Sunday, February 22, 2009


Looking for a new culturally enriching experience, or just want to take your sweetie someplace a little different for date night? You really haven't been anywhere until you've experienced Heidi Li's latest project, The Museum of Misogynistic Memorabilia.

The MoMM is not yet in a bricks-and-mortar condition, but Heidi Li (JD, PhD) is working on it. She has her mission statement:

"The point of displaying misogynistic memorabilia, ranging from the horrifying to the offensive to the sophomoric is to showcase the ways in which women or their rights and interests have been hatefully characterized both historically and in our own time."

And, from Heidi Li's rather grandly named Founder's Blog: "Memorializing and witnessing the propaganda and tools used to oppress has played a vital role in raising awareness of how oppression occurs."

Well and good. Dr. Heidi Li is not covering the entire, depressing, vast history of misogyny itself, but merely hateful characterizations of women through "propaganda and tools". She still has a rich field of exploration. From attic vases depicting vengeful cuckolded goddess Hera, to catchpenny prints of women as witches and hags, to controversial portrayals of women in hip-hop, Dr. Heidi Li is certainly not lacking for material from which to draw. So let's take a look at the offerings.

The MoMM's online stores consist of, so far, ten exhibits, divided into two parts:
"General Collection" and "Bloopers". "Bloopers" has the notation: "People say the darndest things!"

The "General Collection" currently consists of seven items: four picture files and three articles. The articles' focus is as follows:

1. the misogynistic labeling of 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton;

2. the misogyny racial bigotry connection during the 2008 Democratic Primary season, and
"NOBODY LOVES A FAT WOMAN: Portraits of Female Obesity in Early American Cinema."

3. Portraits of Female Obesity in Early American Cinema."

This last immediately caught my interest for reasons we need not go into, need we?

It turned out to be a Georgetown student paper for a 2006 Media Historiography class, spring semester (Dr. Heidi Li is a law professor at Georgetown). Wretched co-opted self-hating fifth-columnist that I am, I was immediately enchanted by the title of a 1905 film, "Airy Fairy Lillian Tries On Her New Corsets". I tried to see if any of it was available on YouTube (Sorry to say, no). But the author of the paper, Joseph Kerr, in his description of the action, unkindly notes:
"Airy Fairy Lillian, wearing a sheer slip and underwear, attempts to put on her corset, an item of clothing, which ironically is supposed to help a woman look slim, but with a body the size of this, a corset is like putting a band-aid on an ax wound."
That is certainly a description any feminist will find it hard to forget, so thanks Dr. Heidi Li!
Let's just move on to the pictorial exhibits, none of which are original content:

4. Obama's chief speechwriter gropes a representation of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

5. Hillary Clinton nutcrackers. ( Dr. Heidi Li doesn't mention Corkscrew Bill, who is just what you imagine. He's available from, BTW. Along with the Obama Yes We Can Opener)

6. Selected items for sale related to the theme "Bro's Before Ho's" (two items, one a T-shirt with a picture of Obama and You-know-who, for sale on Amazon. Amazon. Yes.)

7. Lucy Burns serving time for fighting for women's suffrage

It seems that 75% of the misogyny in the world is directed at Hillary Clinton, and happened during 2008. It looks very much as if an exhibit in each category has been hurriedly thrown in as a token offering to all the rest of womanity. The Lucy Burns picture, while historically important, doesn't fit the stated parameters of the MoMM. It isn't an example of misogynistic characterization, it's flat-out woman's history. And, as a Juris Doctor might say, it opens the door to a more complete, vibrant, depiction of the triumph of women as more than simply victims.

Dr. Heidi Li does not go through that door. Instead, she gives us a gallery of "misogyny bloopers":

8. Howard Kurtz, Katie Couric, and Cognitive Dissonance.

9. Ms. Magazine January 2009 Inauguration Special Issue Cover -"Despite then President-elect's lack of any track record in establishing measures to protect or promote women and their rights, Ms. Magazine decides to pose him in "Super Man"-like fashion and declare him a "feminist.
10. Carville on Favreau - (the Ragin Cajun thinks that since Hillary accepted Favreau's apology, the incident should be over.)

Once again, there's a ringer thrown in to disguise Dr. Heidi Li's reduction of all womanhood to a single pantsuited politician. And her definition of "Bloopers" is somewhat eccentric: generally, the perpetrator of a blooper is trying to say something else, recognizes the mistake, and looks forward to picking up residuals from being included in the next episode of Bloopers, Blunders, and Misogynistic Logical Fallacies.
Dr. HL may think that whomever disagrees with her is perpetrating a blooper, but she is not the ultimate arbitor of blooperhood. If it were as subjective as that, I might classify her entire site as a blooper, and she seems very much to have meant it to be the way it is---aside from spelling it "Misyogyny Museum" on her title page.

