This week’s readings explore issues of womanhood, from the mundane grievances experienced by suburban housewifes to the horrifying reality that human trafficking victims face. Motions by Hazel Smith, Will Luers, and Roger Dean deals with the latter. Immediately, this piece confused me. At the start, text appears, telling me I’m on a train. The audio tells a different story—I hear the whining engine of an airplane and the distinctive ding of a fasten seat belt sign.
Soon, images appear, but they don’t clear things up; the pictures are up close, or blurred, or too abstract to make out. Lexias in different formats are arranged over the visuals: there’s plain white font, centered over blackness; white boxes with black borders, filled with plain black text; and large, floating, blue-gray words in different languages. The way the presentation of text switches, particularly the appearance of languages other than English, makes the reader feel a foreigner.
The content of these lexias adds to the puzzling experience. Some passages read like poetry, while others present statistics on human trafficking. The perspective shifts, too—distant third person recollections of facts and figures inform the reader about human trafficking on an academic level, while haunting first person accounts of abuse make the issue personal. There’s some second person, too, and lines like “Why did you agree to go with him?” sound almost accusatory and portray an attitude of victim blaming.
Like the text, the audio changes; hectic, fast-paced piano music plays, building to a suspenseful crescendo before it suddenly stops. Occasionally, harsh distortions accompany the text and images. The sounds create feelings of urgency and anxiety in the listener. All of these elements (the sound, the text, the images) make the readers feel—to at least a small extent—like they are trafficking victims going through a harrowing and confusing experience.
While Pieces of Herself by Juliet Davis can also be confusing at times, this text gives the reader a lot more agency and control of the narrative. In this piece, the readers travel through different rooms in a house, choosing the order in which they visit each location, and they can click and move certain objects on the screen. Interacting with certain images prompts audio, such as speech or music, to play. All of the manipulatives on screen are “pieces” that make up the woman whose silhouette keeps readers company throughout each room.
While the setting is more mundane than the heavy themes presented in Motion, the issues explored in Pieces are no less important. The piece contains commentary on a wide range of issues. For instance, an animated drop of blood over an American flag raises questions about our country’s checkered past (and present); a double helix strand of DNA in front of a child’s playground demonstrates the importance of passing parts of ourselves down to future generations; and a pink fetus over a cross portrays the conflicts between women’s rights and religion.
The most prevalent themes, however, are related to the many facets of womanhood. In the kitchen, which is traditionally a female space, there’s audio about pastry recipes that are passed down from mother to daughter and spoken reminders like “Don’t forget to wash your hands.” In the same room, clicking a birthday cake prompts audio of Marilyn Monroe’s sensual rendition of “Happy Birthday.” All of these audio files point to the wildly different expectations that are simultaneously placed on women: women must provide food and comfort, and they must teach their children how to behave, but they should also look their best while doing it.
There’s obviously so much more to explore with this piece, from the conundrum of being a woman in the workplace that’s touched on in the office room, to the exorbitant amounts of money women spend on their appearances that’s mentioned in the living room. However, the one thread that was present throughout was just how overwhelming, aggravating, and anxiety inducing being a woman can be.
The text depicts these frustrating feelings through a few incessant sounds. Occasionally, I’d click something, and the audio just wouldn’t stop. The drip-drop of water from a sink, or the splash of a spill in the kitchen, or, very bizarrely, the ribbit of a frog under the bedsheets followed me through the entirety of the piece. To be honest, I’m not sure what the deal is with the frog. Together, though, these sounds create a frustrating cacophony that reflects the overwhelming responsibilities and expectations that bombard women every waking moment of their lives.
Weirdly, this aspect of the piece reminds me of an episode of the Netflix show Bojack Horseman, in which Princess Carolyn, a cat who recently adopted a baby porcupine (just bear with me here, guys), struggles to find a balance between keeping her career and taking care of her new child. The sounds of her daily chores (feeding the baby, taking out the trash, making phone calls, etc.) join together to create a unique but stress-inducing soundtrack. If you’re interested, you should watch the full episode, as it has some great commentary on the struggles working mothers face, but if you’re not looking to binge a new show, here’s a brief clip illustrating what I mean. (The relevant bits are from about 7:50-8:30.)
Overall, Pieces of Herself and Motion are both deeply moving and thought provoking texts that explore very different perspectives of the struggles women face. Despite some confusion and frustration, I enjoyed reading the powerful themes present in both pieces.