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Asheville winter submerges us, weeks of unseasonable cold expanding January into multiples of its actual duration. My beer-loving colleague — let’s refer to him as “Jim” — is in town for a client meeting he celebrated as an excuse to visit my peak-brewery town, weather be damned. His old friend, whom we shall call Kurt — some of whose money I manage (well, if I do say so myself) — has tagged along for a sexagenarian Hangover. Both wives bowed out of the trip with a set of excuses as carefully crafted as a local IPA. Jim and I make plans to drink and dine after our wispy meeting and take leave of one another so that I can collect my son from kindergarten, and he can begin beer sampling with Kurt.

When I next encounter Jim, he and Kurt are hours into their tasting tour and have bellied up to the long communal table at the Wicked Weed brewery. I wedge myself into a space between Jim and a non-English-speaking couple (German I think —consonant-tinged beer terminology like hefeweizen seems easy on their tongues.) I shake hands with Kurt across the farmhouse table, take stock of his heavy lids and irrepressible — charming, I admit — smile, the kind of face that only alcohol can paint. Kurt’s hand doesn’t as much shake mine as allow mine to rest in it, with a tingle that surprises me. More… “#MeSomething”

Ellen Carr is a bond portfolio manager and adjunct finance professor. She lives in Asheville, NC.

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Literature cannot be the business of a women’s life & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are, you will be less eager for celebrity.

So pontificated the English poet laureate, Robert Southey, in a now infamous letter to one Charlotte Brontë in 1837. And while commentary on this letter has focused, understandably, on the senior male poet’s urging of private domesticity on the emerging female artist, here’s the phrase that captures my attention: “eager for celebrity.” Southey was intently calling upon a relatively recent usage of the word “celebrity;” though the OED tells us that “celebrity” was in use since the 14th century, originally to suggest public esteem or the pomp of sanctified rites, from the mid to late 18th century, connotations of the term “celebrity” bifurcated, and celebrity came to be distinguished from the less evanescent and more socially respectable “fame.” So in using the term, he was quite mindfully connecting a desire for down-market fame with misdirected femininity. There is a long history of what I call the “unseemly woman:” women who disregard Southey’s warning and who are widely understood, whether rightly or not, to be desirous of fame in a way that is considered overly “eager.” Today, those women suffer public denunciation in terms that are just as gendered as they were in 1837: think, for instance, of one of our more repellent current phrases: “fame whores.”

Backing up to the 19th century to consider Brontë’s imputed celebrity whoring might seem anachronistic or inappropos. Dare we conjoin the name of the author of Jane Eyre with that of Miley Cyrus? It’s important that we do. To assist us, we can call upon the burgeoning academic field of celebrity studies that is devoted to analyzing the condition of public visibility. But in spite of the existence of several perceptive studies of celebrity in earlier historical periods, such as Tom Mole’s Byron’s Romantic Celebrity and Julia H. Fawcett’s Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy, 1696-1801, a quick glance at the large, stimulating international conference that the journal Celebrity Studies sponsors every two years show us a discipline that is still, to a great degree, stuck in the present. But our thinking about celebrity must be anchored in a thoroughly historicized frame of reference, and so it follows that any thinking about today’s “unseemly” fame-hungry women needs to ground itself in a rich history of that denunciation. I need to go back much further than Brontë, in fact, to the 17th century, to the scientist and writer Margaret Cavendish (1623-73), jeeringly referred to as “Mad Madge,” who wrote frankly and unapologetically of her desire for fame in her memoir, A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life. I need to return to her near contemporary, Aphra Behn (1640-1689), playwright, novelist and spy, thought scandalous for her sexual frankness, who wrote, “I value fame as much as if I had been born a Hero; and if you rob me of that, I can retire from the ungrateful world, and scorn its fickle Favours.” In the annals of unseemly, fame-eager women, Behn’s proclamation qualifies as a 17th-century mic drop. More… “Unseemly”

Lorraine York is Senator McMaster Chair of Canadian literature and culture at McMaster University. She is writing a book on reluctant celebrity.

