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Kim Kardashian and Feminine Identity

Michelle Obama, Melania Trump, Marilyn Monroe, and Kim Kardashian are feminine icons of very different stripes. How have such female role models evolved and what influence do they exert over feminine identity in a time of vast sociopolitical change?

Photo of four women wearing EEG headsets
Natalie Kacinik's "The Female Role Model Project" explores the influence of female icons, from a neurological perspective. 

Professor Natalie Kacinik (GC/Brooklyn, Psychology) teamed up with actress TjaĊĦa Ferme to explore this question from a neurological perspective in a new theatrical production, The Female Role Model Project
The heavily improvised show features actresses portraying famous female role models while weaving in their own experiences as women. But Kacinik and Ferme take things a step further by having each actress wear an EEG headset to read and display live neuroscientific recordings. Adding to that, composer and music producer Justin Mathews built a specific program that converts those brains into sound. “It’s really not like anything you’ve ever experienced before,” Kacinik said.
Ahead of the production’s debut, The Graduate Center spoke with Professor Kacinik about this chance to go deep inside the mind.
Graduate Center: What about working in the theater interested you as a cognitive neuroscientist?
Kacinik: I saw a way to take some of these really exciting things that we know and that we’ve learned [in the lab], and actually present that to a more general audience. What we’re really trying to do with the show is to try and keep the artistic, theatrical quality while also conveying something that has this informational aspect to it.
GC: Neurons can shape new pathways in the brain. How do you see this particular project achieving that transformation?
Kacinik: We would love to be able to show some kind of transformation, like increased awareness. It’s really hard to reduce bias — a lot of these things are so ingrained and automatic in us — so it’s hard to get rid of these preconceived notions we have. At least by increasing awareness, I think that can be a vehicle for long-term change.
GC: How are you helping translate the EEG shows to an audience who might not understand what they’re seeing?
Kacinik: We do a general orientation of the signals that they’re seeing. Unlike the headset I have in the lab, which has 64 electrodes, the two types of headsets we use in the show have either 14 or four electrode sites. We can talk about general brain areas. We can talk about general brain areas. But it’s a tricky thing to. We know there are different frequencies and there’s research on what the frequencies mean, but just because you’re measuring something that the brain is producing on the surface of the scalp, you can’t say, “Ok, the electrodes here are in the front, that’s where the activity is.” We also have this musician and sound engineer, Justin Mathews, who transforms the different frequencies into sound patterns, and a multimedia artist, Brooklyn College Professor John Jannone, who designed software that also converts them into an amazing video design.
GC: The show is interested in exploring how female role models impact people, especially women, so what do you hope this show unveils?
Kacinik: It’s a little hard to say because we don’t work with a script. The content was devised by the cast and there’s interaction with the audience. For example, [the actresses] will do their monologues, but then afterwards the audience members have a chance to ask the different characters questions, so it’s improvisational because you don’t know what questions you’re going to get. But showing people the diversity of experiences others have, especially as a girl or woman, we hope that the audience makes their own personal connection. The content of the show is really based on the actresses’ experiences across a variety of domains. There are purely personal things, there are times where they’re totally portraying a character, and there are times where they blend the two together.
GC: What kind of experiences does the show cover?
Kacinik: Lots of things from childhood through adolescence and adulthood, but with a focus on girls' relationships with their mothers and other family members, as well as how they perceived and dealt with physical aspects of their bodies.
The Female Role Model Project runs from November 7 to December 2 at 3LD Art & Technology Center in Manhattan.

Submitted on: NOV 7, 2018

Category: Faculty | General GC News | Psychology