Journal Part 2

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Sara Cooper, “Burning Down the Canon: Queer Family and Queer Text in Flaming Iguanas”

Cooper’s essay on Lopez’ queer aesthetic highlighted the multiple instances of deconstruction of the family, both in terms of the traditional American conception thereof as well as Lopez’ own queer family structure. As the article points out, Lopez often and easily puts the idealized  white, heterosexual, nuclear family into sharp relief, effectively debunking the notion of the family unit as stable and impenetrable, so long as it does not stray too far from the “Leave it to Beaver” conception of “normal.” Yet this myth has been debunked many times, as early as the fifties by shows such as the Honeymooners, and in a sense Lopez only repeats what other commentators have already said, she just uses a different language.

To me, the more interesting parts of her story occurred during her exploration and critique of the queer aspects of her home life and sexuality, which she both glorifies and normalizes, sometimes doing both at once. The article points to a pivotal moment in Tomato’s quest to realize her lesbian identity, during which she sleeps with the experienced older lesbian Hodie, yet does not feel transformed by the experience. In this one short scene she begins by idealizing what she sees as a rebellious attack against the norm and the potential to become a stereotypical lesbian archetype through Hodie, something which she both fears and desires. Yet by the end of it she has rejected her previous urge to fit neatly into one category and instead insists on embracing all parts of herself and feeling liberated in her new contradictory, multifaceted identity. Cooper summarizes this change in perspective, writing that: “Queer family does not admit the restraints even of an alternative or subculture, and the protagonist does not shy away from claiming her own unique identity, even when that transgresses the limitations implied by any externally-conceived label. Quite the opposite, she is delighted to ignore societal norms, or better, to taunt those around her (especially the reader) by going one step further.” Here Lopez does what few authors before her have done: she acknowledges the restraints and norms within subcultures and asserts the idea that one should not need to live by these restrictions, or by any restrictions for that matter. Her concept of identity rejects the idea of belonging to a specific place, and being defined by a single culture, even if that culture formed as a space of rebellion against conventional society. She promotes an entirely individualistic take on identity, similar to Judith Butler’s who, like Lopez, sees identity as less of a concret and permanent aspect of the self, but as something extremely maleable that changes based on however and whatever we choose to express on any given day. Cooper’s article reveals the complex theory hidden within Lopez’ text and as a result provides evidence of an important and challenging text deserving of a more prominent place in the literary canon.

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Who Does She Think She Is?

While exploring the lives of the five artists in “Who Does She Think She Is,” the movie kept returning to the private family lives of each of the women, and for almost all of them, uncovers the reality of divorce, or fundamental flaw in the relationship between the women and their husbands. This struck me as odd, but not because I was surprised by their husband’s resistance to their unconventional and time consuming occupations. This fear of empowered women and uncertainty regarding their place in the marriage was one of the central elements to the backlash against all three waves of feminism. Rather, I was confused as to why, in the present day, divorce amongst female artists would be considered an “epidemic.” Such a trend does not get brought up nearly as much with reagards to other professional women such as surgeons, lawyers, teachers etc, who all have equally, if not more time consuming careers than those of women artists. When talking about these women most media sources refer to them in the abstract: they ask if women can have it all not “women surgeons” or “women lawyers.” Out of all the career choices a women can make, everything I have read or watched points to the life of an artist as the most isolating. The movie never really explores what makes this job unique as it focuses more on the women themselves and their art, which I personally have no problem with. However I still would like to someday find an answer to this question so that I’m not left with only my assumptions, which point to the tendency of women artists to be possessing of radical thought and unconventional ways of living, which openly reject the traditional standards and values of the American nuclear family. Of course, as the movie showed, exceptions such as Camille Musser and Janis Wunderlich exist so this theory may not be altogether accurate. In the future I will try to seek out a definite answer as I think the conclusions will probably be more interesting and complex than what I can gather with only a small glance into the world of the established woman artist.

Film in class: Women, Art, Revolution [Lynn Hershman, 2011]

Before “Women, Art, Revolution,” the only knowledge I had of the seventies feminist art wave came from plates of work by artists such as Judy Chicago and Ana Mendieta, as well as brief mentions of the movement in my art history classes. I had never taken an extensive look at this particular element of the second wave feminist movement until now. After watching the film I wish I had looked more deeply into the movement earlier, as it has put so much of modern day work by women artists into context. The artists I am familiar with: women like Kara Walker who creates explicit, disturbing paper cutouts depicting plantation life in the pre-Civil War South, or Catherine Opie who explores gender identity on her own body by carving scenes reflective of her relationships and gender expression into her skin, probably would not be the established artists they are today had it not been for the women in the film. The very foundations of feminist art and the beginnings of an interweaving of feminist and racial commentary in various mediums began to happen within this movement, so, watching the process by which these women found their own art identity and clashed with the patriarchal boundaries that often barred them from getting even a basic level of support for their work was both a fascinating and emotionally exhausting experience. Overall however, the film left me with a sense of pride in their perseverance and an affirmation of belief that socially transgressive women such as these should feature more prominently in Contemporary art history texts as well as classroom discussion of art during this period. They revolutionized the very idea of art, so I believe the means by which we learn about art must undergo a revolution as well in the classroom and everywhere else.

Erika Lopez, Flaming Iguanas: An All-Girl Road Novel Thing

Erika Lopez’ honest, humor, and colloquial yet assertive voice, for me, plays an incredibly important role in the novel as it allows her to communicate complicated ideas on gender, race, and realizing one’s identity in a way that many girls who feel misunderstood by mainstream society can relate to, regardless of whether they have taken a gender studies class or not. Throughout the whole book in fact, she brings up thoughts and feelings many girls, especially of my generation have had and writes about them as if writing a diary entry, yet constantly analyzes her action, bringing to light new insights on her ever shifting identity. Her meditations on race for example reflect a kind of confusion of place, or rather, of where she belongs culturally and socially that women of color can especially relate to. Her thoughts on the subject become extremely subversive, such as when she expresses her desire to “speak in twang and belong to the KKK. Experience the brotherhood and simplicity of opinions.” (pg. 28) This need for belonging takes on an extreme, emotive quality, and in a way serve as the colorful reflection of the many essays and journals written on racial dynamics within patriarchal systems that put her experiences and experiences like hers into theories and thesis statements. This is not to say that journals of this type don’t have a purpose. They have a way of articulating information that allows people to distance themselves from damaging social constructs, analyze them, and invent ways of combating these harmful structures as well as understand them better. Yet for the most part many of these sources for political enlightenment remain out of reach for those not heavily involved in academia. Many may not even have the chance to go to a school where such texts can be taught and dissected in the classroom, thus, while effective, such sources of information have a very limited audience. Authors like Lopez provide a unique service to her many women, minorities, and queers who read her books and society overall: she gives them the tools to discuss and validate their feelings towards their families, friends, communities, and their own identities. She encourages honesty and the desire to become a self-actualized human beings despite America’s habit of disapproving that which does not fit within the norm. Most importantly, she demonstrates bravery in the face of confusion and uncertainty about one’s place in the world, and I believe that her works can contribute directly to a dramatic increase in self-assured young women both able and willing to challenge the constructs they have long since outgrown.