Gurl Goes to Africa

Recently, a friend of mine who just returned from a semester abroad in Capetown sent me a link to Gurl Goes to Africa. The site is basically a Failbook for peoples’ pictures from their study abroad experiences in various African countries. I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about the site.

On the one hand, some of the material showcased—the photos of white Americans quite literally riding on the backs of Africans—are cringeworthy. Folks should know better than to a) do that and b) photograph and post it without massive context provided.

A lot of the photos aren’t that offensive, but are of the “starving African child with white person” genre—they’re aid brochure photos. And I do think that the comments on the photos (many of which are along the lines of “I couldn’t tell which one was you! lol”) deserve to be critiqued.

However, I think the site conflates the two and assigns them equal degrees of offensiveness when they’re not there. Should we question why photos of children are the dominant narrative for peoples’ study abroad experiences in various parts of Africa? Of course.

But—and I say this as someone who will no doubt take photos of her host siblings—not all photos of children are racist holdovers. Some are just the acknowledgement of the existence of children in the location that one traveled to. Photos of random street children (or other peoples’ kids) are offensive, but photos of people you know who happen to be children aren’t, at least to me.

What becomes an issue is when that’s all you photograph. However, because of the Failbook setup of the blog, the photos are all from individual contributers. I have no idea if this is one photo of a person’s host brother, or one of eighty photos of the Poor African Children.

The other issue that bothers me a little bit is that the blog is aggressively mocking women. White American women make up the majority (like 90%) of the people made fun of in the posts. The blog’s name makes fun of women travelers specifically. There are some men featured, but if the blog’s intent is to make fun of the Africa as Country view (as well as the Africa as Location for Anti-Consumerist Fantasies of the Wealthy view) then men and women can be more equally lampooned. I find it uncomfortable that there is page after page after page just of women being somewhat cattily made fun of. It implies a view that men aren’t as silly as these Gurls are.

My suspicion is that the blog author just particularly dislikes photos of Americans and African children (legitimately problematic) but that as a result of women being more likely to interact with children when traveling, the photos are skewed.

The behavior and viewpoint that the blog is satirizing deserve to be made fun of. But the way in which it’s done makes me uncomfortable. Am I just being oversensitive?

Time for a New Uniform

It’s something of a joke among those who live in close quarters with me that I tend to dress in uniforms. This probably comes from the same part of me that can spend a month watching 6 seasons of a foreign TV show, twice, without tiring of it basically being the same show each week. I am comfortable with routine.

The most recent iteration of the uniform was a blazer, a scoop neck t-shirt, jeggings, red shoes, and a large scarf. Because all my shoes are red and all of my t-shirts are the same thing in different colors, this allowed for a variety of outfits with pretty much no effort. Plus, I always had a built-in blanket for cold classrooms. It was a win win.

Recently, however, I’ve moved away from the blazer-scarf-jeggings power look. I got tired of having a sweaty neck all of the time.

Without meaning to, I have settled in to a new uniform. For the past three days (I really wish I was exaggerating for effect, here) I have worn one of my two pairs of skinny jeans, one of the same scoop neck tees, and a tweed jacket that looks like a stole it off a very narrow-shouldered male archaeologist. The jacket is reversible, so if I tire of the tweed* I can revisit my elementary school uniform and wear some khaki instead.

The uniform, combined with my short hair and a non-expression that I am told makes me look very angry, tends to make me look sort of like a teenaged boy. I think that part of it is me making myself as unnoticeable as possible using the things over which I have control over for when I go to Dakar. I can’t control being white and American, but I can confine myself to earth tones with the best of them.

But I think even without the trip abroad, I’d be moving in that same direction. There was a period in high school where my wardrobe was hyperfeminine, as was my hair—there were a lot of sundresses and pincurls and pencil skirts. Without me noticing, my wardrobe has shifted from red into blue into grey and brown over the last semester.

I spent so much of this year being anxious whenever I spoke in class and hoping that I would be sort of ignored. Of course, I still raised my hand in class and pretty much never shut up**, but I felt bad when I did. It was a really weird combination of feelings and impulses, and I think that the move into more muted colors and more androgynous cuts of clothing had something to do with it.

But, even as my clothes become less colorful, I am struck by how I feel when I’m wearing them. When I’m channeling Agyness Deyn with some combat boots and the punker jacket, I feel powerful in a way that sundresses and heels didn’t necessarily make me feel. It’s superficial, but there’s something to be said for the knowledge that you could kick some ass in your clothing.

The weather now is similar to what the weather will be when I go abroad. All signs point to me keeping more or less this uniform while I’m there. I’m interested to see whether my feelings about power and clothing stay the same while I’m traveling. I suspect that they will not.

This got to be much more serious than I intended. Because what I originally wanted to share about the jacket that makes up the main part of the new uniform is that it’s reversible, it’s tweed, and it cost me $6.95.

I am the queen of thrift stores.

* I will not tire of the tweed.

** I thirst for external approval like a vampire for blood. Blame magnet school.

I Hate My Skin and It Makes Me Feel Like a Terrible Feminist


I hate my skin.

Since moving off oral contraceptives*, my face has exploded in oil. I wear foundation and pressed powder on a day-to-day basis, and  within ten minutes everything I’m wearing is an oil slick in the middle of my face. I look like I am perspiring from my nose.

Add this to the fact that my skin is pale and shows discolorations easily, and you get shiny skin with very red, very noticeable blemishes. This is only exacerbated when I pick at them, which is a disgusting, unhelpful habit that I nonetheless find soothing**.

The end result of this is that I really, really hate my skin. And it makes me feel like a terrible feminist.

