November 19, 2011 § 1 Comment
Are you a white, cisgender, educated, New Agey, feminist woman? If so, then Linda Weber’s book Life Choices: The Teachings of Abortion (published by Sentient Publications) is an excellent book for you. If you are not, then Linda Weber has very little to offer. Weber, a prominent feminist and counselor wrote Life Choices using her experience as an abortion counselor at a women’s clinic in Boulder, Colorado. While Weber’s intentions were good, the execution is far from it.
Like many “second wave” feminist leaders who rose to prominence in the 1970s (I’m looking at you, Gloria Steinem), Weber follows a cissexist, binarist point of view throughout the book when she repeatedly writes about women’s unique/magical/etc ability to bear children. Could someone please inform Ms. Weber that not all women can get pregnant? And that some men can? And that sex and gender is not nearly as cut-and-dried as she makes it out to be? Weber missed a great opportunity to write about special issues and concerns of nonbinary individuals seeking advice about abortion — an issue that is not mentioned enough in our current reproductive rights dialogue.
Weber does make some good points: a crisis pregnancy and/or abortion can be an opportunity for personal growth and development, and this perspective is refreshing. In writing about the history of the pro-choice movement, she makes a very important point about the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision: Roe had more to do with establishing physicians’ rights than it did with protecting the health, well-being, and bodily autonomy of people seeking safe abortions. Unfortunately, these passages get lost among her New Age navel-gazing. I have no issues with those who enjoy meditation and/or worshiping The Divine Feminine, but if your spiritual habits are not of the “woo-woo” variety, you’re not going to enjoy this book. Weber’s message alienates both Christians (surprise: some Christians are feminist!) and skeptics alike. Some of her advice is simply not practical: while I can’t deny the possibility of abortion via soul-to-soul communication between a fetus and its carrier, I do not think that this a realistic or practical method to recommend to anyone.
Legislators in Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, and Michigan have introduced anti-choice legislation, from increased restrictions to abortion access and funding to even more disturbing proposed “personhood amendments” that would also outlaw most forms of birth control.
Rick Snyder, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, et al want to restrict our bodily autonomy, and bring us back into a world where, like a teenaged Weber, we would have pretend to be married so we could receive an abortion via IUD implantation, and risk an infection. They are not interested in going on a vision quest. They don’t care if we meditate. They are not going to listen politely to us. The personal stories in Lie Choices are touching, but out of place in an increasingly hostile political and social environment.
Now is not the time to get in touch with our inner goddess. Now is the time to hurl bricks.
August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for You by Barbara Kelley & Shannon Kelley
Mom-and-daughter pair Barbara and Shannon Kelley have a gem here — an important read for basically any shrewd woman of my generation. It’s a relentlessly chatty book but it dives right to the core of women’s “analysis paralysis,” wisely eschewing self-help rhetoric in favor of a more rigorous cultural investigation of the professional challenges that plague today’s young women. The Kelleys thoroughly map the complex web of expectations, both social and internal, that push women to agonize over each and every life decision, and to grieve excessively for the loss of the option given up.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel right at home in discussions of the laundry list of institutional forces that manipulate women’s professional choices. But what shook me up about this book was its insightful analysis of the ways in which we paralyze and punish ourselves. By ascribing so much meaning to our decisions large and small, meaningful and inconsequential, we lock ourselves into a cycle of yearning and remorse. And in our haste to take advantage of our newly afforded privileges in academia and in the professional world, it’s all too easy to sacrifice authentic decision-making in favor of other people’s estimations of what we are — or aren’t — capable of. (Me becoming an engineer just to disprove sexist stereotypes doesn’t mean shit in the big picture if I’m not truly invested. It’s just another way of conforming, of basing my decisions on patriarchal frameworks.)
It’s steadily depressing fare, but the Kelleys rescue the reader by concluding with advice to pursue “work worth doing” — work at the intersection of pleasure and meaning — and a spirited vision of what a feminized professional landscape might look like: one in which women and men are given social permission to implement leadership styles that emphasize collaboration, relationships, emotional connection. It’s a meaningful read.
October 6, 2010 § 7 Comments
Hey readers, we have a dope new contributor. Please welcome Janey! (Read about her here.)
The Twilight series was recommended to me by well-meaning friends who felt that, as a sentimentalist, I couldn’t possibly dislike these very sappy and romantic books. And I have to admit, I expected to like these books. As a shameless Buffyhead, I am a huge fan of the Buffy-Angel relationship, and therefore fully expected to fall in love with the very similar Bella-Edward relationship. But after reading the series, I was left completely cold. These books are unabashedly anti-feminist, and set the women’s movement back about twenty years.