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During an undergraduate English seminar, our professor got frank with us about her multiple miscarriages. It wasn’t completely out of sorts — the seminar was centered around the body and we had spent a lot of time with the concept of madness as elucidated by Elaine Showalter in The Female Malady. After more than 10 years, I don’t remember much about that course, but I do remember our instructor’s confessional moment, what felt like at the time, an incredibly intimate detail in her life. It wasn’t the first time I had come across the concept of miscarriage. At age four, I was told I was going to be a big sister and then not long after, was told I wasn’t. But I was struck by her openness and matter-of-factness. These weren’t situations we were supposed to discuss. It felt almost indecent and out of line at the time. More… Lost Time”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Within the past few years I have succumbed to a period of feminist ennui. It’s not that I no longer think the principles of equality are no longer important, but it seems as if the word and movement, “feminism,” has lost meaning. It has been co-opted, lazily applied, and devalued. I’ve become frustrated by so-called feminists whose actions betray their rhetoric and popular culture texts and figures who think just saying words like “feminist” and “intersectional” is enough. Just the idea that there is such an idea of bare minimum – that feminism is as simple as wearing a t-shirt, watching the female reboot of Ghostbusters, or reposting a quote from Gloria Steinem on her birthday. This is not to say that those things are not important, but that there is a sense that these instances have become more like rituals – they are to be done to reassert a sense of identity, but have lost meaning.

The new essay collection, Can We All Be Feminists? addresses the complications and hardwork of being a feminist who is intersectional, meaning understanding the ways in which feminism can and does intersect with race, disability, immigration, labor, and sexuality (to name a handful). The range of essays, edited by June Eric-Udorie, covers a lot of ground and at times seems like nothing holds them together, until you come back to the anchoring point that feminism and feminists have to diversify their portfolios. To end sexism, examining immigration policies, as Wei Ming Kam does in “The Machinery of Disbelief,” is as necessary as Hollywood’s recent interest in wage equality. And within the rhetoric of equal pay activism, the continued reiteration that “women get paid less” must further be broken down by these other intersecting points: white women are typically paid less than their male counterparts, women of color are often paid less than that, and women with disabilities even less. “Women” cannot be an umbrella term and nor can “feminist.” We have to become more discerning. More… “At the Crossroads”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Shannon Downey is a craftivist, community organizer, and as of June, a commencement speaker. She was recruited by Drexel University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry to deliver the commencement address for their Custom Designed Major. Her speech was firm but funny, honest in the “what is yet to come,” and encouraging in regard to their potential to alter the world one small step at a time. Before she inspired the room, we had an opportunity to sit down with Shannon to talk about Badass Cross Stitch, activism, and going viral.  The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “When Being Bad Does Good”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Evil fisherman lures young mermaid with cash
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A few months back, a story broke about R&B singer R. Kelly’s alleged cult. There was, of course, an immediate divide between those who supported the singer and those who believed his career should have ended decades ago due to similar accusations. The situation reminded many of Taz’s Angels, an alleged escort service/prostitution group out of Miami which rose to fame via social media. Prostitution rings and “harems” are not as uncommon as many of us would like to believe, but these two cases are unique because they have the allure of fame. In the age of social media, fame has become a drug as addictive as cocaine. Much like the substance, fame maintains a look of sugary-sweet innocence while eating people alive from the inside out. Celebrities become idols, worshipped for anything from winning a Grammy to buying a toothbrush for themselves.

Social media has become a new avenue for the average Jane to create her own brand and become self-employed, but the cost of this is often using images from your personal life to grow an overly devoted following. We are all constantly being pushed: follow her, like this, buy that. It is to the point that if you say you don’t have social media, people often think that you are lying. At its best, social media brings us closer to the people we love, whether we know them in real life or not. There is a point, however, and society has reached it, where close becomes too close, particularly because we all try to only show the best of ourselves on the internet. Just read the comments of any celebrity or internet-famous person and you’ll see how mere humans have been exalted to the status of gods and goddesses. We have moved beyond forming strong opinions about people we don’t know, which is odd enough in itself. We are now in the realm of idolizing these people to the point where we often refuse to hold them accountable for their wrongdoings. This type of worship can have very dangerous consequences. More… “The Danger in Devotion”

Kesia Alexandra is a freelance writer, teacher, and mother from Washington, DC. You can connect with her on twitter @okaykesia.

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In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal, on October 16, 2017, a movement swept across social media: women posting “#metoo” to acknowledge the pervasive nature of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. The movement has maintained momentum, along with the “time’s up” movement, in which women are stepping forward to point the finger at famous men. Allegations of sexual misconduct — everything from unwanted touching to rape — have been bringing down powerful men, although the President of the United States has remained immune thus far. A fraught but necessary public discussion about the injustices suffered by women within the patriarchy appears to have finally reached critical mass.

