I Embrace My Female Nerd (and So Can You)

There's something I want to go ahead and put out there: I am a nerd. Many of my female role models live in alternate universes, fight aliens in space, are spies or witches, and are, well, fictional. As this is my first official post as a contributor to Her Blueprint, I feel it is important to get that admission out of the way.

There's been a lot of social commentary written about calling oneself a nerd (or a geek) as nerd-culture has become increasingly popular with rise of Comic-Con International, shows like The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones, and Marvel Studio's super-secret plan for world domina... I mean, modestly successful franchises—it's become popular to be a nerd, and self-proclaimed "real nerds" don't like that people are jumping on their Battlestar Galactica or throwing on a Browncoat at this stage in the game.

Any discussion about who gets to call themselves a "real nerd" belongs on another blog (or better yet, on no blogs, as personally, I think it's a ridiculous conversation to have in the first place) — I bring it up as something of an introduction to myself (because I'll bring nerd things into a conversation whenever possible) and as a segue into the actual point of this post: the rising popularity of women in sci-fi.

It’s a broad topic, I know, as well-written female protagonists are hard to come by in any genre, and despite valiant attempts by comic book and fiction writers, female characters rarely translate into box-office dollars and second season pick-ups—until recently, that is. More and more, we're seeing films like Maleficent and Lucy, starring Angelina Jolie and Scarlet Johansson, respectively, put into production; both films are currently in the top 25 grossing films of 2014, with Jolie's Maleficent sitting in the #2 spot, with $747.6 million earned so far, 68% of which is from overseas markets.

Science fiction, and its sister genre fantasy, has always been the refuge of counter-culture; time travel, space exploration, dystopian futures wrought at the hands of despots and the revolutionaries that overthrow them—science fiction is where we look for change and hope. As the boom of nerd-culture sweeps Hollywood, the reach of the sci-fi genre is increasing as well. So far in 2014, seven of the top grossing films in South Africa are sci-fi, already tying 2013's numbers. In Argentina, eight of the top 20 grossing films are from the genre, up from six in 2013. Similar increases can be seen in Peru and Lebanon, with 11 and nine films so far in 2014, compared to nine and six in 2013, respectively.

And there's no lack of science fiction productions on the horizon, with films like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Cinderella, and Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, all coming out in the next year. And each of these films features at least one lead female character.

In 2013, the top ten grossing films earned an average of 64% of their total revenues from overseas markets; as Hollywood's sci-fi moves toward more equal gender representation, that representation can be seen reaching into international markets as well.

The landscape of television is seeing similar movements, as was evident at this year's International Comic-Con in San Diego. From events with the casts of BBC's Orphan Black and HBO's Game of Thrones, and Entertainment Weekly's Women Who Kick Ass panel, women took the lead with more than ten panels solely dedicated to female representation across mediums. Women also ruled the convention floor with gender-bent cosplay and a nerd-themed fashion show.

Katey Sagal, Sarah Paulson, Tatiana Maslany, Nicole Beharie, Maisie Williams and Natalie Dormer speaking at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con International, for "Entertainment Weekly: Women Who Kick Ass", at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. Photo by Gage Skidmore.
There was a time in my life when I wanted to work for the CIA—I wanted to be like Sydney Bristow, Jennifer Garner's character in Alias, traveling around the world in disguises, stealing computer chips and taking out the bad guys. That's a lie, actually, I still want to be like Sydney Bristow, despite every one of my fiercely liberal bones telling me otherwise. Young women—all women—need positive role models, and the amazing thing about the human imagination is that the person inspiring you doesn't need to be real. For better or worse, the reach of popular culture cannot be denied; it is imperative that we continue to move toward and support more female lead characters. And science fiction is a great place to start.

Doctor Who-a threat to the political and social order? [The Guardian]
Women Totally Dominated This Year's Comic-Con International [Nerdist.com]
Yearly Box Office [BoxOfficeMojo]

Abortion Ship Doctor Slams Irish Policy

[Editor's Note: This post was written by Tracy Brown Hamilton, a journalist based in Amsterdam. It originally appeared on Rabble.ie.]

Photo credit: WOW Facebook page.
News broke over the weekend that a woman in Ireland was forced to bear her rapist’s child having been denied an abortion after going on hunger strike. Tracy Brown Hamilton chatted to Rebecca Gomperts of Woman On Waves about how Ireland’s laws are failing women.

