Thirsty for a Fresh Take on All Things True Blood?

WELCOME! Thirsty for a fresh take on all things True Blood? Pull up a virtual barstool at the Pierced Pomegranate Tavern where sisters Rachel and Rebecca are serving up juicy feminist analysis with a twist and opening a vein of thoughtful sociocultural dialogue on HBO's hit series.

Like the epic literary salons of eras past - theaters for conversation and debate which were, incidentally, started and run by women; where the spirited debate about the issues of the day ran as copiously as the actual spirits did - but updated for the digital age, the Pierced Pomegranate Tavern is a fun forum for exploring questions ripe for discourse about the human condition & today's most crucial social issues through the medium of True Blood.

Your salonnières are not peddling liquor per se, but they are offering up new and alternative ideas informed by such diverse influences as pop culture, art, music, cultural history, Goddess studies, transformative theory, literature and poetry, and archaeomythology, filtered through the sieve of their own lived experiences as feminist women of a particular age, background, and culture.

This is a space where you - patrons and passersby alike - can view and engage with these perspectives through the lens of True Blood and contribute your own thoughts. So, no matter if you're a Truebie or a more casual viewer of True Blood, or your drink of choice is a pomegranate martini - one of Rachel's favorite cocktails to drink and Rebecca's to mix - an herbal tea, a frothy double mocha latte, or a can of Fresca (wink, wink) you're invited to join the conversation on the show's complexities in a way that can spark transformation.

Hopefully you'll find something to sink your teeth...err...straw, into! PLEASE ENJOY RESPONSIBLY ;-)

YOU'VE BEEN SERVED (A WARNING)...

The Pierced Pomegranate Tavern is dedicated to exploring social issues and more through the lens of True Blood. As such, you may encounter:

*SPOILERS
*TRIGGERS
related to the often provocative and adult themes presented by the show

If you choose to enter and participate in this virtual salon, please be prepared to do so in a thoughtful, respectful, and mature fashion with the above in mind. Click here to check out our comment policy. Thanks!

Disclaimer

No copyright infringement is intended, all rights to True Blood belong to HBO, credit is ascribed to sites where images appearing here were originally found.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Raise a Glass to Real Grrrl Power: Women in Solidarity Part IV: The Final 3 Themes

In this image as opposed to word-dense post, let's take a look at some alternatives to female rivalry and competition from the past and present in a slide show of sorts following these themes which sprang from the screen on True Blood:
  • women sharing support, connection & compassion
  • allies, helpers & guides
  • women united in ritual
WOMEN SHARING SUPPORT, CONNECTION & COMPASSION

Psychoanalyst Jean Baker Miller has written that, "women stay with, build on, and develop in a context of attachment and affiliation with others" (Lowinsky, 1992, p. 55). Essentially, we need other women to become, and be, ourselves. The media and popular entertainment often show us a terrain of women's interpersonal relationships with one another pockmarked by strife and discord. Let's take a look at a few  images from True Blood to the contrary:


Tara experiences the support of other women rape survivors


 
Arlene hires Holly



Holly provides Arlene with moral support and empathy

Sookie and Jessica have a warming relationship
  



These True Blood images have some counterparts from archaic history.

As you can read in the notes associated with the left-hand image below, it depicts two women; perhaps sisters, mother and daughter, or lovers. The image comes from a temple in India; it is a representation of the way in which women were often shown together interacting in loving and beautiful ways in ancient times. It is much the same with the right-hand image depicting two women pouring libations together. The left-hand image comes from the book Shakti Woman by Vicki Noble - the author suggests that only under patriarchy did women become estranged from one another and competitive in relation to men. The image on the right comes from expert on female iconography Max Dashu's website http://www.suppressedhistories.net/index.html 



 
Looks kinda like Tara and Sookie in the shot below, huh?


ALLIES, HELPERS & GUIDES

Sookie's encountered quite a few allies, helpers, and guides of the female persuasion in Season 3 of True Blood  

Claudine outstretches a helping hand to Sookie

Sookie & Claudine


Janine oversees Sookie's Lou Pines makeover


Tara orchestrates Sookie's escape from
the King of Mississippi's captivity




Yvetta helps Sookie escape from Eric's dungeon
 Do you see any parallels between the True Blood images above and these ones:

As Austen (1990) writes, on the left we see Nut, the Egyptian Goddess of  Death and Rebirth welcoming a dead noblewoman into her arms juxtaposed with an image representing the woman who was placed inside the coffin. When the casket was closed, the deceased would be able to look directly into the eyes of the Goddess who welcomed her into eternity. Nut, the Mother who gives life, was waiting to comfort and nurture.

