Best of Catherynne M. Valente’s “Deathless”

Catherynne M. Valente is one of my favourite writers of all time. I have read almost everything she has written. She’s a feminist, her books always have queer characters, and her writing is nothing short of magic. She’s pretty much The Closet Feminist dream.

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Here are some of my favourite quotes from her book Deathless.

When Marya saw something extraordinary again, she would be ready. She would be clever. She would not let it ruler her or trick her. She would do the tricking, if tricking was called for. (p.24)

When I am Tsarita, I will break all these machines and I will set them free. (p.110)

A marriage is a private thing. It has its own wild laws, and secret histories, and savage acts, and what passes between married people is incomprehensible to outsiders. We look terrible to you, and severe, and you see our blood flying, but what we carry between us is hard-won, and we made it just as we wished it to be, just the color, just the shape. (p.215-216)

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This house, she knew. It stayed within her as it had always been, the architecture of her girlhood. The wood held the oils of her skin deep in its grain; the windows still bore the imprint—long gone, invisible—of her tiny nose. (p.239)

I cannot make you understand that I forgive you, that I know you loved both he and I, the way a mother can love two sons. And no one should be judged for loving more than they ought, only for loving not enough, which was my crime. (p.320)

We Would Have Been Pantalette Suffragettes!

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This is a scan from the latest issue of BUST*, their Dec/Jan 2014 issue. This gem is by “Museum of Femoribilia” columnist Lynn Peril.

Women, pants, and power have been mixed up together since suffragist Amelia Bloomer paraded around in “Turkish trousers” in the 1850s […] Women in pants and other imagined abominations of post-suffrage world (men watching babies or doing housework were two popular themes) were frequently depicted on the picture postcards of the era.

-from “Full Bloomers” by Lynn Peril

 

Women wearing pants are still an issue–just think of all the intense critiques focused on Hilary Clinton’s pantsuits, or how Kate Middleton very rarely makes a public appearance in anything but a skirt or a dress. Last December even, news broke that Mormon women were protesting the unspoken rule that they not wear pants to church. It just goes to show that what we wear is powerful and can be very political, and our ability to wear something often comes from the tireless activism of women before us. Here at The Closet Feminist, we’re pretty sure we would have been Pantalette Suffragettes ourselves, and are grateful for feminists getting out there and wearing what they want.

BONUS: Watch Hilary Swank, Anjelica Huston, and Vera Farmiga engage in some serious activism while looking seriously stylish as the suffragettes in Iron-Jawed Angels.

*Support feminist media where it exists! Subscribe to BUST here, follow Peril on Twitter here.

So Many Smiling White Women: A Look at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Lily Aldrige, Karlie Kloss, Adriana Lima, Candice Swanepoel, Bahati Prinsloo, Alessandra Ambrosio

Above: from the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is arguably the fashion show of the year. Think about it–even superstars like Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel does not get the incredible amount of press coverage that this single fashion show does. Even the hype surrounding the show has been heard for months before hand with sensationalist headlines on fashion websites everywhere, this year focused on the will-she-or-won’t-she appearance of “Angel” Miranda Kerr in the show.

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It’s interesting, because the VS show is focused entirely on, and seemingly defined by, the women in a way you don’t really see in any other fashion show. The reason for this is obvious in many ways, but it is also curious because you can probably name at least three of the models who walked the show, whereas you might be stumped to name the actual designer behind the looks shown, not to mention the designer(s) don’t walk out and give a bow at the end after the models do the finale–it really is just about the models.

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Above: Sad models= status quo. This is Edie Campbell in the Spring 2014 RTW Calvin Klein show.

The annual show of Angels is further an enigma because unlike other fashion shows, it is billed as a fun event (rather like a pageant), with zany themes and costumes, and the models actually smile and look like they are enjoying themselves. Other fashion shows clearly discourage such displays of apparent happiness, and models sent down the catwalk of the regular NYFW are seen scowling or with no expression at all (like Edie Campbell above)–not that that is a problem. With the Victoria’s Secret show, you have a happy Taylor Swift singing, theatrics, confetti, etc.

This all seems like good stuff, but here comes the feminist critique– and to be clear, this is not against the models themselves–here at The Closet Feminist we’re actually huge fans of Victoria’s Secret Angels like Cameron Russell. The critique here is based on the institution of this particular fashion show. Here’s a list of things to consider.

1. Have you noticed that the show is (unsurprisingly) overwhelmingly represented by white models? So many Smiling White Women.

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Above: Karlie Kloss doing her thing. Side note–have you noticed that Karlie Kloss is the darling of the supermodel world like Jennifer Lawrence is of Hollywood at the moment? Have you noticed that they both have blonde hair and blue eyes? Do you think this is a coincidence–because we think not. 

