but he's a thoughtful, considerate man who regards women as thinking human beings. 

Unlike Donald Trump, who's a complete dick. A useless tool. There. I feel better. 

Ben Wiseman's illustration for Frank Bruni's
"If Donald Trump Chamged Genders,"
New York Times (27 February 2016)


*Martha C. Nussbaum, "Objectification," Philosophy & Public Affairs, 24, no. 4 (1995): 257. Nussbaum's article is available through JSTOR