Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snow Day in Chucktown

Current state of affairs during our "snow day"

We're having a snow day here in Charleston. There's no actual snow**, but that hasn't stopped Charlestonians from buying up all the bread* in the grocery store and closing every school and office we possibly can. The Weather Channel has camped out on campus.

Here at the Francis-McCann household, we've busied ourselves with a variety of snow day activities.
Cate, in her natural state

  • Frances is standing watch at the window and tracking the storm on her phone, waiting desperately for snow. I fear her wrath if this turns out to be plain old freezing rain.
  • Cate has happily watched Digimon videos and read books all day, wrapped in a blanket, and curled up in her Papa's chair. This, I'm sure, is her version of heaven.
  • Brian, who will happily tell you countless*** stories of being a cold and hungry soldier in various places around the globe, has spent the day mocking Charlestonians. He also, inexplicably, has decided to wear a sweater vest and an ascot to do the dishes.
  • And I, despite the fact that this is supposed to be a snow day, spent most of it working. Campus may be closed, but email and phones are working.
Work and school are closed tomorrow as well. I suppose we'll busy ourselves with board games and watching the dismay of local weather folk as they come to terms with the anticlimax of Winter Storm 2014****.

And here's a snowman, made by our own Cate McCann.

* Why a run on bread? Will sandwiches protect us from freezing rain?
**To be fair, the snow isn't expected until this evening.
***It is truly amazing how many places he's been hungry and cold. And drunk.
****Literally what they're calling it on the local news.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Beyonce, Feminism, and Real Black Girls*

*First things first. Everybody with a keyboard and a brain has weighed on Beyonce's feminism. This post is not about that.  And, for our purposes, "real black girls" refers to black girls and women not employed by or enrolled in a university.

I'm teaching Black Women Writers this semester and, as I usually do, I began the course with a Beyonce video. I like inviting students to the study of black women's writing through Beyonce because the kind of public conversations black women intellectuals have about her echo those I want to have with my students about black women's literature: what is at stake int he representations of black women? is there a safe space for the narration of black female sexuality? is the mammy/jezebel/sapphire triad the best critical framework for understanding black female cultural production? Getting the students to consider these questions, initially, about someone whose work they are already familiar with eases them into the conversation, and demonstrates that these are the kinds of questions they are likely already asking of black female cultural production (even if they don't know it).

This year, Beyonce very helpfully dropped a new album, complete with visuals and drama and a feminist sample, putting her in direct conversation with the black feminist theory I use to frame my course. Everybody (I mean everybody) had something to say about Beyonce's feminism, but this post isn't about that conversation.  My students watched the video, read some of this posts, and had a great conversation about it this morning. They did a really good job of discussing "Flawless" in serious, academic ways.  They seemed to read "Flawless" as a definitive statement of feminism by Beyonce, and a challenge demanding a response. And respond they did. While they weren't ready to strip her of her feminist card. many were deeply suspicious of Bey's feminism, agreeing with Real Colored Girl's assessment.

They aren't the only ones, though, who read "Flawless" as an invitation. In the last few days I've had conversations with my 13-year old and my stylist about Beyonce and feminism.

My 13-year old happily calls herself a feminist, is deeply appalled by people who don't consider themselves feminist, and understands feminism to meant the fight to ensure that girls get to do and be whatever they can dream up. She is also a girl who is deeply suspicious of pretty (despite being a knockout herself, and knowing that). She sees no value in pretty other than your own sense of fabulousness and avoids any endeavor that values pretty over other things. So she was conflicted about "Flawless." She loved Beyonce's fierceness, her confidence that clearly stated "I don't give a fuck." She loved that Beyonce acknowledged that feminism might be something we should all sign up for. "I woke up like this" might be her new mantra. She did say, though, that kind of confidence is easy if you look like Beyonce. And that pretty shouldn't have to mean shorts made out of fishnet.

My stylist was thrilled to talk about Beyonce's new album, particularly the feminist stuff, particularly this video. My stylist wouldn't call herself a feminist. She thinks feminism means she shouldn't want a husband and she really wants to be married. She, like my daughter, loved B's confidence in this video. She loved the fishnet, the sexuality, the idea that some days you're just really feeling yourself and other folks need to know that. Beyonce's strut makes her want to strut. And she likes the idea that she can strut and be married.

For my kid and my stylist, Beyonce's invitation wasn't invitation to argue the definitions of feminism. Both of them are trying to figure out how to be healthy, happy, free black girls in the world and they're reading "Flawless" as an invitation to explore feminism as a possible path to happy, healthy freedom.  Their engagement with Beyonce, with feminism, is not academic but it is real.

Monday, January 06, 2014

What We're Reading (and Watching)--Jan. 5, 2014

Brian's still enjoying Two Fronts by Harry Turtledove. Apparently the Republicans are up to mind-numbingly dumb shenanigans in this alternate history. Not unlike in this actual history. He's also apparently loving 1920: America's Great War by Robert Conroy, another alternate history, I'm pretty sure.

Frances is finishing up the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. After doing her very best to watch all the modern Dr. Who episodes over the break, she's now moved on to binge-reading this series. I haven't read it, but she loves it, which means, I'm sure, it's full of teenagers in mortal peril and useless/clueless adults.

Cate discovered Pokemon manga and checked out a katrillion books over the weekend. There's also Warriors manga, as it turns out.

I'm prepping for class, so I've read nothing but syllabi and assignments for the last few days. I did check out Longbourne by Jo Baker, a romance novel about the servants in the Bennet household, set against the backdrop of the events of Pride and Prejudice. We'll see if I get a chance to read it before I have to return it to the library.

Did I mention that I finished The Awesome Girl's Guide to Dating Fabulous Men? Don't let the title fool you. It's not really about dating, although there is dating in it. It's about 4 twenty-something black women living and loving and working in L.A.  And it was amazing. Better than amazing. It was refreshing--a novel full of black women that wasn't about pathology or trauma or lifting as we climb. It was funny and heartbreaking and challenging and so so good. I highly recommend it. If I'd read it sooner, I'd be teaching it in Black Women Writers this semester.

We've also seen a few movies over the break.

Brian and I highly recommend American Hustle (and not just because my movie boyfriend Jeremy Renner is in it, though that alone is worth the price of admission). Well-acted, funny and poignant. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show, though Amy Adams' breasts put up a good fight.

Frances saw The Hobbit and, like Tolkien, appreciates any fantasy that has the decency to include a dragon. She did say it was long, though.

The family saw and ADORED Frozen. Not only does it pass the Bechdel test, it does so in a way that surprises and delights. Plus the song the older sister sings at the end of the first act is killer. I kind of want it to be my new theme song (not that I have an old one).

And finally, we watched Turbo on DVD.  It was exactly what you'd expect from a racing movie about snails.