BILQUIS, THE DJINN, AND THE QUEEN OF SHEBA (originally written by Gloria Steele-Hatten 06/19/2019 for Middle Eastern Culture and Society course, Columbia College of Missouri)

BILQUIS, THE DJINN, AND THE QUEEN OF SHEBA: an Exploration of the demonization of women in the monotheistic culture, scripture, and cinema

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Abstract: Herein will be discussed the place of Queen of Sheba/Bilquis and King Solomon/Suleiman in the Qua’ran. In starkly contrasting the portrayal of the Queen’s visitation/encounter with Suleiman in the Qua’ran with the event as depicted in the Hebrew Bible and the Ethiopian Kebra Nagast, I would like to explore how the nuances of the Islamic portrayal of the encounter speaks volumes about Islamic culture and Middle Eastern sociological perspectives concerning women. In addition, considering Western Europeanized depictions of these figures and this encounter through cinematic adaptations, the analysis is further enriched by the layers of interpretation shaped through Europeanized lenses, and what that means in terms of how the West chooses to portray Middle Eastern culture, religious figures, and relationships based in love, power, and politics.

Throughout history, women who have come to positions of power and absolute authority have been villainized. In the culture of the Middle East, the religious texts of Muslims, Jews, and Christians all make mention of King Solomon/Seleiman and an encounter he is recorded as having had with the Queen of Sheba of the Biblical 1 Kings 10 and the Quaran Surah 27 (significantly, she is also referred to in Luke 11 as coming to judge the wicked of the world in the Last Days). A Queen whose wisdom certainly equaled if not rivaled the wisdom attributed to Solomon, her magnificent riches and substantial land acquisition was truly unprecedented, especially in a time famed for its incredibly ambitious tyrants and prodigious male rulers. The Queen of Sheba was responsible for a land coveted for its advantageous position on the African and Middle Eastern trade routes and for its abundant, prized spices—a land whose location is disputed to this day, with some believing Sheba (or Saba) is in modern day Yemen and some attributing the Hebraic rendition of S’aba as Ethiopia. Male rulers, particularly in Egypt, sought to control her lands for the incredible profits inevitable from the lucrative trade of her spices and the possession of her gold.

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In the Judeo-Christian Bible, the story of the Queen of Sheba’s meeting with King Solomon seems to be a chaste inquiry, perhaps a business transaction. Ultimately the Bible shapes their exchange of minds and goods as a meeting of equal, but independent sovereigns.

And when the queen of She’ba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of YHWH, she came to prove him with hard questions.

And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.

And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.

….Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came…and, behold, the half was not told to me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard.

….and she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of She’ba gave to King Solomon.

….And king Solomon gave unto the queen of She’ba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country…

(1 Kings 10:1-3, 7, 10, 13; The Holy Bible, King James Version, italicised emphasis mine)

In the Hebrew rendition of their meeting, in fact, there is no hint of romance in the account, save for the ambiguity found in the line in which Solomon is said to have given her “all her desire.” Neither, for that matter, is much romance found in the version of their interaction found in the Qua’ran. In the Quar’an the story is more a tale of conversion; Suleiman is given a report by a hoopoe bird of the Kingdom of Sheba wherein the Queen and her people all worship the sun instead of Allah.

“Behold, I found [in Sheba] a woman ruling over them; and she has been given abundance of all good things, and hers is a mighty throne. And I found her and her people adoring the sun instead of Allah; and HaSatan has made these doings of theirs seem goodly to them, and thus has barred them from the path of Allah, so that they cannot find the right way….” (An-Naml/The Ants, Surah 27:23-24; The Qua’ran)

He entreats her in a letter to visit his kingdom and see why she should surrender to his Almighty. She consults her advisors who tell her, essentially, the choice is hers to answer the invitation. She sends a gift of her riches to Suleiman who, unlike in the Bible, does not receive it graciously but with mocking, proclaiming his wealth granted by Allah is better than hers, a patriarchal and belittling dismissal of her grandiose gift and her esteem in a tactic to further humble her to submit to his Allah. Before her arrival, Suleiman conjures one of the invisible spirit beings over which he has been granted magickal command to teleport her magnificent throne to his palace in order to beguile her. When she arrives to Suleiman’s palace and instantly recognizes her own throne, he marvels:

“She has arrived at the truth without any help from us, although it is we who have been given divine knowledge before her, and have long ago surrendered ourselves unto Allah! And she has recognized the truth although that which she has been wont to worship in stead of Allah had kept her away from the right path: for, behold, she is descended of people who deny the truth!”

(An-Naml/The Ants, Surah 27:42-43; The Qua’ran)

Finally, Suleiman gets the Queen Bilquis to submit to Allah (and to him, to an extent) by tricking her into thinking his palace floor was “a fathomless expanse of water (Surah 27:44),” and, after she raised her skirts to bare her legs, thus shaming herself in her exposure, she repents: “I have been sinning against myself by worshipping aught but Thee: but now I have surrendered myself, with Suleiman, unto the Sustainer of all the worlds! (Surah 27: 44)”

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King Solomon’s portrayal as a trickster (a role he does not embody in the Biblical accounts) is commented upon by scholars (Miller, 2011), and expanded further in the Ethiopian Kebra Nagast. In this account, which makes explicit their romance and unequivocal their sexual affair and conception of a son, the Kebra Nagast weaves a spellbinding tale of Solomon’s deceit in order to sexually force her submission to him, pointedly after her submission to YHWH! In the Kebra Nagast, Queen Makeda has already been impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and his poetic reasoning with her persuades her that, indeed, it is the ultimate wisdom to surrender to YHWH’s worship instead of sun, moon, and stars she and her people worshipped prior. Satisfied in her own conversion to the Truth, she gets ready to leave back to her kingdom and her people, but Solomon, for his own selfish pleasures, asks her to stay:

“Will you go away without seeing the Kingdom and without dining with me?” And the Queen replied, “From being a fool I have become wise listening to your wisdom. Therefore, I shall stay according to your desire.” (Hausman, 1997, pg 92)

Taking her on a tour of his palace and his realm, he permits her access to specially reserved chambers where he lavishes upon her his best foods, and, in particular, ladens her with spicy entrées and drinks mingled with vinegar, without leaving her any water. He then comes to her chambers and bids her stay for the night.

And she said to him, “Swear to the God of Israel that you will not take me by force.” And Solomon answered, “I swear that I will not, but you must swear to me that you will not take, by force, any of my possessions.” The Queen laughed at hearing this, and replied, I have no need of your things, for as you know I am also very wealthy. Nonetheless I swear that I will not take any of your possessions.” And he swore to her and made her swear to him. The King went up on his bed on one side of the chamber. (Hausman, 1997, pg 92)

After the Queen falls asleep, Solomon has his servants place right between their two beds a pitcher of cool water. Feigning sleep, he lies silently until the Queen awakens with great thirst. As she goes to pour herself of the water, he rises from his bed and accuses her of breaking her oath:

“Why have you already broken your oath that you would not take, by force, anything in my house?”

“is the oath broken by my drinking water?”

“is there anything under heaven richer than water?”

“Then I have sinned against myself, and you are free of your oath,” she told him.

“I am free from the oath which you made me swear?”

“Yes, but please let me drink your water.”

So Solomon permitted her to drink and after she had drunk her fill, they made love and then slept together.

(Hausman, 1997, pg 93)

In the hypersensitivity of this post-#MeToo era, the scene reads more like forceful sexual coercion, the epitome of rape culture filtered through a Western context of understanding. Some, however, may read this as sensual and romantic, depending upon culture, era of history, and a plethora of other variables. One thing is clear: if you can’t beat them, join them, seems to be the motto by which men of great acclaim and pride gain satisfaction over independent, powerful women. Solomon, a man of tragic hubris whose lust for countless women is clearly exposed in the Biblical accounts, meets his downfall when his foreign, pagan concubines and wives turn his heart away from worshipping the One True God, the Most High YHWH of Israel. Thus, it is no surprise with his arrogance, charisma, and seduction, he seeks to possess the Queen of Sheba herself sexually, if he cannot get her to renounce (or share her throne) for him to possess Sheba itself, economically and politically.

…it is the Queen of Sheba’s political power that makes her dangerous enough to Solomon for him to find it necessary to subdue her. However, it is significant that the perversity of this power – wielded by a woman – is symbolised by the Queen’s hairy legs, by a blot on her beauty. Clearly, if she is so powerful than she cannot really be a woman. Beauty, therefore, is a manifestation of weakness and of femininity, two attributes which are irrevocably connected; in the Jewish Stories of Ben Sira, Solomon is able to sexually possess the Queen once her hairy legs have been made smooth, in an echo of Samson and Delilah – a story which offers a clear example of hair as a signifier for masculine strength, inappropriate for a woman. However, beauty tends to be described as a power, and the Queen’s seductive power is one of the factors that make her so dangerous. But it is perhaps a secondary power, ineffable in contrast to the actual physical strength of men, and once a woman’s beauty is sexually possessed it loses its influence and its threat. The revealing of the Queen’s hairy legs at the moment when she is fooled by the glass floor also connects her hairiness – the imperfection of her beauty – to the fallibility of her wisdom. Both her vaunted beauty and intellect are undermined in a single motion, suggesting a link between the two which is not often proposed. (Hart)

The Queen Makeda/Bilquis threatens Solomon as a woman precisely because she, like her land of Sheba/S’aba is unconquered(Hart). Men have since times immemorial referred to land, Earth itself, in the feminine. Just as the flag planted on the Moon, men have always penetrated the grounds they’ve conquered with the phallic points of flags of victory, just as they penetrate the womb of Earth with their tools to plant seeds as well as to dig graves. The womb of wom(b)an is often seen as the vessel of life, receiving man’s seed to bring forth mankind from the chamber of birth—indeed, the first palace. Indeed, too, the womb is also, according to Freudian analysis, also a tomb(Braun, Wilkinson, 2001)—the subconscious fear of the vagina dentata is a primal fear of men (Vachani, 2009) that, by defining it through Psychoanalytical theory, does little to assuage them of the ambivalence of disappearing (literally) into a woman during coitus. As the only territory that hadn’t been forced to surrender to Solomon and Israel, it is fitting that, according to legend, before meeting Solomon, Queen Makeda/Bilquis was, too, commonly regarded as a virgin whose loyalty had been solely to her duty to her people for whom she’d never wavered for the love of a man. It is intriguing that, in honor of her prestigious, pristine Holy lineage, Ethiopia to this day has never been invaded or colonized as the rest of Africa has been.

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Her power and the expanse of her land was formidable and, to the fragile male ego, quite frightening. Without a King or even a male consort, she was a Mystery to male rulers and men in general, a force to be reckoned with, a confidence sought to be cut down, an autonomy abhorrent just as “The Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I of England must have been centuries later. This is referenced in a quite tongue-in-cheek manner in the television show American Gods, based on the literature of Neil Gaiman, in which Bilquis is portrayed as a succubus-like demoness who revels in consuming men—and killing them—with[in] her vagina. This Queen was such a threat that both Hebrew and Islamic sources and commentaries outside of the Bible and Qua’ran question with incredulity whether she is truly even a human woman. Both Midrashic and Talmudic Rabbis and historical Islamic scholars and interpreters of the hadiths have asserted that Queen [Bilquis] of Sheba is the daughter of a King and a djinn or demon. The portrayal of the Queen as a half-djinn demigoddess type of entity seems to be a sad aggrandizement used to not only demonize her, but save face in a sense, that Solomon was not outdone or rejected by a woman immensely powerful in her own right. Insufficient to leave well enough alone and let a woman be rightfully credited for her own brilliance, military strategy, trade and market acumen, and spiritual/intuitive genius, it seems men of the Middle East saw fit to comfort themselves in the faulty logic that, of course, she must have been something other than simply a glorious woman.

In the whitewashed cinematic adaptations of her tale, they perpetuate the need to preface her arrival on the screen with lurid tales of her inhumane origins and give her a ferocious countenance. In 1952’s Italian treatment “Queen of Sheba/Raina d’Saba,” the son of Solomon is speaking with two prisoners from Sheba, veritably feverish over fantasies about this fabled Queen while Solomon stands aloof, eavesdropping. In this version, her father is still on the throne and she is yet a young girl, but the men rave about her beauty—hair black as raven, skin perfumed with jasmine—yet also wonder at the rumors that “she handles the bow and spear like the god of war and when she rides her stallion, she even rivals the wind,” as well as the myths that “her mother left her in the desert and she was suckled by a lioness!” In the well-known and acclaimed 1959 American epic Solomon and Sheba, starring Yul Brenner and Gina Lollobrigida, the Queen of Sheba is portrayed as a femme fatale-like Temptress. In this sumptuous Technicolor version she is played (wondrously, I may add, despite the obviously racist ethnic inaccuracy) as a sensual witch, as seductive as she is cruel. In fact, during her first onscreen appearance, gorgeous as she is, she scowls like a tigress and lashes Solomon’s brother Adonijah with her whip several times, smiting his face and striking him to the dust. Of course a woman can not be powerful without violence, intelligent without cruelty, in patriarchal minds (the screenwriters and film directors, as much as those who twisted her story in Islamic and Talmudic accounts) of the same ilk that crafted bloody lies to demonize Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great. 1959’s framing of the Queen’s intrigue with Solomon is concerned with presenting their encounter as one tense with hidden motives: the Queen is initially seducing and bewitching Solomon to discover his weakness in order that his enemies in Egypt may overtake them, promising the Queen, for her assistance, more territory along the Nile. Eventually, however, she genuinely finds herself in love with him, pregnant with his child, and converts to his God, The Most High YHWH of the Israelites (called “Jehovah” in this film).

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In 1952’s Queen of Sheba, her virginity is explained in a scene depicting a somber ritual of her consecration and installation on the throne, following her father’s death. In the scene, a priest invokes Chemosh, a god mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, and Bilquis placed inside a talismanic star surrounded by female servants and companions. As the Crown is placed on her head, she is adorned in her Royal robes and her waist girded with the braided belt, the yoke of her vow to honor her position as sole Queen sovereign. During this rite of installation, the priest prays to Chemosh over Bilquis in words eerily similar to wedding vows: “What therefore I have joined together, let no hand of man untie.” He goes on declaring that Bilquis, as Queen, is now “sanctuary of the Mysteries, instrument of [Chemosh’s] celestial potency” and warns she shall have no other husband, now wed to him. She is instructed “never shall the lips of man touch yours, never shall the caress of man profane your body…” Her commitment is as Bride only to her god, her only obligation not to a King, but to her Kingdom.

In 1995’s Solomon and Sheba, starring Jimmy Smits and Halle Berry in the titular roles, the film thankfully displays more authenticity aesthetically and stylistically, with the caramel brown skinned Halle Berry as the Queen of Sheba—her name called Nicaulne[1] in his version—in a casting decision that at least reflects a complexion akin to that of the actual Ethiopians. In this version, Berry dons authentic Ethiopian garbs, not the ridiculously Westernized—albeit highly glamorous—costumes of the 1950s’ whitewashed versions. In this version, Nicaulne becomes Queen when she murders a traitor in her father’s army that has staged a coup, killing her father, and seeks to forcibly make her his wife. Seeking Solomon not to seduce but to shrewdly and sensibly strengthen her trade alliances, here she is a Virgin because she has no desire for man, dedicating herself, swooning, in poetic prayers to the Moon with offerings of incense. Later, when Jimmy Smits’ Solomon seduces her, reciting lines from the Biblical Song of Songs (said to be written by Solomon to a “Shulamite/Shunnamite maiden”), she trembles before him in a beautiful, sensitive portrayal of nervous surrender and inexperienced uncertainty. In this adaptation, Nicaulne as played by Berry introduces herself in brilliant subterfuge dressing up as a male servant, disguising herself to enter Solomon’s court to observe his judgements. Solomon soon displays his wisdom to discover her identity, instructing her to wash her hands and finds, as he suspected, she does not know how to wash “as a man.” Helping Solomon find the “gold of Ophir” (despite him already having gained possession of such gold and the lands of Ophir before even meeting the Queen in 1 Kings 9:28), after this excursion, her loyalty is tested and won while, inevitably, the two fall in a gentle, but passionate, love.