On the right, we see Isis leading Queen Nofretari. This scene, dated to 1300 B.C.E. is painted on a wall of the queen's tomb and the inscription reads: Isis speaks: Come, Nofretari, beloved of the Goddess Nut, without fault, that I may show thee thy place in the sacred world (Austen, 1990, p. 48).
 

Here, we see ancient and contemporary images of divine and mortal allies, helpers, and guides which stand in stark contrast to the images of female conflict and rivalry we've seen.  

On her website "The Suppressed Histories Archives: Real Women, Global Vision" Max Dashu speaks of elder women leading and guiding younger women in womanhood initiations and coming of age ceremonies. These are cross-cultural rites of "seclusion, vision-seeking, body-painting, instruction by elders, and the dance of new women before the entire community, in sacred regalia, with cowrie strands, masks, beaded veils, layers of cloth, new belts or the long skirts of adult women...These rites are now being reclaimed - in some places they were never lost, in many they were crushed, and in others, where they were turned to enforcing masculine dominance, many women are choosing to change harmful practices while keeping the sacred core of the most ancient traditions" http://www.suppressedhistories.net/catalog/spheres.html.

Not only have women led each other in becoming, they have led and continue to lead each other, their families, and their communities in overcoming

Max Dashu speaks of rebel shamans - indigenous women in solidarity with one another - confronting empire. "Priestesses, diviners, and medicine women stand out as leaders of aboriginal liberation movements against conquest, empire, and cultural colonization". http://www.suppressedhistories.net/catalog/shamanliberators.html

Dashu's visual presentation Rebel Shamans introduces us to female shamans and leaders who led resistance movements; here are some of those she covers:

Wanakhucha, the mganga priestess who led the Zigula exodus out of slavery in Somalia; Veleda of the Bructerii (Netherlands), Dahia al-Kahina (Tunisia), the Kumari of Taleju (Nepal), Jeanne d'Arc (France), Tang Saier (China), Juana Icha (Peru), Kimba Vita (Congo), Maria Candelaria (Chiapas), Queen Nanny of the Maroons (Jamaica), Cécile Fatiman (Haiti), Antonia Luzia (Brazil), Toypurina (Tongva Nation, California), the Prophetess of Chupu (Chumash Nation), Wanankhucha (Somalia), Lozen (Apache Nation), Teresa de Cabora (Mayo, Sonora), Nehanda Nyakasikana (Zimbabwe), Muhumusa (Uganda), Nomtetha Nkwenkwe (Xhosa, South Africa), Alinesitoué Diatta (Senegal). Please visit her website for more information and images!

Here's a book on my reading list: The Bond Between Women: A Journey to Fierce Compassion by China Galland. According to the editorial review, Galland draws inspiration from her travels in Asia and Latin America where she meets women of extraordinary activism who are battling the scourge of child prostitution, demonstrating against murderous dictatorship, and quietly, but no less dramatically, working to increase literacy amongst poor women and children and de-polluting rivers.

These are women joined to one another in their work for justice and healing, like the mothers of the "disappeared" in Argentina who bear witness against the government that stole the lives of their children. You can see some of these mothers of the disappeared united in struggle and rememberance in the U2 concert footage below; on U2's album The Joshua Tree there is a song called "Mothers of the Disappeared" which you'll hear along with the video:




Pretty moving, right?

WOMEN UNITED IN RITUAL

On her website Max Dashi writes that spiritual spheres of power have been crucial staging areas for women's political leadership, for challenging systems of domination, and for making changeWomen can connect to one another and form bonds through spiritual and ritual expression; these images from True Blood illustrate that:









In Arlene's time of need, Holly joined with her in a powerful ritual that even if it wasn't effective in terms of eliminating her unwanted pregnancy, gave her renewed sense that she could trust another woman and feel empowered to control her body.  

Look at these images from archaic history of women joined in ritual; the first comes from Elinor Gadon's The Once and Future Goddess - here we see females, maybe Goddesses, maybe her priestesses, joined together in the esctatic dance that was part of Goddess religious devotion. The second is a plate from Max Dashu's Suppressed Histories illustrating a similar scene:  


 Do you see any resemblance between these ancient images of woman-centered religious activity and the one from True Blood below?