Talking about this with a female friend, I had to admit that I was embarrassed and ashamed that it took me so long to question the assumptions of my patriarchal upbringing and its treatment of women. I do not write from outside this issue. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home, and I had long since abandoned the theology of my youth before it occurred to me that maybe I should question it — it was just so convenient not to, I suppose. I grew up learning two somewhat paradoxical notions about women. First, women wield an irresistible power over men. Second, women are weak and silly creatures who cannot be trusted to recognize the truth much less speak it and need to remain under the guidance and authority of men. More… “Not a Bad Man at All”

Vic Sizemore’s fiction and nonfiction is published or forthcoming in Story Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, storySouth, Connecticut Review, Blue Mesa Review, [Pank] Magazine, Silk Road Review, Reed Magazine, and elsewhere. His fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award and has been nominated for Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best of the Net, and two Pushcart Prizes.

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“I’ve organized a happy hour with a wonderful group of women friends who periodically gather to support each other and share ideas and food,” Lane’s email concluded. “I’m attaching an invite.”

Lane* is a fellow writer whom I’d met in grad school and always liked. It had been many months since we’d last communicated, and I welcomed her invitation.

I looked at the flyer. “This is a great time to envision and work towards common goals and individual life pursuits,” it read. “Let’s share some of our ideas and projects that we hope to accomplish or advance in this new, exciting, uncertain, life-affirming year ahead!”
More… “The Price of Friendship”

Kathryn Paulsen writes for stage and screen as well as page. Her essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in the New York Times, West Branch, New Letters, et al., and may currently be read or are forthcoming in journals including Humber Literary Review, The Stinging Fly, and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in New York City but, having grown up in an Air Force family, has roots in many places. See her occasional musings at ramblesandrevels.blogspot.com.

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The punk music scene in Philadelphia is deeply rooted in the prominent hardcore clubs and bands that made the city their home in the 1980s, and it continues to thrive today. College radio stations, like Drexel University’s WKDU and the University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN, also played a crucial role in establishing the scene. While the genre frequently rages against the establishment in both content and performance, it was predominantly men who were on stage and behind the mic, giving voice to the anti-establishment message — at least in the beginning.

Or so the story of punk (particularly hardcore punk) goes. The reality is that Philadelphia’s punk scene has a much more complicated relationship with gender and with the representation of women in that scene. Looking at the broader landscape of punk today, it is not hard to see the legacy of early female punk bands, like the Slits or the more recent Riot Grrrl movement. Philadelphia is no exception to that, with many current bands that have significant female representation and have adopted overt third-wave feminist viewpoints. But this is not necessarily a new formation for Philly punk; the “institutions” of Philadelphia punk — show houses, basements, clubs, and radio stations — have been testing grounds for new and more progressive identity politics, which themselves have been reflections of broader social movements that account for feminist and queer perspectives, for decades.

More… “Philly Punk”

Kevin Egan is the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry in the Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University.

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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My dissertation was about women’s authorship and sitcoms. Authorship is a key word here. It wasn’t about “writers,” but about those who left their marks on the text, their control over character, storylines through aspects of performance and utilizing their star power — for most of my case studies (30 Rock, Girls, and United States of Tara) the examination did focus on writing, but what I found while returning to the archives was the thread of women’s narratives that dealt with writing without words. Lucille Ball never wrote for I Love Lucy nor was she the head of Desilu, but as Madelyn Pugh Davis, one of the show’s writers, notes in her memoir Laughing with Lucy, Ball exerted authorship through performance and her refusal/approval to perform certain scenes. Amy Poehler wrote a handful of Parks and Recreation episodes, but her iconic status in improvisation as a founding member of Upright Citizen’s Brigade and successful sketch career at SNL brought her a certain level of authority to the series, a sentiment continually asserted in interviews with the cast and crew. Mary Tyler Moore is also part of this legacy of women’s negotiation and “writing.” She wasn’t a writer but owned her performances. She owned her brand and in doing so provided opportunities for writers to develop their own. Mary Tyler Moore owned Mary Richards, who helped women figure out their place in feminism’s upheaval of roles and norms. More… “Left Wanting Moore”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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