The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act of 2013 was ostensibly going to help secure a woman’s rights, and sparked outrage from Ireland’s pro-life community. But the policy is flawed, according to Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, 47.
“It’s ridiculous,” Gomperts says. “Women are dying and suffering health problems. Human rights are being violated. It was bad before, but now it’s worse. This policy won’t help women.”
Gomperts is the founder and director of Women on Waves, an organization that, among other things, sails a ship to countries where pregnancy termination is prohibited and offers non-surgical abortions beyond territorial waters.

Ireland Campaign

In 2001, Women on Waves launched their first ship campaign – to Ireland.
“There is a very dedicated pro-choice community there,” Gomperts says, “and they were very interested in the project.”
The number of women who sought Gomperts’ services exceeded anyone’s expectations. “The groups we worked with said, ‘no woman is going to come to a ship for an abortion’,” Gomperts recalls. “But we had 80 calls immediately, and realized we had not brought enough pills.”

Those who responded included women who had been raped, schoolgirls who could not find a feasible excuse to go to England for a couple of days, mothers who could not afford childcare while away in England, and political refugees who did not have the papers to travel.

In the end, because they did not have two necessary licenses from the Dutch and Irish authorities –one for operating medical facilities and the other for carrying passengers to sea – Women on Waves was unable to distribute the abortion pill.

Regardless, hundreds of Irish women continued to reach out to Gomperts for help.

Non-Surgical Abortion

According to Gomperts, the abortion pill – mifepristone and misoprostol – can be safely used to terminate pregnancies up to 12 weeks at home, without medical supervision.
“The World Health Organisation has published guidelines that say women can do this,” she says. “So there is no need for surgical abortion anymore. The only issue is getting women access to the pills.”
To that end, Gomperts has created an international network to help women around the world find a means of getting the abortion pill. “We are not selling drugs,” she clarifies. “We are a referral service; we help women get a medical abortion at home. But they risk prosecution if it’s illegal in their country.”

And under Ireland’s new abortion policy, punishment has become stricter. “The sentence for such an ‘illegal’ abortion in Ireland used to be three years,” Gomperts says, “and now they have made it twelve years.”

Dr. Gomperts smiles on the telephone during a recent action in Smir, Morocco. Photo credit: WOW Facebook page

No Link to Depression

The new law also removes the possibility of suicide risk as a means of permitting legal abortions. “Of course it was already problematic if you are forcing someone to say they are suicidal just to obtain an abortion,” she says, “but now even that is not allowed.”

Gomperts strongly opposes claims that abortion can lead to mental distress or illness.
“There have been lots of scientific studies published in major journals,” she says, “that show there is no link between depression or suicide and abortion. None.”
Statistics of women who express regret after terminating a pregnancy can be misconstrued, Gomperts finds. “Our data shows that 1 percent of women regret it,” she says. “But a lot of women mean they regret being in the position to begin with. That’s different.”

A Selfless Decision

Gomperts has encountered many women who have been surprised to find themselves opting for termination. “They tell me, ‘I am against abortion, but my situation is different,’” she says. “It takes a certain degree of empathy to extend that reasoning to other people, or to realize that perhaps you are not against abortion after all.”

People are too judgmental about abortion, Gomperts says.
“For me, it’s obvious that it’s a selfless decision,” she says. “There are women who, if they had the right conditions, may make a different choice. But when women really find they don’t have what it takes to raise a child in a good situation, then abortion is a very moral decision.”

Social Justice Issue

Gomperts, who has two children, says she is a doctor first and an activist second. “As a doctor, I’m here to aid in the well being of people,” she says. “And if you want to make sure that the well being of women is being guaranteed, you have to legalize abortion. For me it’s completely about social justice. The problem with many health issues today, including abortion, is that it comes down to who has the means to access the care.”

Tears in the Congo: Jean Chung Returns to DRC Five Years Later

Between 2008 and 2009, award-winning photojournalist Jean Chung traveled through the Democratic Republic of Congo to document sexual violence. In the resulting series, Tears in the Congo: Sexual Violence in the DRC, she captured the strength and bravery of women who gave birth after being raped.

In bold colors, Chung shared stories of women carrying their babies back home after treatment and fistula surgeries, reflecting the ravage of rape that has affected more than half a million women in the DRC.

Five years later, she returned to follow up on her earlier subjects. Chung's latest work Tears in the Congo: Unending War, Unending Tears documents the women and children who continue to fight for their safety and survival, even as rape as a weapon of war continues to proliferate their lives.

