Wedding Bell Blues

By Jaclyn Jermyn

Yes, marriage is antiquated.

Yes, the ideals of marriage don’t align themselves with the values of my generation.

And yes, I still want to get married.

I don’t know why really. Maybe it’s just a hold over from my childhood. I had two different wedding gowns I could dress Barbie up in. Ken had his own tux (with a bright blue cummerbund—who made that styling decision?).

I don’t know if I ever fit into the category of “every little girl dreams of her wedding day” because I think I dreamed of being a ballerina and seeing the world more than I thought about picking out a china pattern.

But yeah, I’ll be honest, I’ve looked at vintage wedding dresses on Etsy. I follow Married In New York on Instagram (and you should too because it’s cute as hell and city hall weddings seem like the best). I’ve looked at my parent’s backyard in North Carolina, overlooking the mountains and a lake and thought, “yeah, this would be a great place for a reception.” So sue me.

It’s foolish. But I am no one’s property. I would never have anyone “give me away” at the altar because my existence is not a business transaction. Side note: my original post was going to be about the concept of dowries and it ended up being too depressing so here I am typing away about the outdated concept of marriage and how I still believe in it, which to be honest, is not any happier.

The way I see it, I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I see my family two times a year. I see my extended family maybe once a year if I’m lucky. A wedding is a milestone for your later life. It’s probably after the graduation parties and before the more significant birthday parties. It’s something in the middle where everyone can gather together and remark on how you’ve grown up nicely and learned how to care about other people.

I would write my own vows. I don’t need to say “till death do us part” because I don’t want to be 60 and miserable and thinking about death as an escape route. But I would say “in sickness and in health” because if you really do care about another person, it’s not just the good days that you stick around for. And isn’t that level of personal maturity and commitment something to celebrate, if only on a two-person scale?

Oh, and in case my mom reads this, I’m not planning on getting married any time soon so you can stop hyperventilating. Let me finish college and get my life together first. 

A Taxonomy of Femininity and Sisterhood

By Annie Zidek

We are lucky to live in a part of the world where feminism has forced a marriage between equality and women, even though there are still many steps that need to be taken. Regardless, it’s important to realize that there are still parts of the world where women are disregarded in their society; their femininity is oppressed, and their softness is taken advantage of. About a month ago, I went to the Chicago Film Festival with my friend Erin to go see the Turkish film, Mustang, which depicted this discrepancy in feminism through five sisters and their emotional, sexual, and physical maturation during their time in a society where they and their Sisterhoods are overlooked.

Photo Courtesy of Kinology

Photo Courtesy of Kinology

Set in a small town in Turkey, Eastern Islamic ideology drives the familial forces in this household; there is a total disregard for women and feminine beauty. The five sisters—Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur, and Lale—are suppressed of female rites of passage throughout their female rites of passage because they were innocently fooling around at the beach with some boys after the last day of school. Consequently, the girls’ uncle and grandmother hide them from sex and other female liberties while breeding them for marriage. Scattered along the spectrum from child to woman, the girls are interconnected emotionally because of their isolation. They find beauty in their disregard: they sprawl on floors, limbs entangled with the others’ while bathed in Turkish afternoon light. During “wife lessons,” they joke with one another and what the unknown future holds for them. On their occasional excursions out of the house, they pile into tiny cars together and joke about sexuality. They’re their own girl gang, supporting each other through the trials and tribulations of their caretakers’ emotional and physical abuse.

The sisters watch one another get married. Sonay and Selma are wed off first: Sonay is the lucky one who marries the boy she loves while Selma is stuck in an arranged marriage—her unhappiness clearly illustrated through her belligerent drunkenness and disarray at her own wedding. Not only do they celebrate together, they grieve together. When death kisses one of the sisters and their sisterly dynamic is hindered, they come together—though only for a moment—and lament. Their unadulterated bond and pure love is once again highlighted through their spooning and caressing and soft weeping.

