Archive for the 'Bodily modification' Category

February 6th 2009
Friday round-up: we ain’t got the do-re-mi

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & European history & Gender & jobs & local news & unhappy endings & women's history

cowgirlguitardoremiI am so glad other people are writing interesting things and posting them on the open-source, non peer-reviewed world wide timewasting web today!  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to click the following links and enjoy the wisdom, mystery, and pathos of it all:

When women are unemployed and looking for a job, the time they spend daily taking care of children nearly doubles. Unemployed men’s child care duties, by contrast, are virtually identical to those of their working counterparts, and they instead spend more time sleeping, watching TV and looking for a job, along with other domestic activities.

.        .        .        .        .         .        .        .        .        .

Historically, the way couples divide household jobs has been fairly resistant to change, says Heidi Hartmann, president and chief economist at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.        

Do tell!  Anyway, I’m off to find those tail-scalpin’ scalawags, for probably only 80 cents on the dollar.  Ride hard, but don’t put your horses away wet, friends.


December 26th 2008
Your tax dollars at work–at sexy fun (for some)!

Posted under Bodily modification & Gender & unhappy endings & women's history

Pay no attention to these people!

This morning, the Denver Post print edition ran an excerpted version of this Washington Post story published yesterday:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country’s roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

Riiiiiight–because we invaded Afghanistan back in 2001 in order to restore traditional patriarchal control of Afghan society?  Well, that’s not how they explained it at the time.  But, hey–men of all nations can bond over the sexual domination of women!  “Uncle Sam” is just doing what works, eh?  (As the headline in the Denver Post reads, “It’s the little things that sway Afghans.”)  Later in the Washington Post story, a veteran CIA officer explains, “You’re trying to bridge a gap between people living in the 18th century and people coming in from the 21st century. . . so you look for those common things in the form of material aid that motivate people everywhere.”  Well, only half of the people, at most.  (Funny how that works!)

Handing out viagra to Afghan chieftains is explained not as the sexual exploitation of women regardless of consent, nor as sex trafficking, but as a way of doing business with a distinguished history:

Among the world’s intelligence agencies, there’s a long tradition of using sex as a motivator. Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer and author of several books on intelligence, noted that the Soviet spy service was notorious for using attractive women as bait when seeking to turn foreign diplomats into informants.

“The KGB has always used ‘honey traps,’ and it works,” Baer said.

It’s just sex, right?  Sex is sexy fun for everyone!  Well, at least for the people the U.S. government cares about–not necessarily for the women involved, but clearly they don’t count. 

I liked it better when President and Mrs. Bush pretended to be feminists and told us that we were invading Afghanistan to liberate women from their burkhas.  Good times, good times.


December 21st 2008
Bad apples, and how they ruin it for the rest of us

Posted under Bodily modification & book reviews & jobs

This weekend’s This American Life radio program was a bellyfull of Christmas candy (including the accompanying stomach ache) for the writer and readers of this blog.  The program, “Ruining It for the Rest of Us,” opened with an interview with researcher Will Phelps Felps, who conducts research on “bad apples” in the workplace (aka bullies), and how they can take over an office culture.  His conclusions?  The bad news is that bad apples can single-handedly commandeer a workplace culture and drive it into the ditch.  He hired an actor to play one of three “bad apple” types:  the bullying jerk (who attacks and insults people), the slacker, and the depressive pessimist. 

The good news is that leadership by another person can counteract the effect of the bad apple.  This person doesn’t directly confront the bully, but instead asks questions, engages team members, and works to diffuse conflicts.  (This happened in only one group, however; in every other test case Phelps Felps ran, the bad apple dominated the group, and the other group members took on the bad apple’s characteristics.)  This segment is only 5 minutes long, and it’s right at the start of the program, so if you’re interested in workplace bullying issues, click here to listen for free.  By the way, the This American Life website doesn’t list Phelps‘s Felps’s name or his affiliation, and my efforts to try to locate his research with EBSCOhost databases and the google have failed.  I’m not sure I’ve even got his name spelled right (and in fact I didn’t, as you can see from the edits above.  This is bad form, This American Life.  Any time you interview a researcher, you really should at least provide hir name and affiliation on your website, if not also link to hir publications.)

