Thursday, June 21, 2007

International Museum of Women Online Motherhood Exhibit and Online Film Festival Call for Submissions

[I received an e-mail yesterday asking me to spread the word via my blog about some of the current features at the International Museum of Women. I was understandably excited to learn that, since their physical location is in San Francisco, I can visit sometime while in the area to see my mom and dad and some other family up there. In the meantime, as they requested, I copied this description of The Motherhood Project from their home page.]

The Motherhood Project

Entries from more than 30 countries from women in their 20s and 30s compose our online exhibit dedicated to the sometimes joyous, sometimes mysterious, and sometimes complicated realities of modern motherhood.

The exhibit runs March 8 through June 30, 2007 and will include contributions from journalists Lisa Ling and Marianne Pearl, Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, author Rebecca Walker, activist Hafsat Abiola, comedienne Jenny McCarthy, actress Julie Delpy and Karenna Gore-Schiff.

View what young women are saying through art and the written word and participate in the dialogue. Thank you for your submissions and keep joining the conversation.

[Also as they requested, I copied the below information about their upcoming online film festival from their online call for submissions page.]

Call For Submissions

Imagining Ourselves: Global Voices from a New Generation of Women

Imagining Ourselves launched with a published anthology and an online exhibit on International Women's Day, March 8, 2006. The project received great acclaim and widespread media attention around the globe, from articles in Bombay's TimeOut Magazine to television coverage in Tijuana and numerous reports in the San Francisco media. Since then, we have reached out to a new generation of women on every continent, in four languages and through more than 100 global events and gatherings on the ground in over twenty-five countries. After the successful launch in March, 2006 we are extending the project until September, 2007 and will continue to explore different themes. Check out the descriptions of the [last of the] new themes....

Film Festival

A cinematic experience online
Take part in this unique experience – a two month film festival – online! This is an amazing chance for up and coming women filmmakers to have their work viewed by a worldwide audience. We are looking for all types of films – documentaries, short films, animation, music videos, basically any kind of film you can think of, they just have to be made by a female director. (Photo credit Shushan Avagyan)

Deadline for submissions: August 7, 2007

How to Submit your Work
Get to know our online exhibit. Read stories, view artwork and film and listen to music and spoken word from the many young women from all around the world. Be Inspired. We look forward to hearing from you!
Download applicant information here:
submissionform_eng.pdf (245k)
submissionform_eng.doc (778k)
If you are submitting film or audio files or large artwork you should send these to us on a DVD or CD. Guidelines for format and length of media can be found in the application information, available for download above. You may send your applicant form by email indicating that you will be sending your submission by mail.
Imagining Ourselves Team
International Museum of Women
PO Box 190038
San Francisco, CA 94119

Please contact us for street address if sending by courier.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My Professional Perspective on a Book I Didn't Want to Write About This Way

I finished another book today: The Last Assassin (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2006), by Barry Eisler, my latest favorite fun-reading author (which is a very very very small group, by the way). Assassin is Eisler's latest book but one (Requiem for an Assassin, which I got signed while he was in town earlier this month). I was eager to read the new one, but I quickly realized that I'd missed the book between it and the one chronologically right before Last Assassin (Rain Fall, which was actually my introduction to Eisler's work) - and that's why I've just finished that missing link. Are you thoroughly confused? Amazingly enough, I'm not. I haven't even lost track of any of the protagonist John Rain's or the other characters' histories, even though I read them all in reverse chronological order (which was actually kind of cool too, and that's why I know that I'd love to read a prequel as Eisler indicated that he was considering writing at the book signing). [Too many gerunds!]

Overall, I liked this new book. I cried three times, which is unusual for this genre, I'm sure (Rain is a "contract killer," as described on the book jacket). Eisler experiments with different voices in this book as well, switching from omniscient to Rain's perspective to that of a female lead, Delilah, and back again, and it's never unclear as to whose head we're inside at those moments. Rain demonstrates a lot of personal growth in this book too, which is pretty new for him and another demonstration of Eisler's expanding authorly skills. The (almost always - see below) delicious bites of Eisler's politics offered here and there still made me smile. His vocabulary will still send some people running for a dictionary, which also makes me smile. [Jessica, you're an elitist!] He remains an incredible author.

[Please forgive me, Barry....]