We can see that traditions of women's solidarity have lived in our past and continue to live in our future; both in the new mythology of True Blood and in our real lives as well.

So what, you ask?

I'll talk about why women's solidarity matters in the fifth and final installment of this Real Grrrl Power series!

Stay Tuned!

~ Rachel
References

Austen, H. I. (1990). The heart of the goddess: Art, myth and meditations of the world’s sacred feminine. Berkeley: Wingbow Press

Gadon, E. W. (1989). The once and future Goddess. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco

Lowinsky, N.R. (1992). Stories from the motherline: Reclaiming the mother-daughter bond, finding our feminine souls. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Noble, V. (1991). Shakti woman: Feeling our fire, healing our world. The new female shamanism. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Contemplating a Different Kind of Jingle Ball...Celebrating Secession?!?

I listen to NPR; it's a great way to keep up with current events. While driving around the other day, I heard something on one of the afternoon shows that puzzled, and frankly, upset me: South Carolina, in the first of a four-year series of events planned to celebrate the state's decision 150 years ago to secede from the United States of America, held a "Secession Ball"  this past Monday.

Have you heard about this? It doesn't seem to have garnered widespread media attention - but I was able to find a piece in the Huffington Post covering the gala, "NAACP Protests 'Secession Ball' In South Carolina".
The article's title certainly hints at the controversial nature of the Charleston ball; protesters held up placards emblazoned with phrases like, "SC Suffers from the 'Confederacy of the Mind'", while supporters and attendees spoke to the desire to honor heritage, not hate.

What is your reaction to this? Clearly, the fallout from the Civil War and Reconstruction continues to reverberate; North and South alike must face and process this painful period and come to grips with how the issues that were germane to it are still a part of our lives today.

I, for one, would love to hear some diverse takes on this, from readers in different parts of the nation, and perhaps outside the U.S. Please weigh in on this one!

Remember a while back when I posted an image from the wall of Fangtasia - George W. Bush as a vampire taking a bite out of Lady Liberty? One of the points I was trying to make in that post is that True Blood is such a dense, multilayered show; like an onion, you can just keep peeling away layer after layer of skin and find something new underneath.

This issue of the "Secession Ball" reminded me of a powerful - though fleeting - image from Season One, Episode Five (I think), Sparks Fly Out. Do you remember the scene when, right before the Descendants of the Glorious Dead meeting got underway, two men came out with the Confederate Flag and placed it in a pedestal at the front of the church? The camera panned to Tara - the only African-American present as far as I could see (and certainly the only African-American woman in the all-white audience), and she was clearly impacted by the introduction and prominent display of this loaded symbol.
















Here's that part of the scene transcribed, courtesy: http://www.losttv-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=56195

In the church, two older men place a Confederate flag onto a pedestal base, as Tara (perhaps the only African-American in attendance) watches wide-eyed, saying nothing. There is an empty seat to her right, and more on her left. Sam and Sookie make their way down the row of chairs.)

Sookie (to Tara): Hey, girl. Can we join you?

(Sam and Sookie approach Tara.)

Sam: Hi, Tara.

Tara (laughing nervously): Sure, come on in.

(Sam sits at Tara's left, and Sookie sits at Sam's left.)


look closely and you'll see the tension in this picture- recall that Sam recently
slept with Tara but still pines for Sookie; and Tara knows it 
Tara (to herself): Could always use more white people.

(Tara elbows Sam and he jumps)

I've got to go and make merry with my family (Rebecca will be there!) for the holiday, but when I come back, I'm going to be putting up some images from this scene, some quotes from the book "Regulating the Lives of Women" that I think are relevant to it, and posing some questions to ponder as visions of sugarplums dance through your heads on this Christmas Eve!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE PIERCED POMEGRANATE TAVERN!

OK, I'm back after a snowed-in Christmas weekend. Hope your holiday was happy! As I was saying...

TARA AND THE CONFEDERATE FLAG
What might this potent imagery and quietly- but powerfully - written and played scene say about the legacy of Confederate culture and slavery in the South, and how Tara confronts it?

Does Tara's relationship to symbols of the Confederacy like the flag differ than those of anyone else gathered for the DGD meeting? What are her experiences with the Confederate flag, and with her predominantly white friends and associates (and as of Season One when this scene took place, lover) as an African-American woman? What happens for Tara at the intersection of race, class, and gender in Bon Temps?

We can't answer all these questions in this post, but we can take on a few.