The program’s main feature was an exploration of a recent outbreak of measles in San Diego caused by a family who refused to vaccinate their children.  The story features an interview with an anti-vaxer who is friends with the family that brought the disease to San Diego, which sickened dozens of children, and with a woman whose 11 month old son was a victim of the outbreak.  If this woman’s description of measles doesn’t lead everyone listening to run out and vaccinate their kids, then I don’t know what will.  The ultimate message of the program is that both the anti-vaxer camp and the pro-vaxer camp are utterly entrenched in their rival views of medicine and science.  However, these camps are hardly morally equivalent:  one camp is actively punching holes in herd immunity, which puts at risk infants too young for the vaccine as well as people whose immune systems are compromised.  Moreover, the anti-vaxer camp’s beliefs are utterly evidence-free and based on magical thinking. Continue Reading »


December 4th 2008
Thanks, stranger, and welcome little stranger

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & Gender & the body & women's history

I can’t tell if I admire Alex Kuczynski’s honesty in “Her Body, My Baby,” about her experience with a woman who bore her genetic child through surrogacy, or if I am disturbed by it.  (It’s probably both–via Corrente.)  Her story is familiar–elite thirtysomething career woman and older husband (who is himself on marriage #3 and trying for baby #7) can’t make a baby, so after years of struggling with infertility, they investigated hiring a surrogate to carry their genetic child.  I know that surrogacy is an option available only to the wealthy, with uterus rental rates and associated expenses going for $40,000 to $70,000.  But did she really have to work in all of the allusions to the vacation homes in Idaho and Southampton, N.Y., in addition to the Manhattan apartment?  This splendid isolation seems to have contributed to being surprised and impressed that her surrogate had a computer and knew how to use it:

WHEN WE CAME ACROSS Cathy’s application, we saw that she was by far the most coherent and intelligent of the group. She wrote that she was happily married with three children. Her answers were not handwritten in the tiny allotted spaces; she had downloaded the original questionnaire and typed her responses at thoughtful length. Her attention to detail was heartening. And her computer-generated essay indicated, among other things, a certain level of competence. This gleaned morsel of information made me glad: she must live in a house with a computer and know how to use it. 

It’s as though the world that 85% of us inhabit was a foreign place to Kuczynski.  Patronizing, much?  She seems overjoyed that her surrogate has a college degree, and that two of Cathy’s three children are in college (the other is 11, so there’s hope yet.)  Other parts of the essay are less cringe-worthy and are very insightful, such as her description of the polite fiction maintained by the bio parents and the surrogate and her family that no money is changing hands: 

The fees to the surrogate would be paid out in monthly installments, not in one lump sum at the end. In this way the surrogate would be reimbursed for her monthly gestational responsibilities even if the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. No money ever changes hands directly between the intended parents (I.P.’s in surrogacy speak) and the surrogate. All the money goes into an escrow account set up by Brisman’s office, and a third party pays out the monthly fees. I.P.’s and surrogates are discouraged from discussing money. This is partly to remove the air of commercialism from the proceedings.

.          .           .           .          .          .           .           .          .          .   

While no one volunteering to have our baby was poor, neither were they rich. The $25,000 we would pay would make a significant difference in their lives. Still, in our experience with the surrogacy industry, no one lingered on the topic of money. We encountered the wink-nod rule: Surrogates would never say they were motivated to carry a child for another couple just for money; they were all motivated by altruism. This gentle hypocrisy allows surrogacy to take place. Without it, both sides would have to acknowledge the deep cultural revulsion against attaching a dollar figure to the creation of a human life.

But, of course, surrogacy is work, and work deserves to be compensated.  I’m suspicious of some arguments against surrogacy that hide behind the “sanctity of life” and deny that we can put a price on it, because they end up being arguments that women should volunteer their uteri instead of being compensated for their time, trouble, and discomfort.  Speaking of which, I also liked the fact that Kuczynski admitted enjoying the fact that she avoided the advanced stages of pregnancy:

AS THE MONTHS PASSED, something curious happened: The bigger Cathy was, the more I realized that I was glad — practically euphoric — I was not pregnant. I was in a daze of anticipation, but I was also secretly, curiously, perpetually relieved, unburdened from the sheer physicality of pregnancy. If I could have carried a child to term, I would have. But I carried my 10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes, and after an hour my back ached.

Cathy was getting bigger, and the constraints on her grew. I, on the other hand, was happy to exploit my last few months of nonmotherhood by white-water rafting down Level 10 rapids on the Colorado River, racing down a mountain at 60 miles per hour at ski-racing camp, drinking bourbon and going to the Super Bowl.