Photo Courtesy of Kinology

Photo Courtesy of Kinology

The dynamic of their Sisterhood clearly explores serious subjects such as love and suicide and also womanhood. Though femininity is not a necessary role in Sisterhood, its function is enforced in the girls’ lives and relationships. The girls are constantly shown in their bras and underwear but never fully nude, a symbol of their simultaneous liberating innocence and sexual awakening. This depiction kills the idea of nudity’s warped sexuality and puts the nakedness in the context of familial boundaries and sisterly comfort. 

Not only do their clothes represent womanhood, but their long hair, left uncut due to their Islamic heritage, also symbolizes their stark femininity and strong sexuality. The oldest sister, Sonay, who coincidentally boasts the longest hair among the sisters, is the first to openly admit to her sexual escapades when she talks about engaging in anal sex to avoid pregnancy and the breaking of her hymen; next is Selma who tells her gynecologist she “slept with the whole world” after she didn’t bleed on her wedding sheets. The last sister to partake in sexual encounters is Ece, who sleeps with a random man in her uncle’s car while he’s in the bank. All their sexual encounters mark a transition from youth to adulthood, giving sexuality regality.

Photo Courtesy of Kinology

Photo Courtesy of Kinology

Cinematically, sexuality and femininity are distinct: with visceral colors and light in nearly every scene, the director adorns the girls with strong female characteristics. In many scenes, light engulfs the sisters, putting them in an almost angelic framework. Draping them in natural lighting presents the girls as mundane goddesses. And the colors, varying hues of blues and greens and pink and yellows, give them a sense of life and vitality and youth, memorializing their childlike Sisterhood. These sisterly and womanly visuals offer a glimpse into the interworking of Sisterhood and the pivotal role femininity plays for this family of sisters specifically.

Compared to the Sisterhood of these Turkish sisters, my personal Sisterhoods seem insignificant and petty. Yes, we’ve had our own family struggles but never to the extent of the sisters in Mustang. Still I found solace in the distinct connection between that family and my own: Sisterhood is powerful. In Sisterhood, you are a band of sisters working through life together, leaning on each other, feeding off one another, being there for one another.

Photo Courtesy of Kinology

Photo Courtesy of Kinology

I Want A Cheeseburger, I Am A Cheeseburger

by Brian Martin

Courtesy of  PBS

Courtesy of PBS

When a friend and I are feeling bourgeois enough to select a place to eat out, they’ll usually ask me how hungry I am, and I’ll tell them, “Enough to eat 4 McChickens,” or whatever quantity I’m hungry for at the time. When friends tell me about the 10 dollars they spent upgrading their Tinder or OkCupid accounts, I tell them, “That’s about 8 McChickens right there, depending on the county.”

My standard unit of measurement for most practical things is a McChicken.

And, I know. I know that McDonald's has an awful track records in human rights, chicken rights, all that other shit vegan punks like to talk about when they see you buying animal products. The reality of it is that most fast-food places are evil. On the economic end, they’ve strategically halted the formation of unions and ignored national employee demand to have their meager wages-per-hour raised. As Eric Schlosser writes in Fast Food Nation, “fast food chains’ vast purchasing power and their demand for a uniform product have encouraged fundamental changes in how cattle are raised, slaughtered, and processed into ground beef.” Their hegemony over a food industrial complex, according to Schlosser, has effectively disempowered and impoverished rural communities, eliminating their middle class and creating a vast working poor below a small, wealthy elite. And this power extends as far as the deforesting space economies of Brazil and Guatemala.

They’ve infamously been taken to court— and even lost in trial —for using marketing tactics which specifically target children, saturating the media with ads that associate their highly addictive foods with fun, love, and family. The McLibel Trial, for instance, was an infamous case where a gardener and a postman from London managed to convince a judge to rule that McDonald's “[exploits children] with their advertising, produce 'misleading' advertising, are 'culpably responsible' for cruelty to animals, are 'antipathetic' to unionization and pay their workers low wages.” These same efforts, perhaps unsurprisingly, have failed in the USA.

The law in mind, one could call me a childhood victim of “McDonaldization."

At age 3, I remember sitting on my grandpa Betos' lap, having him tell me a story about Elephants and Spiderwebs as we awaited a happy meal. He took off his glasses, turned them upside down, and put them back on his face so that the frames looked like an M. And for whatever reason, I’d never been so pleased: there was a secret McDonald's logo in all glasses.

