“Bad Blood”: How Non-intersectional Feminism Harms Minority Women Everywhere

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The most publicized drama surrounding this year’s Video Music Awards features Hip-Hop artist Nicki Minaj, and Pop singer Taylor Swift.

After seeing that her videos were not nominated for either Video of the Year or Best Choreography, Minaj took to Twitter to vent about her disappointment of the nominee selection committee for this year. She tweeted about how the majority of nominations for Video of the Year feature women with slim physiques, which notably contrasts with the women in her video, which all have thick body types. Taylor Swift saw this rant as a personal critisism towards her “Bad Blood” video being nominated for Video of the year, and she defensively replied to the tweet by scolding Minaj for supposedly attacking her. Minaj then replies by clarifying that she was not directly referencing Swift, and that she was instead addressing another issue, one that Taylor should have been able to identify and acknowledge. Swift tried to quickly change the subject, but the damage was already done. She had already revealed her ignorance of the subject Minaj was addressing, which is the discrimination against black female artists in today’s context.

The “Anaconda” video broke records by attracting 19.6 million Vevo views in the first 24 hours after being released. This video featured dancing in various fashions, with a large focus directed towards their thick body types. The choreography features dancing such as twerking, and other dance moves that accentuate their non-traditional body types. These features qualified the video for a nomination for the “Best Female Video” and “Best Hip Hop Video” categories, but despite the record breaking views and the appraisal from the media, this video was not nominated for any of the “big” categories such as Video of the Year and Best Choreography. For this reason Minaj publicly expressed her dissatisfaction in this year’s nominee choices, and she identified the problematic discrimination used against her in this case.

The problem that Minaj is addressing is the discredit that black female artists face. While Minaj’s video is considered entertaining, it is not viewed as a legitimate art form. It qualifies for more specific subcategories such as Hip-Hop or Best Female Video, but these categories do not coincide with the white, male dominated culture of today. Hip-Hop has a connotation of black culture, and this paired with the label of female implies a lower-class citizen. This means that anything created by and for these demographics is automatically discredited as an art form. Lorde would describe this as degradation of art, and she would attribute this degradation to the inability to recognize difference as an enriching quality rather than a deteriorating deviation (Lorde). In order to understand a foreign art form, one must understand the culture and background which influences said art. This would lead art to be fully appreciated within its context.

This is a problem that Minaj immediately identified, but others were not so quick to see this inequality. When Taylor Swift defensively replied to Minaj’s tweets, she was demonstrating that she did not fully understand the problem that was being addressed. Swift describes herself as a feminist, but one problem with modern feminism is that many white women fail to address the further disadvantage that face women of color. Because of white privilege engrained into our society, the default for women’s rights benefit white women more often than not. Lorde rigorously critiques this problem, as she explains that ignoring the differences of race perpetuates these inequalities and disadvantages. Instead of helping the progression of all women, this type of feminism only works in favor of white women (Lorde). Failure to address an issue actually does nothing to relieve that issue, even though it may seem so. This twitter instance is an example of how the non-intersectional feminism movement of today creates a façade of progression and security for all women, even though this force is only working towards white women, who naturally benefit and hold power over the entirety feminist community.

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Pretty Hurts (Just Ask Beyoncé)

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As one of the most recognizable and influential women in the music industry, Beyoncé startled and touched millions of fans with her “Pretty Hurts” music video in 2014.

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This dark video is set in a beauty pageant, the ultimate modern measurement of a woman’s exterior beauty. The chilling, soulful ballad follows the pageant participants from far before the show to highlight the extensive preparation that goes into the pageant process. Each woman is manipulating her body in attempt to be thinner, have better makeup, wear flattering clothing, and achieve the perfect hair. From spray tans, teeth whitening, bulimia, cotton ball diets, and extreme exercise, the women are doing everything they possibly can to be the most appealing to the judges, all of which are males. At one point, a male judge is shown taking notes on the women, critiquing their flaws as they stand smiling and waving, selling themselves for acceptance.

