REVIEW: ¡ACTIVISTA! An International Women’s Day Concert

In honor of International Women’s Day, I attended the live stream of HotHouse’s “¡ACTIVISTA! An International Women’s Day Celebration.” A virtual concert comprised of musical performances, spoken word and poetry, and a bit of Q&A with some of the artists, ¡ACTIVISTA! was a wonderful arts experience. Live streams are one way to mindfully engage with the arts during the pandemic, and this one was a masterfully curated experience, hosted by Chicago-based organization HotHouse and publisher Haymarket Books.

Natu Camara

The artists featured in the performance came from all around the globe, and covered a wide range of topics from refugee rights to environmental justice to anti-colonialism. I truly enjoyed the blending of music and poetry performances during this event. Culture and vision wove through each piece of the performance, beginning with Farah Siraj’s haunting song honoring refugee women, written in Arabic, and ending with Kyung-Hwa Yu, a South Korean artist reviving the Korean stringed instrument cheolhyeongeum in contemporary music.

Angel Bat Dawid

A truly intercultural collection of pieces, there were a variety of languages represented in the art. There were poems in Spanish and Zapotec, songs in Sousous and Arabic. A painful song written about child marriage performed by the lovely Natu Camara and her band from Guinea. COLLECTIVA, a group of women who formed recently online during the pandemic to share their passion for music virtually and across oceans. One of my favorite moments from the concert was a thoroughly enchanting improvised bass clarinet solo by Angel Bat Dawid. Lyla June of the First Nations, with the gripping words, “they say that history is written by the victors, but how can there be a victor when the war isn’t over?”

Janel Pineda

It was a beautiful experience to watch these powerful women and their art shared together in a common space, in celebration and solidarity. I am reminded through these pieces that art can be expressive and lovely while also being a firm call for change. While extremely personal and masterful, these pieces also contain the seed of movement. They contain past, present, and future.

Available online to watch at: https://youtu.be/d4Cn6eCvSX8. Consider a donation, if you are able, so that HotHouse can continue to provide virtual concerts free of charge to viewers all over the world.

REVIEW: Moxie

Moxie, directed by Amy Poehler, is a Netflix film about 16-year-old Vivian and her feminist awakening when she opens her eyes to the misogynistic culture of her high school. Vivian finds her mom’s old collection of ‘90s feminist punk zines and decides to make her own, anonymously printing copies and putting them in the school bathrooms. A cult following then amasses–a small group of girls get together to start taking larger action against sexism and gender inequality at their school.

I may have came in expecting too much from the film. I’ll try my best to judge it as the lighthearted teen dramedy it was meant to be, but I have to criticize Moxie for its ambitiousness and subsequent shortcomings.

Overall, Moxie felt like it was trying too hard to be too many things, and the end result was a messy and underwhelming teen rom-com. Too often I felt the issues being touched on in the film were important, but not given enough attention or screen time. Moxie tries to cover heavy topics like sexism, racism, transgender issues, sexual assault, and immigrant issues, along with mother-daughter conflict and healthy teenage relationships, all while tossing in a bit of barely-there LGBTQ+ representation and disability representation.

Vivan (left) and Lucy (right) in Moxie (2021)

While I’m happy that this film had representation of so many different identities and experiences, it was disappointing to see so many opportunities for nuanced coverage of these diverse topics disappear in the shadow of Vivian’s coming-of-age plot. As an important but unfortunate example, new student Lucy, a Black girl, is the one who inspires Vivian’s budding feminism by standing up against a sexist teacher and the aggressive school jock. However, Lucy and the other women of color in the Moxie group are basically relegated to the role of one-dimensional inspiration and backup for Vivian, while Vivan, a white girl, gets the privilege of a plot exploring the complexity of her budding political self, family life, young love, and teenage angst–which we don’t even truly get to invest in, because there’s simply not enough time to dive into character development with everything Moxie tried to squeeze into 2 hours.

Amy Poehler’s character, Vivian’s mom, makes a brief reference to the lack of intersectionality in the feminist movement back in her day as a ‘90s riot grrrl. Moxie also fails to fully be the feminism power statement it could be. I feel there simply wasn’t enough time in a feature film to cover intersectionality and discuss why and how misogyny affects women of color, or trans women, or disabled women, differently. And that there had seemingly been no push against the terribly misogynistic culture in the school before Vivian’s spontaneous feminist push is doubtful–but that’s all I’ll say about that.