At age 4, there was a giant advertisement for a Shamrock Shake on the road which lead from Tijuana to the Border. Upon seeing its strange, alien-skin like coloration, the whipped cream, the cherry, I started crying.

After much haggling, me and my mother waited for five hours, moving at the pace of 2 steps per 5 minutes, until we crossed to the US. We walked over to the same McDonald's Beto would take me and tell me stories at. Approaching the counter, I pulled out a secret pocket of change I’d been accumulating from panhandling, street searching, and purse-picking. I poured out the change on the counter like pieces of eight.

The tragic part is when it came in all the glimmering, neon-mint-green glory, my first sip was cloyingly sweet— like, the syrup was rotten, runny, and bleh.

At age 6, after my family had gone bankrupt and we fled to the southernmost city in the Baja peninsula, my favorite mornings were spent at the PlayPlace’s GameCubes while my mother drank McCafe. Yes, you read right: GameCubes in a Mexican McDonald's. Even though the ball-pit caked over with brown stuff and smelled like chancla, the McDonald's was fancy as hell: two stories, 20 televisions, cushioned booths, and game stations in the playroom. Shit was a prize. And I ate it like one. Whenever my mother wanted us to feel good about life and disregard the hurricanes, the dad on a two week journey trucking cinder blocks from one end of Mexico to the next— she’d bring me and my sister here.

This might seem opposite to the common American conception of McDonald's, which tends to view its food as inferior products. Friends who I’ve spoken with about it call it “drunk food”— the kind of stuff you stumble upon after a long night of Fireball shots in Wrigleyville. Others say it is something they gorge on when they’re feeling bad about themselves; "when you’re broke and in a hurry." Then there’s the folks who say the food is incorrigibly disgusting: the “I’d rather eat [cage-free, vegan, cage-free, vegan, gluten-free, green, Rainforest Alliance Certified] garbage than McDonald's” people.

Ironically, when Carl N. Karcher (Carl’s Jr.), Thomas S. Monaghan (Domino’s), Harland Sanders (KFC), Ray Kroc (McDonald's) and more began developing their fast-food empires, they were successful because their products were accessible to working class people. For the first time, working families could afford to eat out. Fast food venues were also spaces where young people could gain work experience. A young Latina friend of mine told me she saw McDonald's as an opportunity to save up money before moving to Chicago from rural Illinois. The scarcity of work and a strict meritocracy has also made the fast-food service industry many people’s livelihood.

Internationally, McDonald's and other American products continue to be aspirational commodities which one can buy to both materially and symbolically communicate one's social mobility. My urban Mexican experience is one example of this. Yunxiang Yan, a UCLA Anthropologist, wrote a piece titled Of Hamburgers and Social Space: Consuming McDonald’s in Beijing, which analyzed the role of fast food in 1990’s China. Yan found that women were the predominant consumers, because “they enjoyed ordering their own food and participating in the conversation while dining,” whereas in traditional Chinese restaurants men would order the food and control conversation. He goes on to write that “imported fast-food restaurants provide a venue where women feel comfortable alone or with female friends,” lest they be marked by suspicions about their “morality or occupation." McDonald's and company provided a space where women, albeit of a particular class, could practice a new kind of social mobility.

I don’t mean to propose that the social space constructed by McDonald's is necessarily revolutionary, especially when we consider their ultimate goal is still, indeed, to produce profit at the expense of their workers, children, and the environment. Though, certainly, as Yan proposes, “there is a close link between the development of fast-food consumption and changes in social structure, especially the emergence of new social groups.” What I’m saying is that fast food means more than its unhealthy chemical composition.

Mind you, as I’ve already noted, criticisms of McDonald's are warranted and well-founded. My purpose here is not to denounce a movement which aims to dismantle unhealthy food systems, fight against soil degradation, vile mistreatment of animals, and promote holistic health (especially in lower-income communities). What I am trying to do is push for a more nuanced analysis of what McDonald's and other American ‘foods’ mean to working class or poor people. Why are we attached? Why, for reasons social, cultural, and economic, can we or can we not escape it? What is the implicit classism, xenophobia, and racism present in middle-to-upper-class hatred of McDonald's? What populations do we associate with this kind of food?

And, on a more personal note, I’m tired of crude, individualistic critiques of consumption. I don’t want to be called out in the middle of eating lunch between work-shifts. I don’t want to hear about the superiority of “organic" lifestyles, which are typically supported by products peddled by the same corporations selling me ground beef. The social and economic success of McDonald's as noted by Yan in Beijing, and Schlosser in the USA, and by me in Mexico, is attributable to the broader social and economic contexts: women had to turn to McDonald's because of the harsh patriarchal culture around them; working class people wanted to feel good about their ability to provide for the family, and could not afford anything but McDonald's.

Myself?

I’m young and messy. I’m hungry. I’m wasteful. I use wi-fi in lieu of expensive-ass phone service. I’m constantly anxious about my prospects for the future. I’m far away from home. When it’s 2 AM and I’m wandering without real purpose, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and sometimes on Christmas, McDonald's is there. Or Dunkin Donuts. Or Burger King. Whatever. I’ll come in with a dollar, buy myself a burger and a few hours of down time. I’ll sit down next to the drunks, homeless folk, and graveyard shifters like it’s purgatory. Because it is. We are all waiting for a better alternative.

Cities of the Rustbelt

by Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post Gazette

I would say “Pittsburgh” softly each time before throwing him up.

Whisper “Pittsburgh” with my mouth against the tiny ear and throw him higher.

“Pittsburgh,” and happiness high up.

The only way to leave even the smallest trace.

So that all his life, her son would feel gladness unaccountably

when anyone spoke of the ruined city of steel in America.

Each time almost remembering something maybe important that got lost.

 

-       Jack Gilbert, collected poems

 

A few years ago, an art gallery opened in an old steel mill on the Northside in Pittsburgh. Photos of Byzantine Orthodox nuns walking against the smoke-filled landscape of bustling steelworks, paintings of soot-covered faces in impossible masses, and sculptures of reclaimed shards of iron turned the memories of The Steel City into high art to be discussed over drinks and stuffed mushrooms. The old mill was one of the lucky few to be given a redeemed purpose; since US Steel died out and left Pittsburgh in the 70’s and 80’s, most of the mills today stand vacant and deteriorating along the riverside, untouched since the last of their workers were laid off and sent home.

Like so many other industrial cities of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, Pittsburgh became part of the “Rust Belt,” a trail of cities that popped up as booming hubs of industry at the turn of the century, but have since fallen victim to failed economies and changing times. Also referred to as “The Manufacturing Belt,” “The Steel Belt,” and “The Factory Belt,” the region consists of such cities as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Before WWII, Rust Belt cities were some of the nation’s largest, and supplied work for millions of immigrants. And then gradually they started to decline, and ghosts started to pop up in the form of rail yards and lumber mills and lace factories never to be put to use again. 

Courtesy of Frick Art Historical Center

Courtesy of Frick Art Historical Center

“We could have been Detroit,” a friend grimly reminded me during a visit home to Pittsburgh, while we cruised the Boulevard of the Allies on our way to Hot Metal Bridge to go to the Southside Ironworks. Everything from streets to bridges to bars to movie theaters in Pittsburgh are so often named after the industry that they have replaced.

“We could have been Detroit if we didn’t have something else going for us. What did they have? Cars. Cars and nothing else.”

And it’s true. Pittsburgh didn’t die with U.S. Steel, hospitals popped up and expanded as rapidly as cells divide, schools recruited more and more engineers and musicians and teachers and doctors, museums named after Carnegie (just like the projects were) filled with more and more private donations. But we could have died. We could have failed. We could have experienced an Exodus. But we didn’t. We built. We grew. We adapted.

In 2010, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was named the most livable city in the world. That doesn’t mean the skeletons of the empire that built us don’t loom over our hillsides and riverbanks along all three of our rivers.

Damen Silos in Chicago sits empty and covered in graffiti, a stark reminder of a time when the city contributed to the grain empire of “the breadbasket of America.” Meanwhile, the back of the yards have hardly changed, while the Meat Packing District has since fizzled into the history books as a grim allegory. The abandoned Cook County hospital still stands as ornate and detailed as a looted Russian palace after the revolution, literally right behind the new hospitals that constitute Chicago’s Medical District. Abandoned synagogues, post offices and condemned brownstones litter the city, the boards once covering their kicked-in windows long ago. 

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

A massive asylum stands guard over the outskirts of Philadelphia. A hauntingly beautiful carousel sits as the crown jewel of a boardwalk in New Jersey's Asbury Park, desolate. Half of Detroit remains a ghost town consumed by weeds, houses selling for $1 once or twice a year in the hopes of a Renaissance that has been a long time coming.

Courtesy of Marlo Montanaro

Courtesy of Marlo Montanaro

The cities of the Rust Belt are neither dead nor dying, they are frozen. Stagnant. Haunted, preserved, heartbroken. They are America’s ruins, reminding us of a time, an industry, and a way of life so little of our generation understands, even though many of us are the products of their love and labor.

A boiler from the same steel mill my grandfather worked in still sits on the riverside in Pittsburgh, surrounded by a fountain, part decoration and part memorial. Something that once had the ability to maim and kill hundreds of men in an instant, is now something that people pose in front of for photo opps and children play by while their parents wait for their Hard Rock Cafe reservation. It is our roots communicating with us, saying “notice us,

love us,

please,

don’t forget about us,

don’t forget

we were here,

we made you.”

What I See In My Mother

by Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

The beauty of my mother’s body is a secret, even to herself

hidden deep within the confines of her generous chest

close enough to reach but invisible to her own eyes

I see it glowing deep within her heart, radiating to all parts of her body

In her stretch marks, her crow’s feet, her surgical scars

there is beauty erupting like starbursts

in a dark and dusty night

but only for the enjoyment of others.

 

She buried all knowledge of her beauty years ago,

and forgets to pay her respects to her beautiful wide thighs

her stomach and pelvis that was swollen two different times

with a growing life inside of her

cut from her own cloth

beating heart and fighting arms, like their lionhearted mother,

her jiggly middle serves as a reminder of the miracles her body is capable of

the way she changed the world with her sacrifice and womanhood

 

she tends to hide from her body

hiding it from the world

because she doesn’t believe in it like we do

poisoned by the ideas of makeup ads and fashion models

forgetting her own worth, long history, and infinite grace

swallowing toxic media messages

a diet we’re all subject to

 

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

I see the beauty in her

in the body that I came from

the eyes that worried about me

the arms that held me

the heart that believed in me

and the voice that defended me

that attempted to break the spell we were both under

 

she's dismissed the beauty of her feminine body, calling it “fat,” or “out of shape”

she's disregarded her years of life experience and wisdom, calling it “aging” and lamenting over wrinkles

she's denied her extraordinary abilities, and takes shame in the limitations of her body,

the scars which serve as reminders of her struggles

teaching her loved ones to be fierce and unafraid like she is

 

she knows how her body has betrayed her,

but I don't know if she remembers all the ways it has served her

with love and strength

for almost 50 years

and that her fierce and independent attitude,

her life accomplishments,

have more than earned her the right

to appreciate the spoils of her hard work

the body that brought her through an impoverished childhood

a career as a police officer

two childbirths

and multiple surgeries

the body that grieved

longed

suffered

laughed

thrived

persevered.

 

she buries her beauty deep, where she can’t see it

but I can still see it

glowing in the dark

dancing in her eyes

ringing in her laugh

the vulnerability in her insecurity

as beautiful as the body she was born with-

born to make noise with and move mountains with,

shaking entire towns with her presence-

like mother, like daughter.

 

These days, she prefers hiding her beauty

concealing the abilities of her body to the world

in the deep well of her sensitive stomach,

worried that she’s moving the wrong way

wearing it the wrong way

standing in it the wrong way

 

but she’s my mother, my beautiful mother

every inch of her body is worth seeing

loving

celebrating

deep down she knows this, she always has, we always have

and I hope one day to see her unearth this treasure,

the knowledge of her beauty,

so she can worship the hourglass palace,

its reflective light dancing in her eyes.