Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dr. Juli Parker on murderous women

Introducing My Book

Last November, my book, Representations of Murdering Women in Literature, Theatre, Film and Television: Examining the Patriarchal Presuppositions Behind the Treatment of Murderesses in Fiction and Reality was published. This anthology includes sixteen other writers exploring the murdering woman throughout time in the genres of film, literature, theatre and television.

My interest in this subject centers around plays about women who murder, particularly plays that I feel give the murderess a second day in court. Many of the playwrights I am drawn to explore how the "system" responds to these women. In a nutshell, women who murder are considered bad or evil or crazy, while men who murder are an inevitability, as in boys will be boys.

The book was published by the Edwin Mellen Press, a scholarly press. I make no money on the project until I sell 500 books. A former student of mine interviewed me for this video on the book as a project for her graduate journalism course. I was unfortunately getting over a cold at the time.

Monday, October 31, 2011


I wanted to apologize to my FIVE followers that I haven't posted in a while. I was in the process of getting a new blog/website since finishing my 200 hour yoga teacher training and it didn't work out. So with a fresh new look, I'm back on my Wednesday posts. I'm also happy to see your ideas for something to critique from a feminist lens.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Big O

This essay was written for 2nd Story Theatre's current production of Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play, directed by Vanessa Gilbert.

The big O. For centuries, the subject of orgasm as applied to men bore nary a thought as it was expected as part of procreation. Even in the millennia this subject remains controversial and is often embarrassing for women. Many of you who came to see this play were embarrassed or even hesitant to attend. Admit it. Why?

Let's first start with a bit of history. Yes, doctors invented this vibrating device to treat women with hysteria, often thought to be the womb or excess fluid moving inside the body. Yet this treatment was never connected with sex, as Ruhl depicts in the play.

The Victorian approach of men controlling women's sexual feelings continued for years, particularly as Sigmund Freud's work told women that young girl's feelings in her clitoris transferred to her vagina as she passed into adulthood. Hundreds of thousands of women were then left frustrated that they couldn't climax during intercourse. We know today that approximately 30% of women cannot have an orgasm during intercourse and this is based on simple biology. Yet somehow much of this information has not translated to the average women's experience. Furthermore, we know that girls and women are not socialized to masturbate, leaving it up to men to figure out how best to pleasure women. Men are socialized to believe they have an innate sense of how to please women, even though they are not provided with a how-to guide when they reach adolescence, even when every woman is different.

Orgasm, Inc: The Strange Science of Female Pleasure, a recent documentary by Liz Canner, addresses the subject of FSD or Female Sexual Dysfunction. In this film, Canner examines two pharmaceutical companies who want to market a pill to women who have trouble achieving orgasms. These companies (not doctors!) have developed this term, FSD, to somehow convince women there is something medically wrong with them. What lies beneath this corporate ploy, however, is the lack of discussion on the reality of women's sexual experiences and abilities.

The vibrator has been part of our households since the early 1900s when Hamilton Beach patented the first electric vibrator sale. Yet using the vibrator has long been a secret and something for which to be ashamed or embarrassed. In fact, until recently, it was illegal to sell them in five southern states. I have been teaching a workshop called "The Female Orgasm" to college students for over 16 years. I am still amazed at how much they have bought into a somewhat Victorian way of thinking of women's bodies. Most of them still think they are supposed to have orgasms during intercourse and there is something wrong with them if they don't. Numerous college aged women are not familiar with their own bodies and cannot articulate to their partners what gives them pleasure. Many of them think that masturbation is only for single women. I'm certain much of this has to do with the amount of pornography available to them today (but that is a subject for a different essay!).

The good news, however, is that sex toys, today's version of Dr. Givings electrical device, are generally well known and appreciated by many of the woman who cross my office door. Students sponsor sex toy parties in their dorm rooms demonstrating that while they might not be comfortable touching themselves, they are at least in control of their sexuality. And this is the crux of Ruhl's play.

Ruhl posits that women must be in charge of their sexuality which is evident in the last scene when Mrs. Givings takes charge of her sex life. She instructs Dr. Givings and explores his body in a way she never has before. In some ways, Ruhl is turning the typical representation of women on its head by making Dr. Givings nude on stage. Mrs. Givings is in command and the implication is that she then too will be in command of her orgasm. Ruhl's subtle, but significant message is that women must develop their own self agency and not let men control their sexuality.

If you haven't seen the play, you must. It runs through May 29th.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I like beer. In fact, I loved micro-brews and Imports in college. Amstel Light was one of my favorites. And I'm still a sucker for an occasional Poor Man's Black Velvet (Guiness & Cider). Then I got a little older and couldn't handle the richer, thicker beers (or my waistline couldn't!) and got into drinking lighter beers.