As someone who was in the high school scene just a few years ago (though it seems longer), I will say I probably would have been inspired by this film as a 16-year-old. I saw some of my own Gen-Z high school struggles portrayed in Moxie, and I think Moxie is definitely more positive than other YA media that was being released in my teenage years (ex. 13 Reasons Why). I think Moxie was made in good intent, it just didn’t live up to its potential. Perhaps as a full Netflix series, Moxie could have been a lot more. 

Moxie was a cute modern-age girl-power flick, but it sure wasn’t anything groundbreaking or monumental. Worth the watch if you’re looking for something light–but don’t expect more than, as NYT’s Jeannette Catsoulis puts it, “a CliffsNotes guide to fighting the patriarchy.”

REVIEW: Virtual Life Drawing with Anti Diet Riot Club

About a week ago I had stumbled upon information for Anti Diet Riot Club’s life drawing sessions. Anti Diet Riot Club is a London-based organization that fights against diet culture and works to empower individuals to love themselves and their bodies. Loving their message, and interested in seeing what a virtual life drawing session would be like, I took the leap and registered.

a layered sketch from the session

The event, held on the 4th Wednesday of each month, is advertised as “NOT a serious art class” and is instead meant to be an exploration of creativity as a way to challenge perfectionism and what we’ve come to see as typical beauty standards. Studies have shown a correlation between attending life drawing sessions and positive body image.

My artistic skills with a pencil and paper are typically limited to stick figures and simple doodles, but I sat down with my paper and markers ready to take on the challenge of drawing the human body. 

As soon as I logged into the Zoom call, I was met with a gallery full of smiling participants of all ages, in their respective Zoom squares. There were about 140 participants in the Zoom call, and we did a check-in through the chat. Most people were calling from England, but as I typed that I was calling from the States, I was excited to see that people from all over the world were joining in on this drawing class–Scotland, Poland, Germany, France, and a few people from the US, joining from Colorado and New York. 

three sketches from the drawing ‘games’ we did

The session was guided with silly drawing ‘games’ to help “kick the perfectionist out–” beginning with a simple, 1-minute timed sketch of our amazing model, Lucie. Any worries or hesitations I had about my drawing abilities disappeared once we started flowing through the exercises. Drawing without looking down, drawing with the non-dominant hand, drawing using only triangles or circles, using bold colors, and having a set amount of time for each sketch took the focus off of creating “perfect” art and left space for simply admiring the human form and putting it on paper, to the best of my untrained ability.

The session reminded me, in quite an emotional tidal wave, of how objectively beautiful the body is. Seeing the body, and especially types of bodies that aren’t often recognized in mainstream media, as a piece of art helped to mute the ingrained judgements that often blare, unwelcomed, at the thought of my own body’s ‘flaws.’ Artistically appreciating the details of a real and ‘imperfect’ body made a clear and powerful difference in the way I felt about myself after the session versus before.

If you are interested in joining next month’s session, tickets are available at Eventbrite (also linked below) and cost £5 – £8 (roughly $7 – $12 US). I will definitely be joining again, and for now I move into the rest of my day wrapped in confidence, compassion, and self-love.

my final drawing for the session, using color

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-life-drawing-with-anti-diet-riot-club-tickets-134033550959?aff=ebdssbonlinesearch&keep_tld=1

 

REVIEW: The Vagina Monologues

By the start of Saturday’s show, the Vagina Monologues had raised over $2,500 for Safe House, which was wonderful to hear. There were far more women than men in the audience–either it was the subject material, or maybe it was because the men were too busy watching the latest NCAA Tournament game.

The show was split into two halves: the first half consisted of students on campus telling their stories, and the second half a rendition of Eve Ensler’s play of the same name. Out of respect for the women in the first half, I won’t post any quotes or pictures. Instead, a checklist of things I gathered:

  1. Found out what the clitoris is
  2. That virginity is a social construct meant to control women
  3. PCOS (polycistic ovary syndrome) makes you have irregular periods, and makes it really hard to lose weight
  4. There is a huge lack of women and diversity in Hollywood (duh)
  5. Don’t spray perfume up your vagina!
  6. Just because you enjoy Anime doesn’t mean you have yellow fever (probably)
  7. Don’t hook up with girls and then refuse to date them
  8. Don’t refuse to take girls out to eat, but then offer to eat them out later
  9. No means no.

