Weekly Digest: January 31

When I started these digests last week, I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough material for the next week.  Well, I shall never worry about that again.

Michelle Obama’s “fashion” choices caused perhaps too much of a stir when she did not don any kind of head covering when visiting Saudi Arabia earlier this week.  I agree with Vanessa Friedman who argues that the problem wasn’t the choice to forego the scarf but that the administration didn’t explain that choice before arriving in the country.  Or did the First Lady have a choice?  Should she have respected the country’s customs (Laura Bush did don a scarf at one point during her husband’s admin)?  Well, that depends on which news source you ask.  It was a “bold political statement!”  It was because she has great arms and doesn’t want to cover up (thanks, Glenn Beck, for sexualizing her in the first two minutes of your discussion of Veil-Gate)!  It does seem to me that Mrs. Obama doesn’t make any choice lightly, so perhaps her bared head in a country in which women still are not permitted to drive or leave the house without permission and in which bloggers are flogged for speaking against the country does make a statement about liberation and freedom.

In the name of reconciliation, South Africa released a death squad leader who killed many anti-apartheid activists.  Eugene de Kock did reach out to families of those he killed and asked for forgiveness and did lead authorities to the remains of some of those he killed.  If you don’t know much about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this moving film shows the importance and struggles of working toward healing a nation.  It is worth every second it takes to watch it.  I show it every time I teach my course on Modern South Africa, and it always stuns my students.

Falling under the “I’m Confused” category of news this week, I found myself puzzled at Cosmo’s strange attempt to draw attention to the story of Shafilea Ahmed by creating a publicity stunt cover and complementary video depicting a woman suffocating.  I think Cosmo suffocates a lot of things–such a females who do not want to be pigeonholed into being sexual goddesses all day, every day–and it seems to me all they did was fetishize a very real problem and use it to sell magazines.  Not raise awareness.  Though I guess we all know who this woman is now.

I couldn’t stop reading Lynsey Addario’s essay “What Can a Pregnant Photojournalist Cover?  Everything.”  In it she talks about the tension of returning to work after having a baby.  Granted, I don’t work in war zones, but I appreciated her showing the challenges of being a mother and loving one’s career simultaneously.  In short, she is totally kick ass.

The NYT ran another photo essay that, when I looked at it, the world around me grew quiet (it even shut up the Doc McStuffins theme song that runs nonstop in my head).  Nancy Borowick documented both her parents’ cancer treatments (that’s right, both her parents had cancer at the same time) and then her mother’s death.  Both slide shows will stop time as they remind you that time never stops.

My amazing friend Carrie Hagen published another piece for Smithsonian.  Carrie does the work of bringing out of the darkness stories that the culture needs to remember after having forgotten them (her book we is got him tells the story of the first ransomed kidnapping in the United States while telling the story of the nation at the same time…go and read it now).  This week’s piece tells the story of codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman and her work during Prohibition.  Anyone as addicted to Bletchley Circle as I am will enjoy this read about an important woman we all have never heard of.

And finally, in the “it has only been two weeks but I already love my students” column, comes the Super Bowl ad airing on Sunday.  They brought it up on Friday–they are already thinking like Women’s and Gender Studies scholars (I told them that the Super Bowl would now be ruined for them, and then we had a good conversation about whether we can derive pleasure from things that we also can see are problematic:  I said yes).  My comment was that while I think the commercial will do important work, I will be watching more to see what commercials frame this important ad.  If the ad before is for Go Daddy and the one after is for Bud Light, i.e., if the partner violence ad is framed by ads in which women are treated as objects, thereby creating a climate in which patriarchy is allowed to thrive, then I will be unimpressed with the efforts being made.  Am I happy we are drawing awareness to an issue that has been with us forever and suddenly people are paying attention?  Sure.  I am all about bringing the larger culture into the fold of the fight.  Yet I also want to see the work being done go beyond one minute.  So I will be watching closely to see how the ad is framed.  Best case scenario:  it runs without any other commercials.  It gets its own spot.  And then the screen goes blank for a second allowing the message to sink in. But that second is worth seven bazillion bucks.  So my guess is my utopian vision will succumb to capitalist desires.  Again. (When I watched the public service announcement, the preceding ad that I was forced to watch showed three scantily clad women and then a car.  The ad ended with the assumption that Ludacris was going to be having sex with those women.  So, you know, ludicrous.  And I would say tone deaf as well.  Here’s hoping the NFL does a better job).



And here I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to talk about…



  1. Thanks for sending along some powerful stories of the week. The Super Bowl continues to be a source for so much discussion. Glad you’re inviting your students to think critically about pop culture.

    1. Thank you for visiting. We have our best discussions about pop culture. They teach me a thing or two.

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