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Every person orchestrating the pageant is a male. Irigaray says, “just as a commodity has no mirror it can use to reflect itself, so woman serves as reflection, as image of and for man but lacks specific qualities of her own. Her value-invested form amounts to what man inscribes in and on its matter: that is, her body” (Irigaray). It is the men that decide which traits are appealing and write the questions for the women to answer at the pageant. The men’s expectations and pageant standards seem like the only way for the women to find meaning and success, so they resort to unhealthy and life threatening habits in order to feel a sense of acceptance and self-worth. After all the pain, adjustments, and emotions, Beyoncé still doesn’t win or meet the standards.

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In another scene, Beyoncé is shown in front of her numerous pageant trophies that overlook her room. These trophies are objects that quantify her worth, which are given to her as a prize for her beauty by the male judges. This scene raises the questions of “is all the pain worth the prize?” and “does she feel complete?” Similar to the trophies, the women stand on the stage during the competition in the same positions, smiling, done-up, lined up like trophies. Irigaray states that women are, “objects that emblematize the materialization of relations among men.” (Irigaray). These women have turned into the men’s objects and commodities. They might as well be trophies. By shaping their appearance and gearing their existence toward pleasing males, their body is not even their own anymore.tumblr_nasitfTSOS1tk76tdo1_r2_500

Although this beauty competition seems patriarchal and makes it easy to point fingers at the males involved, the women are not lifting each other up and banding together. The very first scene, the participants are sizing each other up in the dressing room, snarling at each other, and promoting unrealistic standards. Not once does a woman smile when she’s not on stage. Although these women are in the same position, experiencing the same pain and pressure, they act as individuals and don’t acknowledge the existence or pain that they all share. Lorde notes that, “unacknowledged class differences rob women of each other’s energy and creative insight” (Lorde) and “refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women” (Lorde). The women are not only battling against men, but against each other, and ultimately, themselves. If they isolate themselves, they fall even further into the downward spiral in the video.

The video ends with a clip of young Beyoncé Knowles winning a pageant and flashes back to the Pretty Hurt’s pageant, showing that the same standards and pressure exists throughout a woman’s life from the time she is a child virgin to the time she is a grown woman, dressed in scandalous clothes and sexually exposed.

Works Cited

Irigaray, Luce. “Women on the Market.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining the Difference.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Pretty Hurts. Perf. Beyoncé. Columbia Records, 2014. Music Video.

The University

College is a place for learning. It’s a place for learning about chemistry, economics, art history, etc., but most of all it’s about learning how to find yourself. Right? That’s why so many people refer to college as the best years of their lives. And why is this? Because they were out of their parents’ homes? Sure. Because they were constantly around their friends? Why not. But because they were free individuals? Not quite.

Vanderbilt University is no exception when it comes to the subtle integration of discipline into college life, and it is certainly not exempt from its status as an Ideological State Apparatus. The feeling of freedom exists certainly. But is it warranted? Let us think first of the purpose of Vanderbilt and other universities. They exist, in theory, to serve as education institutions that seek to facilitate and encourage the growth of the minds of their student bodies, while simultaneously preparing their attendants for life in the workforce with respect to whatever career they may eventually come to choose. Right here, even at a concept so basic, we see that the implications of such an institution existing point to some deeper forces at work. Not necessarily sinister forces, mind you, but forces that may not be initially apparent in the mission statement. Like any school or university, Vanderbilt is what Althusser would call an Ideological State Apparatus. Students are educated here not only in the academic disciplines, but also in the practices and protocols of the ideology of the state, i.e. the USA, a capitalist republic. Education is sought to an end: employment, which is essential for proper function within a capitalist society. Students are also expected to behave in a manner fitting to budding productive capitalists, and allowed to take majors that teach western economic theory and give lessons in history according to the side of democracy. Aside from all this, the culture of the university is overwhelmingly capitalist; the atmosphere found at Vanderbilt is no doubt different from that of Moscow State University before 1991, what with “Vandy’s” traditional upper-middle class attire and frequent partying. The Vanderbilt experience is certainly academic, but the display of culture, whether deliberately chosen by the powers that be or not, says a lot about the nature of the University as a capitalist institution.