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In 1997, another television adaptation of the story was produced under the name Solomon, starring Vivica A. Fox as the Queen of Sheba to Ben Cross’s King Solomon. Lavishly produced, Fox’s casting as the Queen of Sheba—this time named Makeda—is perhaps her finest, yet most overlooked and underrated film role of her career. Radiantly beautiful, arrayed in stunning costumes that are yet not too gaudy, her soft spoken rendition of Queen Makeda is utterly, refreshingly feminine, effortlessly charming.

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This version is perhaps the most faithful to the Hebrew Bible and Ethiopic Kebra Nagast. Portraying Fox’s Queen Makeda as genuinely interested in experiencing Solomon’s wisdom without ulterior motives, the unravelling of their love is not a seduction on either side but a mutual, warm attraction, based on equally reciprocated respect for each other’s wisdom. A love that is written and acted as sincerely based in mutual admiration and honor, she neither seduces Solomon (as Gina Lollobrigida’s Queen, with delicious ruthlessness and ritualistic determination, did), nor does he seduce her (as Nicaulne was entrapped by the heavy-lidded, smoldering glances of Jimmy Smits’ Solomon). Seeming to truly, ecstatically love one another, they are torn apart when Solomon’s priests forbid him to name Makeda’s son as his heir because she is a foreign wife and convert, not of the tribes of Israel born under the Law of YHWH. Despite being disappointed her son by Solomon would not be granted the title of heir, Queen Makeda retains her dignity and is quite clear she never intended to give up her throne or her country to share Solomon’s throne as Queen of Israel. With elegant restraint, she returns home with Solomon’s son.

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Admirably, this 1997 film version leaves an opening for viewers to make the connections with Ethiopia’s Kebra Nagast. This rendition also lends credence and representation to the Ethiopian tradition of the Solomonic Dynasty claimed by the Ethiopian Jews. This Ethiopian lineage is most significant as well for the Jamaican Rastafarians who worship Emperor Haile Selassie as their alternative to Yahoshua the Messiah (Christ), regarding Selassie as their Messiah, born of the lineage of David through Solomon and Queen Makeda of Sheba.

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Conclusively, in exploring the various representations of the famed Queen of Sheba through Scriptural, literary, cinematic, and televised adaptations of her life and mythos, we inherently confront not only a woman, but a woman as a sociological phenomena. As a shapeshifter—Queen, Seductress, Succubus, Spy, and Submissive—she is as much shaped by the shifting ideologies of the passage of time and the changing of religions, rulership and culture. The Queen of Sheba is an embodiment of the ways patriarchal paradigms necessitate the villainising and discrediting of awe-inspiring female sovereigns and astute businesswomen. The Queen of Sheba, like many archetypes of commanding women, is sexualised and demonised by male interpreters of her story in ways that make them feel more comfortable, seeking to control her by rewriting her, and seeking to divide her Estate and Empire and belittle her Legacy by emphasising her ultimate submission—whether to King Solomon or an Almighty Masculine God.

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Works Cited

 

Braun, V., & Wilkinson, S. (2001). Socio-cultural representations of the vagina. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology19(1), 17-32.

Elias, J. J. (2009). Prophecy, Power and Propriety: The Encounter of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Journal of Qur’anic Studies11(1), 57-74.

Hart, Carina. “The Queen of Sheba’s Hairy Legs.” March 2, 2014. Beautiful In Theory https://beautifulintheory.com/2014/03/02/the-queen-of-shebas-hairy-legs/

Hausmann, G. (1997). The Kebra Nagast: The Lost Bible of Rastafarian Wisdom and Faith from Ethiopia and Jamaica.

Miller, R. D. (2011). Solomon the trickster. Biblical Interpretation19, 496-504.

Vachhani, S. (2009). Vagina dentata and the demonological body: explorations of the feminine demon in organisation. Bits of organization24, 163.

 

[1] In the Antiquities of Josephus, a collection of writings of 13th century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, her name is alleged to have been “Nicaulnis”

Between the Margins: Liminality, “White Man’s Language,” and Marginalization for Librarians of Color in America (Gloria Steele-Hatten, December 11, 2018)

Between the Margins: Liminality, “White Man’s Language,” and Marginalization for Librarians of Color in America

 originally written by Gloria Steele-Hatten

12/11/2018

 

Abstract

Highlighting historical obstacles to literacy for the descendants of African slaves in America, this paper acknowledges generational alienation from literary pursuits, and identifies remedies for the Black librarian to find an equal footing in a glaringly majority white field of particularly nuanced and at times arduous information and research expertise. Large numbers of Blacks, spanning generations, have traditionally held suspicions of “book learnin’” and have commonly maintained statistically lower rates of successful job retention and job satisfaction in a librarian position, due to exclusion and social disadvantage. While this is true, Blacks are increasingly empowered with Information Literacy and the rising numbers of Black librarians in the field can help to inculcate a sense of overall belonging and validation among majority white colleagues. Likewise, this paper explores how mentorship programs can foster an increased sense of confidence in librarians of color who succeed at much higher rates when able to network and apprentice under other librarian superiors of color as role models and with other librarians of color as peers and support systems. With higher retention rates of librarians of color, this sets an increasing precedent as young children of color are then able to increasingly accept that whites are not, as they have traditionally been regarded, the gatekeepers of literacy or the writers of “diverse” history. The incongruent ethics of minority vs majority public library service standards is also addressed, often in parallel with the landmark Brown v Board of Education Civil RIghts case, in order to expose the disparity between the “Black libraries” and “white libraries” and the message this sendes subconsciously to emerging, young Black minds.

 

In Western society, displaced descendants of African enslavement and colonization, collectively known as the African Diaspora, are continuously confronting the challenge of living a dualistic, liminal existence as children of oppression. Inevitably, belonging to (as enslaved and oppressed individuals) a white, Eurocentric Western society truly anathema to Black existence, minorities of color, and Blacks in particular, are facing challenges with representation and media inclusion. This problem is especially nuanced and unique for librarians of color, in an industry that so fully encompasses and embodies the literacy traditionally, legally, and systematically denied them for generations.

Many librarians of color are aware of ancestral history in which literacy was literally forbidden, and book knowledge was elusive, if not impossible, the acquisition of which was often criminalized and deathly punished. For some African Americans, inheriting the traditionally oral history of indigenous African ancestry, the ability to read was a landmark achievement, a point of access into the mysterious world of the Europeanized Written Word. For others, “readin’ and writin’” was somewhat of a betrayal, a treachery to aspire to “the white man’s language” with which they’d been “had, took, hoodwinked, tricked, bamboozled, and led astray,” as Malcolm X has famously been quoted. This post-traumatic suspicion of English literacy may be found similar to many of those post-Depression, pre-WWII “crazy old” elders who, white and black, were suspicious of entrusting their money into banks and, suspicious of the government, would keep their money in cash, hidden in walls and under floorboards. For generations, many African Americans were just as suspicious of literacy as others were hungry for it.

Generationally, many African Americans came to perceive the very obvious disparities in demographical literacy as evidence that literary passions and pastimes were “for white folk.” Even in the present day, many impoverished demographics of urban Black youth are often bored by reading, and insist that Black children with an exceptional vocabulary and advanced reading skills are “trying to act white,” as if aspiration for education is an aspiration for white assimilation. Herein lies the historical problem with recruiting librarians of color, maintaining their tenure, and being able to successfully gain and maintain the interest of youth of color in attending and patronizing library services as a whole. Some of the most problematic issues librarians of color may have lie within the ability or inability to find enough material that represents them and their audiences, especially those librarians that are tasked with reaching younger audiences (i.e. school presentations, toddler story times, etc). To give voice and shape to the frustration of this fractured, dualistic experience, sociologists, social researchers, and the like must explore how that visibility and representation of diversity creates complex sociological narratives in young developing minds.

Glendora Johnson-Cooper’s essay “Strengthening the African-American Community Through Information Literacy” stresses the importance of literacy in general and in particular information literacy. Citing historical and statistical evidence of the generational lack of literacy– let alone informational literacy– in Black/African American populations, due to slavery’s absolute condemnation of a slave’s permission to read, this article does a great job of showing the desperate and consistent need for African Americans to “catch up” to white counterparts in literacy and being empowered and equipped to learn effectively. Historically, African Americans were strictly forbidden to read altogether, and, even after slavery, literacy was strongly discouraged and those seeking literacy were violently opposed. Over time, many generations of Blacks even came to willingly and willfully eschew literacy, feeling the “white man’s language was nothing but deceit and that “book learning” was trickery (similar to how some generations of post-Depression elders, white and Colored, came to fear keeping money in banks, fearing they’d be deceived or swindled. Even in recent generations, many African American youth have come to view literacy and reading as “boring” or even elitist, shrugging it off, at best, as a “white” pastime, rejecting literacy simply because they have not been taught how to learn:

To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the needed information. Information literate people have learned how to learn. They know how knowledge is organized; they know how to find information, and they know how to use information in such a way they can teach others…the importance of information literacy in all aspects of our lives becomes evident when we consider our information society is growing at a rate which may exceed our ability to keep pace with technological change….with this rapid growth of [technological] resources which is fast approaching ‘information overload,’ people need to be taught when it is appropriate to select a particular source/format, how to use it, evaluate it, and gather the specific information they need. (Johnson-Cooper, pg. 185)

This perspective is crucial to aide the validity of this thesis. Citing historical examples of Black/Colored illiteracy, and illustrating the traditional barriers to its acquisition, the article makes quite clear the reason why, for generations, Blacks have generally and counally been “behind” in literacy, as well as, quite frankly, suspicious of literacy altogether, losing interest and passion for maintaining the same levels of literacy and information competence as their white counterparts. Explaining the expansion and evolution of literacy to include information and technological literacy is important because, in truth, many children, teens, and adults of color are “behind the times” technologically and, with the world rapidly globalizing via the grandiose scale of internet accessibility, Black demographics are in danger of a collective stunting of intellect as information is not merely accessed and read, it is internalized wholly differently now with interactive internet engagement and computer-based technology. The amount of Colored youth, for instance, engaged in coding versus their white counterparts speaks volumes and, just as Black children are confronted with not being able to intelligently articulate their own histories, having their stories literally written and read for them by white authors, white librarians and white teachers, Blacks will also not being able to write and encode their way into the Brave New World of the West’s technological future.

In her essay “Diversity in Leadership,” Cheryl L Branch thoughtfully and poignantly explores diversity politics and its nuanced complexities. Some of the hypocritical, paradoxical aspects of diversity politics in the postmodern era, include racial erasure and a form of whitewashing in the sense that “diversity” is used as a cover-all buzzword, a mask and muzzle to pretend to promote diversity in an effort to perpetuate the deception of “post racialism.” The postmodern insistence that “there is no racism” is a particularly vicious silencing, a covering up of the reality of racial discrimination, profiling, stigmatization, and marginalization of Blacks and minorities. Branch articulates:

“Prior research has posited that diversity, as a term and a concept, is essentially a euphemism, designed to avoid the complexity and emotion laden natures of terms, such as race, racism, sex and sexism (Winston, 2007, p131).” Diversity and multiculturalism suggest inclusiveness of diverse and many cultures; the obverse racism and race consciousness are rarely used, acknowledged, or studied The need for diversity cannot be investigated effectively without addressing the origins of the diversity deficit. The social reasons, cultural beliefs, and racial attitudes that account for the relative absence of people of color should be examined. (Branch, pg 204)

Thus, Branch here affirms that so-called “diversity politics” is truly a phenomena of erasure, tiptoeing around white privilege and providing a false “representation” without true visibility. This accounts for why it is currently trendy to go to great lengths to expand inclusive  books and media that provide “diverse” stories and ethnic visibility on the library shelves, while the seats of librarianship are still largely empty, devoid of true Colored representation. Following this train of thought, the psychological effects of this phenomena are irrefutable, even when hardly definable. Questions, whether rhetorical or answerable, include exploring racial power dynamics inherent in how Colored children feel when white librarians are given power and authority to tell and represent “their/our” stories. It is irresponsible, indeed reprehensible, for the white majority of mainstream society to continue to ignore and invalidate the inevitable cognitive dissonance that this causes.

Faced with a persistent myth of literacy as a form of assimilative “whiteness,” Branch and others address what oppression and inferiority complexes this continues to enforce and perpetuate subconsciously. Likewise, in “The Ethics of Access: Toward an Equal Slice of the Pie” by Samuel F. Morrison, the author discusses the inevitable cognitive dissonance that is a result of the inherent inability of so-called ethics to reconcile the needs of the majority and minority in library [and other public] services. Morrison goes to great lengths to cite many examples of the inherent opposition of ideals concerning the prioritization and importance of the public service and library services needs of majority and minority community subgroups. While Invoking Brown v Board of Education, he Masterfully reveals through poignantly clear parallels that the system of “separate but equal” still persists consistently today, and the disparities between quality of access, resources, and services in minority v majority libraries is still just as vast. Therefore, Morrison confirms some of Branch’s ideas on the paradox of today’s propaganda-driven conceptualization of so-called “diversity.” Morrison ultimately makes clear ways African Americans suffer under the cognitive dissonance that results from the dualism and separatism of this inherent paradox of being Black and continuously marginalized in a supposedly globalizing, diversifying America. This pretense of erased existence, thusly illustrated, exposes once and for all the hypocrisy evident in the whitewashing of so-called “diversity.”

The author of this article so Masterfully and eloquently illustrates the fulfillment of the needs of the minority and the majority are inherently opposed by design and never were meant to be reconciled ethically. Thus, the myth of “separate but equal” persists and exists today in subversive ways, couched in language and coded terms of so-called “inclusiveness” anand the appearance of diversity through well-placed “ethnic media” without true equality and representation of actual Colored bodies in positions of power and administration in staffing. Library obligation is to provide relevant information to, for, and about minorities as well as representation of such. Most importantly, minorities need more free library access by virtue and necessity of historical marginalization and disenfranchisement, and that goal has still not been reached. Morrison goes on to expose the fundamental falsehood of the “ethics” of public service as contradictory to the reality of the inequality inherent in the conflicting differences of the standards of  mainstream majority white public services which invariably lead to a shortage in resources to enable minority colored public services to meet the same standards:

…in recent times, ethics has returned to the forefront…Ethics is a system of moral principles and of values relating to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions. When two diametrically opposed obligations conflict with one another, an ethical dilemma occurs. It is settled only by weighing and evaluating the importance of the conflicting obligations. The moral conviction of a democratic society supportive of freedom of information versus the welfare of the public might well be an example of two opposing obligations. Equal access to information by the people versus the provision of relevant and friendly information is another wordset of potentially opposing obligations. The free library for the good of the public versus quality library services is also a contender….Providing access and fulfilling the needs of the majority versus providing access and fulfilling the needs of the minority is yet another opposing set. If one adds the words “equal opportunity” then the impact of this statement upon the library is significant….there is a responsibility of the public library to provide meaningful and quality access to minorities….A library is obliged to determine who the [minority] groups are, their social, cultural and demographic characteristics, and their information needs…library is obligated to plan for the inclusion of the needs of minority groups in its overall programmed service…..meaningful, quality-oriented access requires the inclusion of minority considerations in all aspects of library operations. Foremost among these are the big four: collections, staffing, programming, and facilities…..minority groups in particular experience to a higher degree the limitations of cultural, education, and language barriers. (Morrison, pg 97-99)”

Like Morrison, in the essay “Inequality of Resources in School Libraries in the 21st Century”, Ndiaye heavily invokes and cites the historical Civil Rights case Brown v Board of Education, confronting the yet-persisting, erroneous concept of “separate but equal” still not-so-subtly perpetuated in today’s glaringly obvious disproportionate quality and availability of resources in minority public schools and libraries versus majority white schools and libraries. Ndiaye recounts personal experiences in her own urban school district, with majority students of color, and the distinct differences in quality for the libraries in her district versus majority white districts:

….schools….with majority Hispanic and African American students, tend to have markedly fewer library resources than the majority white schools…I believe that the persistently lower academic achievement of students in the “majority minority” schools is inextricably linked to the fact that our libraries have been chronically underfunded for many years. The student body of the middle school where I am librarian is comprised of 39.9% Hispanics, 28.4% African Americans, 19.8% whites, and 7.8% Asians, and 63.1% come from economically disadvantaged families. (Ndiaye, pg19)

 

Here, through Ndiaye’s diligence in observation and research is revealed the importance for the insightful parallels drawn between the current state of minority vs majority public libraries and the historical disparities that were paramount to the landmark ruling of Brown v Board of Education case. Illuminating the importance of the historical decision, and exposing the hypocrisy of its supposed “progress,” Ndiaye reveals that, even nearly half a century later, in reality many public library institutions today operating in minority vs majority demographics are no different than in the post-Reformation, pre-Civil Rights, and post-Civil Rights eras in America.