Yet now, in 2014, Chung's photos from Congo are in black-and-white. The photo at the top of this post caught my eye and mesmerized me. In the midst of life, zooming through the French countryside on TGV watching green earth pass by, sitting by the ocean looking at three swaths of blue, letting the sun warm my naked spine, I kept thinking, when Chung returned to Congo, all color was gone. Only black and white remained.

For months, I have been on a writing break since stumbling upon May San Alberto's Artemisias in a gallery in Rome. Sometimes the break comes from still not knowing the answer: how to create safety for women and children in the DRC because they deserve it. As much as I do. As much as you do. As we all do.

Over these months, one thought kept surfacing: Our work as activists, as human beings, has to bring effective change. We all must live in safety, at least.

How can this shift occur? More advocacy. More policy and law. More outreach?

In June 2014, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence took place in London. It created concrete steps toward ending impunity for those who commit sexual violence within war and conflict.

But until impunity arrives and behavior change occurs, Chung has it right. The facts are stark and they remain in black-and-white: For more than ten years, the DRC has been a war zone with death tolls exceeding 5.5 million people. More than 500,000 women and children have been raped.

Chung's photos also remind: As time passes for women and children in Congo, this means their lives remain just as they are. Just as they have been for more than ten years. In need of basic safety. In need of a better chance. In need of change.

Jean Chung is a Korean photojournalist who has won awards such as the CARE Humanitarian Reporting Award in 2007 and the 6th and 7th Days Japan International Photojournalism Award in 2010 and 2011. 

Photo credits: Jean Chung

CLIO TALKS BACK: “It is the Women Who Make the Soldiers”

This week is the 100th anniversary of the German invasion of France – and the beginning of the military cataclysm that wrecked Europe and has affected us all since. All this the result of an assassination in Sarajevo in late June, and the month of failed diplomatic efforts that followed. (France had done nothing except to come to the support of its ally Russia, which was supporting the Serbs against the Austrians, who were allied with Germany). Clio’s previous blog was on this subject.

Clio has since discovered a novel by the best-selling French writer, Marcelle Tinayre (1870-1948), called (in its English translation) To Arms! Published in 1915, it explores the varied reactions of ordinary Parisians as seen through the eyes of one woman during two days (the 31st of July and 1st August 1914 – just 100 years ago) of the run-up to the German invasion of France– when Parisians had learned that the German army was mobilizing for a strike, but hadn’t yet launched it.

In Tinayre’s novel, one older woman who is the concierge in the building where the main character, Simone, lives, exclaims, weeping, on how hard war is on mothers of sons:
“If there were women in the government, war would be ended! It is the soldiers who make the battles, but it is the women who make the soldiers. 
Between you and me, we always think about saving our children. I cannot think that a German mother has a different heart from mine! There are not two ways of bringing a child into the world, and not two ways for him to leave it, and not two ways of suffering when we lose him. Nature is everywhere the same . . . .” 
And the author remarks:
“The cry of distracted maternity, of naked and savage instinct, resounded through Simone’s whole being. The old concierge with grey hair, in the rooms furnished with mahogany, seemed to her a symbolic figure of the Mater Dolorosa. No doubt, at this moment, despatches running on the telegraph wires, or sent on air waves, were carrying the same news to France, Germany, and Russia. Everywhere, the women who had not wished to believe in the catastrophe so incomprehensible to their simple minds, were brutally crushed before the reality. . . . Everywhere. And the women of the Russian huts, primitive souls who knew nothing of the universe, and the prolific German women who lived in subjection to men, and the French women passionately devoted to their sons, all, submitting to the law, faithful to their duty but equally tortured, uttered the same cry, the unavailing cry of the mothers which, from the time of Hecuba and Rachel, resounds eternally from age to age.” 
And yet wars continue, and mothers continue to wail. Ten million men died in World War I and some twenty million were wounded. An entire generation was sacrificed in the course of four bloody years. Wars continue today in many parts of the world. How long will it be before women and men put a halt to such senseless slaughter?

Source: To Arms! (La Veillée des Armes): An Impression of the Spirit of France. Authorized translation from the French of Marcelle Tinayre by Lucy H. Humphrey, with a preface by John H. Finley (New York, 1918; originally published in France in 1915).

Nicola Costantino: Art of Sensation

Nicola Costantino was born in Rosario, Argentina, on November 17, 1964, into a family of Italian descent. As a child, she was a little unusual, with remarkably popping eyes and many scientific and technical leanings.

While she attended the course of Fine Arts at the National University in Rosario, her interest in new artistic materials and techniques led her to research and work in craft workshops and factories. At ICI Duperial, she experimented with silicone molds and matrices on polyester resin apt for flexible polyurethane foam injection. Her skill in this technique proved decisive for the development of her art work, and enabled her to achieve the real-object perception that would become characteristic of Nicola’s art.