Then we come to the subject of how the university is kept from disorder. Any community this large must have some guidelines and rules in place to keep it from falling to total chaos. There a few notable examples of this: the honor code, residential advisors, and, of course, VUPD. The honor code is a rather obvious example of the Panoptic systems described by Foucalt; power that is visible but unverifiable. Every student signs the honor code as a freshman. Subsequently, every student is made aware of the penalties put in place should this code be broken. The entire premise of the code is made apparent in the name: honor. A somewhat vague term nowadays, but nevertheless, provocative. Nobody wants to be called dishonorable, and more importantly, nobody wants to suffer the consequences associated with these dishonorable activities. Thus, while in most cases, violations of the honor code could usually pass by undiscovered, so many students adhere to it. The factor of risk is always present. Each student knows that there exists a possibility that a member of the faculty, or even according to the honor code itself, another student could at any point during their violation discover them and turn them in for punishment. One cannot guarantee this discovery in most rational cases, but the fear is still there. Of course, in addition to this fear of an imperceptible observer, students themselves are used by the system so that set observers are not even necessary: the student begins to observe himself. This is the concept of honor. The punishments dictated by professors and other faculty are supplemented by the punishment that the cheater gives himself (in at least some cases). I am referring, of course, to guilt. Now, there are more obvious structures in place as well, and I made reference to both the RA staff and VUPD earlier. These two are fairly similar. In line with the panoptic systems that Foucalt argues are the foundation for western society and the root of the west’s economic success, enforcement staff on Vanderbilt’s campus serve to similar ends. It is an accepted deduction that drunkeness and otherwise risky or dangerous activities decrease the productivity of students. Punishments for these situations are communicated to everyone. Students know that they are watched and accountable for their actions. Nobody knows when a party will be busted or when some “late-night nausea” can be reported by an RA. Now this system is not perfect, as many still go about as if they were invincible, but the concept remains the same.

Ultimately, once could see Vanderbilt as both an instrument to the larger American soceity, and a society in and of itself. It functions not only as an institution for training the capitalists of tomorrow, but also a disciplinary society in line with Foucalt’s explanations of panopticism and efficiency.

You, Me, and the University

10-30-06 - Fall on Campus - The new Student Life Building and the Studio Arts Building with downtown Nashville Skyline in the background. (Vanderbilt Photo/Neil Brake) Fall Trees Color Leaves Nashville

The university is both an ideological state apparatus and an institution of power. Its subjects are the students that attend the university. It imbues to students the ideology of education. The main way that both of these aspects are realized is through the use of grades.

In particular, grading systems are panoptical. Students are within the university to learn and work. The university wishes to produce the best students that it can. It does this through multiple methods, but one that is particularly interesting is the use of curves. These curves are able to change the grade that one receives in a class so that the distribution of grades are better aligned to the goals of the university. Another aspect of curves is that they are put into effect at the end of a semester. This means that students do not know how much their grades will be curved or even what their actual grade in a class is. For example, in my introductory biology class, I known that there will be a curve of the final grade. However, I have no idea what the magnitude of the curve will be or if the average in the class will stay same or become less/more. The simultaneous visible and unverifiable nature of curves is an example of discipline within the university. It makes its subjects much more efficient and “cut-throat.” I would much rather get a ninety-five on a test and the class average be a fifty than get a ninety-five and the class average be a ninety. Education becomes a subtle form of capitalist thought where the end goal is to use competition to increase efficiency. In an ideal world, everyone receives A’s in their classes. However, not everyone can receive 4..0’s. The value of a 4.0 is directly related to the GPA of the other students in a class. This is panopticism par excellence. Students are assigned numbers that define their ability to adopt the ideology of the university. The GPA is then used as a primary qualifier for students applying to other universities, thus extending the power that these grades have over one’s life.

The relationship of grades to an individual also relates back to how the university interpellates subjects. It can be imagined that the classes within a university are smaller arenas of power where the teacher is the sovereign. Our desire to receive good grades all comes from a basis of being recognized by these sovereigns. An example of this is seen in my biology class, where I was overjoyed when the professor wrote on my last test “Good job Camron!” In a lecture class of about 150 students, this hailing from the sovereign was something of great significance. It is not a regular hailing between two equal subjects, but rather two people in different states of power within a larger institution of power. Not only is this phenomenon isolated to just a single class, but also to a student’s entire career within a university. Graduating at the top of one’s class is the ultimate form of recognition that the university can give a student. It is one of the best ways that universities are able to maintain their power. They create the desire to be recognized in order to create the need to attend a university.

