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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Archive for the day “May 6, 2011”

>A Sexist Commercial

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I just found this sexist commercial for a chocolate bar that is marketed as “not for girls” via Northern Gaijin’s blog:
It’s obvious that the commercial will only appeal to a very small segment of population while many people of either gender will be put off the product for good. This is yet another example of how even in a fiercely capitalist society, ideology will always be more important than profit. This reminded me of a fascinating discussion in Susan Faludi’s Backlash about how fashion designers in the 80ies chose to go bankrupt rather than accommodate the needs of their female customers. They disregarded a huge demand for business suits and business wear among women and kept trying to sell puffy, princessy dresses in spite of all evidence that nobody was going to buy them.
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>Geography in American High Schools

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A colleague just told me that geography is not an obligatory course in American high schools and hasn’t been for two generations. I’ve been telling her how students find it next to impossible to name the countries that the US shares a border with, and she didn’t seem at all surprised because, apparently, nobody ever teaches them these things. Surely, that can’t be right? I’m not very familiar with how the American secondary education system works, so can anybody clarify this for me? Can you get a high school diploma in the US without having to pass geography?

>How To Be a Feminist Man

>Here is a brilliant statement on the subject from Jonathan’s blog:

Don’t.  

Ok, that’s a little too simplistic. What I mean is that feminism doesn’t really need you if your main aim is to prove how feminist you are, to make a spectacle of your guilt or rectitude, or to make women like you or want to sleep with you. Feminists (the female type) don’t really like having to placate or take care of the feelings of men who want to be feminists. (Or so I’ve been told.)  

Don’t tell women how to be feminists, or that they are too feminist, or not feminists enough. Don’t be condescending or dominating. Don’t be a “concern troll,” rolling out your alleged feminist bona fides in order to then make anti-feminist points. Don’t speak for women and treat your contribution as special. Women, especially feminist women, really know how to speak for themselves exceptionally well.  

Don’t write for other men telling them how to check out women without being too obnoxious. Don’t go around trying to prove that there are “good men.” Women (surprise!) already know this. 

Read the rest of the post here.

>Communism As a Religion

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“Religion is the opium of the people,” Marx said in his Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right published in 1843. (I looked this up on Wikipedia and I’m not ashamed of confessing it.) The Communist leaders of the Soviet Union took this statement to heart and invested the Soviet brand of Communism with very obvious religious overtones.* This made it a lot easier to convert a very backwards, ultra-religious country to a new Communist religion.
Just consider the following facts:
Just look at this picture that in the
USSR we saw on a regular basis. Does
it remind you of anything?
1. Communist ideologues were always presented as a kind of a Holy Trinity where, instead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, you had Marx, Engels and Lenin. 
2. Holy remains of saints were always central to religious practices of the most backwards denominations. When Lenin died in 1924, his body was embalmed and preserved in a mausoleum so that people could visit his remains and pay their homage. It was considered a duty and a privilege of every Soviet citizen to walk by Lenin’s remains at least once. I’ve done it and I don’t know any other person who grew up in the Soviet Union who hasn’t. The Russian government still spends a significant amount on preserving Lenin’s remains because there are too many people who oppose interring the poor guy’s body (or whatever is left of it). Lenin’s remains still have pride of place on the Red Square. When Stalin died, his remains were also embalmed and added to Lenin’s in the Mausoleum.**
3. In a Russian Orthodox home, there was always a corner called “beautiful” (which carries the same meaning as the word “red”) where religious images were located. After the October Revolution, religious images were removed from these right-hand corners and substituted with images of the Communist Holy Trinity. Just like with the holy images, people would light candles in front of the triple image of Marx, Engels and Lenin (or Marx, Lenin and Stalin.)  The number of “inspirational stories” we have read about young Pioneers (you do know what it means in the context of the Soviet Union, right?) removing an old grandma’s religious images from the right-hand corner and placing Lenin’s portraits there was overwhelming. And, come to think of it, very Derridian****, too.
4. In a profoundly Pagan culture that was forcibly converted to Christianity (as all Slavic cultures that still preserve their Pagan customs and allegiances were), it was important to offer people Communist equivalents of their Pagan deities and traditions. This was done very successfully in the Soviet Union. As we all know, Pagan  sexuality is very happy and exuberant***, while Christianity was always very repressive sexually. The official Communist ideology would snag people with their “a sexual act should come as easily as having a glass of water” propaganda of the 20ies, only to collapse into an extremely Puritanical culture of the 60ies and the 70ies.
The main reason that the Communist ideology was so successful with the backwards and ultra-religious people of the Russian Empire is that it managed to inscribe itself so neatly into the all-important belief system  promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church. It isn’t for nothing that Stalin was so eager to turn the Church leaders into happy collaborators of the regime. For decades, the Russian Orthodox priests collaborated with the KGB and informed the authorities of whatever it was that people revealed in the confessional. Today, the Russian president and prime-minister flaunt their fake religiousness which is made easy for them because of their KGB credentials that they share with the top officials of the Russian Orthodox Church.
*If I somebody reminds me, I will one day blog about why this project failed so spectacularly in Cuba.
** I also want to write a separate post on how Stalin’s death was perceived as an enormous tragedy even by the most intellectual and refined Soviet people. It is especially curious to examine the case of Jews who weeped over the death of a guy who was in the process of exiling them all into Siberia. There are so many topics to blog about that one feels overwhelmed.
*** I’m also dying to blog about Slavic Paganism in the hopes that a Western Pagan (Pagan Topologist, maybe?) will point out similarities and differences.
**** If I need to write a separate post about it, just say so.