I wonder if Tara's relationship to Sam, and to Sookie, in the quasi-love triangle they found themselves in over the course of Season One, might have been at least in part informed or impacted by how "white colonial society simply denied the 'rights of womanhood' to black slaves" (Abramovitz, 1996) - particularly in the South.

In her book "Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present", Mimi Abramovitz deftly uses first-person narrative material to paint a devastating picture of what life was like for black women under slavery. They never had the right to legal marriage, family integrity, or protection from physical, sexual, or economic abuse. The brutality we associate with slavery - the beatings, lynchings, mistreatment, and more - was in many ways exacerbated for female slaves; they were vulnerable in ways male slaves weren't.

According to Abramovitz, the reproductive labor done by female slaves for their masters was indistinguishable from other kinds of labor. Especially after the slave trade was outlawed in 1808, plantation owners became increasingly interested in the inhumane "breeding" of slaves. The threat of sexual assault from white masters and overseers was constant. Virtually all of the slave narratives contain accounts of the sexual victimization of slave women. Although our modern sensibilities may be shocked or offended by the use of language in this slave's report, I think it's valuable for us to read her first-person account of the rampant abuse which originally appeared in "We are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century" by Dorothy Sterling:
Ma mama said that a nigger 'oman couldn't help herself, fo' she had to do what de marster say. Ef he come to de field whar de women workin' an' tel gal to come on, she had to go, He would take one down in de woods an use her all de time he wanted to, den send her on back to work. Times nigger 'omen had chillun for de marster an his sons and some times it was fo' de ovah seer. (Abramovitz, 1996, p. 64)
Rape was institutionalized as part and parcel of slavery; black women's sexual integrity was crushed, their rights of motherhood denied, their choice all but removed when it came to sexual contact with white men. The child of a slave recounted what happened when his mother tried to choose:
I don't like to talk 'bout dem times 'cause my mother did suffer misery. You know dar was an overseer who use to tie mother up in the barn wid a rope aroun' her arms up over her head, while she stood on a block. Soon as dey got her tied, di block was moved an' her feet dangled, you know, couldn't tech de flo'. Dis ole man, now would start beaten' her nekked 'til the blood run down her back to her heels. I asked mother 'what she done fer 'em to beat and do her so? She said, 'Nothin 'other dan 'fuse to be wife to dis man'.
Under slavery black women often found them doubly victimized when white women took their wrath out on female slaves while their husbands, sons, and brothers continued to rape and abuse with impunity.

Now, we know that for a time slavery also existed in the North and racism continued here far after its abolition. We also know that despite the regulation of slavery, black family ties persisted, black slaves- both men and women - resisted their subordination' they escaped slaveholders, carried out uprisings, deliberately withheld their labor, and taught themselves to read in clandestine "midnight schools" often run by women. I am not for a moment suggesting that black slaves, or African-Americans living in the South or other part of the U.S. today should be seen only - or mainly - as victims. What I AM suggesting is that we face the painful history of slavery and we must consider how its legacy still impacts and influences life in our nation.

We see some of this in Tara's character development and story arc; she is depicted as a strong women who is self-educated, she has directly challenged men - Bill over the issue of slavery in his family, Sam over what she perceives as his racism in their sexual relationship (which he may well be blind to), and Andy and Bud over what she views as illegitimate police power.

Is it unreasonable to think that her sexual relationship with Sam might be problematized due in part to the history of female slave's sexual exploitation by white men?

SOCIAL CONTROL OR CHANGE?
Maxine Fortenberry admonishes that Adele Stackhouse hadn't really thought through the idea of booking the church for this particular DGD meeting, since the guest of honor was a vampire who might just sizzle up like a slab of fat-back bacon when he caught sight of the big cross at the front of the room. But maybe, just maybe, the church as venue was more thought out and purposefully planned (not by Gran, but by the writers, of course) to send a message of social control.

Could it be that the church as institution- and all the symbols of religious tradition housed within which condition us and to a certain extent mold our ideas and behavior (even if we are not personally religious, since we live in a society deeply rooted and soaked in Judeo-Christian tradition)...




...like the altar bearing the words from scripture which recall Jesus' sacrifice and the sacrament of communion commemorating it, juxtaposed with the DGD sign featuring the Confederate flag as a reminder of yet another sacrificial body - the rebel soldiers killed in battle - and the cross, here draped by yet another powerful symbol of patriotism, the American Flag...