Still, Kuczynski can’t get past the feeling that her obviously athletic and toned body has failed her, and the feeling that she is marked by it:

AS MUCH AS I TRIED TO FIGHT off the feeling, when I told others that I was expecting a baby — and this child was clearly not coming out of my womb — I would sometimes feel barren, decrepit, desexualized, as if I were branded with a scarlet “I” for “Infertile.” At the height of her pregnancy, Cathy and I embodied several facets of femininity. She could be seen as the fertile, glowing mother-to-be as well as the hemorrhoidal, flatulent, lumpen pregnant woman. I could be the erotic, perennially sensual nullipara, the childbirth virgin, and yet I was also the dried-up crone with a uterus full of twigs. She got rosy cheeks and huge, shiny stretch marks. I went to Bikram yogaand was embarrassed to tell the receptionist — in front of the pregnant 20-something yogini in short shorts — to pull me out of class in case my baby was about to be born out of another woman’s body.

Women are each other’s harshest judges when it comes to decisions about our lives.  To have a child or children, or not?  To create an adulthood around motherhood and mothering one’s children, or an adulthood that embraces other kinds of work beyond parenting (or indeed, avoids parenting without regrets)?  I’m not posting this so that we–you and I, my dear readers–can pounce on Kuczynski and feel for a few satisfying moments as though we are morally superior to her.  I’m posting this because I think it raises interesting questions about class, bodies, and commerce.  (Let’s remember that the New York Times is always publishing stories about white, upper-middle class women’s supposed selfishness and how it’s the ruination of the world, so we should be careful about not taking the bait.)

Honestly, the most disturbing part of the article was when Kuczynski, in an aside, notes that Cathy’s 20 year-old daughter, a college student, “had been an egg donor to help pay her college tuition.”  Also, “Cathy told me that her motivations were not purely financial, although she was frank about the fact that the money would help with her two children in college.”  This family may be an isolated example, but, I wonder:  are working-class and middle-class women and girls being driven to sell reproductive services in order to get themselves and their children through college?  If so, what does it say about what we value in women–their brains or their bodies?  Are women who use the latter to improve the former with the goal of finding work that doesn’t involve their reproductive organs being canny, or are they being used?

I don’t have any answers to these questions.  I didn’t consider selling eggs to get through college, but then, I didn’t have to.  Having and enforcing boundaries around one’s body is a privilege.


October 5th 2008
Outrageous! Gardasil required of female green card applicants, to the tune of $400

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & childhood & class & Gender & Intersectionality & race & women's history

Kudos (and apologies!) to Professor BlackWoman from WOC Ph.D., who alerted me last month to this outrage.  (While you’re over there, check out her nice new design and software.)  I’ve been meaning to follow up on this, but Friday’s Denver Post lit a fire under my butt when it ran this story from the AP wire:

A new mandate requiring girls as young as 11 to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus before they can become legal U.S. residents is unfair, immigration advocates say.

The federal rule, which took effect July 1, added Gardasil to the list of vaccinations that female immigrants ages 11 to 26 must get before they can obtain “green cards.”

The series of three shots over six months protects against the strains of the human papillomavirus blamed for most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. But the vaccine is one of the most expensive on the market and controversial.

“This is a huge economic, social and cultural barrier to immigrants who are coming into America,” said Tuyet Duong, senior staff attorney for the Immigration and Immigrant Rights Program at the Asian American Justice Center.

At a cost of $400, Gardasil places an added burden on green card applicants already paying more than a thousand dollars in form fees and hundreds of dollars for mandatory medical exams, advocates say.

I’m on the record as supporting the vaccine for all girls, and have criticized parents for not embracing this vaccine because they can’t bring themselves to admit that their daughters may one day have sex with men.  (I also hate the whole vaccines cause autism excuse too, but Gardasil is in a class of its own with the kinds of criticism it has received.)  But, if your excuse is that you don’t have $400, well then, that’s a damned good reason not to get the vaccine.  (Paging Universal Health Care–hello?  Hello?)

Is this federal law really about safeguarding either women’s health or the public health, or is it about putting up another barrier for immigrant women when no such requirement exists for girls and women who are U.S. citizens?  Interestingly, this concern is shared by the very people at the Centers for Disease Control who initially approved and recommended the Gardasil vaccine:

The route by which the measure became law, however, was both roundabout and—according to the head of the committee that prompted the change—unintentional.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Gardasil vaccine, made by New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Inc., in 2006. Then last year, an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccinations for girls 11 or 12.