2. While the show may be one of the highest-paying events of a model’s career, the money does not come without heartache–Jezebel described the casting process for the show as “hell on earth

3. Given this, it is not a far stretch to suggest that this show is not the progressive, girly paradise it wants to portray. Sure, it could be considered a celebration of (white, thin, able-bodied, cisgendered) girl power, but take it all with a grain of salt.


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Above: Model Lindsay Ellingson having fun?

4. If this show is a commercial representation of sexy and fun, who is being shown as sexy and fun? Not women of colour, plus-size women, women with short hair, not folks who appear to be anything other than the very epitome of cisgendered, feminine beauty.

5. Did you know that Liu Wen is the first Asian model to walk the VS show? She made her first appearance in 2009. 2009, people.

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Above: As far as we can tell, Sui He pictured above was the only model of Asian descent to walk the show. Liu Wen was not present.

6. There’s currently a petition circulating to get Victoria’s Secret to hire Carmen Carrera, a transgender model which would be a good step towards diversity.

7. Has the VS show ever hired a Native American model? Or do they just get white models to dress up in offensive costumes portraying their ignorant understanding of Native American identity?

 

 

High Fashion: Why Modeling x Drug Use is a Feminist Issue

By: Emily Yakashiro

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 Above: Sky Ferreira modelling in the Marc Jacobs Spring 2014 show

Relatively recently news broke that musician/model Sky Ferreira was busted for drug possession. Cue the whole fashion world freaking out, complete with recollections of Kate Moss‘s infamous drug scandal not far behind. When it comes to Ferreira my question is: does it really matter that this young, female model/musician uses drugs?

It’s complicated, but I say no; it does not matter by and large that Ferreira was caught with drugs. Kate Moss is still famous, and Ferreira will be, too. And that’s fine by me.

Unsurprisingly, this all seems to boil down to stereotypical gender roles and policing women and what they (should not) do. Women like Ferreira and Moss can be “bad girls,” but even within that label are expected not to cross certain lines, and using drugs is one of those lines (no pun intended). In addition to the million other things women aren’t supposed to do (walk alone at night, have sex for pleasure, take up too much space on public transit, wear certain things…) they can’t engage in recreational drug use. It’s really so silly–do you really expect Ferreira to stay at home every night and crochet blankets for orphans? I don’t think so.

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Above: The new UN Women x Google campaign–can you see how Ferreira’s drug scandal is connected?

Male celebrities get crucified for drug use, too, but they get famous in a way that only a few women have done also (Rihanna and Mary-Louise Parker in Weeds come to mind). Just think: Cheech and Chong, the cast of Dazed and Confused, Party Monster, The Darjeeling Limited, and other stoner classics, and musicians of all sorts from Willy Nelson to Bob Marley. Bottom line: young ladies don’t do drugs, and stoner culture is for bros.

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Above: Ferreira modelling for the Saint Laurent Pre-Fall 2013 lookbook

I’m not saying drugs are inherently good or okay by any means, but you can’t deny the double standard. For Ferreira and the fashion world especially, you see how a young woman is apparently going to be missing out on making money and will be losing contracts from her affiliated designers for her so-called ‘youthful’ and ‘foolish’ actions. Furthermore, figures like her are lampooned for already representing what many assume to be an unhealthy lifestyle (i.e., all models all anorexic, etc)–adding drugs to the mix certainly throws her name into question. Let’s keep in mind, however, that Ferreira was not on the clock when she got caught with the drugs. If she had shown up to a photoshoot and was throwing ecstasy around like it was confetti, I can see how that might reflect poorly on her professional reputation–but that never happened.

All this is ridiculous considering the fashion designers who might be shunning her now are no angels themselves, being guilty of everything including rampant racism, virulent sexism, fat-oppression, cultural appropriation, elitism, even Nazism, and they are still applauded and worshipped. Compared to this, so what if Ferreira is caught with some ecstasy? As Lynn Crosbie points out in “Return of the Comeback” in the December 2013 issue of Fashion:

Even though the whole stupid point of making stupid money and being famous is–among other things–to forget to wear panties, drink to excess and hit everything in sight, celebrity roués are constantly scrutinized with a hybrid prurient and and puritanical gaze that demands they never stop showing skin, and be damned while they do it.