Acknowledging the disparities between lower-quality colored minority libraries and higher-quality white majority libraries in history and the present, it is imperative to then discover the necessity of programs that seek to remedy this systematically oppressive paradigm and heal the historical wounds of literary disenfranchisement and political marginalization. One way to remedy the lack of confidence Black youth and adults have in literary aspirations, research functionality, informational literacy, and the engagement of library facilities and services, is through empowering more Black librarians and motivating them to stay the course and commit to the field in order to increase visibility and credibility of Black scholarship. Emily K Chan’s piece, “Discovering Librarianship: Personalizing the Recruitment Process for Underrepresented Students,” explores the shortage of, and necessity of, programs for mentorship and recruitment for aspiring librarians of color. The importance of recruitment and Black mentorship is emphasised, and the tradition of being “grandfathered in” to academic librarianship due to role model influence “through the pipeline,” and being “led by example.” A significant quote to be included within the thesis is:

Since 1926, there have been approximately four ALA-accredited programs at HBCUs. These programs helped strengthen the pipeline of diverse professionals by training and preparing African Americans for careers in librarianship with a focus on servicing their own communities. Today, only one such program remains. Through grant-funded recruitment initiatives, a number of schools have made efforts to remedy the lack of representation of students of color….(Chan, et. al., pg 16, 17-18, 22).

Chan describes the limitations– and limited number– of mentorship programs which, in fact, have decreased over time instead of increased; yet also emphasises the success of the existing initiatives, and the vital need for their continuation, expansion, and standardization. Instead of merely being implemented in HBCUs as they have been traditionally– and even then, systematically repressed and reduced in number– Chan suggests they be implemented industry-wide to promoted more diversified workplaces and normalize Black mentorship in order for Black librarians to extend their tenure due to the satisfaction of “connect[ing] with peers and learn[ing] firsthand from veteran librarians who looked like [them](Chan.” Having observed and experienced the vital need for such mentorship programs, relationships, and dynamics, Chan was able to identify a list of benefits identified by recruiters on the efficacy and efficiency of the mentorship program to fully motivated often insecure, out-of-place minority librarians (p27)Booth was provided with the opportunity to connect with peers and learn firsthand from Veteran librarians who looked like him….also includes a significant listing of “benefits to having participated in the program (p.27-28)” Such characteristics and benefits pointed out and lauded by recruiters include:

  • Ability to provide tangible, professionally developed informational/recruitment materials to interested individuals
  • Greater willingness to network and engage with students to promote librarianship
  • Using one’s participation as a way to introduce diversity issues and topics to colleagues and the work environment
  • Remaining conversant in the initiatives and opportunities targeting students and never librarians
  • Reaffirming one’s commitment to the profession

Chan’s awareness is indispensable, as it provides a review of the “grandfathering” of the mentorship system and points out several reasons why the system produces successful retention results. Minority librarians of color invariably benefit from this type of mentorship, and it irrefutably increases the number of librarians of color who continue to commit to the profession. Indeed, without a support system of this sort, many librarians of color would bow out of the commitment, feeling alienated, ostracized, and greatly, uncomfortably marginalized. Often taken for granted at face value, the behind-the-scenes importance of the mentorship relationship for the librarian of color often offers the mentee a confidante that looks like them, a shoulder to cry on, so to speak, about frustrations unique to the discrimination (blatant or subversive, insidious or explicit) faced by those in marginalized, minority positions. It helps the aspiring librarian of color, working their way up the ladder to feel reaffirmed and find a voice in a reflection that looks like them.

Reflections and representations with which one can readily identify him/herself are vital to human development in general, and this project ore than ever. Terida Anantachai describes the importance of communal networking for librarians of color. The necessity of having fellow librarians of color to connect with, network with, and work with is not to be underestimated. In a majority white industry that, by and large, serves a majority white mainstream America, networking between Blacks, even at ethnic-centered events and Black-only library association gatherings is an affirming experience that helps validate the experience of working in a largely alienating industry. Like academic or extracurricular groups on college campuses for students of color in a majority white University, Blacks networks and subgroups that create space for themselves/each other are not only affirming but empowering and justifies one’s space and experience in a field historically, deliberately, and systematically closed to them/us. A critical quote to be included in the thesis paper states:

As libraries remain predominantly staffed and structured by the majority white culture, the few librarians of color often find themselves feeling marginalized and without access to a supportive group of similarly diverse-minded colleagues to whom they can relate and confide. This in turn can also affect their own advancement in the profession, as professionals are generally better equipped to grow and to succeed when they have such collegial group environments and networks at their disposal. Bearing this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that issues related to a lack of job satisfaction, advancement, and retention are also so prevalent among this group. (Anantachai, pg32)

Anantachai herein reveals the resources that validate the Black Librarian Experience, in the sense that companionship found in like-minded colleagues also of color is in and of itself a resource that bolsters minority librarians’ confidence in the majority white field, and gives a footing and “A Seat At The Table,” in a manner of speaking. Although still a statistical minority in terms of percentage, when a librarian of color is able to identify colleagues, partners, and co-workers of color, as well as mentors to learn from and look up to, they are able to obviously feel more comfortable, more accepted, and more capable. Motivated by visibility, no matter how small, job satisfaction, commitment, and competence exponentially rises in the case of librarians of color with a like-minded and common color support group as opposed to librarians that find themselves alone, the only Black faces in their library network. Inevitably, as well, the number of colored librarians will increase, as increasing number of mentorship programs in which minority librarians of color feel validated and their voices and concerns as minorities genuinely understood.

Continuing the dialogue on the importance and success of mentorship programs, particularly in minority areas, Melody Royster and her team write the essay “Mentoring and Retention of Minority Librarians,” which confirms too that mentorship is an imperative for success in many industries, librarianship included. Many fields, whether artistic, scientific, or political, have traditionally always worked with some sort of apprenticeship system implemented. Since the dawn of time, apprenticeship was utilized to pass on secret arts, specialized techniques, and essential insider knowledge that continues the success of the trade or industry itself. Just as in ancient times the secrets of blacksmithing were not for everyone, and the unique secrets of its Craft were passed down through exclusive mentorship, so, too, is the very nuanced field of librarianship. The meticulous requirements of the prodigious and arduous rigors of cataloguing information, let alone categorizing, defining, and analyzing its importance to preserve it (thus critically connecting history with a far off future), is likewise exclusive knowledge only a few can access an assimilate. Thus, mentorship to pass on these “secrets” is crucial, as this article illustrates. Indeed, without mentorship especially for often outcast and overlooked librarians of color, whose intelligence and competence is often overtly or subversively questioned and attacked, the successful retention of the secrets of librarianship would cease. Royster, et. al., writes:

Mentoring provides psychosocial support needed for junior librarians to feel included, which in turn feeds into the commitment to the current library workplace. Mentors advocate for their proteges and provide much needed career assistance and networking. For librarians of color, mentors with a common background serve as positive role models to establish rapport and connections, resulting in a higher probability of retaining new librarians….mentoring research commonly finds that the protege identification with the mentor is important to the success of the relationship, and to realizing benefits from it. (Royster, pg 62).

Royster, et. al., thus painted a poignant, and often personal portrait of a young librarian whose success in the field is credited almost solely to the success of a close mentorship from an esteemed elder in the tradition. Thus, the personal triumphs accredited to the example and role model set by the mentorship program elders was touching, as many themselves had lived through Civil Rights era oppression and marginalization and, thus, all the more hungry for the validation of not only literacy in general for Blacks who had historically been denied such access, but librarianship in particular, which enabled a unique sense of power in, literally, holding and shaping the history in their hands and conservatorship as librarians.

 

Works Cited

Anantachai, Tarida, et. al., “Chapter 2: Establishing a Communal Network for Professional Advancement Among Librarians of Color.” Where Are All The Librarians of Color?: The Experiences of People of Color in Academia. Hankins, Rebecca and Juarez, Miguel. 2015. Library Juice Press. California, USA. pp.31-55

Branch, Cheryl L. “Chapter 37: Diversity in Leadership” The 21st Century Black Librarian in America: Issues and Challenges. Jackson, Andrew P., Jefferson Jr., Julius C., Nosakhere, Akilah S. 2012. The Scarecrow Press. United Kingdom. Pp 203-207

Chan, Emily K., et. al. “Chapter 1: Discovering Librarianship: Personalizing the Recruitment Process for Under-Represented Students.” Where Are All the Librarians of Color? The Experiences of People of Color in Academia. Hankins, Rebecca and Juarez, Miguel. 2015. Library Juice Press. California, USA. pp11-31.

Johnson-Cooper, Glendora. “Strengthening the African-American Community Through Information Literacy” The Black Librarian in America Revisited. Josey, EJ. 1994. The Scarecrow Press. United Kingdom.

Morrison, Samuel F. “The Ethics of Access: Toward an Equal Slice of the Pie.” The Black Librarian in America Revisited. Josey, EJ. 1994. The Scarecrow Press. United Kingdom. Pp 97-107.

Ndiaye, Joyce F. “Chapter 2: Inequality of Resources in School Libraries in the 21st Century.” The 21st Century Black Librarian in America: Issues and Challenges. Jackson, Andrew P., Jefferson Jr., Julius C., Nosakhere, Akilah S. 2012. The Scarecrow Press. United Kingdom. Pp.19-23

Royster, Melody, et. al., “Chapter 3: Mentoring and Retention of Minority Librarians.” Where Are All The Librarians of Color? The Experiences of People of Color in Academia. Hankins, Rebecca and Juarez, Miguel. 2015. Library Juice Press. California, USA. pp55-71.

Samuel, Syntychia K. “Chapter 13: The Challenge of Designing and Promoting Services for Teens of Color Without Losing One’s Sanity.” The 21st Century Black Librarian In America: Issues and Challenges. Jackson, Andrew P., Jefferson Jr., Julius C., Nosakhere, Akilah S. 2012. The Scarecrow Press. United Kingdom. Pp. 93-97.

 

 

 

 

Asian Mystique and Masculinity in M. Butterfly (originally written by Gloria Steele-Hatten, December 20, 2016)

The Proposal: Examine ideals of Masculinity in M. Butterfly. How does the author critique these ideals? How does he show, through the arc of his main characters, how they are insufficient? How does he show how Western Civilization has politicized these ideals into foreign policy, i.e., how are these ideals expressed on a larger scale in the context of America’s involvement in Vietnam?

 

Many things have been written concerning representations of gender and power in M Butterfly. Some assert that the feminized masculine portrayals within the story are a deliberate metaphor for the West’s stereotypical  emasculation of the Asian and Asian America as a collective (Ling, 1997). Others suggest that the portrayal of the homoeroticism hint at the Western European exoticization of the Asian in an idealized fantasy stereotype of emotional and Colonial submission (Eng, 1994). Yes more conclude that the portrayals of masculinity serve to, indeed, broaden our collective notions of masculinity and to suggest a new acceptance and romanticization of masculine sensitivity  (Kong, 2007). Of the many things written and researched about the symbolism and heritage inherent in this work, one thing is certain– the mysterious gender-bending of this tale is one of its strongest and most intriguing allures. Yet far more than meets the eye is innately woven within the story to yield an exquisite allegory for the Asian spiritual journey. It is here argued that in M. Butterfly, ideals of masculinity and the art of feminine illusion are routinely and mesmerizingly thwarted, challenged, refuted, and reimagined in a political and socioeconomic world full of political deception.

The sexuality of Asians has long been hegemonically policed and defined through a limited Eurocentric lens, as with other so-called “minority” ethnic groups (which, ironically, are actually the world majority, only minorities in relative proportion to the number of whites in the US and UK). This lens is not only Eurocentric, but highly patriarchal. Even in strict patrilineal Asian households– even in China where boy children are still to this day glorified and baby girls still tragically abandoned or aborted (Zhu, 2009)– the kind of patriarchy that manifests through a Eurocentric cultural perspective is something still largely incongruous and entirely different than the traditional Asian representations of a vast array of styles of masculinity. In the West, the Asian, whether male or female, has often been stereotyped as willingly passive, serene, wise, spiritual, secret, characteristically bowing submissively, and often silent (Kim, 2005). Asian women are sexualized and exoticized precisely for their diminutive frames and meek, child-like obedience; likewise, Asian men are often stereotypically emasculated. The Asian male is often automatically emasculated by the widely disseminated and popularly perpetuated myth that Asian men’s genitals are commonly smaller than other ethnicities (Liang, 2010); this inherently castrates any “threatening” sense of sexuality. Even David Henry Hwang, the author of M Butterfly himself, calling Song’s Oriental penis a “little flap of flesh,” writes in his author notes the importance of Song being played by an Asian male, not an actress, because during the disrobing scene, the “little flab” must be all the more shocking because its diminutive nature aggrandizes the myth of the Orientals’ humility being the ultimate surprsing undoing of the Oppressor, just as Song’s subtle, quiet moment of revelation is Guallimard’s undoing, the unraveling and dissembling of all his racist and ethnocentric notions of Asian femininity and his own assumed Eurocentric, patriarchal, heterosexual superiority (2003, Nakaruma, p79-80). The often serene, de-sexualized and dignified portrayal of the Asian men, even with the genital shaming of the alleged “small package,” the inaccurate portrayals of Asian sexuality is distinctly contrasted by the sexualization of the African or African-American male, whose genitals are stereotyped as abnormally large and whose sexual desires are falsely represented to be ravenous, painting the African/African-American male as savage, aggressive, and threateningly hyper-masculine (Collins, 2004).

Shockingly, there is an incredible suspension of disbelief present in the story of M. Butterfly required to believe that Song was capable of fooling Gallimard into believing he was a woman for several years even during sexual intercourse. This strange faith Gallimard seems to sustain through the illusion is perhaps attributed to this enduring subconscious association of the Asian– male and female– with such subtlety and feminine fluidity of motion (even the glorification of Asian dance and martial arts is born of an admiration of their characteristically controlled, subtle, and often beautiful movements even in wrestling). With megalomaniacal Europeans deluded and ethnocentric enough to insist that genuine aggressive masculinity does not exist in the East, it is easy to see the privilege that enables men like Gallimard, who themselves outcast did not fit the standards of masculinity that attracted their own native European women to them (Act 1, Scene 2), to sustain the incredulous belief that the most alluring and beautiful “Oriental” woman like Song would want him(Act 1, Scene 9). Gallimard inherently opposes in his mind a belief in “authentic” Asian masculinity, compared to the portrayals of machismo he was used to codifying as properly manly. This inability to reconcile the different standards of masculinity across cultures, allows him to selfishly and blindly believe in the constant of the Orientals’ subservience to the Westerner. This submission he glorifies– even to the point of ludicrous self-deception– allows him to exoticize Song in a disturbingly oppressive philosophical regurgitation of colonist rhetoric. His own subconscious self-delusion of superiority and authenticity as a man, despite clearly his own nonconforming masculinity, allows him to deceive himself and willingly be deceived by Song’s intoxicating ruse.

The submissiveness glamorized here is a consequence of the construct of Orientalism. Orientalism refers to the falsely constructed concept of Eastern culture by Western colonialists (2003, Nakamura). A damaging, limiting stereotype, Orientalism overidealizes aspects of Asian submissiveness and a certain degree of reserve, poise, possession and control. Orientalism exoticizes what the Westerner perceives to be Asian passiveness and a gentle, clean luxury as opposed to the aggression, power, Will, and debauchery of the West. Orientalism also tends to glorify the detached female subtlety and the beauty of such reserve, while simultaneously fearing the perceived savagery of an assumed degenerate, uncivilized nation. Westerners quickly took to viewing the Orient as primitive and in need of acclimation to the necessary conditioning of Christian European values.

While Gallimard internalizes this Orientalism in fetishizing the “perfection” of Song’s delicacy, he reveals a racist assumption of power and desirability simply because, although he himself is emasculated in his own culture, the fact that he is a military man, to him, automatically seems to denote his machismo, which he justifies as the point of attraction to assure Song’s submission to him. Emphasising Song’s modesty and weakness, Gallimard perpetuates his own stereotype by falling for her frailty, subconsciously seeking to control her in her easily frightened nature and assumed frailty. Ultimately, Gallimard’s own biased Orientalism backfires against him: the fragility attributed to Song simply was Song’s own tool of deception to make the guise of femininity all the more convincing to the gullible and pretentious European. By telling Gallimard that the Westerner always expects the Orient to submit to their guns just as they expect the women to submit to their men, Song readily exposes the hypocrisy and delusion inherent in Gallimard’s colonial glorification of the cruel Ideal of the domineering European man controlling the obedient, easily frightened and acquiescing Asian woman.

