Tuesday, October 31, 2006


One of my favorite classes this semester is Art History 102. It covers the early Renaissance up through the early 1900s. We get to study all the big, important guys like Donatello, DaVinci, Michelanglo, Raphael (and other assorted teenage mutant ninja turtles) as well as some pretty cool architechts like Alberti and Bramonte. One of the things sadly lacking, as I expected, is any discussion of female artists. Not a big surprise, really. During the period we're concentrating on women couldn't go outside without an escort, they couldn't own property in most places and were routinely sold into marriage for a few acres of good grazing land. They certainly could not attend any schools, much less look at the male nude form in order to study classical technique. I always found it interesting that there are hardly any female painters in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but there sure are a lot of pictures of nude women on the walls. Typical.

So I was thrilled that we got to briefly discuss the work of Atemisia Gentileschi in class last week. Because of the restrictions placed on women, what female artists there were at the time mostly painted portraits and landscapes. They certainly weren't getting any of the big commissions from mama church or the local aristocracy. Artemisia was an incredibly talented painter who was the first female artist to paint major religious and historical scenarios.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, her life was not without troubles. Her father, a successful artist, recognized her precocious genius and sent her to study with an artist named Agosino Tassi. Tassi took advantage of the situation and raped her. There was a long, highly publicized trial that lasted for seven months around the time Artemisia was 18 or so. She was subjected to vaginal examination, torture with thumbscrews and accused publicly of being unchaste. Tassi was eventually sentenced to banishment from Rome, but due to his powerful relationships within the local government, he was back in town within four months.

Some people believe that Artemisia used her art to cathartically and symbolically work through the pain. Just take a look at these for example.

The first painting is called Judith and Maidservant With the Head of Holofernes. It's a rendition of the old testament story from the book of Judith. Judith was a beautiful widow who sneaked into the enemy camp of the invading Babylonian army. She seduced the general, Holofernes, then beheaded him while he slept off the night of drinking and debauchery, thus securing the victory and salvation of her people. Tough gal, huh?
The next one is called Judith Slaying Holofernes, a rather gory depiction of the act itself. The thing I really love about her work, is not the so much the dark subject matter, but the rich colors and her amazing use of shadow and light. Check out the shadow that is cast on Judith's face from her hand blocking the candle light. And, of course, these are depictions of strong, heroic women taking action (however violent). Sure beats another damn reclining nude if you ask me.

Here's another interesting piece:

This is Susanna and the Elders. This painting is a scene from the Old Testament story of Susanna. She was a respectable Jewish married lady. In this painting the corrupt town elders have hidden in her garden while she is having a bath. They tell her that she has to "lay" with them or else they will tell everyone that she was waiting for her lover in the garden. She refuses and they put her on trial for adultery. Finally, a young man named David believes Susanna and questions the elders separately. They can't agree on what kind of tree Susanna was sitting under and are convicted of being dirty old lying attempted rapists and are put to death. (Ok, maybe that's not what the story said exactly...)Look at how Artemisia has portrayed Susanna's reaction to the men's advances. It's quite a different telling than this one by Rembrandt.

Artemisia's Susanna looks truly distraught and scared. Can you imagine the feeling of violation, fear and repulsion that a woman would feel at being interrupted while bathing by a couple of strange old men? She's a respectable, sheltered, married woman being threatened in her home by two powerful men. I think Artemsisa had a better grasp on the reality of those feelings than Rembrandt (and many others) ever portrayed. Usually, when male artists painted this story, it was simply an excuse to paint a coyingly seductive female nude figure.
Here are a few more of my favorite Artemisia Gentileschi paintings.
The Penitent Magdalene
Madonna and Child - look how she has captured the relationship between mother and child. Some historians believe this to be her first painting, completed at the age of 16.

Birth of St. John The Baptist - quite the cozy, domestic scene isn't it? I love how the birth is dominated by (gasp!) women who traditionally controlled birthings. Not sure who the old guy is on the right though.
I've been looking online for a poster of one of her less violent works to hang in my new apartment. Sadly, they are really hard to find. For a long time Artemsisa was all but forgotten. Many of her works were attributed to other artists. Thanks to the work of some very tenacious art historians, her work has finally come to light. I think she is more than worthy of our attention and I hope I can get to see one of these paintings in person some day. That would involve a trip to Europe, though. Hmmm....
If you want to learn more about Artemisia Gentileschi, there is an amazing website HERE.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Movies and Manifestos

I am having way too much fun with this new found ability to post movies.

Below is a clip from MomsRising about their new book (and film) The Motherhood Manifesto. MomsRising is a group that is working to bring awareness to the myriad obstacles faced by families and working moms in this country. They are also involved in supporting legislation that would help to solve some of these problems. Trivial little shit like paid maternity leave, adequate health care for children (and their parents!) and the crazy wage gap between working moms and their male counterparts.