For U.S. citizens, the committee’s recommendations serve only to provide guidance on immunization issues. But a 1996 change to the nation’s immigration laws required anyone seeking permanent residency to get all the vaccinations recommended by the committee.

Jon Abramson, who chaired the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said the panel never intended to require Gardasil for immigrants and wasn’t aware its recommendation would become mandatory.

“This is an unintended consequence,” Abramson told The Associated Press. “We didn’t even know about the law.”

Abramson, chair of the pediatrics department at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said he supports Gardasil for its potential benefits to women and girls, but believes it should be optional.

Amen.  If this rule is not amended, it will serve as a punishing tax reserved for immigrant women.  It also raises all kinds of suspicions in my paranoid feminist mind, suspicions about the bodies of poor brown women being subjected to medical experimentation against their will.  Professor BW wrote about this very thoroughly here–and don’t say “it can’t happen here,” because it can, and it probably does more often than we hear about.


September 18th 2008
Anti-cancer vaccine: too hawt 4 ur kidz?

Posted under Bodily modification & childhood & Gender & the body & women's history

How’s this for short-sighted?  Only 1 in 5 girls under 18 have received the HPV vaccine as of the end of last year.  In the same story, “Anti-Cancer Vaccine A Tough Sell To Parents,” NPR reports that according to a study of 10,000 mothers who are nurses, almost half are squeamish about giving the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (the one that dramatically reduces the chance of cervical cancer!) to girls at the recommended age of 11 to 12, but more are OK with administering the vaccine to girls aged 15 to 18.

[Dr. Jessica] Kahn says that in a survey of 10,000 mothers who were also nurses, less than half were opposed to giving an 11-year-old the vaccine, compared with 90 percent who would agree to it for 15- to 18-year-olds.

“Nurses might be expected to be more supportive of vaccination,” Kahn said. “In a way, our study might overestimate the proportion of mothers who intend to vaccinate a 9- to 12-year-old daughter.”

But, she says, middle- to high-income parents tend to be more suspicious of vaccines. And that’s why communication between pediatricians and parents is important in easing concerns, Kahn said.

“If parents don’t believe the vaccine is safe, and believe the vaccine has serious side effects, that will weigh against their daughter being vaccinated,” Kahn said.

It seems like Dr. Kahn and NPR are conflating two issues here:  1) the unreasonable fear of vaccination that many middle- and upper-class parents have (which Historiann has written about previously here), and what I think is more at issue with the HPV vaccine, namely, 2) fears that daughters may actually have a SEX LIFE ZOMG!!!!111!!!!! someday.  If 9,000 nurses are OK with dosing older teenagers, but only about 5,000 are OK with dosing tweens, that means that about 4,000 have fears of adolescent sexuality rather than vaccine safety.  (And brace yourselves:  the NPR story reports that while the Center for Disease Control recommends that the HPV vaccine be administered to girls at ages 11 or 12, the Food and Drug Administration now recommends it for 9-year olds, “since the antibody response to the vaccine is better at younger ages than in the older girls.”)

Parents today engage in all kinds of preventive care and invest in all kinds of worst-case-scenario equipment in order to keep their little darlings safe.  And yet, we don’t think that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) will send the message that our kids should go consort recklessly with diseased children because they think they’ll be safe.  We’d never think of accusing parents who strap their children into car seats and give their children bike helmets of planning to get into car and bike crashes.  We recognize that random bad stuff happens to people, and we should feel grateful that we live in a world where we can minimize the risk of disease and trauma. 

Parents who think it’s OK to vaccinate at 15+ but who balk at 11 or 12 (or 9) need to grow up, because their children surely will.  Administer the vaccine when it’s most effective–and if that’s age 9 or age 7 or age 6 months, just do it.  Resistance to the HPV vaccine is mostly about fears that vaccinated girls will become sexually active solely because of this one vaccine.  But, guess what, parents of daughters?  Your kid will become sexually active someday.  Your kid may also get cancer someday.  Since there is no vaccine yet that will prevent sexual activity, let’s go for the anti-cancer vaccine, m’kay?


July 20th 2008
Back-to-school report: just the vax, m’am

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & European history & jobs & wankers

Maybe because it’s almost back-to-school time, but vaccinations are in the news on my blogroll.  Pal MD has an unintentionally hillarious post about some scandalously stupid reportage on a so-called “victim” of Gardasil.  (Longtime readers will recall that support for inoculation/vaccination are just about the only thing that Historiann has in common with Cotton Mather!) 