But Last Assassin was a little rocky going at first because it created some consistency questions in my mind. With persistence on my part, they resolved themselves, with one minor exception, which is what I discuss below. Besides that, a major one, which I already mentioned to Eisler in an e-mail yesterday, even though it's probably not news to him (nor is it likely all that important to him now, since Requiem came out on the NYT Bestseller List and all), was an error in the second chapter that changed a name from Delilah's history (Dov) to that of another main character (Dox) - and repeated the error thrice on those couple of pages - thus creating a historical romantic relationship that I knew had never happened (and that would have perplexed the hell out of a new reader of the series, since it kept me going for a while too). Once I resolved that in my mind, my concerns cleared up significantly.

What remained, though, was a characteristic of Delilah, who is Rain's latest love interest, that I don't remember Eisler introducing in the previous books: her "periodic pouts and petulance," as first mentioned on p.26 (just a couple of pages after that other issue, by the way, which really increased the parallel universe feeling for me). This "inconsistency," as I'm calling it, may actually be more of a significant issue than I've indicated so far, though, since I got the sense from this book, more than from any of the earlier ones, that it was written more with Eisler's fans than with potential new readers in mind, as some of Rain's backstory wasn't even explained until the very end of this book, and some of it, though relevant to aspects of this story, not at all.

Eisler clearly tries to make this new aspect of Delilah acceptable throughout this book, and it is certainly a consistent part of her character here. She is certainly somewhat justified in feeling the way that she does, too, and Eisler takes pains to show us that via her own justifications to herself, as well as her own self-criticism for allowing him to make her "sulk and pout like a schoolgirl" (93) [Blecch!] - all of which make her a very believable character, since I've had the same kinds of conversations with myself before too. As usual, Eisler does do an excellent job with the characterizations in this book. But I still feel that she is only being portrayed that way because she's female. It's a fact that everyone who's ever betrayed Rain in any of these books is female, although as he gets older he's rejecting them less wholeheartedly for it.

An obvious example is Midori, another love interest of Rain's who plays a big part in this story because she is mothering their love child - a boy named Koichiro. As soon as I learned about that, at the end of the previous book, I felt a pang somewhere in my brain. A single working mother to a son: That sounds like homework! And indeed, there's a little of that here - hence this post. But Eisler is male, so - in accordance with the patterns that I've seen everywhere else - while he demonstrates awareness of the monster mother myth of which I wrote for my thesis, he is clearly less concerned about it than female writers and mothers to sons themselves always are. Rain refers to it first: "Maybe you should think about what something like that [an absent father] would cost him," he says to Midori (56).

Rain himself grew up with an absent father, who died when he was eight years old. Rain considers that situation: "His loss and subsequent absence were the first and perhaps most significant of the scars that shaped what I became" - which, of course, is a killer (214). That statement alone makes Rain another of the countless examples present in Western fiction and mythology of men gone "bad" who were raised by single mothers. Eisler has rarely had Rain blame his own family for that, though. Rather, he usually blames his other "father," his country, which effectively betrayed him while he served in Vietnam - although even that's not entirely true, since it was only the evil ambition of one person who really brought about the events that contributed most to the original circumstances that led to who Rain is today. Thus the fact that Rain is now blaming his home situation for it - a mother is not enough to keep a boy from becoming a "bad guy," in other words - is even more indication of the power of that myth. Even though Rain knows that it hasn't been true in his own life, now that he's worried about his own son, he's falling back on those myths, perhaps because of his sense that the issue of a father's presence in a son's life is more controllable than corruption in government and war.

That's a significant point: Instead of blaming single mothers and/or absent fathers for children gone awry, why not blame the system in which all of that takes place? I'll quote my e-mail signature again:

It is dangerous fantasy to believe that if 'they' can be identified and labeled, and then treated or punished, the nation will be somehow purified, made safer for the rest of us.... When in fact we need to examine poverty, racism, the paucity of meaningful work at a living wage, the lack of access to day care, antifeminism, and a host of other problems, let us not be diverted by 'bad' mothers. (Molly Ladd-Taylor and Lauri Umansky, "Bad Mothers": The Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America pp.22,23)

Meanwhile, what makes Delilah's "petulance" frustrating to me is that otherwise there is little differentiation between her and Rain and Dox, all of whom are essentially in the same line of work - and that portrayal is significant considering that Delilah's usual role in such work is as a seductress, which rarely involves actual killing - only information-gathering, as the reader learns in the previous book. That fact in and of itself could merit criticism, since it does separate her from the men with whom she works, but Eisler doesn't explicitly separate her in his treatment of her - he even has Rain describe her as "that man inside tonight" (241) a couple of times in the book, for better or for worse - so I'm not going to do that to him.