You can check out and support some of their efforts with petitions and alerts on items coming up on state ballots. There's one in San Francisco (not a state, I know) that is trying to get Proposition F passed. Prop F would "provide employer-paid sick days to all workers in San Francisco. Workers could take time off to care for their own health and could also take time to care for sick children, parents and immediate family members. Paid sick days could also be used to go to routine doctors appointments, or to take family members to the doctor."

There is another on-line petition called "Mothers Cease Fire Petition - sign on to ask the media to stop the 'Mommy Wars' and start reporting on real issues." Wouldn't that be refreshing.

Here are a few fun-filled facts from the web site:

  • The U.S. is one of only five countries of 168 studied that doesn't mandate some form of paid maternal leave, putting us on par with Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, and Swaziland. (this one if just embarrassing...and horrifying all at once.)
  • Both parents work in 61% of American families
  • Businesses that implement flex-time policies often benefit with higher employee retention, lower training and recruiting costs, and better employee performance.
  • A study found non-mothers made 90 cents to a man's dollar, moms made 73 cents to the dollar, and single moms made 56 to 66 cents to a man's dollar.
  • There was a twenty-threefold (2,300 %) increase in medical-related bankruptcy filings between 1981 and 2001. (about the time more women were entering the workforce. hmmmmm....)

And finally, here's the movie!

The documentary was released this week. I've only seen the promo clips, but it looks like a good combination of fact and entertainment with a little progressive political activism thrown in. Think The Corporation for families. I'm definitely going to check it out and get back to you on what I think about the movie. (Y'know, in all of my spare time.)

With the fall mid-term elections just weeks away I think this is something to consider when voting for your senator or congress-person. 'Cause you are ALL going to go vote, right? Of course you are.

I mean, the fact is, for a country that talks so much about "family values" we sure don't put our policies where our mouths are. I personally cringe whenever I hear the term anymore. It seems synonymous with Jerry Falwell, pro-life zealots and oppressive government sanctioned wholesomeness. Why can't "family values" actually mean valuing the family in all it's forms? I think it's time for Washington and corporate America to wake up and realize that the working family needs a little help here. They also need to realize that the so-called "American family" has changed. We've got everything from same sex parents to single parents raising kids. Wouldn't it be amazing to live someplace where the corporate sector is encouraged (possibly even required) to work with it's employees on issues such as maternity and (gasp!) paternity leave? What if you could take your kids to work with you and drop them off at the clean, well run, happily-staffed day care center in your office building?

Here's another fun/informative/scary read - The American Family Grows Up. It's from the very first ever issue of Good Magazine. I read the whole thing cover to cover in a weekend and LOVED it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dove Movies

I've been trying to post these Dove ads all week with no luck so I hope this works. Technology can be truly baffling sometimes.

I love both of these commercials, yet I am still conflicted. I think it's great that a "beauty" company is putting out this kind of message. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is certainly a breath of fresh air. My problem is that they are still, of course, selling me their skin care products through these ads. They are a commercial company. That's what they do. I would almost rather they use the skinny, touched-up models to pitch their skin care line because then I could just dismiss it. By using footage of sweet little girls expressing fears of being fat and/or unattractive, I feel like Dove is somewhat using these girls and their insecurities to make a profit.

Advertising sells us more than simply products, though. It sells us values. We see an average of 3000 ads a day. We may not buy the dress or the car, but we all get the message. Advertising tells us what the ideal is in our society. Then it shows us exactly how we fail to meet that ideal. Finally, it offers us the product we need to achieve happiness and fulfillment if only we have the money to spend. Clever and insidious stuff, no? At least the Dove ads are offering us an alternative to the unattainable beauty myth.

Then there is the whole Unilever issue. Unilever is the corporation that owns Dove. Among other things, they still use animal testing in their product development. That guarantees that I won't be running down to my local Walgreens and buying myself a cartload of their soap. However, according the the Unilver web site "non-animal testing is the rule and animal testing is the exception. Unilever does not undertake animal testing or commission others to do such testing on its behalf unless it is necessary to meet its health, safety and environmental obligations or it is demanded by government regulators or other official bodies. " Well, that may be so (I have no way of confirming that statement right now) but the fact is that they still test on little bunny rabbits. Ew.

For the time being, I think I will continue to shop at Lush and other cruelty free shops.

I'll still look forward to the Dove ads though. Whatever their motivation, at least they're getting out a much more positive message than this one.

And for more fun with photo retouching, check out this little website. Yikes!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hey, Baby! How You Doin'?

Has this ever happened to you?