This problematic narrative of Orientalism shaped forcibly around the Asian culture contributes to Western foreign policy and the assumption of power the West asserts over the East. Just as a man actively penetrates a passive woman, Europe and, subsequently, the United States of America, has continuously sought– and unfortunately often succeeded– to penetrate and control the Orient just as absolutely as a husband asserts power over his property and wife.

While European Orientalism was purported to justify the colonization and domination of Third World people, early American Orientalism was first invented to exclude Asian immigrants from entering or making a home on American soil….the mass media began its long history of cultivating insidious stereotypes of Asian/Americans for the visual consumption of the White American public— everything from the aggressive, ominous images of Japanese and Chinese immigrants during the “yellow peril” to more modern depictions of Asian/Americans as the passive “model minority”…Throughout the evolution of American Orientalism, the notion of the Orient as the culturally-inferior Other has also converged with the concept of women as the gender-inferior Other. Orientalist romanticism in the West synchronized White men’s heterosexual desire for (Oriental) women and for Eastern territories through the feminization of the Orient. American Orientalism in many ways depended on the masculine, superior image of White men juxtaposed with the emasculation of Asian/American men. By portraying Asian/American men as sexually excessive or asexually feminine, such cultural themes reaffirmed Orientals’ deviance from “normal” heterosexual gender norms implicit in White middle-class families (2005 Kim, p73, 75)

 

Gendering and personifying the Asian continent as a “she”, the feminization of the East as a whole allows the Westerner to view the Orient as some uncharted territory, ripe and yielding, willing to acquiesce to colonization and coerced into foreign policy initiatives that ultimately exploit the Asian nation(s) to ultimately benefit the West’s economic advantage. This sadistically sexualized Colonial notion of submissive Orientalism has endured and contributed to the United States’ foreign policy and compulsion to send troops to Vietnam in the 1960s. Because the play M. Butterfly is a conscious parody of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, its incredible distinction is its complete inversion of the original’s principle– the white devil and the submissive Asian woman — while creating an entirely new discourse concerning roles of Western and Eastern masculinity, femininity, and the processes of consumption, commodification, and dissemination of an entirely racist conceptual Ideal (Kwan, 1998). Unlike Madame Butterfly which features a “real” Asian woman playing the protagonist’s concubine, M Butterfly features an Asian man– a Chinese spy, in particular– as a drag singer, seducing Gallimard by his affectation of a specific fantasy stereotype of Asian passivity, using it to his advantage to lure Gallimard, disarm and engage him for his own collateral knowledge, ultimately compelling him– a most clandestine spy and assassin, indeed– to suicide.

Indeed, the feminized stereotype of the Asian culture and continent as a whole is disarming as the creation of the concept of Asian feminine passivity was nurtured aggressively in the 1960s. As the women’s liberation movement was hot and fierce, men increasingly afraid of the competition with and for their wives, glorified the fantasy of the perfectly quiet, demure, domesticated Asian bride. This perfectly passive vessel can implicitly promise to keep all the white husband’s most disreputable secrets, in this case, secrets of war (because of course she doesn’t speak his langauge) and endure his cruelest treatment with a smile or dazed, straight faced glare of longing and silent expectation. This concept became a certain fetish for them, a fetishization of a plain Asian face, an appeal of wistful desire on the part of the silenced Asian lover but without any agency on the part of pursuing, initiating, or even maintaining the relationship, as evident when the original Pinkerton of Puccini’s opera leaves his Asian impregnated concubine to marry his American wife. In the real Vietnam as well, many enlisted men took up Vietnamese concubines, wives, and girlfriends, a majority even fathering children there and leaving them without a second thought as they returned home to disenfranchisement, often homelessness, drug addiction, and insanity. The Asian women, then, are traditionally seen, in real life and in literature and theatre/film tropes, a respite for the American or European enlistedmen, representing the attractive illusion, like a mirage in a desert, of a feminine softness in a harsh savage world of war that relieves their tension, eases their fears momentarily, then are are quickly dismissed as a forgotten but pleasant dream during a time in Hell. Yet where M Butterfly turns the trope on its head is where Song’s feminine refuge ends up a falsehood as hard and harsh as the dissolution of that desert mirage– one ends up choking on the sands one once thought were glittering sweet waters the way Gallimard was undone ultimately by the discovery of his manipulation by the very one he thought, with no autonomy of her own, he was manipulating to his own whims. So, too, is herein contained a dark prophecy for a possible future of Western-Eastern political and economic relations: maybe the continuously underestimated East may soon rise to an Empire that, catching the boisterous Eurocentric Republic(s) off-guard, slithering up like a dragon from the waters, to swallow the West whole.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black sexual politics: African Americans, gender, and the new racism. Routledge, 2004.

Eng, David L. “In the Shadows of a Diva: Committing Homosexuality in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly.” Amerasia Journal 20.1 (1994): 93-116.

Kim, Minjeong, and Angie Y. Chung. “Consuming orientalism: Images of Asian/American women in multicultural advertising.” Qualitative Sociology28.1 (2005): 67-91.

Kwan, Peter. “Invention, inversion and intervention: The oriental woman in the world of Suzie Wong, M. Butterfly, and the adventures of Priscilla, queen of the desert.” Asian LJ 5 (1998): 99.

Kong, Travis SK. “Sexualizing Asian male bodies.” Handbook of the new sexuality studies (2007): 97.

Liang, Christopher TH, et al. “Dealing with gendered racism and racial identity among Asian American men.” Culturally responsive counseling with Asian American men (2010): 63-81.

Ling, Jinqi. “Identity crisis and gender politics: Reappropriating Asian American masculinity.” An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature (1997): 312-37.

Nakamura, R. (2003). This little flap of flesh’: Colonialism, masculinism, and colonized men–M. Butterfly and the problems of anti-essentialism. Iwanami Literary Studies, 13, 79-103.

Zhu, Wei Xing, Li Lu, and Therese Hesketh. “China’s excess males, sex selective abortion, and one child policy: analysis of data from 2005 national intercensus survey.” Bmj 338 (2009): b1211.

Case Study: the Fall of NAACP’s Prestige and the Mishandling of the Rachel Dolezal Controversy (originally written by Gloria Steele-Hatten, August 17, 2015)

In the United States, racial tension has always been intensely heated and, all too often, this tension is one of the main distinguishing characteristics of American culture itself. The United States’ disconcerting history of racial tyranny includes the countless massacres set upon various tribes of Native Amerindians, as well as the horrors of African chattel slavery and its gruesomely profitable importance in the Triangular Trade. Over time, many movements and organizations have been established to fight for African American equality, even down to ensuring dignified representation of African Americans in the media (similar to the Jewish and Italian Anti-Defamation Leagues). The most prominent of these equal rights organizations is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization was founded in 1909 by both Black and white members with the intention of initiating consolidated efforts towards racial justice and empowerment (22), including, for example organizing– and, more importantly, funding– various social movements towards ensuring Civil Rights for African Americans. The organization is also well known for various charity efforts spent towards, for example, improving housing and school programs in African American communities to even fighting against stereotypical and degrading portrayals of minority ethnic groups in film and mainstream media, including, most famously, the protests against D.W. Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation in 1915 (13) and “the late C. Delores Tucker, an NAACP Special Contribution Fund Trustee, and others in the 1990s picketed and sued to remove sexually explicit lyrics from rap and hip-hop tracks, citing a concern that the lyrics were misogynistic and threatened the moral foundation of the African American community (24).”

The NAACP had a long standing reputation of dignity, even sometimes criticized as almost too conservative, but even in its earliest days, it was not immune to criticism about its choices as an establishment to accept or refuse to assist in certain civil rights cases. For example, the NAACP infamously declined to offer assistance or intervention in the horrifying Scottsboro Nine case, erroneously believing they were guilty and seeking to avoid ideological conflicts and political discrediting by affiliating with or interference into what was being handled by the ILD:

The NAACP thought the I.L.D. was using the Scottsboro case as propaganda for the cause of communism; the I.L.D. thought the NAACP was too moderate, willing to collaborate with the ruling class for small gains. The boys were easily swayed by both organizations but ultimately, the I.L.D. was more successful at courting their parents, and that decided the issue. (29)

In these early days, the Scottsboro case was one of the first instances of the NAACP’s intentions and goals being questioned by the public. However, recently, the once reputable organization has fallen deep into public disapproval again over seeming incompetence and lack of agency in addressing some of the most crucial needs of the African American communities. To the majority of the community that feels their influence outdated or ineffective especially, bitter resentment and a sense of cultural treachery is directed towards the now all-but-forgotten beacon of Black Nobility in Reconstruction and Civil Rights-Era America.

Some of the public outrage levied against the NAACP’s hierarchy shows concern over the redirection of charity contributions. The NAACP has a long and sordidly disillusioning history of financial mismanagement. Memorably, the Benjamin Chavis case, involving the epic downfall of what could have been a next generation Civil Rights hero, was one of the first instances of massive financial appropriation to be brought to the forefront (2). The firing of Benjamin Chavis from his short-lived (sixteen and a half months) career as president of the NAACP in 1994 was considered, at that time, “the most profound internal upheaval in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 85 year history (2).” The controversial young minister was known for his unconventional political passion and was often considered (or misunderstood/misrepresented) as more militant that some of his elder counterparts. With a conviction dropped inexplicably for arson and substantial damage to a white-owned grocery, the activist worked his way up the political ladder in Washington D.C. to compete against the likes of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson for the NAACP presidency with the support and assistance of a Ms. Stansel, whom he later clandestinely hired off the books to undisclosed assistance in his office, “working the phones and fax machines(2)” for a pretty under the table salary of $332,400 paid out of contributors’ funding. Chavis’ cooking of the books and skimming off the top was met with not just disapproval but also lecherous innuendos of sexual misconduct including harassment and favoritism (14). While several members of Chavis’ entourage (called “The Team” by intimates) were all paid, some believe, too handsomely and rewarded too lavishly during and after the campaign, however Ms. Stansel was of particular interest because of the perception of sexual exploitation that left an all too acrid odor of indignity to defile the NAACP’s reputation (19). After Chavis’ short-lived administration, what was once an economically and financially strong and sustainable civil rights organization “faced a deficit of $3 million (19)” in 1994 and has struggled to stay afloat ever since. Sadly, what was then an unprecedented tarnish on the NAACP’s image, has only in recent years been topped by more corruption and even more ludicrous sexual scandals and even more debilitating haphazard hierarchal organization (30).

Of late, particular focus has revolved around the circumstances concerning the resignation of two more NAACP presidents, Leon Jenkins and Rachel Dolezal. The most recent and racially heated NAACP scandals involving NAACP presidents are loaded with irony: the NAACP, an organization for recognizing grand achievement in the African American community, has been handing out grand accolades to white people instead of the Colored People the Association was formed to Advance.  The Donald Sterling case, for example, involves the embarrassing revocation of the lifetime achievement award from the racist, misogynist owner of the L.A. Clippers (6). In 2009, the NAACP awarded Sterling with its highest honor, in recognition of his great financial contributions (around $45,000) to the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, and was prepared to renew or re-present his award until his own sexual scandal overshadowed his displays of charity.

“The first time Sterling was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the group was in the midst of a lawsuit for housing discrimination based upon race,” said LZ Granderson, a CNN contributor and lecturer at Northwestern University.”To decide to honor him with the award a second time, after he had paid millions to settle multiple discrimination suits … is not selling out. Selling out makes financial sense. No, considering what $45,000 means to a man of Sterling’s wealth, honoring him with awards is just giving integrity away.” (6)

In light of the scandal of the association with the sexually deviant and racist Clippers owner, Los Angeles NAACP chapter president Leon Jenkins resigned, quoted as saying “the reputation of the NAACP is more important to me than the residency (6).”

Most ironic of all things in an institution dedicated to the dignity of a race, the NAACP has risked more of its institutional credibility in a recent scandal concerning racial misrepresentation. Just as painful as the seeming betrayal of the NAACP’s mismanagement of charity and taxpayer dollars, is that Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of NAACP was discovered and outed for “passing” as Black. Arguably one of the most controversial public figures and women of 2015 alone, Rachel Dolezal has been pretending to be or identifying as Black for an unknown number of years, but the charade became much more public after 2007:

When she moved into her uncle’s basement in the largely white town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2004, Rachel A. Dolezal was still blond and paleskinned and identified herself as a white woman — one who had left a black husband and had a biracial child. But within a few years, [the activist’s] already deep commitment to black causes and culture intensified. Coworkers and relatives began hearing from her or others that her background was mixed race— and even that she had called herself black. (15)

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Some believe the woman is, at best, completely delusional and deeply mired in self-hatred, and, at worst, deliberately and systematically making a mockery of the NAACP, the African American culture, the process of cultural assimilation and appropriation, as well as mocking the entire country’s cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity as a whole. When faced with questions of just why his daughter would go through such great strains to perpetuate such an elaborate ruse, Lawrence Dolezal offered his theory:

his daughter has long had a diverse group of friends — and black adopted siblings — and ultimately “assimilated” into the culture at the historically black college she chose to attend “so strongly that that’s where she transferred her identity.” (32)

The Rachel Dolezal scandal surfaced during a year in which the flames of ethnic and cultural conflict were fanned high. Between 2014 and 2015, several shockingly flagrant cases of recorded instances of overt white police brutality electrified the African American community. America as a whole witnessed the snatching away of the proverbial veil that prevented us from seeing this country in fact hadn’t changed its face of racism, even after the induction of a [half]Black president. Interestingly, the issue of Rachel’s passing for black also came at an unprecedented time in American history where the transgender community has also become more visible in their struggle for equality. In fact, the new transgender advocacy that’s sweeping the nation is being touted as the “new civil rights movement” as transpeople fight for right of expression and identity. Dolezal’s ethnic passing mirrors the sexual “passing” spoken of by transwoman Janet Mock in her highly laudable memoir Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood. Poignantly, Dolezal herself has publicly identified and aligned with transwoman Caitlyn Jenner, formerly famous as Bruce Jenner, the father of the Kardashian clan (32). What makes Dolezal’s passing so unsettling is that, unlike Janet Mock or even Caitlyn Jenner, and certainly unlike the thousands of so-called “tragic mulattoes” (13) and other African Americans who have passed for white (28), Dolezal was never in a position as dangerous, debilitating, and depressing as having to fight for equality and recognition in a world where you are at best invisible and at worst subhuman and demonized. A white woman passing as an African American woman does not grant her any increase in recognition, validity, credibility, or safety. Black men and women have historically passed for white to protect themselves from lynchings, segregation, discrimination, and, even in the present day some still pass to attempt to attain some semblance of dignified living in a hateful society that historically has legally defined African Americans as 3/5ths of a human being(10). So the Dolezal controversy begs the puzzling question: why would Rachel go to such lengths to fabricate such an intricately concocted delusion?

Many people are deeply offended by the idea that someone whose family suffered none of the horrifying systemic racism African Americans endure would seem to so gleefully immerse herself in and enjoy the trappings of black culture. And any assertion that she had good intentions but had to fib to attend Howard University or work for the NAACP doesn’t hold up: white people can, and do, do both of these things. But most infuriating to some is the idea that she may be able to retreat comfortably back into a white identity, leaving the racism she claims to have experienced as a black woman behind. (32)

First we must examine the history of passing then analyze how Rachel Dolezal turns the concept on its head and slingshots it back as a smack in the face of African American progress. Although the concept of racial/ethnic passing originated with two stories by Lydia Marie Child called “The Quadroons” and “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes” in the 1840s (27), the official term “passing” was first coined by Nella Larson in the classic Harlem Renaissance novel Passing (17), to refer to the practice of an individual removing oneself completely from their family and community to masquerade dangerously under the pretense of an entirely fabricated ethnic, cultural, and racial history and identity. One who “passes” does more than merely pretend or assume a persona, but truly embodies another race or religion (i.e. Jews passing for Germans during the Holocaust in Eastern European provinces), often at a grave cost to their sanity and lives. During cinema’s Golden Age of the 1930s-1960s, two films based on the 1933 Fannie Brice novel Imitation of Life were made in 1934 and 1959, starring Fredi Washington (an actual African American actress) and Susan Kohner (a white Jewish actress) respectively as Peola/Sarah Jane, the tragic mulatto. The film adaptations were quite critically acclaimed for their deep sentimentality and for the first time sympathizing the tragic mulatto character even as she remains a stock characterization kept just shy of fully realized, dynamic character development (4).