...be set up here as legitimizing devices for the maintenance of the status quo - the version of the social order that the DGD so fondly recalls?

Adele told Mayor Norris she didn't know why Bud Dearborne felt compelled to wear his Sheriff's uniform to the DGD meeting. Could it be that True Blood's writers wanted the friendly lawman to bring a tacit expression of state power to the DGD by having him wear his uniform, which is emblematic of law and order?




We may be onto something with the theme of seemingly benign reassertion of social order and control. Let's take a look at surface-level appearances. Certainly Adele Stackhouse, the organizer of this event, is a beloved figure for many reasons and a model of welcoming and tolerance in Bon Temp; the grandfatherly Mayor Norris - although slightly wary of Bill's vampiric presence - does not seem to be a bigot...




...and looking out over the (overwhelmingly white) faces of the DGD attendees one may be inclined view this as a celebration of family and community history as opposed to the uplifting of racism.



And yet, the Confederacy it celebrates had in its very constitution a clause outlawing the banning of slavery; it was an inherently stratified (and often brutal) society built upon the backs of people who were owned as chattel. 

Here we see the people of Bon Temps casting a nostalgic eye towards this past, perhaps earnestly wishing to find themselves in the recollections of the gallantry and heroic deeds of their forebearers who bravely fought in what Adele called the "war for Southern independence". We've got to take pause to really think about the complexities of the impulse behind the DGD.

I think this scene beautifully illustrates the push-and-pull of old and new ideas and social constructions; of changes happening within the community and within the larger society even as some try desperately to hold onto the past.

Remember when Royce and company made their entrance to the DGD meeting, commenting that everyone assembled looked so old; to paraphrase, they thought they were there for vampires, not the descendants of the walking dead? In this seemingly throwaway turn of phrase, the DGD and its aging membership is cast as a dinosaur, a quaint if irrelevant relic from another time. Could this be a comment on the place of the most damaging of the ideas that formed the backbone of the Confederacy in the New South - a fading remnant?

Could it be that having Bill Compton, both "Other" (vampire) and "one of us" (founding citizen of Bon Temps) at the front of the congregation, speaking from the pulpit, was True Blood's way of suggesting that perhaps Southern society is wrestling with its history and identity - it can be at once old and new, rooted in legacy and facing the future, and that things, people, and whole cultures can, and do, in fact, change?

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION (AND IDENTITY, AND BACKGROUND, ETC...)
These are the musings of a white woman from the North of a certain age and background. We need diverse voices to round out this conversation. Please lend us yours!


~ Rachel

References

Abramovitz, M (1996). Regulating the lives of women: Social welfare policy from colonial times to the present. Boston: South End Press. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Raise a Glass to Real Grrrl Power - Women in Solidarity Part III - Theme 2 - Female Competition and Alternatives to It

In this third installment of the Real Grrrl Power series, we'll be putting female rivalry and conflict in perspective by taking a look at images of women's relationships in True Blood and their parallels in the art, stories, narratives, and histories of the past and present in the context of the theme:
  • Female Competition Manifested in the Classic Love Triangle & Alternatives to It 
It's time to put back on that good 'ol metaphoric thinking cap!

FEMALE COMPETITION MANIFESTED IN THE CLASSIC LOVE TRIANGLE
According to the media (and maybe real life too), if it's not men (and it often is), there's got to be something we're vying for; jockeying for position, scrambling over each other to get. That dream home, ideal career, status, respect, friends, money...or maybe it's the coveted E! Fashion Police vote for who wore that outfit better in the catty "Bitch Stole My Look" segment of the show.


When it comes to the classic love triangle, True Blood'given us plenty of that enduring tug-of-war to go around; the writers over at HBO seem to be pretty equal opportunity as far as who's pulling on either side - be it male or female.

Unless you've been living under a rock, under twelve feet of snow, under a polar ice cap, you're at least somewhat aware of the Team Eric or Team Bill  battle (with occasional interlopers like Sam and Alcide) that's raging amongst True Blood fans which references the love triangle Sookie's in the middle of:..




We've also got other male-female-male triangles like those between Hoyt, Jessica, and Tommy and Jason, Crystal, and Felton; both of which erupt in violence, as proof that True Blood doesn't envision this particular breed of rivalry and conflict as being exclusive to women.


  
...but for the purposes of this post, let's stay focused on triangulated relationships as they play out on True Blood when two women fight over a man.