I also really want to resist the “but she’s a role model” argument in connection to Ferreira and others who are or have been in her boat like Moss. As Tracy Moore has recently pointed out in her article on Jezebel, “Stop Hailing Women as Good or Bad Role Models,”

One group of women’s perfect role model is another group’s batshit weirdo, so could we please stop christening women good or bad role models as if there is any one such thing? Also, it’s just a backdoor way to slut-shame/police behavior. Own it! It’s just another version of the same game of trying to pin what women do — famous or otherwise — into a neat little box of an appropriate use of their brains, talents and bodies that we’d like our girls to emulate.  

 

To prove that young women (and women in general) know what they’re talking about and not these soft little creatures we need to be hypervigilant, protective, and wilfully ignorant of, I turn, as always in times of crisis, to Rookie. As is well-established, Tavi & Co. know their sh!t–they interviewed Ferreira last February. And if Rookie is okay with Ferreira, so am I–drugs and all.

 

 

 

Who Says Halloween Costumes Have to Be Intellectual?

By: Emily Yakashiro

I have noticed a curious trend when it comes to critiques of “sexy” Halloween costumes: that such costumes are criticized (in addition to everything else) for being ‘lazy’ because they are not especially creative or inspired–and that this is somehow a bad thing.

Now, yeah, to my mind, “Sexy Shark” costumes don’t really shout creative.

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And I take issue with these costumes below because they are SUPER RACIST and problematic, and that whoever wears them has put no thought into how their costume might hurt someone.

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Costume images above found here.

Still, this tendency to lampoon sexy halloween costumes (provided they are not racist like the ones above) as especially not creative and therefore intellectually offensive and/or lazy is something I take issue with.

First of all, why do costumes have to be intellectual, creative, or thoughtful? I live in Vancouver/Coast Salish Territories, and I have observed that, day to day, the citizens here aren’t all that stylish–and that’s okay. As such, it does not surprise me at all that people here might not have the most outrageously creative and innovative Halloween costumes. Nor do I expect them to: why would people who prefer comfy layers and athletic wear go all out for Halloween? It seems to be a dissonant expectation to me.

Second, I find this troubling because of the gender expectations that are colliding with women’s intellectual capabilities. Women shouldn’t wear sexy Halloween costumes because they’re creatively uninspired and not loaded with intellectual meaning? Give me a break. Women are too busy working for 70% of what men are paid, fighting to break the glass ceiling, and balancing the many responsibilities in their lives–and now they have to come up with an creative, artsy Halloween costume with a decent intellectual explanation behind it, or else be considered lazy? I call bullsh*t, ’cause that kind of sentiment is teeming with some sort of intellectual elitism to me. I’m (not) sorry, but I can totally see the appeal of just quickly grabbing a sexy Devil costume off the shelves of whatever grocery store I’m in and heading out to a party.

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Third, it’s entirely possible to wear a store-bought sexy Halloween costume and for said costume to have intellectual meaning to the wearer. Store bought costumes are great for those of us who aren’t talented with a sewing machine (for example, I love the idea behind Take Back Halloween, but a lot of their suggested costumes are way beyond my sewing level and/or price point), and besides that, meaning can be ascribed to sexy Halloween outfits. For example, in school I studied world religion, with a focus on women in religion (shocker, right?). Being an introvert, perhaps I would don one of those sexy witch costumes as a conversation starter, and I could go into a whole conversation about the European witch hunt and misogyny–which, incidentally, was the topic of my final undergrad paper. Or, I could talk about how historically inaccurate my costume is, and go into how I’ve been reading lots of stuff by Starhawk lately and how inspiring it has been. It wouldn’t have to be this intellectual or anything at all, but the possibilities are there.

Lastly, as I’ve mentioned before, I have a history herstory of wearing supremely lazy Halloween costumes and calling it a night. From Halloween 2007-Halloween 2011 I had the privilege of being a university student with a full course load and working and volunteering. Those were my personal priorities, and as much as I love fashion and clothes, I couldn’t afford to spend money or time on putting together a great costume. I threw together a costume last-minute based on clothes I already had or just pinned on a sheet–really. And I know that wearing a sheet for a costume is just as “lazy” or uncreative as wearing a sexy, store-bought Halloween costume, but somehow I don’t ever get flak for wearing the former…

It has nothing to do with the fact that I know nothing about creativity or fashion, nor that I am not a smart or intellectual person. I would also like to resist those who might say, “but you’re different, you’re a feminist, you at least wore an artfully draped sheet not a slutty pirate costume,” because that hasn’t always been true. While I’ve been a feminist forever, I’ve worn some really offensive costumes in the past few years that I deeply regret. I’m a smart, feminist woman, but I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve done stupid things, but I’m not a stupid person–I’m learning and growing just like everyone else, and I would assume the same for the women in the Sexy ______ costumes I’m bound to see on Thursday night.

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