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Beyond the silver screen, music video or catwalk, many African American actors and actresses, singers and models struggle with visibility in a white predominant industry and, besides the unspoken practice of skin bleaching and the more publicly acknowledged “media magic” of airbrushing and photo enhancement techniques, many have plain deceived the public and their producers or kindly omitted their true ethnic roots to get further exposure and success. [In]famous “passers” who have denied or politely refused to acknowledge their genuinely African American ancestry to bolster their success in entertainment have historically included Mae West, Carol Channing, Slash from the rock band Guns N Roses, Rachel Meghan Markle, Rashida Jones, Cash Warren, Jennifer Beals, SNL’s Maya Rudolph (who has been cast blatantly as a white woman, Jewish woman, and African American woman in three different films with apparently no problem being taken at face value), Journalist Soledad O’ Brien, and Wentworth Miller, perhaps most visibly passing due to his exposure of the practice by playing the “life imitates art” role of Coleman Silk in the critically acclaimed The Human Stain, a film which is credited for bringing the concept of Passing back to the mainstream modern day America (20). Significantly, one of the most revealing and/or rewarding (?) instances of passing was the instance of Walter F. White, a Black man who, at his peril, successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan secret society and rituals in order to understand the organization’s clandestine plans and intentions, and allowed him to irrefutably expose Klansmen as the deliberate perpetrators of over 40 murders by lynching (35). White himself, to his credit, helped establish the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP at a time when the organization still retained its integrity and the Black community still regarded the organization’s advocacy as not only useful but vital to saving many Black lives from the lawlessness of the Klan’s bloody night rides.

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Besides the practice of Blacks “passing” is also the inextricably related practice of Blackface. Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled brilliantly and prophetically analyses the history of America’s media portrayal of Blacks. Taking an evolutionary turn from first omitting/denying African Americans work on films and just “substituting” white actors who painted their faces in gruesome masquerades of the most bestial mockery, the film industry, in later times, required even actual African Americans to be cast in shamefully stereotypical roles, themselves forced to “blacken up” their own already Black skin. This humiliating practice of African Americans forced to “blacken up” was essential for the Eurocentric hegemony to reinforce the concept of African-ness as ugly and damnable, laughable, exoticised and objectified. Incredulously, even Rachel Dolezal herself criticized the Ridley Scott film Exodus: Gods and Monsters because of the decision to cast white and European actors (with deep tans) in roles that were historically Black, Pre-Arab Invasion North Africans. Outside of Hollywood portrayals, white Texas journalist John Howard Griffin took upon himself to “blacken up” to understand the Black experience in New Orleans and parts of Mississippi, historically the “heart” of the most viciously racist South. More recently, philanthropic legend and humanitarian Angelina Jolie came under heated controversy and backlash for her portrayal of mixed heritage Marianne Peal in film A Mighty Heart (8), despite her having been cited as having “Creole” ancestry.

The phenomenon of white performers “blacking up” emerged in the 19th century but was at its height when the white Al Jolson performed in blackface in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer. Blackface was popular since it was a caricature of blackness. Apart from blacking up, Hollywood has a history of ignoring talented black female actors. The legendary Lena Horne lost the role in the 1951 film Showboat to Ava Gardner and Dorothy Dandridge also lost roles due to her race during the 1950s. Not everyone agrees Jolie is miscast. Lee Papa, a professor of English, world literature, and speech at CUNY in New York City says “true ‘blackface’ was an intentional mockery and exaggeration of race, with even black people doing blackface to appear darker for white audiences. Angelina Jolie is an actor playing a character who is at least part white.” [Marianne] Pearl’s comments about race in Glamour magazine last year indicates her own ambivalence about her [own] black heritage. In the article “The woman who gave me strength” she does not use the word “black” and repeatedly refers to her mother’s heritage as “Cuban.” (8)

This percentage of mixed ethnicity in Jolie hints at a plausibility of African American heritage supported by the “one-drop rule” cited by Halle Berry in the equally controversial public assertion of her daughter Nahla’s race which Berry firmly defends as Black, despite Nahla’s white French father (3).

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This is a fascinating bit of cultural development. Halle Berry would no more raise her child and send her to a “Black” primary school than would Barack and Michelle Obama. Their “Blackness” is an affectation rather than an identity forged in the “authenticity” of the streets. … we will never be free of the racism of our society until we no longer have 30% of all blacks living in poverty… so much of the pathology of the Black American community is a result of cultural pathologies (children raised by single mothers, often with multiple half-siblings, substance abuse, irresponsible behavior, the conscious devaluation of education in much of the community, and a host of other ills). For the record, the poorest American Blacks would be considered middle class in most of the world. They lag in comparative terms (and the definition of poverty increases every year) with white (and Asian) Americans and all of the efforts for the last 50 years, the “War on Poverty”, have done nothing to shrink the gap … The sad fact is that Black American communities remain deeply troubled and as a result, devalued, even as they are idealized by our cultural elites (3)

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The fact that Angelina Jolie is the adopted mother of multiracial children, including (Black) Ethiopian Zahara (7) allows us to bring the discourse back full circle to refocusing on Rachel Dolezal, who has maintained passionately that, if for nothing else, she is “Black” because she is the mother of Black children. Her three adopted sons include her own Black half-brother adopted by her parents when she was a teenager as well as two fathered by her African American husband Kevin Moore in a previous relationship of his with a [“Real”] Black woman and, finally, one son, she birthed from Moore. Most disturbing and convoluted in an already confusing phenomena, Dolezal claims her Black husband was sexually and physically abusive. These allegations automatically invoke disturbing collective conscious memories of the innumerable lynchings of Black Men falsely accused by white women of rape. Thus, Rachel Dolezal reinforces as a white woman  the persistent stereotype of the Black Man as abusive and sexually depraved. Rachel maintains that the abuse she endured reached a paramount leading to their divorce which led to her struggles as a homeless single mother– solidly placing her in the sympathetic role of the white woman victimized by the Black savage brute— shortly before publicly claiming her Black identity(33).

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On Tuesday, Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” show asked her, “When did you start deceiving people?” But Ms. Dolezal, who stepped down on Monday as president of the Spokane N.A.A.C.P. chapter, pushed back. “I do take exception to that because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black, or answering a question of, ‘Are you black or white?’ ” she said. Over the course of the day, she also described herself as “transracial” and said: “Well, I definitely am not white. Nothing about being white describes who I am.”… The term transracial has long been associated with adoptions of a child by a family of a different race. Angela Tucker, a black woman born in Tennessee and adopted by a white family in Bellingham, Wash., said it was “absolutely maddening” to associate the term with Ms. Dolezal’s story. “It means a lot to those of us who call ourselves transracial adoptees,” said Ms. Tucker, 29, a social worker who lives in Seattle. “We have grown up in a culture different than what we physically represent. We’ve had to seek out our roots. What Rachel has done is misappropriate that.” (15)

The trouble with Rachel Dolezal’s misappropriation inherent within her identification as Black is that the NAACP’s decision to grant her any position of assumed integrity or authority can be perceived as undermining the trials, efforts, and triumphs of genuinely Black individuals who daily struggle to seek representation in mainstream America. Most troubling in the [Black]face of Dolezal’s very public masquerade as an African American activist is precisely the invisibility of the majority of minorities in the United States off-screen, socio-economically repressed . The African American demographic misrepresented in the media barely manage to stand against a WASP majority that all too often ostracizes, fetishizes, and, ultimately, marginalizes individuals who seek to succeed and gain upward mobility by any means (including passing/assimilation) in a deliberately racist and ultimately unattainable Eurocentric Western society. At the time of writing, including the seminal Trayvon Martin case of 2012, the past five years alone have featured no less than 12 highly publicized murders of Black men, women, and children by police– and incalculable more unspoken and unsung (9). The fact that, while the likes of Rachel Dolezal and even Caitlyn Jenner and Janet Mock “pass” and rally impassionedly over imagined, self-constructed pains of skewed identity, real Black lives are being taken indiscriminately, callously, casually, and without harsh punishment indicates clearly that today the race has found no more safety than in the Reconstruction, with the Ku Klux Klan policing and terrorizing Black lives (that did, and do, matter).

Antics of racial mockery and displaced identities aside, the most telling– and deadly– of the NAACP’s fading prestige, especially with younger generations, was its perceived lack of satisfactory intervention in the October 2014 police killing of teenage Michael Brown in the highly publicized “Twitter Revolution” of the Ferguson, MO case, under the direction of then-President Cornell William Brooks:

…The group had been active from the outset of the Brown killing, mostly behind the scenes, from high-level meetings with the Department of Justice and local officials to putting political pressure on key players like St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson…. Despite the ongoing efforts, the NAACP and old-school clergy and activist have come under fire from leaders of a more impatient generation of protesters….During a mass, inter-faith, protest service sponsored in part by the NAACP, a mostly young crowd heckled Cornell William Brooks, the group’s national president. “This ain’t your grandparents’ civil rights movement,” Tef Poe, a St. Louis based rapper who has emerged as one of the protest movements young leaders, said after taking the stage during that service earlier this month. “For us, this is not an academic issue,” he said. “Y’all did not show up.”Tef Poe said the people who stood by him and others who took to the streets night after night following Brown’s killing, facing off with heavily-armed police, were young men mostly, some with their shirts off and bandannas tied around their faces. (18)

Although the NAACP is reported to have directly funneled substantial financial assistance into the protection of crucial private witnesses key to solidifying the character of the Ferguson officers, the NAACP still seems to be offering matters of Black Lives and Civil Rights as a playing ground for Eurocentric politics. Echoing the aforementioned tragic failure in Scottsboro, AL. 1933, the nation watched as their most precious male youth were abandoned and in the end martyred by the very intermediaries and ambassadors of the Colored community (including other groups of the States’ ethnic minorities) who were expected to defend and avenge at all costs. The NAACP’s lack of intervention  financially or otherwise, willingly or unwillingly, like Pontius Pilate, washed their hands clean of sufficiently engaging the conversation of white administrative culpability and its bloody consequence. The nine Scottsboro youth had their lives bargained away due to the NAACP’s decision to quite pointedly refuse to engage in what could be interpreted as any ideological association with the anathema Communist Party fronted by the ILD who subsequently took the boys’ defense, to their peril. In short, the majority of the minority community felt the NAACP refused to aid in the manner the community felt just. Then, as now, although the NAACP eventually had come to offer financial support to the families of the Scottsboro Boys even after their refusal to take the case, the organization was called to question for what was seemed overall as “too little, too late.” Indeed, perhaps it was more speciically “too belittling, too late” in terms of truly impacting a true revolutionary paradigm shift which must begin with a hierarchal re-structuring both within the NAACP as well as  official, federal branches of Western government. Huffington Post as  a news source has more recently risen to mainstream prominence in part due to its objective and all inclusive coverage of nuanced issues pertaining to various subcultures of class, race, gender, and sexuality, particularly giving weight of voice to the African American and LGBTQ communities. The news outlet was quite thorough and uniquely perceptive in their coverage of the “intergenerational work” that the Brown murder was a catalyst of. Huffington Post journalist for both the Black Voices and Gay Voices subcategories Rosa Clemente comments eloquently on the backlash against the seemingly useless community Elders:

“…at some point the young people stood up in the audience turned their backs on the president of the NAACP and a lot of the clergy and started chanting and getting very upset because they felt they weren’t being heard,” Clemente said…Clemente acknowledged…last night’s powerful rejection symbolized the way in which young demonstrators are holding their leaders accountable for stagnant progress.

“It literally changed the nature of a gathering that seemed to be disconnected from the lived reality of what these young people are facing,” she said. “And when they took that space over … they did the work. And now the older generation’s work is now to repent for having let down this generation.” (11)

Administrative reform applies just as much to ideological institutions as physical ones, applying just as much to business brands as to fraternal or religio-social archetypes. Thus, the NAACP may do well to reform their image– welcoming an upgraded reputation as a force willing to satisfactorily and quickly enable and support the New Age youth, eschewing their crumbling constitution founded initially on archaic and rhetorical expectations and standards. The horrifying spectacle of African American and Latino teenagers subjected to tear gas, dogs, and clubs has been reminiscent all too vividly of 1995’s King riots and 1955’s turbulent season of boycotts, marches, and sit-ins. A vast amount of disapproval was levied against the NAACP’s refusal to bring more proactive, protective assistance and attention to the brutality against youth protesters during the Fergusen media frenzy. The NAACP was also viewed as “selling out” to side with financial contributors, networks who were opponents of Net Neutrality (16). For the NAACP to give support (in the form of accepting considerable donations from) to corporations like AOL/Time Warner and others who would undo the Net Neutrality Act, would inhibit the organic growth of grassroots social media revolution(s) that thrive on increased up to the minute media awareness via live streaming and instantly accessibly Instagram and Twitter postings, such as those which helped spread awareness and advocacy to Michael Brown’s case and most recently Sandra Bland. The alleged failure of the NAACP lies, therefore, more in the failure of their image to hold relevance and permanence in the current age. The failure lies in the disconnect with the community and the failure to signify, as an Organization as well as an Emblem or Icon, the concept of Dignity and Justice for Colored People.

 **Readers: Please visit and review the following classic article on The Tragic Mulatto Stereotype https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mulatto/ 

works cited

  • Pilgrim, Dr. David. “The Tragic Mulatto Myth” Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum Of Racist Memorabilia Online Nov 2000/2012 (Edit) Web Retrieval

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief analysis of Satire and Stereotype in Swift’s Gulliver’s travels (originally written by Gloria Steele-Hatten May 14, 2019)

In “The Presence of Parody,” Mikhail Bakhtin wrote,

It is in general very difficult to identify … in literary prose … without knowing the background of alien discourse against which it is projected, that is, without knowing its context. In world literature  there are probably many works whose parodic nature has not even been suspected. (Bakhtin, 374).

A parody, some can say, is a reconstruction or a deconstruction (Phiddian). It can be seen as a usually humorous tribute to an existing work, or as a “remake” or “remix” that takes the same themes and similar plot details or character dynamics from the original work and places them, perhaps, in a different time or location. Gulliver’s Travels is rightfully viewed as a parody of epic travel narratives, akin to Cervantes’ Don Quixote and, as a more contemporary successor, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. More than just a parody of classic literary forms, however, Gulliver’s Travels is more importantly a satire of human behavior, in particular international conflict and racism. Swift uses Gulliver to embody the consummate common Englishman. The overly exaggerated indigenous tribes with whom he comes into contact represent extremes of humanity. In Swift’s story, the protagonist’s “heart of darkness” is his own heart as he is afraid to discover there is a savagery in himself which is the savagery of betraying his traditional life in his homeland because of his curiosity and wonder. His desire to travel an know other worlds leaves him with an almost dangerous restlessness.

In Gulliver’s Travels, the invasion by Gulliver into these fantastical lands is psychological– just as in real life history the European explorers penetrated the jungles of Asia and Africa, the invasion of the mind and culture of the different tribes by Gulliver was violent and permanent as well, despite his seemingly passive observation, as evidenced by the distrust and expulsion by the Lilliputians in particular. Just as a road cuts down and clears that which it penetrates, the English destroyed and nearly exterminated entire races depending on where they were able to go. Swift hints that even the sexual violence throughout, particularly among the Yahoos is a psychologically projected result of the aggression triggered in conjunction with the disappointment and frustration of not belonging in these foreign lands nor his English world. The violent, rapist nature of the colonizing Europeans is symbolised in the highly sexual and violent nature of the Yahoos. In an anachronistic way, Gulliver’s Travels retroactively is a parody of Joseph Conrad because the fear of the “explorer” as a white man was always that he would become “just like them”– that is, beast-like savage indigenous tribal creatures.

In the Lilliputian tribe, Gulliver confronts a tiny race of people who view Gulliver as a powerful ally against their enemies due to his size, and seek to enlist him in warfare in their defense. Eventually, however, they find reason to suspect and distrust him and attempt to imprison and starve him. The ordeal rather petty and pitiable to Gulliver due to his size and ease of escape, Swift expresses how individuals can enact a particular kind of apathy for the conflicts of others by seeing themselves as “above it all” and thus are unable to help in a truly compassionate, empathic way.