She reports that she went to the ER and was told she was likely having a stroke, and was sent home to return if it got worse. Now, I realize we’re getting third-hand information, but a reporter is supposed to clarify this. No one who goes to the hospital with a “stroke” is sent home to see if it gets worse.

Uhm, wouldn’t a real reporter dump the lady boo-hooing about her off-label use of Gardasil, and instead, you know, figure out which local hospital is sending home people suffering from strokes?  Now that’s a man-bites-dog story if I’ve ever heard one!  Just go read the whole thing to feel teh stupid and how it burns.  He’s got another recent post about how people with medical degrees need to take back vaccination education, instead of leaving it to the cranks, the quacks, and the religiously insane anti-vaxers.

And speaking of quacks and cranks, our friend Knitting Clio (who is not herself a crank or a quack at all) reported last week that her friendly neighborhood chiropractor–who has been of great assistance with her back pain–is now giving helpful seminars in local tea-shops about the dangers of vaccination.  She writes about the hazards of this woo-peddling:  “Take Colorado [ed. note-- please!], where the rate of vaccination (75%) is below what is needed for herd immunity.  Between 1996 and 2005, 208 adults and 32 children in Colorado died of diseases that could most likely have been prevented by vaccinations. The state spends millions of dollars per year caring for children and adults with diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), influenza, and measles that could have been prevented by vaccination.”  (Side note:  why do chiropractors hate the vax?  I’ve seen and heard of it before, but what’s the reason for it?)

The struggle over knowledge about vaccination is a cautionary tale about the dangers of professional complacency in the face of overwhelming success.  This is a paradox:  when an evidence-based consensus emerges within a profession and there are no professionals who truly disagree with the consensus in the main, that’s when movements propelled by outsiders (but legitimized by disgruntled or marginalized insiders) feel emboldened to challenge the consensus.  It’s not just primary-care physicians who have to worry about this–it’s also anthropologists and biologists, whose professional knowledge of Charles Darwin and the significance of his theories have been vigorously challenged by people outside of universities and without any professional credentials.  Historians also have had strange ideological struggles emerge out of what was a well-documented consensus on the facts of, for example, the Holocaust, the causes of the U.S. American Civil War, and the history and meaning of the Confederate flag. 

In all of these cases, a hardy band of conspiracy-minded and/or magical thinkers was able to gin up enough popular support to convince other neutral observers that there might be a scholarly “controversy” where none in fact existed among the actual scholars.  Does this happen because there are a few determined cranks and quacks still inside each profession, and they’re just very good at finding allies outside the profession because they no longer have allies within?  Or do political movements seize upon those few disaffected professionals, flattering them and giving them an appreciative audience so that they’ll serve as scholarly figureheads?  In all of these cases, it seems that there are a few professionals who are willing to sign on to provide a “respectable” face to the fake controversy–David Irving in the case of Holocaust denial, for example, or Michael Behe for “Intelligent” Design?  These credentialed intellectuals were happy to provide a presentable face to deeply disreputable, and even dangerous, ideas. 

Fight the woo, within and without your profession, and remember that things like “evidence” and “overwhelming scholarly consensus” mean nothing if we don’t continue to explain exactly what the evidence is and what the consensus means.


June 5th 2008
Sorry–no “Women” allowed. Just two implants on stick.

Posted under Bodily modification & fluff & Gender

For a topical follow-up to last night’s review of Anthony Lane’s review of Sex and the City:  The Movie, via Feminist Law Profs, see this story about a remake of The Women starring mostly over-40 actresses.  Apparently, the all-male studio execs at Warner Brothers don’t want to release it.  Surprise!  It’s so much easier for them when the movies star only men, and women play subordinate roles that serve the male characters. 

Maybe Warner Brothers should just make their own digital fembots with big boobies that won’t even need a screen credit, let alone millions of dollars and a cut of the box office!  Real women, with their wrinkly faces, saggy imperfect bodies, and demands to be paid for their work are just too much of a hassle.  (I bet every workplace in America would love to replace their women workers with fembots!) 



May 14th 2008
Intersex crossing

Posted under art & Berkshire Conference & Bodily modification & childhood & Gender & local news

Date:  May 13, 2008

Time:  4:25 p.m.

Place:  Potterville, Colorado; corner of Mystreet and Oneblocknorth.