They're not always traditional love triangles in the sense that there's romantic involvement between all interested parties and involved players. Take the constellation of conflict surrounding Jessica Hamby's on-again-off-again relationship with Hoyt Fortenberry. 

There's the push-and-pull between Jessica and Summer over Hoyt; Jessica broke it off with Hoyt but still has feelings for him, feelings Hoyt reciprocates - but in an extremely immature move - exploits when he intentionally parades his new girlfriend in front of Jessica while she's a captive audience during her hostessing shift at Merlottes:


Jessica and Summer are now cast as rivals, with Maxine Fortenberry as the fourth side on this love triangle; although not a romantic rival herself (whew!), she co-opts Summer into her quest to lure Hoyt away from Jessica by any means, casting herself as the meddlesome and manipulative mother who selfishly can't cut the apron strings on her adult son even though she has been less than a model parent to him:


Maxine's manipulative machinations (isn't alliteration great?) suggest the image of woman as a crafty, treacherous, deceitful creature willing to employ Machiavellian means (enough alliteration?) to get her way...


...like Lorena (OK, I'll cut it out with the alliteration now - although in my defense, that one wasn't deliberate) who is seen as a scheming rival to Sookie for Bill's affections; she is seen as constantly trying to steal Bill from Sookie and after participating in the conspiracy to kidnap him, she thought she had succeeded. Here Lorena seems quite satisfied with herself as - from the confines of the bedroom they shared for the night (or day, as it were) - Bill calls Sookie to ostensibly end their relationship and sever all ties with her for good:


Lorena and Sookie's rivalry was bitter; it ended in a manner which - albiet in the extreme - speaks to the tears, pain, anger, and suffering such acrimonious competitions between women often do:








It seems that to come out victorious, one woman must utterly destroy - or at the very least maim - the other:



(WHY) ARE OUR LIVES DEFINED BY COMPETITION?
What inhibits or constricts women's bonds with one another? Could it be that the patriarchal family ethic - which emerged during the early 19th century primarily as a means of controling and regulating women's productive and reproductive labor, placing them in their husband's home and subordinate to him as the male head-of-household (Abramowitz, 1996) is partly to blame?

In mainstream Western culture, contemporary social structures - including the current models for marriage and family - are deeply rooted in the patriarchal family ethic. According to Abramowitz, the roles deemed most appropriate for women within this one-man-one-woman paradigm revolve around creating a comfortable retreat for the market-weary breadwinner, socializing children, managing household consumption, offering emotional nurturance to nuclear family members, and taming male sexuality (Abramowitz, 1996). 

It seems to me that this type of system implies women don’t need other women; our connection to men, or more specifically, to one man - a husband or significant other - should be the central relationship in our lives. 

In her groundbreaking work on Biblical society and the eventual suppression of women's rites (and rights), Merlin Stone (1976) traces how men's needs to establish the paternity of their children and protect their property rights were closely intertwined and led to the formula of 1 woman (whose premarital virginity was strictly enforced and sexuality tightly controlled to ensure knowledge of paternity and protect lines of inheritance) + 1 man and their children (that he could be relatively confident were his) being set as the normative family structure. In like fashion, the institution of marriage and its correlate the nuclear family are the widely-accepted default settings for life within modern Western society.

In such a context it's not hard to see how women might be pitted against one another in competition for a man, or the best man, within the limited pool of potential mates.

ALTERNATIVES TO RIVALRY & COMPETITION AMONGST WOMEN
How does this square with experiences which speak to a fuller realm of possibilities in terms of women’s interpersonal dynamics with each other, such as those of public intellectual bell hooks, who offers, “I had not known a life where women had not been together, where women had not helped, protected, and loved one another deeply.” (pg. 12, 1984, 2000)? or Lowinsky's (1992) contention that contrary to the patriarchal family ethic, when women tell the stories of our own lives, we discover that we don’t usually cut ourselves off from our mothers when we reach adulthood. She also offers that the mother’s place in her daughter’s life is not superseded by a relationship to a man as psychoanalytic theory has assumed, but that the mother-daughter bond is a continuing and important aspect of adult women’s lives.

In generations past the nuclear family (1 woman + 1 man and their children) may have seemed absolutely integral to our society, but today we are witnessing alternative family compositions gaining greater tolerance and acceptance within the mainstream. According to Noble (1991) a more expansive vision of family and family life may ultimately prove to be positive by allowing women to turn once more to one another and rely on the group form that women can create together.

What models have existed - or still exist - for such dynamics?

