Story of Community Forming at Only Gay Bar in Jerusalem

On Feb. 6, the Department of Theater, Film, and Media Studies continued its Fifth Annual Film Series by presenting notable feminist filmmakers and their works. Each of the women involved with the Out of Bounds: Feminist Films and Filmmakers Series has contributed to the women’s movement and has been honored for her achievements.

The series made its debut with Yun Suh, a journalist, producer, director, and writer, who has received notable nominations for her moving documentaries and news features on the struggles and accomplishments of women around the globe. After a brief introduction, Yun Suh showed her 2009 documentary, “City of Borders,” to the students and faculty in Cole Cinema.

The film centered on the only gay bar in Jerusalem, the Shushan, and its faithful patrons who risked their lives to come to the establishment. Throughout the film, Shushan was described as “a place where you can really be yourself.” “City of Borders” not only touched on the difficulties faced by the gay community, but also on the tension and division between Israelites and Palestinians. The film highlighted important events, such as rallies about ending the siege on Gaza and the Pride Parade held in Jerusalem.

The film also expressed cultural issues such as being a part of the gay community and forming relationships with people from different religious backgrounds and nationalities. By focusing on the positive actions of the young individuals trying to make a difference, the film stressed that their mission was to “bring tolerance to Jerusalem.” As Yun Suh explained, “City of Borders” is “a story of hope and about community.” Lisa Zimmerman, a junior, was one of the many students that found “City of Borders” both interesting and informative. “Film is not just for entertainment, but it also informs us about social issues,” she said.

The film series will also feature Jenny Cool, a social anthropologist and filmmaker, on Feb. 13. Her 1994 film, “Home Economics,” takes a look at home ownership, its relation to the American dream, and what issues or meanings this can construct. On Feb. 20, human rights attorney and filmmaker Michèle Stephenson plans to show her 2005 documentary “Faces of Change,” which is about several individuals from five different continents documenting their encounters with social, racial, and gender discrimination.

Each of the women in the Out of Bounds film series offers a unique experience and look into the lives of other people. “I recommend everyone see the film series. They are very interesting,” said Zimmerman, who looks forward to seeing all three of the filmmakers and their works.

Feminism, Poetry and Sex Fuse at Lecture

Barbara Baumgartner, in her presentation on Victorian-era popular medical texts, combined her background as both a nurse in neurology and as Associate Director in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis into a unique, “historical-medical” approach to seeing the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Baumgartner’s gave her lecture, formally titled (Un)Sexing the Body in Nineteeth-Century Anatomy Texts, to a crowded classroom of students and professors on Nov. 11 in Montgomery Hall 101. Baumgartner was introduced first by Professor of English Karen Anderson, who talked about her personal experience with Baumgartner as a “role model fo how knowledge can do good in the world.”

Professor of English Beth Charlebois then came up to further introduce Baumgartner and her myriad of talents as not only a professor and teacher but a marathon runner, chef, and gardener, and said, “[she is], much more than I, a true renaissance women.”

Baumgartner started her lecture by talking about how she arrived at the study of nineteenth-century popular anatomy texts through her study of the use of the body in Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and said, “after all, everything comes back to Dickinson.”

According to Baumgartner, Dickenson studied anatomy in what Baumgartner classified as “popular” anatomy textbooks at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

What she looked at the texts that Dickinson studied, she found an “incredibly detailed” body of texts which were based off of a “vigorous health reform movement to counter what they called ‘heroic medicine’.”

According to Baumgartner, the first ‘popular’ anatomy books, aimed at primary and secondary schoolchildren and “home use”, came out in 1834; by the end of the nineteenth century, over 60 popular anatomies were published. They consisted of sections on anatomy, physiology, and hygiene.

These popular anatomies, according to Baumgartner, “represent a largely unsexed and ungendered body”, something that set them apart from their counterparts written for practicing doctors. Baumgartner said, “[the] language choices represent a desire to apply to both male and female readers.”

For example, many authors take pains to not gender characters in their anatomies, and gender-specific instructions for hygiene are almost unheard of.

In contrast, in medical texts of the time “male and female bodies were presented in fundamentally different ways.” Baumgartner said that medical texts, instead of remaining gender-neutral, saw the genders as more different than alike and interpreted anatomical differences as being the reason for most, if not all, gender differences.

She added, “always the female was compared to the male, whom is the standard from which the female deviates.”

Baumgartner attributed this radical difference to the authors of the text themselves, whom she said were far more progressive-thinking in their views on women. Many of the authors, for example, openly expressed the notion that women and men were physical and intellectual equals.

She pointed out that a major focus of the anatomical textbooks was on encouraging women to exercise, which was against the stereotype of women being “dainty” and “frail”. These texts also took aim at fashions of the time. Baumgartner said, “[the authors were] really concerned about corsets that would get womens’ waists down to about 12 inches, something really scary to think about.”

Baumgartner said, “I’d like to argue that [these texts] cannot but have helped women’s perceptions of themselves as similar to men, and provided some ammunition for the growing womens’ rights movement that really took off in the nineteenth century.” She added, “Changes in our understanding and perceptions of the body really influence our ideas and conceptions about ourselves.”

Baumgartner concluded her lecture by coming, once again, back to Dickinson. In order to show the specific impact that studying anatomy had on Dickinson, she identified what she noted as around 20 “brain poems”, or poems that she believed could be interpreted through nineteenth century ideas about the human brain.