Fortunately Miller Light is not my light beer of choice as their recent ad campaign mocking men for being like women is so blatantly sexist I can't even believe it is on TV in 2011. Each one of these advertisements is not only sexist but also reinforces the already limited gender roles that men get to play in our culture. The one that inspired me to write this blog, shows a man teeing off from the women's tees at a golf course and ordering a Bud Light. His friends tease him from the men's tees telling him to "man up." This one I couldn't find on the Internet.

A similar commercial shows a man ordering "any light beer" at a bar, with the female bartender commenting negatively on his choice, implying that he is wearing a skirt.
What is fascinating about this commercial is that women are actually colluding with sexism in order to enforce this limited view of men's masculinity. Men should be disgusted by this portrayal of them but women should be appalled that they are being used as enforcers of limited roles for men.

The story gets even more interesting when doing a little digging on the corporation which is now MillerCoors. Ah! It makes so much sense now. Coors has always been known in feminist circles as an anti-abortion, anti-gay company. Ironically they have a commitment to diversity in their company, which is not represented in their commercials.

Will you join me in boycotting Miller Light? And all of Miller? If you commit to boycott all of MillerCoors, there is a list of approximately 33 beers you will have to avoid. First, the domestics: Miller Light, Coors Light, ExtraGold Lager, Hamms, Icehouse, Keystone Light, MGD 64, Magnum Malt Liquor, Mickeys, Miller Chill, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life (one of my personal favorites), Miller Life, Milwaukee's Best Light, Old English 800, Southpaw Light, Steel Reserve High Gravity. Now these imports, I'm sure many of you didn't know were distributed by MillerCoors: Cristal, Cusquena, Molson Canadian, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell, Tyskie, Aguila. The crafts: Blue Moon Beligian White, Henry Winehard's Private Reserve, Leinenkugal's Sunset Wheat. And finally the specialty beers: Coors Non Alcoholic, Fosters, George Killian's Irish Red, Sharps, and Sparks. Or at least write them and tell them how their advertisement hurts men and women.

Do it for the children, the future, a place where limits won't be set on who we can be, who can wear a skirt, or how far we can hit a ball.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

International Women’s Day in Review

In the U.S. no one knows it is International Women’s Day. It’s not even listed on half the calendars. It says “Mardi Gras” on most calendars I saw. Of course we would be celebrating a big party with booze flowing than the rights of over half the population.

In many parts of the world, women get the day off from work and men give them flowers. How can we start that tradition here? We hold an annual event for IWD every year, co-hosted by our International Student & Scholar center, but I think next year we should have every woman take a personal day and let the university see what it would be like to function without women, just for a day.

The Republicans are attacking reproductive rights in our country with only two and a half months in office. And it isn’t just happening at the federal level. State legislatures are already gearing up to limit access and to try to pass laws given fetal rights over a woman’s. Here’s an interesting attack in Georgia “H.B. 1, a law proposed in the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly by State Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta). This law would not only make abortion completely illegal in Georgia (the bill refers to it as ‘prenatal murder’), but it would also put a burden on any woman who has a miscarriage to prove that it happened naturally and was not induced in any way. The result would be that every single miscarriage in the state of Georgia would have to be reported to state officials. Many could be potentially investigated by the authorities, a daunting proposition given that anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of known pregnancies miscarry. The penalties for this so-called prenatal murder, whether by abortion or by a miscarriage that authorities determine had “human involvement,” include life in prison—or even death.”

In South Dakota, Iowa, & Nebraska lawmakers are looking at making the killing of abortion doctors “justifiable homicide.” Justifiable homicide? Sometimes I wonder if I went to sleep in October 2010 and woke up in Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale this year. If we want to make the world a better place for women, we know that giving them freedom in deciding when to bear children makes a huge difference. According to today’s Huffington Post, “an estimated 215 million women in the developing world want to avoid a pregnancy, but are not currently using a modern method of birth control.”

As we move into Women’s History Month, perhaps we can begin reflecting on what we are doing to make this a better world for women and staying on top of what our elected officials are trying to do in the name of budget deficits to limit our freedom.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Biggest Loser is Sexist

This week I am going to write about the only Reality show I watch: The Biggest Loser. My office mate watches it, as well, and every Wednesday we talk about the night before. We have two huge issues with the show, but continue to be sucked in by it. The show has some underlying sexism that needs to be explored.