It is not really possible to change the ideological state apparatus aspect of a university. I also don’t think that this is a bad characteristic either, but that is definitely something to be contested. A more interesting discussion would focus on the aspect that grades have as a form of discipline within the university. This is seen in the average GPA of a university. I have heard that there is grade deflation at Vanderbilt. This is especially important as many other institutions of the same caliber as Vanderbilt have grade inflation. Critics of grade deflation say that this practice makes it more difficult for students to get into prestigious medical/law/business schools. Is grade deflation only enhancing the power that grades have over students? Are grades even a good metric to evaluate how much a student learns? Is competition a beneficial aspect of the educational process? All of these are important questions to consider as we are all within the university and are affected by its power.

The Aura and the Apple

Apple is a company that displays rather blatantly everything Benjamin says about “art” and its practical usage in the modern age, while simultaneously having this usage slipping under the radar of most consumers. In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin states that at this point in human history, with the advent of film and photography, all art is used for a political end which means it is essentailly ripped of its aura or pure artistic value. His arguments state that reproductability of these contemporary forms of art removes any authenticity that could be found in unique works, like the Venus de Milo, or ancient mosaics. It then follows, according to him, that this new sort of “art for the masses” will and is used for political ends, and he compares the two extreme ends of the political spectrum. Fascism seeks to use this “art” to give the masses some form of self-expression and artistic individuality without actually raising any of them to a higher level, while communism uses this art for propaganda and supposed informing of the proper ideology of the party and glorification of the worker.

Apple has become a very popular brand within the last few years. Look around and you’ll probably see at least one person with an iPhone in their hand or a MacBook in their lap. The designs are always sleek, shiny, and sexy. While others still choose to remain loyal to their other brands (behavior that is a whole other can of worms in its own right), it seems that the preferred product of a large demographic remains the same: people like Apple.

But why? If one examines the performance of these devices, they work no better than their PC or android counterparts. Sure the aesthetic is eye-catching, but does that really justify the huge price difference between devices? And while Apple certainly claims that each new update “changes everything” or is an absolute “technological innovation,” other than a few minor updates, a device that comes out a year prior to another is not at all noticeably inferior. Adding a letter to the name of something does not make its previous iteration irrelevant, for sure.

Yet we keep coming back to this brainchild of the late Steve Jobs. We throw our time and money to the smug employees of overcrowded Apple Stores (which to someone from about 30 years earlier is not at all what the name suggests). And for what?

The answer is fairly simple and two-pronged: 1) the company is exploiting the capitalist system and the ignorance of the masses (Marx would have a field day here) and 2) the aesthetic, artistic appeal or these products, largely used by people who consider themselves artists, or at least artistic, is used by not a government per se, but a corporation in order to further its agenda.

The first part of the answer to the Apple conundrum is straightforward and largely based in the principle of manufactured demand. Very briefly I will discuss my opinion on this company: I do not very much like Apple, but have immense respect for them as a company, the same way I do for Rockefeller, Carnegie, or anyone else who can successfully procure that much wealth for themselves through the capitalist system. While their goal is certainly not the most noble, their triumph in the execution of their plans is not an easy one. There is a market for a certain product i.e. Apple technology. The firm producing it uses advertising and misleading jargon in order to make the consumers think they need (demand) the product at a level higher than the real market equilibrium would suggest. This increase in demand, while artificial i.e. not based on actual preferences and the utility of the consuming agent, still has very real effects. Quantities consumed will rise, and so will prices. This explains why people seem to need every single new upgrade to their phones or laptops or tablets or giant robot pencils or what have you. But how is this demand manufactured? How is the system of true labor cost vis a vis Marx’s Capital exploited?

