Elevate Difference

Reviews by Mandy Van Deven

Mandy Van Deven

Mandy Van Deven is a writer, editor, and changemaker. She is the co-author of Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets, and writes about contemporary feminist activisms, gender-based violence, sexuality, and pop culture for a variety of publications, including AlterNet, ColorLines, Marie Claire, Salon, and The Women’s International Perspective.

Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism

Jessica Yee and I have a lot in common, personally and politically. For one, last year we were both curating collective published works that simultaneously construct and deconstruct contemporary feminist theory while broadening the scope of who is seen as legitimate enough to be a theory-maker. I wasn't aware of her work, and so far as I know, she wasn't aware of mine either. Despite being topically similar, the results of both projects are strikingly different. And I have a few theories about why.


Don’t let the relationship-centric plot fool you; Monogamy is not a chick flick. In fact, it’s one of the more interesting films I’ve seen that explores fears about committing oneself to just one person for the rest of one’s life, from a wholly male perspective. Typically these kinds of heteronormative man-boy treatises on marriage phobia are treated with ample doses of trite and predictable humor.

Literary Readings: Salman Rushdie (11/22/2010)

Everywhere you go in India, you see bootlegged copies of Salman Rushdie's groundbreaking Midnight's Children being sold by hawkers along the footpaths to tourists who've come to see if the romanticized country is as mythical a place as the then-copywriter delightfully described in his make-me-or-break-me novel. The fantastical worlds created in Rushdie's mind closely resemble our reality, but their magical element—at times more prevalent than others—has the ability to transport the uninitiated from a place of sensory overload to one of simple beauty. And it was with great pleasure that I attended the literary reading with Rushdie, and subsequent jocular verbal sparring with fellow Mumbaite, and Maximum City author, Suketu Mehta at the 92nd Street Y.


Brittany: I’m one of those lit geeks who has long loved Jonathan Franzen. I read How To Be Alone on a solo trip to Japan when I was twenty, and it particularly spoke to me as an introverted writer. The better part of a decade later, I’m still so infatuated with that particular collection—though I’ve also read Franzen’s three previous novels, memoir, numerous pieces in The New Yorker, and his longtime partner Kathryn Chetkovich’s Granta essay “Envy” before it was so publicly associated with Franzen—that it was no stretch to know I’d like Freedom. I’ve also read a lot about Franzen’s process as a writer, and frankly, it seems few people have the commitment to churn out the type of work he produces. That doesn’t mean I think it’s above critique; it’s just that I admire his work ethic and generally, the end result.

Botanical 2011 Monthly & Weekly Planning Calendar

Upon returning to the United States after living for two years abroad, my partner was particularly giddy about one specific purchase: a cell phone. In the time we'd been in India, smartphones had become commonplace, and my Applephile other half was overjoyed at the idea of being able to sync his Macbook and iPod with a mobile device. Although he valiantly fought for an iPhone, the more cost efficient two-for-one sale on the Droid won out. For my part, I don't give two flips about technosyncage, and I'm not entirely convinced my semi-functional PC can handle that kind of software. I just wanted to be able to easily check my email.

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

Beginning at a Halloween-themed singles dance for Mormon adults in the tristate area (the party referenced in the title of her novel) a Queen-Bee-costumed Elna Baker sets the scene for the spiritually-infused existential struggles that are soon to come. Although the attendees are adults, the event aches of prepubescent awkwardness and is plagued by the same maladies that afflict these preteen school functions: forced sobriety, abysmal music, sex-segregated clustering, embarrassing encounters with couples dancing, and sanctified social hierarchy.

Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying

How does an eleven-year-old girl cope with the trauma of losing both her favorite aunt and her beloved father in the span of one calendar year? She may pray to God daily to ask Him to protect her loved ones. But what happens when prayer becomes more than just a comfort? What happens when it becomes a compulsion?

I Can’t Think Straight

It’s always a bit tricky to adapt one’s real life experiences to the big screen, but that’s what award-winning filmmaker Shamim Sarif has done in I Can’t Think Straight. Based in London, the film depicts the budding romance between Leyla, an Indian Muslim woman raised in the UK, and Tala, an Arab Christian Palestinian woman who was brought up in a very wealthy family in Jordan.

Tea on the Axis of Evil

After two years of providing security intelligence about the activities of Al Qaeda to the United States government in the wake of 9/11, the Bush Administration publicly dubbed Syria a threat to democracy by including it in the so-called Axis of Evil. Knowing very little about the secular republic, filmmaker Jean Marie Offenbacher decided to spend a year in Damascus in order to offer a look at everyday citizens of Syria and combat stereotypical depictions put forth in the mainstream media. Though the U.S.


Henna is a visceral cinematic experience that functions as an exercise in patience. Drawing from reflections on his own childhood growing up in a rapidly developing Abu Dhabi, Saleh Karama created the character of Henna (A’aesha Hamad), a curious eight-year-old girl through whose perspective we are invited to see the world. Henna lives in a fishing village in an unnamed Arab country.

Made in Pakistan

These days, political analysts on both sides of the aisle are calling Pakistan a failed state. While the “most dangerous place in the world” does face profound political and social turmoil, such sweeping commentary fails to capture the more personal intricacies of the lives of ordinary people living inside the country’s borders. Pakistan is more than the Taliban fighters implementing Sharia law in the Swat Valley, and it’s more than the frequent bombings of embassies and hotels from Islamabad to Karachi.

Half Life

Love stories aren’t really my thing, but Roopa Farooki’s newest novel, Half Life, shows many shades of love in a way that warms the heart, wets the eye, and expands the mind. The book opens with Aruna Ahmed Jones’ seemingly crazy and impulsive decision to leave her year-old marriage.