The second half–Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues–was in a way more concise than the previous monologues. This was partly due to the fact that each monologue was actually from a compendium of interviews Ms. Ensler had conducted with over 200 women in preparation for the play.

Some stories were raunchier than others, some were funny and some were so serious that the Rackham Amphitheater got so quiet you could hear the breaths of the people in the audience.

One women said the word cunt, and then kept repeating cunt, as well as words that were related and/or sounded like cunt.

Another woman was obsessed with making other women happy, so she stopped being a lawyer to become a sex worker that worked only for women. She was a dominatrix that loved hearing women moan, and the audience received quite the description of the different moans she had heard from various women.

There was only one moment when I felt the urge to “man-splain” something. Regarding Pap smears, one woman wondered aloud why she had to wear a papery apron instead of a velvet robe, and why they used such uncomfortable instruments rather than something else more pleasurable. If Pap smears were like that, the hospital bill would probably be a lot higher than it currently is for the procedure. But alas, I am a graduate student in a physiology program, so medical things stand out to me.

Overall, the Vagina Monologues is a worthwhile event to go to, especially if you are a man. Although not as provocative as it might have been in a more conservative town, the Vagina Monologues is still a raunchy, R-rated show that can help you expand your horizons if you let it.

 

 

PREVIEW: The Vagina Monologues

For the past five years, the group Students for Choice has put on the Vagina Monologues at U of M. In case you don’t know, the choice is a live performance of Eve Ensler’s play of the same name. As you can probably tell, vaginas will be mentioned often, and in detail.

From the event page:

TVM raises awareness about the violence against women and girls, celebrates women’s sexuality, and talks about experiences excluded from the dominant narrative.

When: Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18 from 8:00-10:00 PM
Where: Rackham Auditorium.
Cost: $5 in Advance and $10 at the door
All ticket proceeds go to SafeHouse Center and V-Day.

Also feel free to like and explore the UofM Vagina Monologues Page!

 

REVIEW: Hijabi Monologues

Twenty minutes before the event started, the 4th floor Rackham Auditorium was already packed. Students, friends, family, and curious people filled the seats, the stairs, the walls, and the walkways. Organizers had to repeatedly clear the overflowing doorways, and we we were repeatedly warned that if any more audience members came, it would be a fire hazard and Rackham would have to shut the event down. Both sophomore event organizers, Alyiah and Fatima, introduced Halfway Hijabi as an event for Muslim women who wore hijabs (headscarves) to “reclaim our voices and our space rather than having others speak on our behalf.”

To create a safe space, photographs and video recording by audience members was not allowed. All that really mattered, however, were the words that flowed out of these powerful, well-spoken women.

The first of many female performers read an essay speaking of themes that would become a common thread throughout the night. Anger and humiliation at being forcibly strip searched at an airport because she had a metal leg brace. Comments like “you look like you came out of Iraq” and “This is America sweetheart–you can take that [the hijab] off now.” She ended with the words “I do not allow the hijab to limit me, so why do you?”

Another performer talked of women reclaiming the American flag from a symbol of oppression to a symbol of pride by wearing the design on headscarves.

Most of the performers were students, and they pointed out how often they walk into a room and find that they are the only hijabi, and having to represent the entire Muslim population.

Although many of the performances were raw and heartbreaking, a few of the women lightened the mood. One international student from Malaysia read a short speech regarding her reasons for wearing her hijab, and comparing what it was like to wear one in Malaysia versus the US. She concluded that “I was told that God wants me to wear hijab and actually I’m okay with that” and then hilariously quoted Miley Cyrus when she said “only God can judge us.”

The one musical piece of the night was naturally one of the saddest songs ever created: a rendition of Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah. It was not only beautifully sung, but also refreshing to hear it sung in this context.

My only regret about the event is that it wasn’t in Rackham’s larger auditorium. The Hijabi Monologues is the kind of event that should be shown to as many students as possible, because much of the hate and rudeness that these women experienced comes from ignorance.