>How Do You Separate the Artist From Their Art?

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Stringer, who is a frequent reader and commenter on this blog, sent in this fascinating question, and I decided to address it in a separate post. As a scholar of Hispanic literature, I have to analyze and teach works of art whose authors often hold beliefs that I find to be deeply repugnant. 
Take, for example, Francisco de Quevedo, a 17th century Baroque poet from Spain. The guy was a rabid anti-Semite and a profound woman-hater, and we all know how much I adore these particular qualities in people. From what I have been able to gather about him, Quevedo was an extremely nasty human being. At the same time, he wrote the kind of poetry that is so indescribably beautiful that no matter how many times I read it, I never cease to be amazed with it. His poem “Love Constant Beyond Death” (it’s really not the same in the English translation, but here you have it anyway) touches me so deeply that I even avoid reading it. I’m not a touchy-feely-weepy kind of person, but I know that I will not be able to get my emotions under control if I start discussing it in class. You can write a doctoral dissertation on every single line of this poem and still never exhaust its meaning. It is so annoying that this nasty woman-hater and vile anti-Semite had to be the person who created my most favorite poetry in the entire world.
Then, we have Juan Goytisolo. He is not only my favorite novelist but also one of my main research interests. His novel Count Julian makes my heart stop every time I read it because it’s so good. And yet, Goytisolo has written extremely nasty stuff about women in this very novel that I love so much. 
So how do I deal with this? How do I reconcile myself to the realization that some of my most favorite writers whose work I dedicate my life to studying and teaching are often jerks whose ideas I detest? How do I deal with the fact that whenever I meet writers whose work I love, I always discover that I don’t enjoy spending even five minutes in their company? I thought long and hard about this and about the nature of artistic production. I know that people will criticize me for romanticizing the creative process, but I believe that artists (just artists, not literary critics, bloggers, journalists, or anybody else) get their creative gift from a place that has nothing to do with their personalities, their foibles, their vices, and their often extremely silly political beliefs. A creative genius (yes, you can laugh now, I don’t mind) is something that gets bestowed on a person by nature or whatever it is you believe in for no particular reason whatsoever. 
I don’t think that I’m “talented” or that any of the leading scholars in my field are “talented.” (Just try calling me “talented” or “gifted” and you’ll get me to become you enemy forever.) They are just extremely hard-working, dedicated, stubborn, and passionate individuals. Artists, however, are a different thing. You often see a person who is a nasty, lazy, condescending jerk who, for some unfathomable reason, has been given the gift of creating art. There is no reason for this. It just happens. (At some point, I will also blog about how scary it is to discover that a person you’ve known forever also has this terrifying creative gift that seems to come from nowhere.) Whenever I encounter works of art created by people I cannot possibly respect, I just look at their artwork as something that comes from a mysterious place and that, by pure chance, gets channeled through them.

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