I know, realistically, that oily skin is not the end of the world and is not any reflection on my personal hygiene habits or on me. I know that actual human beings have actual human pores and the fact that I do too should not bother me the way that it does. I know that most of my friends are women, which I do not date, and so the fact that my skin is in various states of hot mess does not change the way that most folks around me are going to think about me. (I hope.) I know that my skin has nothing to do with my ability to be interesting, or funny, or intelligent.

As much as I know all of these things (and I do!), I hate my skin with a visceral sort of disgust if I think about it too much.

I want to be the sort of person who can go all Amanda Palmer and just tell the beauty standard to go fuck itself while I let my pit hair grow and shave of my eyebrows. But I’m very clearly not. This leaves me with a sense that I have failed twice: once, by having bad skin, and twice, by being bothered by it.

This is not a healthy way to relate to my face.

I am curious whether going abroad will change my attitude about my skin. Not in a mystic-journey-to-a-place-where-people-are-so-above-that kind of way, but in a will-be-walking-lots-and-eating-better-and-not-spending-so-much-time-in-the-mirror kind of way. Until then, I am holding off on any feminist epiphanies. Because, truth be told? I still really hate my skin.

* Fuck yeah, Implanon.

** Type A? Me? Noooo.

The Room is Terrible, But Quit Calling Lisa Fat


A little while ago, I went to go see The Room with a group of friends. In addition to being a delightful reminder that chunks of Atlanta are very similar to a small town (Oh hi there, 20 kids I went to high school with! Hello, friends of my friend’s roommate!), the film was its usual dose of terribad. (For those who have not seen it, The Room is regarded as possibly the worst film ever made. Seeing it in public involves pelting the screen with spoons. It’s like a mellower Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

For the most part, the shoutalong dialogue was great. The film truly is terrible, and public evisceration of continuity errors, unlit establishing shots, and inexplicably graphic (and occasionally out of focus) sex scenes is great fun.

But there was a second undercurrent to the shoutalong commentary that was frustrating and a little disheartening. Though the main female character is a badly-written, sociopathic robot of a human being, most of the insults directed at her were comments about how she was a) a whore, or b) fat. It’s irritating to have a mostly-male set of commentators commenting on the woman’s weight and perceived unsexyness when she’s thinner than you and—if she was just a person you met on the street—pretty conventionally cute.

Poking fun at the cheesy sex scene music and the needless nipples is great, and is pretty equal opportunity. But shoutalong commentary seems to be prone to devolving into sexist jeering at actresses for not being the right kind of hot. That’s unfair, and displays the same troubling assumptions about the fact that it’s a woman’s duty to be attractive that routinely get critiqued in the feminist internet corner.

Everyone at my post-movie diner table agreed that the looks-based insult commentary had made them uncomfortable to varying degrees. This included some folks who had participated in it. If we’re a representative group, then it seems like folks viewing the film should make an effort to move away from the “Ew, she’s fat” commentary and back into the “You’re reusing sex scene footage and for the love of Christ why are you people petting each other with roses” school.

The Room is great and terrible on its own. Sexism doesn’t make it better, funnier, or more enjoyable to fling spoons at. The film is misogynist in its own right. Making fun of that is much more entertaining than contributing to it, and it has the bonus fun time side effect of not making half the theater kind of uncomfortable.

I am exceptionally targetable!

I’m watching the American Idol finale with my parents. I haven’t seen the last six seasons of this show, so I am less-than-invested in it. However, some observations about the show:

  • You know the swaying hands at the front row? Pretend that they’re robotic arms in a vat of liquid being controlled by hydraulics. You can’t un-see that, now, can you? You’re welcome.
  • Go find a picture of Randy Jackson’s lapels. Seriously, what the goddamn hell? They are the size of my foot.
  • J. Lo looks like she’s wearing a mermaid outfit.
  • That girl is a strong argument for why 16-year-olds should be kept the hell away from glitter. Girl looks like she robbed a Claire’s. She has a bird ring that is the size of a deck of cards.
  • That boy has mastered vacantly looking into the distance. He is so ready for senior pictures.
  • What the Christ was with the latex robot halftime show?
  • This is probably the only place on TV where you have a man in a 1980’s NFL coach’s suit, a woman in a mermaid costume, a midwestern hobo, and an impeccably-groomed man in a tuxedo on screen at the same time. USA! USA!

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Riot Grrls Rise Up (Also, Vervets)

So, in case you were wondering what I’ve been up to, it involves vervet skulls. (Yes, I do spend an inordinate amount of time in the skull lab. To the point that the work-study student there is sad when I do not visit. You too can hook up with a Huffington Post-published blogger/librarian/skull enthusiast! Fellas.)

Other than that, I’ve been in that weird state where I know I’m ungodly busy (I’m taking 5 classes, sitting in on another, TA-ing, and writing for HackCollege, a college profile book, and OpenStudy. Hahah, I make terrible life decisions.) but it doesn’t feel that way. Either this is what time budgeting feels like or I’m precariously juggling all my responsibilities right now and at any moment I’m going to go teetering off the precipice into despair and scholarship loss. Tune in to find out!

Other than that, I’ve mostly been musing about why I am so bothered about college blogs targeted at women. (I also have not been studying for Social Problems. Correlation?) I think what it is about it is that there is ample space for publications both print and intertubular to address 18-23-year-old women, but they so rarely are. Bust skews a little bit older (it assumes you’re out of school), and Jezebel isn’t focused on issues affecting women in college so much as in pop culture. My own beloved employer doesn’t address women’s issues because it’s not a focus of the blog, and the women’s college blogs that are out there are so completely derangedly unrelated to my experience as a woman in college.

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