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Feminism, Or How I Learned to Breathe

Karina's picture

Here is my reflection/explanation of my final project:


The focus for my final project was the relationship between gender and medium and its effect on the construction of social gender identity. The central question that ended up guiding me throughout the project was: what are the kinds of storytelling that suddenly become possible when we make the shift from a text-based medium to a highly visual one? As far as the question of medium was concerned, I was influence by a number of texts, such as The Hole: Consumer Culture by Damien Duffy and John Jennings and Cancer Vixen by Marissa Acocella Marchetto. However, the text that became instrumental in my vision of the structure of this project was Lynda Barry’s What It Is; it was her deliberate usage of found (pre-existing) imagery in place of originally created work that inspired my choice of constructing a visual register made up entirely (and exclusively) of found images.  
What piqued my interest in particular was the notion that fashion and tabloid magazines are a decidedly gendered medium – one that uses a thoroughly and deliberately gendered verbal and (much more so) visual language. It isn’t simply that the kind of narratives that are being told address a certain audience in a precariously constructed way; it’s the fact that in the making of a pointedly gendered narrative the visual (and verbal) language of the medium simultaneously constructs a gendered identity for that audience and reinforces that construction by reiterating its slightly varying versions – page after page, issue after issue. To put it simply, the language of the fashion and tabloid magazine medium is simultaneously rich and sparse as it continues to ask (and answer) the same questions, give the same advice, and present the same expectations to its audience by using their many slightly varying versions.
I was also interested in questions of a gender and identity specifically in relation to consumer culture. I wondered if it would be possible to use the language of a mass produced (and mass-consumed) gendered medium – the very same language that oppresses the individual by imposing a socially constructed identity – to subvert the message that it typically carries. The cult of consumer culture articulates (and reiterates) its message through the garish and visually beckoning language of the magazine medium. The message appears to be two-fold: one, your identity must belong to either one side of the gender binary or the other and you must heed this message – the rules and stipulations – in order to create a socially acceptable sense of identity, which must be inevitably gendered; two, the most important part of creating that acceptable gendered identity is accumulating the appropriate consumer product.
In the case of the socially constructed feminine identity, there are certain cultural/ideological myths being told and retold in the sparkly, visually intoxicating register that is inherent to the medium of women’s magazines and that is precisely where my project begins – uttering the traditional message that is articulated by the kind of language that I’m using; the rest of it, however, is a strategic and, no doubt, playful dismantling of that myth and a rough but optimistic sketch of one way – drawn from personal experience – in which the suffocating force of cultural mythology can be overcome
The basic chronological plotline of the narrative is as follows. The first two pages present the myth: the accumulation of consumer products will lead to (visually captivating) happiness. The next two pages represent the further development of that myth: the artificially acquired and produced beauty that accompanies consumerism will lead to satisfying romantic relationships, in which the appropriate gender roles are reenacted. The following four pages illustrate the reality of the myth in play, the adverse effect of anxiety of not having consumed enough products (figuratively and, in this case, literally) in order to sustain a gendered identity that adheres to the socially constructed one. The two pages after that represent the secret and powerful desire to vanquish that myth, to refuse and revolt against the consumption – that is consumer culture – on which the myth insists. The subsequent two pages show the breaking point at which the individual can bear the consumer culture no more and (here: physically and literally) purges the consumerism from her being. The four pages that follow draw somewhat on Duffy and Jennings’ fantastic concept of the hole that opens up inside the human body, except here it marks a the beginning stages of mental and physical liberation (rather than debilitating consumption) as they become portals that introduce a different kind of “monster” into the world of consumer culture in conjunction with socially constructed gender expectations: the subversive voices of second wave feminists Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous, and Simone De Beauvoir. The concluding three pages of the narrative/novella depict the joyfully devastating and annihilating effect that the monster of feminism ends up having on the world of consumer culture, gesturing towards a hope for a better future for the individual identities yet to come into our world.
And here are just a few of images of the collage itself: