This is a guest post by Angela Eloise Smalley. Angela Eloise Smalley is a blogger and essayist based in Seattle, and writes regularly at Plying the Muse With Gin.
It’s been an interesting year for gender politics. Anne-Marie Slaughter had everyone buzzing with her Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” the online version of which had record-breaking page views and which sparked a multitude of articles, blog posts and commentary from fourth-wave feminists and male social conservatives alike. We’ve had women in positions of influence, who wouldn’t be where they are today were it not for the feminists who came before them, making public statements against feminism, like Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer, who just this year became the youngest CEO in the Fortune 500 and, more recently, Billboard’s Woman of the Year, Katy Perry. Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men launched the Fox-fueled hysteria over an imminent “war on men,” which we might dismiss with an eye roll were it not for the alarming number of elected officials, most of them male, some on the national stage, bloviating views and proposing vagislation that would take us back decades.
For all of the frustration over the fact that we are still protesting the same shit, it’s clear that finding fresh ways to engage people in a conversation about women and their roles in society can only be a good thing.
The Better Bombshell, a book and accompanying blog, brings together some of the best creative, intellectual, and artistic minds to do just that. Through written word and visual art, the project explores how feminine role models and sex symbols of the past have given way to new and developing ideas about women and sex, sorting through the barrage of conflicting ways women are portrayed and perceived in today’s popular culture to identify positive, multidimensional female role models and gain new insights into the way modern female role models affect us all.
Conceived as a collaboration between Seattle-area writers and artists, primarily friends, The Better Bombshell quickly took on a life of its own as enthusiasm for the project grew and people whom the editors never dreamed would say yes were eager to contribute. Editorial director, Charlotte Austin, recounts their lunch with Stanford professor and feminist author Valerie Miner, who has written a piece of short fiction for the book: “She’s this eloquent, well-dressed, distinguished lesbian icon, and she’s telling us that she loves our campy charm over a glass of Pinot Grigio.”
If talking about bombshells might seem like an odd choice for a project whose aim is to add a fresh voice to contemporary feminism, then that, with all its campy charm, is precisely the point. The Bombshell, with its Hollywood origins, has become something of an archetype of the female sex symbol and a decidedly anti-feminist label that seemed ripe for examination, conversation and deconstruction. It was a title sure to spawn plenty of debate (and it has) and the choice of an illustration of an atom for the book’s cover speaks directly to the project’s intent to address the dynamic and often explosive nature of modern gender relations. “In my mind, modern feminism should reclaim the flesh, and frankly, my version of a ‘Better Bombshell,’ is an intelligent, capable woman who is not afraid to also be a sexual being and who may at times welcome the attentions and superficial validations of others without shame,” artistic director, Siolo Thompson says when asked to explain the choice of title. “Those things – the body, sexuality, beauty, the need for validation – are just part of being human and women should be no more ashamed of them than they are of bi-pedalism and yet, we are.”
One of the guiding ideas behind the project was that it’s impossible to have a truly in-depth conversation about feminism without acknowledging it as a universally relevant topic. “I’m really proud of the range of people that have been willing to work with us and the strength of the project comes from the collaboration and juxtaposition of all these different voices,” Thompson said. The artists and writers brought into this project are “a beautiful motley assortment of talent”: male and female, emerging artists and established veterans, jocks and academics, gay and straight and everything in between. Contributors are as diverse as Roxanne Gay, assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University and co-editor of the literary magazine PANK, and humorist Dave Barry. “Visually the book will be a feast as well; we have outdoor photographers and master painters, cartoonists and landscape painters.”
In “The Hand of Yael,” Tim Lash reimagines, via screenplay, the Hebrew legend of the heroine who delivered Israel from the hands of King Jabin by brutally crushing Sisera’s skull with a tent peg and mallet. This is accompanied by the work of illustrative painter and portraitist Chris Crites. One chapter features “Strength,” a short story by Dan Mickelson, and photographs by Jason Thompson of RMI Guide Katie Bono, who recently completed the fastest ascent of Mt. Rainier by any female climber. Together, they celebrate the fortitude women bring to bear in athletic competition, childbirth, and changing a tire. In another chapter, “A Short History of My Breast Cancer In Bombshells”, poet and memoirist Eva Saulitis shares a raw and strikingly honest account of her own experience, illustrated by a series of drawings by Seattle-based painter Kate Protage that perfectly capture the intimacy of the examined self, at once evocative of the way women view themselves and of the literal self examination our doctors extol us to perform every month.
Siolo Thompson says that at the outset of the project she felt compelled to inform people that they were NOT making a pin-up book. “I was worried that the artwork that came in would be a literal reflection of the title rather than a conversation about feminism.” She needn’t have worried. The Better Bombshell is a powerful compendium of truly thoughtful artistic works about strength and spirit, sex and family, guns and gender violence, and the construction of beauty and activism, among other things.
The Better Bombshell is scheduled for release on February 14, 2013 and is available for pre-order on the project website (thebetterbombshell.com). For additional content, be sure to check out The Better Bombshell blog.
The Better Bombshell editorial team: Siolo Thompson, Artistic Director, is a self-taught visual artist with a background in comparative literature. She is represented by Bherd Urban Art Gallery in Seattle, WA. Charlotte Austin, Editorial Director, is a writer, editor and international mountain guide. Her work has appeared in many publications and anthologies, both in print and online. Amanda Paredes, Visual Director, is a photographer and graphic designer whose fashion photography and travel photojournalism has appeared in several national publications. She currently spends most of her time with a local nonprofit, documenting families battling terminal illnesses.