First off, last night, the black team had low weight loss. All but two of the contestants on the black team are women. My husband turns to me and says "They're all having their period." I said he was probably right. Then he says "don't women get on the same cycle when they live together?" Why he is asking this is beyond me as we had a roommate for over a year who was a woman and she and I were most definitely in sync. What interests me most about this topic is that the show NEVER addresses it. They never say that women tend to fluctuate water weight throughout the month based on their menstrual cycle. In fact, statistics show that women can fluctuate as much as 2-4 lbs during their period. This might not seem a lot, but when you're on The Biggest Loser, a four pound gain can mean you are going home. For me, this is more about addressing all the reasons that people gain weight and if they are going to ignore a natural bodily process because it is too controversial or "dirty," I probably should stop watching it.

The other sexist thing that occurs on this show is what people wear. Early on, the women have to wear sports bras while the men get to wear t-shirts. And the men get to take off their t-shirts for the weigh-ins, but the women have to keep theirs on. Why would anyone make obese people show off their stomachs on national television? My suggestion is to keep them all in tank tops. It's not fair to the women to have to wear sports bras and also not fair that the men get to take off their shirts.

So that's my rant for the week. February is a crazy month for me with birthdays and V-Week, so my brain is not in its normal Feminist Critic mode. I promise to get it there for next week's posting.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Where are all the Women Playwrights?

For those of you who know me, I often lament the lack of women's plays being performed on the American stage. Approximately 17% of all plays produced in the U.S. are written by women. We’ll break these stats down by race another time. We also know that only one woman has ever won an Oscar for best director and only four women have ever won Tony Awards for best direction of a play or musical. Marsha Norman, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of ‘night, Mother recently addressed my concerns in an article for Theatre Communications Group. What is even more compelling about this topic, however, is that women playwrights are not the only female artists not achieving parity; almost all women artists are affected. (Unless you play in an orchestra where they hold blind auditions).

She writes that
the U.S. Department of Labor considers any profession with less than 25 percent female employment, like being a machinist or firefighter, to be ‘untraditional’ for women. Using the 2008 numbers, that makes playwriting, directing, set design, lighting design, sound design, choreography, composing and lyric writing all untraditional occupations for women. . . If it goes on like this, women will either quit writing plays, all start using pseudonyms, or move to musicals and TV, where the bias against women's work is not so pervasive

Playwright Gina Gionfriddo, whose play I recently saw at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, Rhode Island (, protested the lack of plays produced in New York that are written by women. "Producers, directors and perhaps audiences, she said, seem much more willing to accept unappealing male characters than unappealing women"

And her play, Becky Shaw, is full of unappealing women. It is the second of her plays I have seen, being blessed to attend the Humana Festival of New Plays in 2005 and seeing After Ashley. But I’m not going to write about how much I loved this play and what it is about. You can get that information in the local paper. The RI Monthly has a great review of it and asks the question where all the young theatre goers are?

I want you to go see this play because I want all of us to recognize the lack of women artists in our culture. If we don’t attend their art shows, go to their plays, listen to them sing, watch them dance, than we are buying into this mythical notion of a “human” experience that can somehow only be represented from a male world view. This is the crux, you see.

Let me give you an example. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is considered one of the best plays ever written because of its ability to connect with “everyman.” This play was considered an excellent representation of the human struggle. And while I love much of what Mr. Miller has put down on paper, this play does not represent MY struggle. I feel alienated from that play, particularly as a woman and even more so because of the way the women are portrayed in the play. On the other side, numerous plays by women have not been “mainstreamed” because they were too much about a “woman’s” experience rather than the “human” one. Huh? Are women aliens and nobody told me?

But Becky Shaw appealed to me and certainly appealed to the 150 + people packed into 2nd Story Theatre on one of the first warm and sunny days of winter in Rhode Island (including the three people who came with me). Apparently part of her interest in developing the character of Becky Shaw was to expound on a literary topic covered in numerous books for centuries; that of women being judged for changing their class status, or “moving on up.” And I'm sure if you go see the wonderful actresses and actors and the pinpoint direction, you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No Waiting for Republicans

In just a few weeks in office, the Republican run House is already set to start stripping away women's rights. Really? They have proposed legislation that would only provide federally funded abortion services if the woman was a victim of FORCIBLE rape, not just plain old every day run of the mill rape. So ladies, make sure you have your iphones ready to take a picture of your forcible attack so you can prove that you were forced into your sexual assault and that you were not willingly raped.

Even using the term forcible with the word rape doesn't seem appropriate. Like all other rapes are not forced? It just makes me sick to my stomach. Do they even realize how this makes victims/survivors feel when they see legislation like this? The right wing is so anti-choice that they will stoop to making women prove that they were raped by force so they don't have to carry their rapist's unborn fetus to term. Otherwise, tough luck, sister, enjoy your pregnancy, carrying your rapist's baby to term.

And that's not even all. But I can't even vent about it any more. Go to for more information.