Let's delve into the history of the human family; we can frame the archaic cultures of Catal Huyuk or ancient India as examples of different ways of living and being; a key difference between these ancient societies and the society within which we live today is that no one woman was (or was expected to be) dependant on a single man for her survival

As Noble (1991) writes, women did not live in isolated units with a man and her children. In these ancient communal societies women lived together, and practiced their religion together as a fundamental way of life. "They cooked, made art, raised children, gathered food, healed the sick, and birthed the next generation together" (p. 197). The men within these societies were mobile hunters and traders, and returned to the women and children regularly. There is no evidence to suggest that relationships between men and women were anything but harmonious.

Fast forward to the present. Let's keep in mind that as Christ (pg. 39, 1997) suggests, “Experience is not only a resource; it can also be a limitation.” Like her, I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual woman of a certain age, background, and experience. In this vein, it makes sense that deeper inquiry into the experiences of women from traditions and backgrounds that are different than my own may enrich my understanding of a wider range of possibilities in terms of how women interact with each other...it might even further a critical interrogation of feminism itself.

How, you ask?

Here's an example: Could it be that a bit of ethnocentrism is at work in the assertion that all (or even most) modern women compete for men to gain access to what is held up as norm; the nuclear family headed by one man with one subordinate women – and see other women as standing in our way? Might this issue, which is connected to the concept of isolation within marriage and the nuclear family, be one that has been identified as a problem by the primarily white, mid-to-upper class feminists of the 2nd wave as if it were a universal women's issue?

bell hooks (1984, 2000) challenges this assertion of the early and mid-20th century women’s movement; she writes that women of color had not flocked to feminism en masse in order to experience the solidarity with other women that white mid-to-upper class women were experiencing for the first time, because they themselves had always been in community with women. Indeed, she recalls being unable to relate to the joyous reveling that she witnessed white women experiencing in their togetherness when she first entered women’s studies classes at Stanford University in the early 1970’s, because isolation from other women had not been part of her own experience.

hooks' memories of a life lived in closeness with other women stand in contrast to those of most of her white contemporaries, but are echoed by Luisah Teish (pg. 11, 1985):

Now I began to take special notice of the women in my community. It seems I had a mother on every block. This, of course, was a double-edged sword. On one side, I would not go hungry or fall down sick without “Auntie, Cousin, Sister, or Big Moma” So-and-So doing something about it. On the other hand, if I committed a transgression six blocks away from home I could get at least five scoldings and two whippings before I got home to receive the final one. When a woman had a baby in my neighborhood, the neighbor women “slaughtered a fatted calf” so to speak, and fed her other children, cleaned her house, and visited regularly for the next two weeks.
In light of the tightly woven matrix of bonds between Black women described by hooks and Teish, it seems plausible to believe that modern models for the creative dynamic of women in living in community with one another exist today.

Carrying along this idea, Rushing (1996) states her research has convinced her that there is an unbroken circle of women’s lives from Africa across the Atlantic into the Americas. African women expect their closest emotional bonds to be with their natal family, the women they grew up with, and the children they bear. She cites weak emotional bonds between husbands and wives. Although many Western white middle and upper class women may harbor similar leanings, they are expected by society to bond with and relate primarily to their husband.

Rushing sees this pattern of marriage and family life repeating in African-American women, “I re-see not only African-American extended family relationships, beauty parlors, the pivotal role of women in our churches, and the whole valiant history of the “Negro” women’s club movement” (pg. 124, 1996).

These are just a few examples of women living in cooperation as opposed to competition and conflict with one another. Can you think of others? Perhaps you are living such a model of solidarity? Please share!


HERE'S WHERE WE'RE GOING
In the next (and final) installments of this Real Grrl Power series we'll:

  • look at some images of women sharing support, connection, compassion from True Blood
  • move into a discussion of women as each other's allies, helpers & guides
  • close with an exploration of women united in ritual – personal and political power expressed in women’s rite, as they were suppressed so were women’s rights and connections to one another
We're looking forward to having you come along for the ride!
 Until next time...


~ Rachel

References

Abramowitz, M. (1996). Regulating the lives of women: Social welfare policy from colonial times to the present. Boston: South End Press.

Christ, C.(1997) Rebirth of the goddess. New York: Routledge.

hooks, bell. (1984, 2000). Feminist theory: From margin to center. Cambridge: South End Classics.