Found:  Intersex crossing sign.

(I know some jackass teenager did this with a Sharpie–but I’m choosing to read it as a comment on our restrictive and distorting gender binary and compulsory heterosexuality.  And, it’s the most interesting vandalism that I’ve ever seen in this town!)

At the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women next month, we’ve got a great panel that brings together disability studies, queer theory, and the history of sexuality in really innovative ways.  “How Do They Do It?:  Sexual Representations of Conjoined Twins in U.S. Culture” features Ellen Samuels on “Entertaining Millie and Christine McCoy:  Where Enslavement and Enfreakment Meet,” Alison Kafter on “Fabulist Past, Fabulist Future But no Queer Presence:  Desiring Disability in Sheila Jackson’s Half-Life,” and Cynthia Wu on “The Queer Pleasures and Frustrations of Chang and Eng’s Autopsy,” chaired by Ruth Alexander and with a comment by Catherine Kudlick.  Check out our program here!



May 13th 2008
Barbie Death Camp

Posted under art & Berkshire Conference & Bodily modification & Dolls & fluff & weirdness & women's history

I’m not sure what I think about this installation at Burning Man 2007, “Barbie Death Camp,” but since this blog is one of the few places on the non-peer reviewed internets where you can find deep, intellectual discussions of Barbies and dismembered doll parts, I suppose I have to cowgirl up.  (Be sure to click on the link above to see the whole slide show–this still photo is just one of many.  Thanks to Historiann’s newly tenured friend G.S. for the tip.) 

This blog says that “Barbie Death Camp” is clearly anti-consumerist, anti-corporate satire, but I’m not so sure it can be viewed only or primarily through this lens.  Looking at the slide show is disturbing–is it a feminist commentary on the  commodification and dismemberment of women’s bodies?  Is it a commentary on the ambivalent relationship girls have with their Barbies, since they frequently train their aggression on the dolls, cutting their hair and frequently removing their arms, legs, and heads?  Or is it just another example of female bodies being dismembered for our pleasure and entertainment?  (You can’t see it in this photograph, but the yellow school bus near the lower right corner has “DIE BITCH” scrawled on the side, so it’s not accidental that it’s a Barbie and not a Ken or G.I. Joe Death Camp.  I’m not sure how I feel about the appropriation (complete with toy ovens) of a specific historical event, the Holocaust.  Does it trivialize the attempted genocide of Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Poles, and disabled people in the twentieth century?  Is there an implicit commentary of the uniform perfection of Barbie bodies being destroyed in the same manner as the “racially inferior” or otherwise imperfect victims of the Holocaust?  Is it an accident that the Barbies in BDC look like they’re all white and are overwhelmingly blond, too?  What if it had been called “Middle Passage Barbie,” “Barbie Trail of Tears,” or “Killing Fields Barbie?” 

Reflecting on Historiann’s recent foray into contemporary feminist art, this project seems like it could have been included in the recent The Way that we Rhyme:  Women, Art, & Politics exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  It shares many of the same features:  the use of found objects in particular, but also the “outsider art” fetish that many “insider artists” have affected lately, an aesthetic of amateurism and bad taste.  (Actually, in many ways, “Barbie Death Camp” is more compelling and provoking than many of the installations at the YBCA, which seemed to labor rather humorlessly under a different kind of historical weight.)

For those of you interested in pursuing some of these issues in a more serious forum, at the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, we’ve got a panel on “Gender, Torture, and Memory,” which features papers on American POW’s in Korea, Femicide in Guatemala in the Cold War to the twenty-first century, and women in Stalin’s Gulags.  (Unfortunately, our roundtable on “Women and the Holocaust:  Reshaping the Field in the 21st Century through Oral History and Personal Narratives,” was cancelled.)  We also have a roundtable on “What (if anything) Can Women’s History and the History of Sexuality Teach Us about Genocide and Extreme Violence,” and a Sunday morning seminar on “Historicizing Sexual Violence,” led by Estelle Freedman of Stanford University, which features many papers about rape and sexual violence in wartime and in occupied or colonized countries:  colonial and postcolonial India, Nazi-occupied territories, 17th century Ireland, 1950s and 1960s Argentina, and 19th and 20th century Kenya, South Africa, and Costa Rica.  (You can find the full program here.) 

What do you think?  Is “Barbie Death Camp” funny?  Horrifying?  Feminist, or anti-feminist?  Too clever by half?  Or just really good bad art?


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