Costantino achieves in her art what visual arts should do: her sculptures, installations, videos, and photographs catch the eye and alter perception. Because they are predominately rooted in sensation, and not just in concepts, her artworks trigger an immediate, physical reaction. Casts of animal fetuses, molds of human skin, and soaps made with the artist’s own fat build up a tension between ornamentation and revulsion. Her innovation revolves around ethical values and the alienation from nature. Even sexuality is turned into compulsion, flesh, and transmuted bodies, turning everything into an oppressive eroticism.

In 1995, she started to experiment with an almost exact copy of human skin made in silicone that she used for the production of her clothing. And it is for theses silicon sculptures and clothes resembling erogenous parts of the human body, that she achieved notoriety. Also, she made her first coat with navels and human hair, which she herself wore during her frequent trips to New York and Los Angeles. Fashion -  a topic that had been present throughout her life along with consumption and the human body as a tool of seduction - has become a recurrent theme in her work.

Costantino frequently employs visually and conceptually shocking means to investigate corporeality, and the relationship between animals and humans. With a background in sculpture and having worked with her mother in a clothing factory as a child, Costantino constantly seeks to incorporate new materials and processes in her practice. She studied mechanical engineering to make her kinetic works, taxidermy for her casts of animal carcasses, and soap-making to create soap from her own body fat. In her later career, Costantino has turned to photography, exploring themes of doubling and manipulation.

In 2003, she started her project Savon de Corps, with soaps made with a part of her own fat obtained from a liposuction. She held a solo exhibit of her Boutique at Senda Gallery, in Barcelona’s Paseo de Gracia, a street where the world’s most glamorous clothing brands are based, and another exhibition with her whole work at Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca, both in Spain.
Cochon sur canapé (1992), her first solo show, was considered a forerunner of contemporary Latin American art.

In 1994, she was admitted into the Antorchas Foundation’s Barracas Workshop, coordinated by Suárez and Benedit and moved to Buenos Aires, where she settled down and started working. In 1998, she represented Argentina in the San Pablo biennial and then began to take part in several exhibits in museums around the world, such as those in Liverpool (1999), Tel Aviv (2002) and Zurich (2011). In 2000, she performed a solo show at Deitch Projects (New York); her Corset of Human Furriery became part of the MOMA collection. In 2004, she presented Animal Motion Planet, a series of orthopedic machines for stillborn animals, and Savon de Corps, a work that caused great impact in mass media.

Her reunion with Gabriel Valansi in 2006 lead her into photography, where she has more than 30 works in which she always takes the leading role embodying different characters of photography and other art forms. Her interest in video performance drives her creation of self-referential work Trailer (2010), her first cinematographic-like production, as well as her embodying of a historical and emblematic female character like Eva Perón in Rapsodia Inconclusa (55th Venice Biennial, 2013).

CLIO TALKS BACK: World War and Women

2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918).  On 28 June in Sarajevo,  the heir to the throne of the Dual Monarchy (Austria-Hungary) Franz-Ferdinand and his morganatic wife Sophie (the mother of their four children) was assassinated by a local terrorist.
            This tragic event led, within a month, because of the complex of secret diplomatic alliances between nations that fell into play, to the German Army’s swift invasion and occupation of Belgium and the northern part of France. 
            Thus began a European (then world) war that lasted for four long and brutal years, with many fighting fronts, much trench warfare, and – worst of all – horrific casualties. Airplanes became a weapon of war and poison gas was introduced. France alone lost 1.3 million men, and hundreds of thousands more were maimed for life or suffered severe psychological damage. Total war casualties are generally agreed to have topped 20 million. 
Most women in the combatant nations supported their country’s war effort, postponing their fight for the vote and other desirable reforms; victory seemed paramount. They took over men’s labor in the fields and factories, including the munitions plants.  By 1918, some 1.5 million women worked in building arms. There were a few women, however, who took a stand for peace. One of these was a French teacher and union administrator named Hélène Brion (1882-1962).
            In late 1917, Hélène Brion and several others were arrested and charged with treason; they were vilified by the mainstream press. They were tried in a military court in late March 1919. Brion was convicted, but her three-year prison sentence was suspended. 
            The unusual part of this trial was Hélène Brion’s statement of defense, in which she invoked her status as a non-citizen under French law and claimed the intrinsic links between her work for peace and her feminist commitment. She talked back to power in a military court! She speaks to the difficulty women faced in ostensible democracies where women had no say in the making of laws (French women did not obtain the vote until 1944).
            Here, in Clio’s English translation, is her statement. Her words are still worth reading and pondering in today’s troubled times.
            “I appear before this court charged with a political crime; yet I am denied all political rights.
            “Because I am a woman, I am classified de plano by my country’s laws, far inferior to all the men of France and the colonies.  In spite of the intelligence that has been officially recognized only recently, in spite of the certificates and diplomas that were granted me long ago, before the law I am not the equal of an illiterate black man from Guadeloupe or the Ivory Coast. For he can participate by means of the ballot, in directing the affairs of our common country, while I cannot. I am outside the law.

“The law should be logical and ignore my existence when it comes to punishments, just as it is ignored when it comes to rights. I protest against its lack of logic.
“I protest against the application of laws that I have neither wished for nor discussed.
“This law that I challenge reproaches me for having held opinions of a nature to undermine popular morale. I protest even more strongly and I deny it!  My discreet and nuanced propaganda has always been a constant appeal to reason, to the power of reflection, to the good sense that belongs to every human being, however small the portion.
“Moreover, I recall, for form’s sake, that my propaganda has never been directed against the national defense and has never called for peace at any price: on the contrary, I have always maintained that there was but one duty, one duty with two parts: for those at the front, to hold fast; for those at the rear, to be thoughtful.
            “I have exercised this educational action especially in a feminist manner, for I am first and foremost a feminist. All those who know me can attest to it. And it is because of my feminism that I am an enemy of war.
            “The accusation suggests that I preach pacifism under the pretext of feminism. This accusation distorts my propaganda for its own benefit. I affirm that the contrary is true, and it is easy for me to prove it.  I affirm that I have been a militant feminist for many years, well before the war; that since the war began I have simply continued; and that I have never reflected on the horrors of the present without noting that things might have been different if women had had a say in matters concerning social issues.
[. . . . .]
“I am an enemy of war because I am a feminist. War represents the triumph of brute strength, while feminism can only triumph through moral strength and intellectual values. Between the two there is total contradiction.
“I do not believe that in primitive society the strength or value of woman was inferior to that of men, but it is certain that in present-day society the possibility of war has established a totally artificial scale of values that works to women’s detriment.

Clemencia Labin and the Colorful Pulpa Chic

Pulpa Chic
Since 2001, artist Clemencia Labin (born Venezuela, 1947) has been producing a series of works called Pulpa Chic.

These objects share with pop art the flat color, artificiality, and re-contextualization of objects. The pop art Labin alludes to responds to the connection between these works and the popular culture of her native country Venezuela. In Spanish, the word "pulpa" describes the edible part of a fruit.

Pulpa Chic
From her own description, Labin’s Pulpa are soft, fleshly, and padded works often covered by expandable lycra or other fabrics. They are usually built on wooden frames, filled with polyester fiber, and partly painted with acrylic paint.

With few exceptions – such as Pintamuros the flattest of her 21st century pieces – most of Labin’s pieces occupy space and are sculptural. All of her works display a plush array of shapes, fabrics, and textures filled with something enigmatically shapely but soft. Their construction has the rigor of the Bauhaus while simultaneously displaying a casualness that celebrates improvisation. They incarnate an aesthetic which demands a narrative, one that the artist is not shy to talk about.

In 2011, Labin represented Venezuela at the Venice Biennale, and she explained how after having lived in Hamburg, Germany for over 20 years why rediscovering her home city of Maracaibo changed her art practice. On a casual visit to the neighborhood of Santa Lucia, she discovered a new palette in the bright colors of the houses' façade and interior décor.

Although that neighborhood was recognized as dangerous, she bought a house there and since 2011 has been hosting an annual art festival called Velada Santa Lucia. It is evident that the colors and patterns of her current neighborhood are reflected in her present work, albeit her worldly perspective.

Pulpa Chic

Until 1968, Labin lived and attended school in Maracaibo. After, she moved to New York where she obtained her Bachelor's degree in Arts in 1972 and later a Master's degree in Business Administration from Columbia University before moving to Germany. Throughout her career, she studied under the tutelage of Kai Sudeck, Franz E. Walther, and Sigmar Polke.

Labin’s works invite interaction and she herself interacts with the viewer as a performer. Indeed, Pulpa Nueva Mega Lucrecia (2009) puts the viewer at odds as to whether one should find shapes, or simply squeeze it or lie down on it.