I was walking down 38th street in midtown Manhattan one afternoon, on my way to a rehearsal. As I'm passing a store front, one of the guys lounging against the building leans over and says "Hey baby, you got great tits."
I try to ignore him and walk on by, but he starts to follow me. He's making comments about my ass, asking me what I'm doing that night etc. I get to the corner of 38th and Broadway and duck into a store until he walks away. I'm scared, angry and late for rehearsal.

Or how about this?

I'm driving home from class last week in Valley Village, CA around 10:00 at night. As I approach a stop light a white car pulls up next to me and honks the horn. I look over and there are two guys in the other car. The driver is making the universal sign for "roll down your window." I just look at them and shake my head. When the light changes I continue driving and he stays right next to me, making nasty gestures and doing something particularly gross with his tongue. I slow down, he slows down. I speed up, he speeds up. I finally lose them at another light when I make a left turn. I'm shaking. I'm pissed off and I just took a turn that brings me nowhere near my house, so I have to drive around the block so I can get going back in the right direction.

This is called street harassment. It's the kind of crap all women risk being exposed to whenever we dare go out someplace without a male escort. It is not acceptable behavior even though our society tends to just laugh it off as "harmless". It is not harmless. It can be scary. It can be infuriating. It can be demoralizing.

Whenever this happens to me, I usually just try not to look at the guy and get past him as quickly as possible. Inevitably I blame myself for provoking the attention. Maybe my make-up was too much or my shirt was too tight. I wish my boobs were smaller or my hips were less curvy. Whatever. Then I get angry because I feel scared and guilty and none of it is my fault. I am not the pervy little half-wit who gets off by harassing random women. Here I am feeling like shit and the guy who should be feeling like shit is probably laughing about it. Other than carrying mace or a firearm, what is a girl to do?

Carry a camera phone.

There are these websites popping up all over the place called "Hollaback..." There's
Hollaback New York, Hollaback Boston, and Hollaback California to name a few. The idea is that whenever you see a guy harassing you or another woman, take the bastard's picture. Then e-mail your story to one of these sites and they will post it along with lover boy's pretty picture for all the world to see. It's a way of standing up for ourselves and telling the world that this kind of behavior may be common place but it is not acceptable. It's amazing how people reconsider their actions when you're capturing them for posterity. Suddenly, a guy grabbing his crotch and making kissy noises at a random girl on the street seems like it might just be a bad idea.

There is also a great sense of community and quite a lot of attitude at these sites. So often, when a woman is harassed on the street, she feels isolated. Very rarely does anyone else notice or help out. It's your problem alone. The Hollaback project makes it clear that it is our problem and we are going to do something about it together.

There's another very interesting site called
Blank Noise, based in India where women are taking a stand against "Eve-teasing". Eve-teasing is a deceptively innocuous term for the street harrasment that goes on in cities there. More and more these incidents are escalating into physical violence and assault on women. The women involved in the Blank Noise Project plan walks after dark, put up posters and paint messages on the side walk to raise awareness about this sort of violence against women. Check out their entry for Friday Sept 29th where they document an evening out on the town.

So, the next time some scummy guy decides to make unsolicited remarks about your anatomy, consider snapping a pic and sharing your experience with the world. Maybe his wife will see him on the internet and give him a little talking to. At the very least you'll feel better for having shared you experience with some sympathetic readers

Note: The photograph at the top of this post is called American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin. I see the stupid thing in poster sizes suitable for framing at places like Pier 1 and Cost Plus World Market all the time and it gives me the creeps. That girl looks scared to me. The picture could just as easily be called American Girl Seconds Before a Sexual Assault. Ugh.

Friday, October 06, 2006

1 Math Class + Old Regrets = ?

As most of you know, I'm back in college and working on a degree in journalism. It's been an interesting and sometimes grueling adventure since I'm no longer a teenager and have bills of my own to pay. I've been enjoying the challenge, though and learning a lot about myself. It's amazing what you discover when you challenge yourself just a little. For years, while I was working and pursuing acting, I never had to apply myself to much beyond character studies and audition techniques. In the last year I've written papers on philosophy, sociological patterns at work, comparative essays on Frankenstein and Blade Runner ( that one was a blast) and an anthropological description of an American wedding (someitmes being a bridesmaid is useful). While I don't love missing outings with my friends so I can stay home and "work on a paper", I get a kick out of exercising my mental muscles a bit. It's down right addictive.

This semester I'm taking my first math class since high school. Back in high school I was the kind of student who did very well in anything that involved reading and writing. I had to work a lot harder at math and I actually ended up taking geometry twice because if you get a C they don't send you on to Algebra II. Needless to say I was a little worried that this college level math course might mess up my GPA. I've never had a 4.0 before and I don't intend to lose it now.