It's also a mark in Eisler's favor that he acknowledges the existence of abortion as an option in this book. He still fails to have his character use it, though, as Slate notes is common in the rare works within mainstream pop culture that acknowledge the legality of abortion these days. (But I have to note: What about Cider House Rules? What about Vera Drake?) OK, it's a plot point, but this line of Midori's internal dialogue is just inflammatory:

The thought that she had nearly gone through with an abortion was enough to make her feel sick, as though she had once in a moment of weakness contemplated murdering her child. She would never have thought it possible, but she defined herself as this little boy's mother more than she had defined herself as anything else before.

Blecch again, several times over. Abortion makes one sick? A woman who contemplates abortion is only "in a moment of weakness"? Women who have abortions are baby-killers? The mother-identity supersedes all other aspects of women's selves? I considered aborting my son, and I don't feel "sick" looking back on it now. In fact, it recently occurred to me that the better decision would have been to abort him, as my mom begged me to do. I really can't explain why I chose as I did. Rebellion? Hormones? Exposure to anti-abortion rhetoric? I don't know.

By the way, does that make my loving, intelligent mom like "the mother character [who] is explicitly positioned as a moral monster, a 'hissable villain'" in the movie Knocked Up, as also discussed in that Slate article? Here's more on that problem from another woman's blog:

The mom was presented as a castrating bitchTM who callously told her daughter that she only had one choice, and that the baby would be a nuisance--so the allegedly pro-choice person is actually anti-choice. When she described a family member who had an abortion and then had a 'real baby' years later, the detached way she spoke made members of my audience audibly gasp. They were gasping at the cruelty of the pro-abortion position. [emphasis in original]

If anything, though, it was my privilege, as an informed, well-educated White woman with highly educated, upper-middle-class parents that ultimately got me by - not our supposedly baby-loving society. I'm in a definite minority in terms of the breadth of my opportunities, throughout my life. And I also haven't found my identity as a mother more true or real than anything else - again, probably largely because of my opportunities (and determination) to be more than that, thanks to feminism. (That's only fair to my son too!) But Midori is a famous jazz pianist, so surely she has had some such opportunities too. Yet, Eisler writes, she's more a mother than anything else. Again, unnecessary. His self-definition as a conservative finally reared its ugly head, I guess. :-(

I can't end on this note. The only excuse that I can find to redeem Eisler for what he did to Delilah – even going so far as having her act the part of a thoughtless, plotting, cruelly jealous lover at one point as well (125) – is that in this book, he does it to Rain too. Last Assassin is the book where we see what happens to these characters when they can't help but have to operate in situations that are really untenably personal.

I can't write off what he did to Midori, though. At least she's unlikely to be very present in the next story so that I can go back to reading for fun.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Quick Hit: What Else the Thomas Recall Reveals

Parents across the U.S. are up in arms about the latest toy recall, which this time affects owners of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends trains. I must admit that I felt some smug satisfaction at having known about the recall and responded to it, finding James and his coal tender in my son’s room and dispatching them back to the toy company, long before the news hit the rest of the country’s fan. (I subscribe to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall notification e-list, so I know about a lot of recalls before those who rely on word-of-mouth … although somehow the pet food recall got under my radar until my dad e-mailed me about it.) What I have not previously considered, though, is how much my indulgence of my son’s Thomas habit supports underpaying workers in distant countries. For those who don’t know, even the smallest two-inch wooden Thomas engine is about $10 from most retail outlets (while the metal ones run closer to $7 each, I think). And yet, as mentioned in that article that I linked above, there are Chinese “workers who were paid about $150 a month to spray paint on mostly metal toy trains six days a week.” Since I’m sure that they’re painting more than 22 trains in those six days, they’re grossly underpaid for their work on these, quite frankly, ridiculously overpriced toys – especially now that I know that they’re imports from China. I am ashamed at my thoughtlessness … but, even though apparently as much as 80% of toys in the U.S. are also Chinese in origin, making it likely that most equally thoughtless parents probably have some in their homes, I’m not going to let myself off the hook because of it. I’m sure that there are plenty of beautiful American-made toys that I could have been buying for Alex. Now that I’m informed, I’m going to make a point of looking for them.

(This is the first post that I'm publishing here rather than over on MotherBlogs. I'll see how it goes; then perhaps I'll move everything else here as well. In the meantime, please check out the rest of my blogs about feminist mothering.)