The answer to these questions lies in Benjamin’s work. Due to the lack of instantly recognizable fascist imagery, as well as Marx’s and Benjamin’s communist leanings, I chose to use to the hammer and sickle of the USSR in conjunction with the Apple logo, but let us be assured that for our purposes the company is very much fascist, according to Benjamin. Apple has a very large target audience: everyone. One could call this “everyone” the masses, or if Apple fell on the other side of the spectrum, the proletariat. What Apple markets most of its merchandise on is the creative potential that one can unlock through its devices. They are appealing to the mass’ sense of individuality and expression. But these devices are nothing special; they themsleves are no works of art that would inspire the wonder of other civilizations (other than through their technological merit). The scale on which they are produced is truly grand, and exploitation of labor aside, their widespread propagation, at least according to Benjamin, leaves these machines, however pretty to look at, devoid of any aura.We are then left with a political tool. Apple makes lots of cheap products, and sells them through deceptive marketing, displaying images of art and aestheticism, in order to make absurd levels of profit.

So while the services that Apple provides certainly serve a function (possibly another argument as to their lack of artistic merit), and do benefit some people, their value artistically as far as aura goes is negligible, and their usage of this quasi art is indicative of their fascist tendencies.

Ferguson and Anti-Blackness

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Fanon’s works have been especially useful in analyzing socio-political events in postcolonial countries. However, his work can be applied to explain events that happen in other countries, such as the United States. In particular, I would like to look at a specific quote from the reading that I believe has a significant relationship to American society: “In every society, in every collectivity, exists – must exist – a channel, an outlet through which the forces accumulated in the form of aggression can be released” (Fanon 464)

This quote from Fanon is especially useful when trying to analyze the events in Ferguson, but there are first a few assumptions that must be talked about before a truthful analysis can be done-

  1. Civil society is founded on the slavery of black bodies- This argument is true both literally and figuratively. Slaves were used to construct America and made it the global superpower it now is. Additionally, it is also only through the subjugation of blacks that helped to satisfy the libidinal economy of white civil society that allows for its continued existence.
  2. Slavery never ended- the Thirteenth Amendment did not end slavery, but merely masked it. Instead of it existing on the plantation, slavery is now present in the prison-industrial complex.
  3. Blackness is always already criminalized- this assumption explains the events of Ferguson, numerous other killings of unarmed black people across America, and many more racist laws. This means that blackness is criminalized in the collectivized unconscious.

What these arguments mean is that the history of anti-blackness is not something that can be easily resolved. Anti-blackness is what civil society bases its foundations on.

The events that precipitated the protests in Ferguson and the police reactions to the protests are all examples of how anti-blackness is present to this day. Ferguson can be through of as another example of radical black revolt in American history. Other examples include Nat Turner or the Black Liberation Army. But what is even more interesting is the reaction that proceeded them. The reactions were even more acute examples of anti-black violence. This was done to crush any other revolts and to ultimately protect the underpinnings of civil society.

But let’s go back to Fanon‘s quote. Relating the concepts previously discussed, it seems that anti-black violence is the way in which society releases its aggression. Racism and slavery came to be through the libidinal economy of civil society. The libidinal economy can be thought of as the field of desires present in the collectivized unconscious. These desires are expressed as a form of ultra-aggression that assuages the collectivized unconscious. This was seen pre 1860s in the deliberate enslavement of blacks to the present day mass incarceration of black bodies. Policing can be thought of as an example of how society releases aggression. Acts of policing assume that black bodies are always guilty due to their criminalization in the collective unconscious. Larger actions carried out by the government are also ways society releases aggression towards blacks. Examples of this include the COINTELPRO operations during the sixties and seventies and the relief response to Hurricane Katrina. What lies in all of this is the fact that violence toward black bodies is a form of catharsis for civil society. The events in Ferguson are thus a coming together of the concepts listed above.

So, this ultimately all leads to the question of what must be done, a question that has been brought up often post-Ferguson. Is there a way for institutional reform to better account for black lives? Or is reform even possible? If anti-blackness is the foundation of western civil society, wouldn’t the only way to eradicate anti-blackness would be to eradicate western civil society? If one uses some of the reasoning above, it is clear that if we truly want a difference sense of black political ontology, the only option would be radically deconstruct civil society.

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. “The Negro and Psychopathology.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.