In choosing persons for all employments, [the Lilliputians] have more regard to good morals than to great abilities; for, since government is necessary to mankind, they believe-that the common size of human understandings is fitted to some station or other, and that Providence never intended to make the management of public affairs a mystery, to be comprehended only by a few persons of sublime genius, of which there seldom are three born in an age: but they suppose truth, justice, temperance, and the like, to be in every man’s power; the practice of which virtues, assisted by experience and a good intention, would qualify any man for the service of his country, except where a course of study is required. But they thought the want of moral virtues was so far from being supplied by superior endowments of the mind, that employments could never be put into such dangerous hands as those of persons so qualified; and at least, that the mistakes committed by ignorance in a virtuous disposition, would never be of such fatal consequence to the public weal, as the practices of a man whose inclinations led him to be corrupt, and had great abilities to manage, and multiply, and defend his corruptions. (Swift, pg26)

A structuralist reading of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels shows that the difference in size of Lemuel Gulliver who is big vs. the Lilliputians who are small, is Swift taking a stance about where we as humans stand today. Through the structuralist theory lens of delineated “binary oppositions” (big vs. small), Jonathan Swift takes a stand about human nature and how the Lilliputians represent, through size, the “small”, unassuming, meek, and humble embodiment of a people that value integrity and morality yet are limited by their protective mistrust of outsiders or those bigger than them, for fear of defeat or oppression.

After this illustrative first adventure, Gulliver’s own fear-inducing judgments are embodied in his interactions with the formidable Brobdingnagians, a race of giants whose personal flaws are magnified due to their size. In his interactions with the Brobdingnagians, Swift reflects the inherent hypocrisy of projection. In other words, through Gulliver, he shows satirically how individuals project judgments and prejudices against others who exhibit the same normalized flaws they already have. Many people accuse others of flaws that are no different from their own and it is in Gulliver’s fundamental attribution error concerning the Brobdingnagians that Swift brings this to light in a comical way.

In contrast, Swift represents his ideal, and idyllic, indigenous society in the Houyhnhnms. This group of people (personified as horses) represent naked honesty—literally and figuratively. Their lack of clothing symbolically represents their transparency and absolute integrity—they literally have nothing to hide. They represent a people without injustice or inequality, emboldened in the vulnerability of not only physical but moral nakedness, without any hidden agendas, intentions, or hierarchy to create dissension or disparity between them. The Yahoos were a society representing absolute corruption and debauchery, with extreme perversion and deceit. As the goal of parody is meant to expose frivolity or superficiality and, to an extent, satire is meant to reform, Gulliver’s Travels exposes inequality and prejudice in European/English society in particular and humanity at large.

The beauty of Swift’s satire is that he provokes with shock and sensationalistic exaggeration, yet also confirms the sociological ills his satire is levied against by how, paradoxically, literal his symbolism becomes. For instance, when the leaders of the Yahoos have servants that lick their feet and derrieres, we are automatically reminded of the modern cultural slang of “kissing butt” to gain favor with so-called authority figures and “groveling at the feet” of those who assume (corrupt or otherwise) appointed or ascribed positions of leadership. Swift’s satire is directed at exposing the projections of judgments that so quickly lead to war, dissension, conflict, and confusion. Each land upon which Gulliver embarks is representative of a different characteristic or facet of humanity that is glorified. The glorification of academic prowess and intellectualism is embodied in the people inhabiting the island of Laputa. The deification of ancestors is embodied in the inhabitants of the land of Glubbdubdrib; the glorification of age, wisdom, and elderhood is comically represented by the immortal and senile inhabitants of Struldbrugs. Dominance, tyranny, and sovereignty is embodied in the Yahoos; territorialism and conflicting Imperialism is represented by the conflict between the tribes of Lilliput and Blefscu.

 

Works Cited

 

Bakhtin, M. M. (2010). The dialogic imagination: Four essays(Vol. 1). University of texas Press.

Hutcheon, L. (2000). A theory of parody: The teachings of twentieth-century art forms (Vol. 874). University of Illinois Press.

“I’m Coming Up Man-Sized/skinned alive:” Subversion of traditional Gender Roles and Implicit Causes (by Gloria Steele-Hatten, submitted for my Sociology course, May 19 2019)

 

“Silence my lady head/get girl out of my head[1]…”

In the largely patriarchal Western world, there is perhaps no topic more controversial for the modern woman than gender roles in society. Although in increasingly tolerant times where gender fluidity and LGBTQ identification are more normalized, traditional gender roles have fallen by the wayside, and it seems there is great confusion among many men and women as to where they stand with one another. Debates over the traditional ascribed roles abound: should a man take care of the children? Should the woman be the primary earner? How should chores be divided? In more traditional cultures, these questions are already answered, but in the Western world, new answers must be reconfigured, especially as, in more recent times, gender fluidity is more commonplace. The purpose of this study is to explore the literature surrounding gender roles and their origins in the roots of socialization in which these roles were so long ago established.  In this study, literature reviewed has yielded evidence that gender roles are shaped by three primary influences, biological, social, and cultural.

The biological differences between males and females are pronounced, and may be the primary determinate for the development of social and cultural perceptions concerning gender roles. It is no secret that, ordinarily, males have more physical strength than females, particularly in the upper body. In ancient times, whether in prehistory or the post-agricultural era, this made the enforcement and standardization of some traditional gender roles necessary. Males were given roles as primary food earners:  hence the enduring colloquialism “bring home the bacon” to imply the man of the house brings home the meat of the hunt to sustain the household. Anthropology proves an assimilation over human evolution to a partnership forged in which it was understood the stronger, larger male would risk the hunt while the vulnerable child bearing woman stayed home to healthily and safely create and preserve life. Due to his build and strength and the obvious fact that he would not carry life inside his belly, the male would chase down wild beasts for food, a dangerously strenuous task considering the primitive tools available at the time, risking his life- though he doesn’t carry or birth life- as necessary to feed his family. Exhausted by the simple task of procuring and ensuring the family’s food for the day, it was most likely not unreasonable at all to expect the partner, the female, to prepare the food for consumption, make clothes, and otherwise attend to tasks that made life more comfortable and easier for the male to continue to accomplish this task.

This designation of gender specific duties is further emphasized by the other large biological difference between males and females: the strain the female must go through in order to bear and raise a child through the first few years of life. Females, even if they were so inclined, would not be able to maintain the level of physical activity and upper body strength necessary, in those times, to consistently acquire food for the family. A female who is pregnant cannot be expected to work for twelve, or more, hours in the fields, and after birth, must make herself available to the child for feeding several times per day for an immeasurable, inconsistent, and not inconsiderable amount of time. These biological differences make the logic behind traditional gender roles clear, even desirable. However, in the modern world, most physical labor is done by machine in some way, making the physical differences between the sexes moot. A female can now bear a child and return to work immediately after recovery, due to the ease of work done in the modern age and the development of breast milk substitutions; likewise, a male doesn’t need physical strength to process reports, for example, or any of the more menial desk and phone jobs available today.

Therefore, without the excuse of physicality, what biological factors are there for the persistence of the gender roles? Costa, Terracciano, and McCrae, in a cross cultural study of gender differences in behaviors, found that males and females in both traditional and modern Western culture exhibited very similar behaviors in regards to assertiveness, openness to new experience, extroversion, etc (Costa, et al. pg. 328). In fact, those in Western cultures were found to have more exaggerated variance than those in traditional cultures, though the researchers claim that it may be due to the sexes comparing themselves to both sexes in Western culture as opposed to only their own sex in traditional culture. They go on to attribute these differences to either brain make-up or hormonal influences (Costa, et al. pg, 324)

Another cross cultural study, by Fischer, Mosquera, Vianen, and Manstead, reports that males feel less passive negative emotions, such as hopelessness, and feel active negative emotions less intensely than females do, regardless of culture (Fischer, et al. pg. 91). They go on to say that females inhabiting low income countries do not express anger as often as females from higher income countries, and become angry for different reasons. Males from lower income countries are more likely to express anger towards a stranger than an intimate, females from low income countries and males from high income are equally likely to express anger at both, yet males from high income countries have double the chance of being angry with no target than the other three groups, while females from high income countries are much more likely to express anger towards an intimate. Males and females from high income countries are more likely to become angry due to relational issues and small frustrations, while in low income countries both sexes are more likely to become angry over personal injustices (Fischer, et al. pg. 92).

In my own experience, I seem to have participated in the subversion or inversion of traditionally sanctioned gender roles in my own marriage. Due to my increased education, I became “the breadwinner,” carrying my family of (at that time) 4 solely on my self-employed freelance writing income for 3 years. My husband became embittered with “the system” he felt was against him and, despite phenomenal physical strength and incredible range of technical skill and ability, left the burden of the household solely on me, complaining that I could “easily” make more money online (disregarding the long hours and intense mental strain on me—I was a freelance journalist, blogger, and thesis ghostwriter, sometimes writing thesis papers and dissertations for not one but often two or three clients simultaneously per semester!) than he could doing construction and hard labor. Ironically, I came to live perpetually in “the second shift (Croft, et al., 2014),” in which I had to work full-time yet also take most of the responsibility for taking care of the children—breastfeeding, changing diapers, comforting and playing with children, homeschooling and being attentive to their needs and desires for attention 24/7—although, to his credit, he did share in chores such as gardening, laundry (often by hand, not machine), cooking (sometimes making actual fires outside upon which to prepare food), fishing, cleaning, grocery shopping, and transportation.

If variable social and cultural factors—including parental modeling of designated duties and responsibilities—can significantly impact the nature of gender roles (Croft, et al., 2014), it happens relatively early in a child’s development. Adler, Kless, and Adler performed a study of gender roles upon elementary aged school children, and found that cliques formed by young males had vastly different criteria than those formed by females (Adler, et al., pg.172). Males determined popularity through rebelliousness and daring, athletic ability, detachment from events, and fitting into the median academically (Adler, et al. pg. 175). Females determined popularity according to family social status and the accoutrements of such, permissiveness of their parents, and appearance. Both groups saw the more socially fit individuals becoming more popular than others, which reinforced their social skills (Adler, et al., 1992, pg. 182). They go on to say that these behaviors mimic traditional gender roles, and both sexes participate in them to prepare themselves for those roles (Adler, et al., 1992, pg. 185).

In conclusion, it is difficult for people, as a whole, to self-analyze themselves without bias, which makes it difficult to determine where and how gender roles should be defined, and to what extent should they be rigidly or fluidly enforced so that both parties are happy. There seems to be a strong indication that biology is a significant factor in assigning these roles, yet it is not the only one. Perhaps the best course of action is for each individual couple to work out their differences and determine what division of labor makes them happiest, using their instincts and intelligence to determine which roles work best for them, instead of solely relying on cultural and social concepts of gender roles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Adler, Patricia A., Kless, Steven T., Adler, Peter. (1992) “Socialization to Gender Roles: Popularity among Elementary School Boys and Girls.” Sociology of Education, Vol. 65, No. 3, pp. 169-187.

Costa, Paul T., Terracciano, Antonio, McCrae, Robert. (2001) “Gender Differences in Personality Traits across Cultures: Robust and Surprising Findings.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 81, No. 2, pp. 322-331.

Croft, A., Schmader, T., Block, K., & Baron, A. S. (2014) The second shift reflected in the second generation: Do parents’ gender roles at home predict children’s aspirations?. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1418-1428.

Fischer, Agneta H., Mosquera, Patricia M. Rodriguez, Vianen, Annelies E. M. van, Manstead, Antony S. R. (2004) “Gender and Culture Differences in Emotion.” Emotion, Vol. 4, No. 1, 87-94.

Friedan, Betty. (1963) The Feminine Mystique. W.W. Norton and Co.

 

[1] This lyric and the paper’s title a reference to PJ Harvey’s song “Man-Size”

Frankenstein and the Divine Spark (Hebrew “nephesh”) that animates Humanity…by Gloria Steele-Hatten, May 2019

**note (May 24, 2019), this is an incomplete rumination on the matter; I plan to expand this work with an etymological exploration of the Hebrew concept of “spirit” vs “soul” and the “breath of life” that animates the flesh

Frankenstein is undoubtedly Mary Shelley’s finest and most remembered work, where she writes the classic treatise on the acts of man-as-God and what it takes to animate creation, what indeed distinguishes man from manmade. This spark of what we understand as a Soul gives the human the ability to cultivate empathy and consideration for another being’s circumstances and the myriad possibilities and perspectives concerning the relative, subjective context of another’s pain. Frankenstein was man made, scientifically lab created. What indeed would it have taken to make him a man? Simply the possession of male anatomy or characteristics apparently did not.  Is it blood or electricity which animates the body? A connection between the fluidity and animation of blood and electricity was the basis of Shelley’s Frankenstein, building her fiction on these scientific forays into Vitality research. Does Frankenstein then, love what he has made simply because he animated the thing with literal electricity and the coagulation of dead, not living, blood from sewn together parts of deceased human? This divine spark is what animates the installation of the sense of regulating morality that distinguishes the human from the animal in the comprehension of moral and ethical distinctions of “right and wrong.” Truly, this inherent human sense is what gives the human the capacity to think outside of one’s self, in someone else’s shoes so to speak.

When Frankenstein admits that his fashioning of the creature(s) is an act of “the basest and most atrocious selfishness” (p. 144), he admits, essentially to a humbling admission of the fallible shortcomings and Luciferian ambitions to “be like the Most High,” the original sin of Lucifer that resulted in his expulsion from Heaven for his desire to be like, or superior to, God Almighty. Once he sees only grotesque immorality and tragedy is the result of his grandiose attempts to replicate life, he admits its obvious selfishness. Frankenstein’s monster’s “hideous” perception is a mere reflection of the hideousness of a society with mother-less children and creation manifest without God’s permission, inspiration, or intervention. The natural, God-created world is synonymous with, implicitly, beauty; whereas the grotesque or “monstrous” visage of the “monster” reflects that which is manmade unnatural or out of order– as the creature’s body is literally an amalgam of other decaying body parts, metaphorically symbolizing the broken-ness and shattered, fragmented, compartmentalized pieces of masculinity in the Western world, usually from dysfunctional home backgrounds.

Frankenstein’s creature is not human, despite all anatomical appearances as such, because it lacks the spark of Divine consciousness than animates the human soul, its unique sentience that delineates the human from other beasts of burden. In contrast, the Frankenstein creation has the sense of right and wrong equivalent to a dog that comes to understand it is “bad” or has done something “bad” that displeased its owner because it has disrupted or destroyed something in the immediate environment–such as when a dog soils the carpet with urine or fecal matter, or tracks mud on its paws through the house, or rifles through the garbage and has strewn it all over the living room. Even when the creature rages and kills, it understands it has done something disruptive or violent that displeased others, in the same way a dog understands when it has bitten someone and hurt them through the interpretation of reaction, without truly understanding on a human level how the violence affects the soul and psyche of the human being through its trauma. Therefore Frankenstein’s monster has the mental capacity and sense of morality as a pet, with the same level of understanding of oneself in relation to human beings as that of a pet that understands it is in its master’s house, interacting with human beings, and, by being part of the human family only in the fact that it is owned by the family, its actions marginally affect those humans in a way it isn’t even fully conscious of.

The world of Frankenstein is a reflection of the monstrous consequences of absolute patriarchy– a life without feminine agency, creativity, or ability to give birth. The horror of patriarchy reveals itself in Shelley’s tongue in cheek parody, as a realm of beasts just as castrated, fragmented, and infantilized as Victor’s creation. The absence of the feminine in Frankenstein, in fact, emphasises all the more the necessity of feminine presence. In modern media, women are so accessorised, commodified, and so heavily proliferated, we collectively, men and women alike, take them for granted. However, in the very absence of female figures in the whole of Shelley’s novel, she writes the ways women’s absence takes with it, also, life. Whereas women spontaneously generate fresh, new life, man can only recycle the discarded, used, dead, like Frankenstein who assembles the limbs of corpses to craft his monstrous “offspring.”