Lowinsky, N.R. (1992). Stories from the motherline: Reclaiming the mother-daughter bond, finding our feminine souls. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Noble, V. (1991). Shakti woman: Feeling our fire, healing our world. The new female shamanism. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Rushing, A. B. (1996). “On Becoming a Feminist: Learning from Africa.” In Terborg-Penn, R. & Rushing, A. B. Women in Africa and the African diaspora: A reader. (pp. 121-134). Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press.

Stone, M. (1976). When god was a woman. New York: Harcourt, Inc.

Teish, L.(1998). Jambalaya. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled "Real Grrrl Power" Series To Share a Lived Experience of Women in Solidarity!

Breaking News: We interrupt your regularly scheduled "Real Grrrl Power" series to bring you a new development - your salonnières Rachel & Rebecca recently shared an honest-to-goodness (and delightful) lived experience with women being mutually supportive and relating positively to each other at the BlogHer 2010 Holiday Meet-Up in New York City!

It seems that all the cosmic forces were aligned on the night of December 7th; Rebecca found out about the event and took care of signing us up just in time (that means I was her +1), and after carefully picking out two titles to donate to the often neglected and maligned teen demographic via BlogHer's book drive...


...we just so happened to be walking past the nondescript exterior of the building where the meet-up was taking place at precisely the moment when the organizers were putting the "You Belong Here" placard in the window.

OK, that's a little bit of a fib...we walked around Union Square in the cold, cursing the cabbie who dropped us off without a clue of where the address and cross street we requested was for a while first, but we really were passing the venue just as the BlogHer Holiday Meet-Up sign was going up. One of the co-founders of BlogHer was responsible for setting out the signage that gave us our bearings, and as we thanked her and scooted in the door - partly blown in by the icy wind - she said, "you found your people"...and she couldn't have been more right!

 Held in the Union Square Ballroom's Lounge, the event was imbued with an intimate yet enlivening ambiance and atmosphere which was perfect for meeting and connecting with other women bloggers.


       
Although I must say, one of the first things we noticed (and that Rebecca said out loud) when we entered the space, was that "there are dudes here!" We were caught a little off guard seeing guys at a BlogHer event since the stated mission of BlogHer is to bring more visibility and recognition to women writers and bloggers, but as the evening went on we found out that the men present were either employed by the organization, or the agency that was partnering to facilitate the book drive.

Not that we have any problem with dudes at a BlogHer event, or most anywhere for that matter...

...but the food was great, the mood was festive, and we had the opportunity to mix and mingle with women who are writing a wide variety of blogs, ranging from etiquette to sex to mothering. We found that many women bloggers seem to be in the marketing and social media fields - those whom we met that night were more than happy to share their insights from the biz and give us tips on how we can get our blog in front of more readers. One major takeaway was: if you're a blogger, Twitter is your friend! We've still got to figure out how to make Twitter work for us...

We also noticed that a lot of women in the blogosphere seem to be writing and building community around lifestyle blogs. We met and exchanged contact information some great ladies and were pleased to find that they seemed quite receptive to the idea of blogging about the human condition and social issues through the lens of True Blood.

We're so glad to see some of our BlogHer friends already dropping into the Pierced Pomegranate Tavern and we look forward to others stopping by - and hopefully joining the discourse - as well!

After the event we ended up at the Tick-Tock Diner, which is the after-everything spot for us when we're in NYC, hungry, and not yet ready to go home. As we reflected on the meet-up over dessert and tea, we agreed that prior to becoming aware of BlogHer, we hadn't realized that there is a community - women's or otherwise - growing up around blogging. I guess we both envisioned lone word warriors tapping away at our keyboards in solitary anonymity. Not so! BlogHer seems like a great resource for newbies like us, or anyone who is writing - or who wants to.

Please do check BlogHer out: http://www.blogher.com/. We intend to register the Pierced Pomegranate Tavern to be indexed on BlogHer forthwith!

All I know is...now that we've met and connected with other women writing compelling blogs in the supportive context of BlogHer:

  • we've got a lot more reading to do
AND
  • we have more cause to believe that YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS WOMEN'S SOLIDARITY


SORRY, I REALIZE IT'S CHEESY BUT WITH LESS THAN A WEEK 'TILL CHRISTMAS I COULDN'T RESIST! 

Rebecca and Rachel at BlogHer's 2010 Holiday Meet-Up
Next time you hear from me I'll be back on track with the next installment in the "Real Grrrl Power" series. Until then...love and peace...or else!

~ Rachel