To drive her point home, she interpreted the poem I Felt a Funeral in My Brain in this manner, describing the conflict present in the poem being analogous to the “difficult, almost paralyzing state the precedes writing”.

She further said that the ideas of falling and descent present in the poem actually may have been meant to mirror the brain’s structure as known during the time period, in which the top layers controlled logical thought and reason and the lower layers represent more primitive parts of human consciousness. She added, “the speaker’s plunge may be seen as an escape of the deadening and deafening rhythm of reason.”

Students found the lecture a unique take on Dickinson and literary analysis in general. Junior Casey Dong said, “I would never think to look at poems from a medical perspective.” First-year Arianna Pray said, “I thought it was real informative and it was great to get an idea of the mindset of the period.

Senior Lauren Grey said, “I had discussed [the Dickinson poem] in class, but it was fascinating to see the poem in a different way than I had ever done before”.

Transcending Boundaries: Limits, Possibilities of Gender & Sexuality

The Women, Gender, and Sexuality (WGSX) House and WGSX faculty held a conference on Friday, Nov. 12 to present student papers on a variety a topics ranging from gender in poetry and television, stereotypes, and sexual ethics and sexual health.

The conference began with two separate but concurrent sessions: “Gendered Poetry”, which focused on gender issues and portrayal within poetry, and “Breaking Stereotypes”, in which students examined religion’s impact on women and the implications of the word and idea of dependence.

Senior Yvette Mbangowah began the “Breaking Stereotypes” session with her paper, The effects of the arrival of Christianity and Islam on African women.

Mbangowah said women’s power and status before the arrival of these two major monotheistic religions was much higher than after their arrival. She gave the example of the power of female deities and how because of them these cultures “recognized the female has some power.”

However, after the arrival of Islam and Christianity, Mbangowah said, “most of the matriarchal societies started to die away.” Women’s roles became less important and they held a lower status, and power moved to men and the male deities of the new religions.

Senior Michele Johnson followed Mbangowah with her paper Redefining Dependence as a Desirable State. Her paper focused on the concept of dependence in our culture and how it has implications of shame and weakness. Autonomy and independence are linked to strength and power, but Johnson said we should “frame the idea of dependency in a different way.”

She argued that “dependency is [seen as] an incomplete state in life” and that people are not seen as legitimate persons if they are dependent on others, but that dependency is a natural state of existence for every human being and that dependency should be the basis for determining personhood.

In order to focus on dependence as a positive, worthwhile and rational state, Johnson jokingly said, “Maybe we should have a Dependence Day, where you have BBQs and hold hands.”

In the Blackistone Room during the session entitled “Ethics, Sex and Sexual Health”. Junior Madeline Montgomery presented Assessing HIV Risk Denial and Condom Use Among Black Inner-City Women. She said, “As it stands the health care system is not user friendly for inner-city women.”

These women face issues such as the black communities’ denial of the risk of HIV.

Condom use is also lower in these communities because of misinformation about sexually transmitted diseases (such as the idea they can be contracted outside of sexual acts) and the “perception that the relationship has failed” if one needs condoms.

Montgomery proposed improving the image of condom use to one that is empowering and loving and stressed the importance of disseminating correct, accessible sexual health information.

Senior Allison Smith spoke next on her paper, Beyond Heteronormative Sex: The Ethics of BDSM. This paper covered the practices and reactions to BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) by the general population and feminist writers.

Her paper examined how views of BDSM are generally negative and that the practices and mind-sets related to BDSM are misunderstood. In fact, she said that BDSM is based in very explicit consent practices. Smith said, “Many ‘vanillas’ [individuals with more conventional views of sex] misconstrue rape fantasies as meaning that a [submissive] would like to be raped,” but that those fantasies are not based in reality.

The session was wrapped up by senior Dana Gittings’ presentation, Linda Williams’ Hard Core: Power, Violence, and Controversy in Heterosexual Pornography Aimed at a Primarily Male Audience. She examined the practices of pornography and what messages they portray about sexuality and the individuals who view it.

For example, Gittings said the “expected ‘money shot’ ending…with male ejaculation determining the conclusion of the sexual act, indicates that male pleasure and orgasm are presented as the primary aim of sex. The female partner’s goal is to cause the male to reach this state.”

Across the hall, as one audience discussed sexual ethics, another was engaged in “Gender in Television”. This section began with sophomore Katie Brown’s presentation Girly Power: The Re-Feminization of Female “Superheroes” in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed.

In this she described how the strong female leads in the these shows are sexualized and reliant on male characters for assistance to “make [them] more acceptable to male viewers.”

Brown said ,“they are transformed into stereotyped, sexualized images…[it] overshadows that feminist girl power.”

The final paper presented was senior Nona Landis’ paper Gendered Law and Ideological Order: Women in Television Crime Dramas. She looked at the shows Law and Order: SVU and Criminal Minds, to show how the strong female leads are “still subject to the same media influences and biases.”

Even though female characters are physically powerful they are still examined through their sexuality and other gendered norms. Landis said, “Even if a woman can kick ass and take names, she better look good doing it.”

Associate Professor of Psychology Jennifer Tickle helped wrap up the conference. Commenting on the themes of the papers she had seen, “there’s a lot of power and strength associated with women…in feminine characteristics and…strength in areas that are traditionally masculine.”

She added, “We should continue to question ideologies, especially when ideologies suppress the importance of feminine characteristics.”