Triangle Tribes Pendant

It wasn’t so long ago that I’d stricken reading fiction from my timepass repertoire. I saw no need for flights of fancy and, instead, preferred to lose myself in pages of dense history and theory. I made my foray back into the land of make believe slowly, first though memoir, then short stories.

Marolsha Jewelry

When you live in a city like New York or Chicago, it's fairly easy to find your way around. For the most part, urban planners patterned these cities on a grid with numbered streets indicating one direction (East/West) and avenues or named streets indicating the perpendicular other (North/South). So if you're at my favorite Mexican restaurant in the East Village and want to get to my favorite all-veg diner in the Lower East Side, you can do so with ease simply by knowing the cross streets.

Chai, Chai: Travels in Places Where You Stop but Never Get Off

Good travel writing is hard to come by because it requires a convergence of several elements: a catchy hook, entertaining prose, historical context in just the right doses, and a keen eye for what is interesting about people and places visited. The ability to impeccably execute these essential components is what separates the sacred from the profane.

Fight Global Women's Organic T-Shirt

If you’re going to be a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl, you’ve got to go out of your way to make sure your tees have something interesting to say. If you’re going to be a t-shirt and jeans girl who lives in New York City, that message should make a statement about art or politics.

Designs Inc Jewelry

For all the traveling I’ve done in India, I haven’t yet managed to make it to Goa. The Southeast coast of the country was colonized by the Portuguese (and the Dutch and the French), and—from the architecture of massive churches to the spice blends in the cuisine—that influence is still felt in South India today. Goa is a hotspot for travelers who want a reprieve from ‘traditional India’.

Fashion Muse Jewelry

I’ve never been a fan of shopping. This is somewhat because it is difficult and frustrating to find cute clothes that fit well when your body size and shape don’t match the norm (anyone out there want to design for a corpulent woman over six feet tall?), but mostly I’m just really good at talking myself out of making a purchase. Contrary to the problem many people have (that they buy too much), I am perpetually buying too little.

A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta

Here’s the thing about reading a book that’s set in the place you live: it obliges you to scrutinize the setting, the authenticity of the dialogue, and the accuracy of the story in a way you may not have done otherwise. This effect becomes magnified when the place in which you live is not the place you are from, and when your own situated existence in that un-rooted place resembles that of the author’s.

An Endless Winter’s Night: An Anthology of Mother-Daughter Stories

When it comes to works of literature, one key element that can make or break the brilliance of the creation is translation. Indian literature, specifically, has a history of poor translations. This has led some writers (Salman Rushdie, for example) to write nearly exclusively in English in order for the essence of one’s work to reach a broader audience.

The Blind Side

I didn’t intended to write a review of The Blind Side, but when my aunt responded to my Facebook status deriding the film’s racist indoctrination by saying my critiques were a figment of my liberal imagination, it all came flowing out. The Blind Side is a version of (Black) NFL player Michael Oher's true life story of being

Zosterops Jewelry Shop

Zosterops' Jessie Cheng is a doll. Not an empty-headed plaything, like Barbie or Bratz, but the kind crooner Frank Sinatra used as a term of endearment. Jessie is the kind of gal who's so lovely and sincere that you immediately want do nice things for her.

Emerald and Pearl Earrings

I just got back from Bangkok, Thailand. My partner and I spent the holidays there, as we were both in need of an escape from the chaos and grime of Kolkata.

Red Bracelet

Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Luckxurys was started by designer Tali Rosen out of a personal frustration: she was unable to find a traditionally turquoise hamsa, palm-shaped amulet used in jewelery that is thought to protect a person from the evil eye. The tradition of using a hamsa (the Arabic word for the number five, hence the symbolism of a hand) to ward off evil began in the Middle East as a practice of Islam, and is now a part of Jewish mysticism. After searching unsuccessfully for her prized stone, Rosen decided to simply make one herself.

Hamsa Clothing Yoga Pants

Hamsa is a Sanskrit word for a meditation we all do daily without intention; it is our first, and inherent, pranayama: inhale (ham) and exhale (sa). Breathing is a natural way to steady the mind and calm the body. It provides a method to refocus one's physical and mental rhythm, and channel it in a more positive, stress-free way.

The Revival

In October 2009, hip-hop was declared dead yet again by music critic and New Yorker writer Sasha Frere-Jones.

Pheasant Skirt

Before I moved to India, a friend of mine joked that I should send her a full wardrobe at the start of every season. She was more than a little jealous of the items I'd picked up on a trip before—particularly the scarves with sparse silver threading that are difficult to find in the States—where I made my way East to West across the subcontinent from Kolkata to Varanasi to Delhi. My sister made me promise to buy her a few stylish hippie-cum-hipster skirts while my boss hinted at her desire for intricately designed jewelry.

Winter Dreidle Dress

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of Western counter-cultural icons traveled to India in order to broaden their knowledge of art, music, literature, and philosophy by speaking with some the country's intellectual and religious figures.

Strawberry Rectangle Zipper Pouch

Ten months ago, Singaporean Lilis Lim started the Give Gift etsy shop as a practical method to facilitate her passion for arts and crafts. Lilis loves the process of creation, but creating for creation's sake can get expensive unless you develop a way to subsidize your hobby, which is exactly what she did.

Moonlit Necklace & Flying Home Ring

Having made its premiere in the northern Italian city of Turin in 1896, La bohème is now the second most frequently performed opera in the United States—so says Wikipedia. Ordinarily, the near-winner might be a little miffed at the first place slot being granted to another, but Tuscan composer Giacomo Puccini loses to no one other than himself.