So the exhibits of the MoMM are: Hillary, Hillary, Fat Women, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, Lucy Burns, Katie Couric, Hillary, Hillary.

Dr. Heidi Li has an ambitious agenda. She has solicited for both funds and material for the MoMM, so that it may grow into a properly curated traveling exhibition. The exhibits so far can all be obtained with the click of a mouse button in under ten minutes and in the months since the MoMM's inception, few have been added. But the need to press on with the fundraising is fierce, so fierce that Dr. Heidi Li is willing to press even when the circumstances might call her taste into question.
When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was operated on for pancreatic cancer, Dr. Heidi Li sprang into action:

Heidi Li, on February 5th, 2009 at 9:44 pm Said:
I know Ruth Bader Ginsburg slightly, and her husband, Marty Ginsburg, who is my colleague on the Georgetown faculty rather better. They are wonderful people, and of course my heart and thoughts are with them. A humble suggestion: If you care to send 51 Percent any amount (including .51 cents, with a message of support for Justice Ginsburg, not only will that be noted on the website, but I will make sure that all results and messages reach Justice Ginsburg).

I used to have a piece that would have been perfect for the MoMM. My father was obliged to go to Las Vegas on business, and I asked him to bring me back the tackiest thing he could find. He returned with something that more than fit the bill: a ceramic ashtray depicting a naked woman in a bathtub, on the side of which was lettered: "I HAD A TUB OF FUN IN LAS VEGAS". I loved that ashtray, and was heartbroken when it was lost in a move. Actually, I don't think the MoMM would be interested--not Hillary-centered enough. And I was just not politically conscious enough to be offended when my father gave it to me.

Note: There is a National Women's History Museum in Washington, D.C. They have their eye on a building to house their collections, and are seeking funding. They have a wonderful website, and the difference in attitude between the NWHM and the MoMM are exemplified by this statement:

If we - and future generations - are to learn all the lessons of the past upon which to build the future, we must be aware of the true experiences and contributions of women. Clearly, men cannot get there alone. Together, all things are possible.
----Karen Stasen, Founder, National Women's History Museum

1 comment:

  1. The power of words... "Ah yes", you think, "I know all about the power of words...". The hurtful thing someone says that sticks with us through life. The simple word of encouragement, perhaps from a total stranger, that picks us up and carries us through. But even the most innocent words have power and how can we know what their power will be? Well, I'm going to tell you.... Last Sunday I was reading about 'Airy Fairy Lillian Tries On Her New Corsets' and I thought to myself how cool, I'll go to the BPL, order it up on 16mm and roust Mr. and Mrs. Polly from Muttonchop City to watch on a warm summer's eve. So I go to the BPL and panic ensues. You, yes you, Mrs. Polly created trauma in the Strong house. The BPL no longer has listings for our beloved 16mms! I was sad, so sad. What had happened to them? Oh, the thought of such a lovely resource lost. So, I punch up the 24/7 (don't you hate that term?) librarian. Poor guy, he tried but couldn't help me. I waited for Santa to come home as he has an intimate relationship with our librarians (they give him books and things, he gives them candy and flowers). Not having time to visit the library he decided to email a different section of the BPL. Well, they couldn't help him either. Sadness grew. Then someone else emailed him, yes, they were gone from the catalog, something about circulation problems. Oh dear, were they lost forever? Who could not love and save those beautiful, old films? Despair took over, even the littlest Strong was sad, no more larger than life Cary Grant for her. Finally, an email of redemption Thursday. All is not lost. A lovely librarian just wanted to let us know that while not publicly available we could indeed have whatever we wanted. She recognized our name and knew what library was giving them to us. She said just to let her know directly and she would personally see to their travel. We now have a private link to the BPL with all the information we need to entertain ourselves this summer. Salvation, the Strongs can do the happy dance. But the terror of their disappearance remains. We have learned the only 1905 film they have is: PARIS TO MONTE CARLO, one of the earliest attempts to add color to a film sequence forms a part of this fascinating early film about an automobile trip from Paris to Monte Carlo. I may have to insist Mr. and Mrs. Polly come on a warm summer's eve.

    And never forget to watch what you say...
    Oh, and search youtube for 'Lillian's Corset'.