Frankenstein is, after all, contrary to popular theoretical interpretation, a feminist work invoking the tragic consequences of the western philosophical and sociocultural shift to patriarchy. Shelley’s angst as a female writer is channeled into the howling angst of her and Dr. Victor’s creature, as a woman in a world of men writing about the horror that will come of a world without women, Shelley gets her tongue in cheek revenge against the predominantly male writer’s profession. Dr. Frankenstein is afraid of his creation the same way, perhaps, Google or the creators of iPhone’s Siri or the robot Sophia (cheekily named after the Gnostic Hebrew goddess of wisdom as the divine feminine), or other meta corporations may react with fear of the magnitude of the artificial intelligence they helped create.

The ultimate sin, Biblical scholars and religious adherents can attest to, is the sin of blasphemy. Blasphemy specifically includes the presumption there is no God or that God is not more powerful than oneself. When man commits ambitious acts such as cloning or transhumanism, the attempt to create life or even improve life (i.e. genetically modifying lab created fruits and vegetables with supposedly “enhanced” vitamin and mineral enrichment to overcompensate for the ravages of pesticides and demineralized soil due to pollution) is a somewhat controversial attempt to “beat God at His own game,” in a manner of speaking. Dr. Frankenstein eventually realizes his complicitness in  having committed this blasphemous attempt to create life out of sheer selfish pride and arrogant curiosity, realizes this ultimate, unforgivable sin. Thus, he resolves to suffer his own retreat from loved ones, and withdraws from life itself. His self imposed exile is what he resigns to willingly, from the knowing, like Lucifer, he is exiled from the Grace and Favor of God, society, and even his own family, having committed a crime against humanity in the creation of his monster(s). His crimes against humanity were essentially crimes against the freedom and free will of a creation, whether animal or human. Feeling some inherent right over the experiment in regards to what can be done to and for the creature is essentially due to the argument of Sentient vs Nonsentient beings and the assumed superiority of the sentient human being based on the degree of emotional and existential intelligence or the concept of a “soul” or sense of spirituality found in humans, not animals. Basically, humans are sentient beings with thought and the ability to reflect on deeper concepts such as purpose, fate, consequence, God, and a sense of universal role or place for everyone in relativity. It is the quality of the human brain and heart that allows for the emotion of compassion or sympathy—relative emotional bonding based on common comparative feelings of universally shared pain and, by extension, the inner “call” or pull to do whatever one can to minimize as much suffering as possible. Frankenstein attempts this, albeit too late, when he tries to kill his creature(s) and minimize the suffering they may inflict upon others and the trauma of their inner state by destroying them.

 

“Hafu” Controversies: Navigating Intersectionality, Biracial Identity, and Minority Marginalization in Japan and America, by Gloria Steele-Hatten March 19, 2019

“Hafu” Controversies: Navigating Intersectionality, Biracial Identity, and Minority Marginalization in Japan and America. 

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            In recent decades, liminal identities have dramatically increased. Gender, sexual, racial, and ethnic fluidity has increasingly become normalized and greatly tolerated. Now a new demographic of “exoticals[1]”–ambiguously “tanned” individuals that are the result of interbreeding– are increasingly glamorized and idealized as epitomizing new millennial beauty standards, indicating mainstreaming of the acceptance of biracialism. The phrase refers to ambiguous light skinned “beauties” that typically look as if they could simultaneously “pass” for a light skinned Black/mixed race woman, a dark skinned European/Italian/Spanish woman or even a woman of Middle Eastern heritage. First coined on social media and blogsites with heightened precedence in the 2015-2019 era, popular “trash-gossip” blogsite MediaTakeOut commonly uses the phrase; in a more credible Feminist blog, a debate was chronicled concerning why calling Black women “exotic” was problematic and racist; and, finally, issue was taken when HRH Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle was called “exotic” by a German broadcaster (Erikson, 2018).

In the years of slavery, pseudoscientific theories of “Phrenology[2] (Curtin, 1960; Richards, 2012)” and “The One Drop Theory[3](Rockquemore, Brunsma & Delgado, 2009)” were presented, along with racist interpretations of Darwin’s evolution(Marks, 2012), to justify white superiority and to demonize and dehumanize mixed-race children resulting from the brutal, systematic, callous rape of African/African-American enslaved women and their white slavemasters. Sally Hemmings, the slave “mistress” (or Stockholm Syndrome sex slave victim) of Thomas Jefferson, birthed him several children who subsequently were considered slaves, thus denying them any rights of inheritance that subsequently denied their descendants for generations until finally a DNA test in 1998 proved their legitimacy (Murray, 1998; Patton, 1999). Miscegenation was once illegal (Browning, 1951); The Loving court case (Pratt, 1997) was painful and humiliating for all involved; now, it seems the tide has changed with the mainstream idolization of interracial couples from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, to HRH Duke of Sussex Prince Harry and HRH Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle. “Light skin babies are prettier (Akintunde, 1997; Bendelhoum, 2017; Hayman, 2017)” is a sentiment too oft perpetuated[4], despite the reality that all “light skin babies” are not the result of interracial breeding[5].

In times past, fair skinned biracial men and women of color–considered Creoles, Octaroons, Quadroons, and Mulattos (Bogle, 2001)—used to “pass” for white[6] to survive and to elevate socioeconomically via assimilation (Pease, 1996). [1] The term “Tragic Mulatto” is most immortally epitomized in films like Imitation of Life (originally a novel, filmed in a 1934 original and 1959 remake) and Devil In A Blue Dress in 1995 starring Denzel Washington and a stunning Jennifer Beals. Now, the problematic glorification of biracial exoticism and, peripherally, the Blackness it stems from, has evolved into a curious phenomenon involving Caucasian young women “Blackfishing” (Petter, 2018) and “passing” for Black (Nesta & McGregor, 2018). In mid November 2018, the strange trend started gaining traction and visibility on social media: rather plain, comely looking Caucasian girls began bronzing and contouring in excess to achieve the look of a Black girl. While beguiling some, many Black social media users quickly began pointing out their shameful sham as “the new Blackface.” Soon, Black social media users were faced with a trend of an especially offensive appropriation.

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This new bronzing trend goes beyond the cultural intricacies that made Kim Kardashian (for a brief moment) a pariah for reaping the white privilege benefits of wearing cornrows and other “ethnic” styles. Historically, Black women had been blacklisted, harassed, and overlooked, labelled “ghetto ,” “hood,” “ratchet,” for traditionally African hairstyles, while Kim Kardashian and her sisters, presumably because of their white privilege, wear the same hairstyles which, on them, are hailed as couture to this day. This comes to light only weeks after Megyn Kelly’s recent resignation from her daily show due to backlash concerning her belittling “no big deal” remarks concerning Halloween Blackface (Deerwester, 2018) costume parties (like the one HRH Prince Harry went to years ago– before marrying biracial HRH Meghan Markle, dressed in a Nazi uniform next to Klansmen and Al Jolson dressed friends[7]). While many on social media have called out the young women for their offensive beauty faux pas, it seems not much of this discourse has led to a true heartfelt renunciation of their “passing” for Black. Perhaps the presidency of Trump is testament to the escalation of visibility of whites “Blacking up” and the increasing recklessness of whites downplaying the severity of its offensiveness. However, time will only tell if incidents like these will bring to boil the simmering rage of the trauma triggered by the descendants of slaves in this generation’s Blacks in America, and force a reckoning and reconciliation with the descendants of our oppressors.

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As racial tensions in North America all but boil over, in Japan, the complexities of race relations, racial tensions, and the marginalization biracial identity manifests in a different, yet no less problematic way. In 2015, when Ariana Miyamoto was crowned Miss Universe Japan, she was highly criticized despite her stunning beauty and dignity of character, surely epitomizing nothing less than stellar grace in any cultural context. Deemed an anomaly and regarded as inauthentic to what constitutes a “true” Japanese woman, her crown was disputed and the legitimacy of her choosing called heavily into question (Sandoval, 2015). The fact that she identifies as Japanese, was born and raised in Japan, being both a native and legal citizen, the integrity of Miyamoto’s claim to the ardently aspired compliment was overshadowed by the fact she was the daughter of an African-American father. Intelligent and wholesome, boasting “a 5th degree mastery in Japanese calligraphy (Sandoval, 2015),” she couldn’t have been more credible—yet she was disbelieved, mocked, scorned, and her pedigree doubted. Her win was acclaimed internationally (Holley, 2015) as a credit to the changing of the previously stereotypical homogeneity of the country, and the mundane reality that most of its women, especially to foreign eyes, pretty much seemed the same. She, similar to Meghan Markle in the historically all-white Windsor nobility, was a breath of fresh air, in a manner of speaking, as a bold, new representative of a millennial Japan seldom acknowledged.

“Haafu,” a term used to refer to biethnic/biracial, mixed-race Japanese natives, is thought to be at least mildly insulting (Royer, 2016). These groups of people are typically marginalized and socially displaced, often feeling profound lack of support and denied a sense of true belonging (Torngren, 2018). Blatant racism has always had a place in Japan (Yates, 2018)—African Americans are portrayed poorly in Japanese media, most memorably in an infamous Darlie (“Darkie”) toothpaste ad[8] featuring an emasculated, lonely Black man, clearly alone and anathema to Japanese society[9]. Black men in particular seem to be the prime target for the most vicious media attacks and societal ostracism. Darker reasons (no pun intended) seem to be suggested for the especially harsh perception of Black males in Japan; Japan, long stereotyped by diminutive, short, slender men who generally aren’t viewed as “sexy[10],” are often believed to possess less than impressive genetalia while, conversely, the age-old reputation of males of African descent for having mythically large genitalia at one time led slavemasters and Ku Klux Klansman lynchmob participants to cut off murdered Black men’s penises and preserve them in their homes as gruesome memorabilia[11]. This threat seen to be embodied (literally) by the Black man is perhaps the main reason Haafu (many of them children of Black fathers due to military entanglements) are so consistently rejected by mainstream society (Fingleton, 2015).

In stark contrast to the half-Japanese, half-Black Ariana Miyamoto, the half-Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa won Miss Japan only one year later and was startlingly much more well-received. Even though mainstream media acknowledged she was the 2nd consecutive mixed-race to win the contest, the language used to describe her win was obviously more positive and focused more on her own positive outlook on her (and Miyamoto’s) win and her personal accomplishments[12].  Her win was characterized as a hopeful, inspiring story for young girls to look up to, while the half-Black Miyamoto’s story only one year earlier was mostly described as a challenge and ominous wording focused moreso on detractors and deniers of her heritage.

 

Overall, it seems the acceptance of biracials in Japan is slowly increasing, and slowly “haafu” millennials are gaining credence and more positive acknaoledgement. Most notably, the historic U.S. Open win of Naomi Osaka—she, too, the daughter of a Japanese mother and African-American father—against Black America’s heroine Serena Williams was a turning point indicating improvement in visibility of mixed race Japanese. However, due to controversies surrounding the racism inherent in the media coverage of the win, there is reason to believe the “positivity” and encouragement seemingly piled upon Naomi Osaka is only seen as applauding “the lesser of two evils” as the more “threateningly” dark, robust, athletic Serena Williams was subsequently (literally) portrayed as an ape-like caricature in a now infamous editorial cartoon (Cavna, 2018). Erroneously portrayed as lacking graciousness in her loss, citing unfairness and discrimination by the referee calling the shots, Serena Williams was caricatured as a “Coon” throwing a temper tantrum, stomping up and down on her tennis racket, features grossly exaggerated and reminiscent of 1930s and 1940s “Sambo” racist cartoons and figurines popularized even in Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes cartoons of the era[13].

The ills of racism in the global West or East are hardly improving, the harsh and brutal truth of its persistence doesn’t soften even in the wake of a Black President or a (half)Black biracial Duchess in the House of Windsor. In The Americas, Europe, and Asia—indeed, the globe—the intricacies of racism are as convoluted as ever, if not more. Biracial identities do not eradicate racism, nor make it more palatable or lessen its existence and the sting of its history. The glamorization of mixed “exoticals” will never excuse the legacy of tyranny, slavery, colonialism, holocaust, genocides, and the horrors of inhumane experimentation in the name of “science.” Nor will the grotesque and increasingly bold proclivity of whites for cultural appropriation and adoption of black babies. However, at the very least, exploration of the fascinating nuances of the increasingly subversive, subliminal, and even subconscious (due to white privilege, conveniently unaware) manifestations of racism make for interesting media studies.

Bibliography

Bibliography

Akintunde, O. (1997). Light Skinned with Good Hair: The Role of the Media and Christianity in the Maintenance of Self-Hatred in African Americans.

Bendelhoum, H. N. (2017). TRAGIC MULATTA 2.0: A POSTCOLONIAL APPROXIMATION AND CRITIQUE OF THE REPRESENTATIONS OF BI-ETHNIC WOMEN IN US FILM AND TV.

Bogle, D. (2001). Toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies, and bucks: An interpretive history of Blacks in American films. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Browning, J. R. (1951). Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. Duke BJ1, 26.

Carter, Mitzi, and Aina Hunter. “ON BLACKNESS IN JAPAN.”

Cavna, Michael. (2018) An Australian artist’s racist Serena Williams cartoon receives a swift and international blowback. The Washington Post. September 12, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2018/09/10/an-australian-artists-racist-serena-williams-cartoon-receives-swift-and-international-blowback/?utm_term=.7123bd29885b

Cornish, Stephanie. (2015) “Half-Black Woman Named Miss Japan—Stirs Reaction.” Afro.com. March 20, 2015. https://www.afro.com/half-black-woman-named-miss-japan-stirs-reaction/

Curtin, P. D. (1960). ” SCIENTIFIC” RACISM AND THE BRITISH THEORY OF EMPIRE. Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria2(1), 40-51.

Deerwester, Jayme. ‘Megyn Kelly Today’ is done, NBC reveals following blackface scandal. USAToday. October 26, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2018/10/26/megyn-kelly-nbc-today-show-exit-blackface-scandal/1763026002/

Erickson, Amanda. (2018) A german broadcaster called Meghan Markle “exotic.” Viewers said it was racist. The Washington Post. May 21, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/05/21/a-german-broadcaster-called-meghan-markle-exotic-viewers-said-it-was-racist/

Fingleton, Eamonn. (2015) The Story in Japan Is Not That Blacks Are Excluded But That Truth Has Been Swept Under The Carpet. Forbes. June 21, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/eamonnfingleton/2015/06/21/the-story-in-japan-is-not-that-blacks-are-excluded-but-that-truth-has-been-swept-under-the-carpet/

Hayman, C. (2017). “The Blackness of Blackness”: Meta-Black Identity in 20th/21st Century African American Culture.

Holley, Peter. (2015) “Japan’s half-black Miss Universe says discrimination gives her ‘extra motivation’. The Washington Post. May 13, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/05/13/japans-half-black-miss-universe-says-discrimination-gives-her-extra-motivation/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6c747bdf2781

Mattos, Kica. (2016) Colorism: Is Kanye West’s ‘multiracial women only’ code for only light-skinned black women? TheUndefeated.com September 15, 2016

Marks, J. (2012). Why be against darwin? Creationism, racism, and the roots of anthropology. American journal of physical anthropology149(S55), 95-104.

Murray, B., & Duffy, B. (1998). Jefferson’s secret life. US News & World Report125(18), 58-63.

Patton, V. K., & Stevens, R. J. (1999). Narrating Competing Truths in the Thomas Jefferson—Sally Hemings Paternity Debate. The Black Scholar29(4), 8-15.

Pease, D. E. (1996). Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Duke University Press.

Petter, Olivia. WHAT IS BLACKFISHING? THE INFLUENCERS ACCUSED OF USING MAKEUP TO ‘PRETEND’ TO BE BLACK. The Independent. 5 December 2018 https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women/blackfishing-what-is-it-influencers-instagram-makeup-racism-black-white-social-media-a8667961.html

Pratt, R. A. (1997). Crossing the color line: A historical assessment and personal narrative of Loving v. Virginia. Howard LJ41, 229.

Reicheneker, Sierra. “The Marginalization of Afro-Asians in East Asia: Globalization and the Creation of Subculture and Hybrid Identity”.” Global Tides 5.1 (2011): 6.

Rich, Motoko. (2018) “In U.S. Open Victory, Naomi Osaka Pushes Japan to Redefine Japanese.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/09/world/asia/japan-naomi-osaka-us-open.html

Richards, G. (2012). Race, racism and psychology: Towards a reflexive history. Routledge.

Rockquemore, K. A., Brunsma, D. L., & Delgado, D. J. (2009). Racing to theory or retheorizing race? Understanding the struggle to build a multiracial identity theory. Journal of Social Issues65(1), 13-34.