So, imagine my surprise when I got back my first test in Intermediate Algebra this week. I got an "A". A great big, fat "A". And I realized that this math thing is not so scary. I've been catching on pretty well in class, but I wasn't sure I really had it down until I got that test back. And I began to wonder where I might be today if I had realized this sooner. Say, back in the 6th grade. If I'm getting "A"s in math now and I got "C"s in math ten years ago, what does that mean? Did my brain suddenly learn how to manipulate algorithms while I was out of school? Am I smarter that I was ten years ago? Or am I just more confident? Maybe the amazingly patient and supportive teacher I have has a little bit to do with it too.

Last night in class our professor handed out the test again, put us in groups and had us work out the problems together. My group consisted of four young women and one guy. All the girls seemed to automatically defer to the guy in our group for help with the answers even though I had gotten a higher score than him on the test. Fine with me, I'm no teacher. But the thing that really irked me was how they all just assumed that they couldn't figure out the problems on their own. They had no confidence in themselves! It was just an automatic response to them. "Oh, well I'm no good at math so I'll ask this guy because guys are better at math than girls."
And these are smart, well spoken girls. Two of them are going into the nursing program and I know there's going to be more math and science for them master before they get out of there.

I was just so saddened to see how they all short changed themselves without even noticing they were doing it. And I was angry with myself for doing the same thing all these years. I used to want to be a marine biologist and study orca whales when I was a kid. By the time I got to high school I had given up on that idea. Too much math and science required for that. I thought I could never get through all the hard science classes to get a degree in marine biology. Now I'll never know.

If you have a little girl, please please encourage her in her math and science classes. It's not just the realm of super smart boys. We need more female doctors and scientists. We need more women getting masters degrees in engineering and computer science.

We need more female marine biologists.

Monday, October 02, 2006

We Came, We Saw, We Walked

This weekend I participated in the 2006 Walk For Farm Animals to benefit Farm Sanctuary. It was so much fun. We had a beautiful day in Santa Monica for the walk, a little cloudy and cool. Just what we needed.

I got to do the walk with a new friend of mine, Robin. She was my sociology proffesor (remember all the "I'm taking this amazing sociology class" posts from a few months ago?) and is one of the coolest people I've met in my college adventure this year. It's actually all her fault I went all out vegan so, a great big 'thank you' to you, Robin!

Also, I wanted to say a huge and heartfelt "thank you" to everyone who donated to the cause and supported me and the critters. You guys are amazing. I was so touched because more than half of the people who donated were folks that I have never actually met in person. This on-line community of concerned bloggers came together and made a difference in the lives of some animals who really need the help. I am honored to "know" you. ;)

I was really impressed when I found out that the woman who organized the event, Valerie Belt, did so as a volunteer. She got the permits from the city, gift cards for the raffle, organized all the walkers etc. ad infinitum, because she cares that much about the plight of these animals. I was quite inspired.

Without further ado....here are some promised pics from the day.

Here's our mascot, the little plush pink piggy. Isn't she cute?
This woman spoke for a few minutes before we started the walk. She's done undercover work which has been used to fight for legislation to protect farm animals. Right now, they are working on getting a bill passed in AZ to ban the tiny little pens that they keep pigs in. I am in awe of people like this because I don't know that I could stomach the cruelty long enough to write anything about it.

We're off on our walk! I carried a sign that said "Say No to Foi Gras!"
Some people brought their dogs. I thought this poodle was an adorable participant. Nice shirt, pooch!
This woman was kind enough to let me take a picture of her t-shirt. I thought the message was great. It says "Why love one and eat the other. Make the connection. Go Veg for life." There is a picture of a cat, a dog, a pig and a cow. I found out later that she's also a veterinarian.

Here's a group shot. Some people had gone home already but I think we had about 80 participants. Not bad.

And here's all that was left of our piggy at the end of the day...

All in all, it was a great experience. I found that people's reactions were varied and pretty extreme. We basically just walked through the neighborhood carrying our signs. We got everything from people waving and honking their car horns while giving us the 'thumbs up', to other people shouting "I love beef!" And "Why don't you go eat spinach!" (yeah, real clever.) I thought it was interesting how threatened people seem to get when they feel like their values are being attacked. Nobody was yelling at these folks or getting in their faces, yet they felt compelled to shout some pretty nasty stuff at us. Hmmm...

One little girl came up to us with her mom and wanted to tell one of the ladies that she was also a vegetarian and that she loved animals. We bumped into a woman who was taking her twin girls for a walk in their stroller. She said she was vegan, had remained a vegan through her pregnancy and was raising her girls with a vegan diet as well. We had an interesting talk about some of the resistance and support she got from her doctors and family.

And guess what, I also won a gift card in the raffle! I will be going to dinner (or lunch) at Real Food Daily in Santa Monica one day fairly soon. It's a vegan restaurant down by the third street promenade. I can't wait to see what they have to offer.

But that's another blog...