Thursday, October 12, 2006

34. Bitchfest

edited by Lisa Jervis & Andi Zeisler

I discovered Bitch four years ago, randomly in a Borders where I would have least expected to find the magazine that would later become one of my favorites. I was drawn in by the pop culture aspect, having always wished there were a magazine that addressed pop culture from an academic standpoint and giving it the legitimacy it deserves. I know the academic tone is something that turns off some readers, but for me it was the most refreshing thing I could have found. I have long considered myself a feminist, ever since I was old enough to understand that my life could be different from my mother’s, so while the word “bitch” was not something I necessarily wanted to show off while on the bus or el, I believed too much in what these writers were trying to do for the name of the magazine to matter much in the end.

Ten years later the magazine is still alive and that’s where Bitchfest comes in. Bitchfest is a collection of essays picked from ten years of writing with several new pieces composed just for the book. I’ve been reading more novels than magazines lately, so I’m a little behind on issues of Bitch, but reading Bitchfest reminded me exactly why I need to get caught up on those couple of issues I’ve let pass.

I remember some of these pieces the first time they were published. I remember “On Language: Choice,” by Summer Wood in which the author discusses the use of the word “choice” and how using that word as a label can, however inaccurately, impart a feminist ideology to that which is labeled. She cites the scene in Sex and the City in which, upon divulging her plans to quit work in order to become a mother, Charlotte screams at Miranda, “I choose my choice! I choose my choice!” as if to convince herself that her choice was truly for herself and not for the benefit of her husband. I thought the same thing when I saw that episode, seeing how “choice” was being misappropriated to claim a feminist stance on any ground, and I thought it again when I saw a commercial for a new type of birth control that urged women to break free from the chains of the daily pill or even weekly patch and make a “choice” for a monthly version. While the decision and the freedom to regulate one’s reproductive ability is no doubt a feminist issue, I found it a bit ridiculous that the creators of the ad used the idea of “choice” as a marketing tool. After all, I’ve never found it a particularly difficult task to remember to take a pill after I brushed my teeth every morning.

I also remember Jennifer Maher’s “Hot for Teacher: On the Erotics of Pedagogy.” While musing on her own high school crush on her English teacher, Maher takes a look at the acceptance of male pedagogic idolatry from females who are then inspired to learn more and become more through their love, versus the typical male crush on a female teacher which leads to the female stripping down to a bikini and dancing on top of a desk, if you happen to believe in Van Halen videos. In the classroom, what does this say about the worth of the female teacher versus the male? Maher poses the problem as such: “For a female student, identifying with the man at the front of the classroom means gaining power in the form of knowledge, authority, and sexual possibility. For a male student, however, identifying with a woman means losing it.” Looking to Maverick’s interaction with Charlie in Top Gun, Madonna’s teacher-like role in Desperately Seeking Susan, and the women of Mona Lisa Smile, Maher examines how the problem has both persisted and changed in cultural representation.

For all the essays I’ve already read, though, there were still many in this book that I’d missed. “Sister Outsider Headbanger,” by Keidra Chaney looks at what it means to be a black female metalhead, which, although I could never really say I was a metalhead, was something I identified with because I always preferred rock to anything else and that apparently wasn’t the right type of music for my ethnicity. “Marketing Miss Right,” by one of the magazine’s founders, Andi Zeisler, dealt with the way single, twenty-something women are written about in magazines and books. Published in 2000, it was the time to see all those Bridget Jones clones and Rules-following women and wonder what the hell was going on. And in “Screen Butch Blues,” a piece written for the collection, author Keely Savoie recounts the experience of her girlfriend being approached by the producers of Queer Eye for a special butch episode and uses it to examine how butch women have been treated in movies and TV.

Although I don’t agree with everything Bitch prints – I think Loveline’s a hilarious show (the radio version, anyway) and I can’t get behind promoting one’s abortion on a t-shirt – and I’m still hesitant to break out the magazine while on my morning commute, I love Bitch dearly and will be quite sad if I ever have to see it go. Ladies – here’s to another ten years of deconstructing feminism, femininity, and pop culture and finding out what they mean to us. Here’s to another ten years of reminding everyone why all those thing are so important.

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