Royer, C. K. (2016). In Search of Identity: Hafus in Japan(Doctoral dissertation, Wake Forest University).

Sandoval, Danielle. (2015) “Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto being Called ‘Not Japanese Enough’ For Her Biracial Background.” Bustle Online. March 23, 2015. https://www.bustle.com/articles/71606-miss-universe-japan-ariana-miyamoto-being-called-not-japanese-enough-for-her-biracial-background

SCMP Reporter (2018). “Naomi Osaka not the only mixed-race or minority Japanese who’s made it big.” SCMP.com 10 September 2018. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2163590/naomi-osaka-not-only-mixed-race-japanese-person-who-made-it-big-and

Theodórsdóttir, F. The Flawless Body: Searching for Women’s Self-Image in Japan (Doctoral dissertation).

Törngren, S. O. (2018). Ethnic Options, Covering and Passing: Multiracial and Multiethnic Identities in Japan. Asian Journal of Social Science46(6), 748-773.

Vick, Kameron & McGregor, Nesta. (2018) Blackfishing: The women accused of pretending to be black. BBC News. 5 December 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-46427180

Yates, Ronald E. (2018) JAPANESE PUZZLED BY CHARGES OF RACISM FOR BLACK DEPICTIONS. The Chicago Tribune. August 28, 1988

Yoshida, S. (2014). Being hafu (biethnic Japanese) in Japan: Through the eyes of the Japanese media, Japanese university students, and hafu themselves (Doctoral dissertation, College of Humanities, University of Utah).

Zandamela, T. (2018). Understanding Biracial Women’s Identity Formation.

“The First Multiracial Miss Universe Japan Has Been Crowned.” NBC News. March 17, 2015. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/first-multiracial-miss-universe-japan-has-been-crowned-n325131

“Miss Japan won by half Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa.” BBC News. 8 September 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37283518

[1] See: https://mtonews.com/snoop-dogg-caught-cheating-on-his-wife-with-exotical-insta-thot , https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/01/calling-woc-exotic-is-racist/ , and,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/05/21/a-german-broadcaster-called-meghan-markle-exotic-viewers-said-it-was-racist/

[2] Also, significantly, the name of a critically-acclaimed album by formidable “conscious” Philadelphia hip hop group “The Roots” who is also widely known for their album “Things Fall Apart,” a reference to the novel by Chinua Achebe

[3] the 1 Drop Rule which Halle Berry herself invoked and cited when she asserted her biracial daughter, Nahla Aubrey, fathered by her French-Canadian lover, Gabriel Aubrey, was Black

[4] See also: Kanye West’s “mixed women only” colorism debate https://theundefeated.com/features/colorism-is-kanyes-multiracial-women-only-code-for-only-light-skinned-black-women/ and singer Ne-Yo’s assertion “All The Prettiest Kids Are Lightskinned.” https://theybf.com/2008/12/18/ne-yo-all-prettiest-kids-are-light-skinned

[5] See https://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/187782 and https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1296929/dark-skinned-couple-light-skinned-baby

[6] Term believed to originate with 1920s Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen’s Passing

[7] https://www.newsweek.com/prince-harrys-worst-moments-meghan-markle-rogue-723177

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGdTKz9wOKA

[9] https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/article/2176817/how-darkie-now-darlie-became-east-asias-favourite

[10] https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2186047/no-valentine-complexities-interracial-dating-asians-north-america

[11] See Cooley’s “The Legacy of Lynching: The Effects on Contemporary Black Masculinity in Relationship to Black Violence” https://www.albany.edu/womensstudies/journal/2004/cooley.html

[12] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37283518 (cited in Bibliography, but no author credited)

[13] https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/coon/

Somewhere between Proverbs 31 and Revelation 17: Dame Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, and Chaucer’s Favorite Woman by Gloria Steele-Hatten (originally written December 2014)

Somewhere between Proverbs 31 and Revelation 17: Dame Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, and Chaucer’s Favorite Woman by Gloria Steele-Hatten (originally written December 2014)

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The p[r]etty wife, the kept wife, the silent submissive: none of these are the true characteristics of Dame Alisoun, the Wife of Bath. In Her Prologue and Tale, Alisoun presents herself as an assertive and sharp-witted woman, fashionable and relatively wealthy.

Her kerchiefs were of finely woven ground;

I dared have sworn they weighed a good ten pound,

The ones she wore on Sunday, on her head,

Her hose were of the finest scarlet red

And gartered tight; her shoes were soft and new.

From this the reader is able to interpret that The wife of Bath is refined, elegant, and of discerning, distinguished taste and aesthetic. The heavy weight of her kerchiefs indicates they are good quality, sturdy cloth, not cloth that rips or tears easily and is finely woven multiple times for durability and longevity. In antiquity, scarlet was expensive, as the color was so vibrant and the substances used to dye the cloth such a bold color were rare and costly. This also explains why the “Woman in Red” archetype was that much more memorably alluring, symbol of a woman unforgettably seductive, the “Scarlet Woman” a rare, vibrantly clad Mystery, the color makes her a standout, its expensiveness indicating its wearer was a woman of her own money (i.e. prostitution). Soft shoes indicates seldom worn, gently used shoes, and implicit of the fact that she was wealthy enough to have transportation that would enable her to glide gently in soft shoes rather than walking and needing hard shoes for travelling on foot like common laborers.

She also exudes a charisma that is flamboyantly sexual with a voracious appetite for intimacy considering the restrictive times of the 14th century in which, a modern reader may wonder, it was miraculously rare, seemingly, for  a woman to enjoy marriage in general, let alone sex. Fitting the stereotypes, threatening to the patriarchy at the time, of a strong willed woman capable of manipulating men to her will and whims, usually through humour and subterfuge, Alisoun proves her cunning in manipulating the Pilgrims to whom she almost apologetically shares her story. Already prefacing her story with almost self-deprecating humor, Alisoun is adept at disarming her staunch male audience  by a careful mix of flattery, apology, and even quoting the Church doctrine and patriarchal enslaving Biblical “auctoritee” in her own defense against her pious male hypocrites, almost like a Marilyn Monroe playing up the “dumb blonde” stereotype when in fact she outsmarted her own detractors with her business acumen.

Alisoun clearly indicates that she intends to ease the Pardoner’s mind by the time she has finished speaking. Also, the Pardoner’s interruption makes Alisoun aware of the rest of her audience and their probable discomfort at her words. She decides, therefore, to further spread a calming salve on all the pilgrims, telling them, “taketh not agrief of that I seye” (191). Her goal is to have fun and tell an interesting and clever tale. Doing so, Alisoun is beguiling her audience into believing that she does not have anything of importance to say. Once again, she is using the lessons she learned from the misogynistic texts in her favor. If her listeners were wary of her language (and the Pardoner’s interruption proves that they are), she would never be allowed to impart her knowledge, which would in turn deny her the power and authority she is desperately seeking. Therefore, Alisoun gives her audience a stated goal that appears to belittle her main goal, but she retains an unstated goal that actually supports her previous declarations. (Baumgardner, p9)

However, as Baumgarder points out, her true intent in telling her story, while downplaying it as a simple woman’s request to simply share a story for, presumably, female vanity, is to gain sympathy circuitously from the male pilgrims by showing her experience as contrary to the wives in their Marriage Tales, “set[ting] up a ‘contest’ between her experience and the dominant male authority, and her rambling prologue is the result of the two ideologies in verbal combat (p 7).”

It is in this realm of storytelling in which, like the stereotypical women’s art of weaving, Alisoun is able—even allowed, due to the “safety” of her “story”—to craft and uphold a liminal position between the world of women and men and, like a female version of a trickster god, uses her humour and “signifying” to lure the men into accepting, however reluctantly, the portrait of this Wife of Bath who not only carefully ensures she lives up to the Biblical guidelines of marital piety and submission—even, for example, making sure she is legitimately re-married before engaging in sexual relations to avoid the Church’s scrutiny while also ensuring title, position, propriety and property—but also finds her own satisfaction in sex. A self-fulfilling prophecy indeed is a woman who, like Alisoun and women of the present day, must use her maligned, repressed, and abhorred sexuality to lure the very men who’d subjugate her into granting her, in their own incompetence, power, title, and respect. In the introduction to Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale: An Annotated Bibliography, Editor Peter G. Beidler cites several critics during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 60s and 70s and their perspectives on Dame Alisoun’s self-described sexuality and the justification of her sexual manipulation of men for survival in a patriarchal world:

The strong emphasis that Alisoun places on sex in her marriages has prompted…[the critic Nist to find] Alisoun as a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac…While [critic] Nicols believes Chaucer valued the sacredness of the sacrament of marriage and would therefore frown upon Alison’s behaviour, Spisak is convinced that the Wife of Bath represents Chaucer’s realistic appreciation of marriage….the men Alisoun has married have been criticized as inadequate husbands, and Alisoun’s capitalizing on male weakness for carnality is praised. Chaucer’s application of animal imagery, specifically mice and sheep, to Alisoun’s first three husbands, aids his audience in their evaluation of Alisoun’s early marriages. That these men were elderly and rich allows the reader to maintain sympathy with Alisoun as she victimizes them, and that they have no names further distances the reader from them. Berggren asserts that Alisoun is victimized in her early marriages and that her humiliation prompts the Wife to victimize those husbands in return. …Burlin suggest that her early marriages instructed her in how to provide for herself, and, after the failure of her fourth marriage, Alisoun learns how to defend herself by using textual authority in her alliance with Jankyn (Beidler, pp. xxxix, xli)

There is also the matter of the obvious symbolism of the blood relating to ancient customs of viewing the bloodied sheets of the marriage bed as proof of the wife’s chastity at the time of consummation. The gold, however, could represent the “bride price” or “dowry” which is an ancient tribal tradition that evolved and continues to evolve through the years (some say in modern times the expense of the wedding ring itself is a sort of “dowry”, although nowadays seldom is any price paid to the family of the wife, as nowadays people seldom ask any permission or blessing of either family, they just tend to get married on their own, out of romantic sentiment or convenience.

The wife’s trickery in relating the false dream is not wholly dishonorable. The Wife seems to be a good Wife, indeed willing to indulge her husband(s) sexually and she implies she herself has a voracious sexual appetite, which is very progressive and even rare for women of the time who derived little to no sexual pleasure in their submission to their husbands and would rather do without it altogether. Indeed, The Canturbury Tales is/are rife with sexual innuendo. The wife, it seems, is happy to marry and continually re-marry to avoid the “sin” of unmarried fornication, as she does have a healthy sexual appetite, yet she must marry multiple times to fulfill her own pleasures without facing condemnation outside of the sanctity of marriage.

Overall it seems times have changed very little as in even todays’ modern manifestation/evolution of “rape culture” we still find “slut-shaming” or condemnation of women who are perceived as too sexually willing, an affront to the Virgin/Mother-Whore complex so erroneously polarized and dichotomised in Christian-dominant Western society. It is interesting to me that the living Behr hailed from Canturbury. It is true that, due to shifting standards in Literature studies and fluctuating definitions of “classics” in the works considered for Literature canonization, many modern scholars are less and less familiar with Medieval era female writers. Nonetheless, in times past, the predominant female literary figure associated with this era was the Wife of Bath from Chaucer’s Canturbury Tales. Allisoun, the Wife, too, was considered “scandalous” and “bawdy” or, to put nicely, “progressive” for the way Chaucer writers her tale and, in it, her celebration of her sexuality. Like the real life Behr writings, the tale the Wife of Bath tells is one in which her devotion to her husband(s) included a healthy sexual attraction and consistent sexual consummation. Behr, likewise, writes of sexual attraction as if it is normal, to be expected, and healthy– a sentiment surely shared by a very rare few women of the time, when, as we have observed, such a majority were sexually unsatisfied, emotionally neglected, psychologically degraded, and socially stigmatised.

Works cited

Beidler, Peter G., and Elizabeth M. Biebel. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale: An Annotated Bibliography 1900-1995.  Toronto: Published in association with the University of Rochester by University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Baumgardner, Rachel A. “I Alisoun, I Wife: Foucault’s Three Egos and the Wife of Bath’s Prologue.” Medieval Forum 5 (2006): n. pag. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.sfsu.edu/~medieval/Volume5/Baumgardner.html&gt;.

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Michelle Williams’ broken engagement and the Insidious Signs of Narcisstic Abuse

 

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Michelle Williams was always more than ⅓ of Beyonce-fronted superstar girl group Destiny’s Child. Many do not remember or never knew she was, in fact, the first of the group to release a successful solo album. She has won many awards as a Gospel singer and Broadway performer, most notably in The Color Purple musical. Although many, including Williams herself, may feel eclipsed by the meteoric rise of Beyonce and the laudable empire Kelly herself has built in DC3’s wake, Michelle has always had her own brand of unique wins and accomplishments.

In several interviews, one easily gets the sense that Michelle Williams is self deprecating at best, codependent at worst. Subtle signs of codependency are evident in the downplaying of her accomplishments. Most telling was how she chose to introduce herself in the first episode of her reality tv series with the words: “My name is not ‘aint you that girl from Destiny’s Child?’ it’s Michelle!”

As the introduction to the documenting of her tumultuous engagement to Pastor Chad Johnson, the statement was telling of her deeper insecurities. Revealing her hidden struggles with depression over the years, Michelle Williams has spoken candidly about her therapy process and journey to recovery, however, more seemed to be revealed in what she wasn’t saying.

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In a highly documented moment on her reality show, her fiance berated and belittled her after a highly charged argument over race relations, asking her in condescending tones, “did you take your meds today?” The fact that this statement came as an attack to discredit Williams character and pour salt in the wounds of her depression battle, this was a classic red flag of narcissistic abuse. Even worse, coming from a white male towards an emotionally vulnerable Black woman in what is still a staunchly Eurocentric and patriarchal Western society, the statement was all too telling of his domineering and even subconsciously racist personality.

Body language often reveals more than spoken words express, and this was more than evident in much of the footage from the show and interviews in its promotional campaigns. During many interviews, Chad Johnson’s body language was stiff, defensive, and his appearance strictly controlled. Williams even jokingly admitted during some footage that Chad purportedly spent more time in the mirror than she did, took more time getting ready, and always had to look perfect, indicative of more narcissistic red flags, as narcissists take care to present themselves as perfect and perfectly charming to the outside world, while cold, callous, condescending, and calculating in their abuse of those closest to them.

In many interviews, Michelle seemed to be overcompensating, as codependent partners of narcissists often are, quick to jump to the forefront to apologize or blame herself for any of Johnson’s seemingly negative remarks or actions, then alternately shrinking in his spotlight when he was boasting about his ministry or his immersion in “Black culture.” Even in the most recent of Johnson’s Instagram posts, the incongruity of their respective demeanor  was tragically obvious. In the picture, the two are holding up paintings of a similar tropical sunset they each had painted. In Chad’s painting, the palm trees are flourishing, the leaves full and the beach scene inviting. In Michelle’s, the trees look sickly, the branches nearly bare.

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Psychologists assert that much can be told of a person’s mental state through their artistic expression, be it creative writing, impressionist dance, or painting. Indeed, in the picture, Chad is smiling broadly, boastfully, bursting with pride as he gazes directly into the camera; Michelle, by contrast, looks disappointed, insecure, even worried, as she barely forces a crooked attempt at a disconcerting halfsmile, looking down, beyond the camera. Finally, most telling was Chad’s caption: “Wellllp (sp), which one would you go to for the honeymoon? #ChadLovesMichelle” This biting, sarcastic caption is unacceptably dismissive of his fiance, typically narcissistic, and indicates he clearly feels his painting was better, boasting at the expense of her feelings.

Alternatively, a truly loving spouse would not brag about his picture being better first, he would instead say something that gratified both pictures equally or even compliments their uniquely beautiful and distinct characteristics.

Signs like these are telling that Michelle is actually lucky to have broken free before they walked down the aisle, and should not blame herself, as she seems to imply in her breakup announcement on instagram:

I still remain fearless. I guess I still remain single! Things didn’t work out. The healing that needs to take place is a must! I don’t wanna destroy another relationship. Blessings to him, his family, and his ministry. #Fearless”

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Sadly, even in her breakup statement, her language is self-blaming and glaringly codependent.

     Yes, Michelle, the healing is a must, however, the destruction of the relationship is not your fault and is probably for the best, as you may have ended up even more traumatised had it continued. Praying for your recovery and for you to walk, empowered, in UNAPOLOGETIC Self-Love!

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