The series follows the romantic relationship between Bella Swan, an “average” teenage girl, and Edward Cullen, a member of a family of reformed vampires who do not feed on humans. The first glaring flaw in the novels is the rampant sexism in the dynamics of the central relationship itself. Even though Stephenie Meyer attempts to indoctrinate the reader in the notion that Bella and Edward are soulmates with all the subtlety of a whac-a-mole hammer, I couldn’t get attached to their saga. The milestones in the beginning of their relationship consist solely of him saving her. She’s almost hit by a car, she faints at the sight of blood, she’s almost raped (and so on and so forth), and her knight in shining armor rides in with impeccable timing and an annoyingly smug attitude. Throughout the entire series, he has the audacity to believe that he has the right to make decisions for her as long as he’s trying to protect her, going so far as to pay his sister to kidnap her for several days while he’s away because he doesn’t think that she can survive a weekend without him looking over her shoulder. And of course he’s a better driver than she is, because where would a piece of sexist propaganda be without that stereotype?
Although there is no excuse for Edward claiming to love Bella while he clearly doesn’t respect her, Bella is not the easiest character to respect. She essentially has zero personality; she doesn’t think about anything besides Edward and, later, Jacob. She has no hobbies, no interests, no mannerisms besides being clumsy, and no goals besides being with Edward for the rest of her life. She claims to be an independent person, and yet she would sacrifice her identity and humanity in a heartbeat for a man who emotionally abuses her. And although they occasionally bicker, Bella’s never truly angry with Edward when he takes it upon himself to control her life. She even allows him to manipulate her into marrying him, against which she was originally vehemently opposed.
August 12, 2010 § 4 Comments
One of my favorite comics is the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, partially because it’s about the importance of stories. There’s a part in the sixth book where Despair, one of the godlike personifications of human beliefs known as the Endless, mocks protagonist Dream for only being able to give stories and ideas. To prove his point, Dream takes a man who has lost everything and gives him a dream in which he is Emperor. With only the idea to guide him, the man lives the rest of his days in happiness.
An archetype, of course, but it’s also a metaphor for how we use fiction to describe and create meaning in our own lives. This is one of the reasons I see it as so important to have a diversity in our fiction that begins to approach the diversity in real life, and to have fiction that tells stories that don’t simply reinforce stereotypes.
One example, from my own life: When I was in my early teens, I loved post-apocalyptic fiction. I loved the idea of self-sufficiency, of rebuilding a world, of trying to piece together history from the remnants of a society. However, as I read more, I started to realize that the stories I was reading rarely featured women in any more than peripheral roles, and, in fact, seemed to be all about how there wasn’t even a place for me in this world.
For me, it all came together when I read Stephen King’s The Stand and came across this bit:
[T]he Women’s Credo, which should have been hung in the offices of Ms. magazine, preferably in needlepoint, was just this: Thank you, Men, for the railroads. Thank you, Men, for the automobile and killing the red Indians, who thought it might be nice to hold on to America for a while longer, since they were here first. Thank you, Men, for the hospitals, the police, the schools. Now I’d like to vote, please, and have the right to set my own course and make my own destiny… And what was there to say? Nothing… Now all that had changed, in a matter of weeks it had changed — how much only time would tell. But lying here in the night, she knew that she needed a man. Oh God, she badly needed a man.
Wow, I thought. I really don’t stand a chance. And all my self-confidence, all my cocky willingness to take on a lawless society, started to go the way of the wife in The Road, who kills herself rather than face a world that’s (naturally, McCarthy imagines) for men. It wasn’t just that King shouldn’t have written what he did (although as I recall he’s admitted that he has problems writing female characters); it was also that there were virtually no counterexamples. Every story I read was about the same men facing the same world.
This is why these things matter, and not just for women. Every time a trans character is featured only as a joke, or characters of color are relegated to the sidelines while the white lead gets the love interest and the good lines, somebody is getting the message that in an ideal world, they’d obligingly cease to exist.
At this point, somebody usually cries censorship, which isn’t the right idea at all. It’s not about trying to legally or coercively stop people from creating stories with the same leads and stereotypes as always, it’s about trying to convince people that they can do better, and that the stories we tell, or the lack thereof, have consequences.
Most of all, it’s about telling people that they shouldn’t have to try to write the same characters as John Updike or Cormac McCarthy in order to be taken as writers of “universal” stories.
In a writing class I took in college, I went about halfway through the course before realizing that all the men were writing exclusively male characters, and I was nearly the only woman writing mostly female ones. There are a lot of potential reasons for this, but the consequence was that, as a whole, we were perpetuating the same stories we’d grown up with, the ones with women as objects of desire at best, invisible at worst.
And so, as a final exhortation: While the last generation of writers and editors might have already set their preferences (not that there aren’t already some great examples of both who are working against those), we’re the next generation, and we’ve got the choice to start fresh. There are a lot of societal factors working against us, but if we start writing (and keep writing) people as people, with cis white men as only a subset of the whole of human experience, we’ll get somewhere.
Because stories matter.
And what matters more is that we’re the ones writing them.
June 27, 2010 § 2 Comments
What teens have to work with, then, are two wildly divergent messages… If you process this information through the average adolescent mental computer, you end up with a printout that reads something like this: Girls have to be hot. Girls who aren’t hot probably need breast implants. Once a girl is hot, she should be as close to naked as possible all the time. Guys should like it. Don’t have sex.
– Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy (a book I’m currently reading that I hope to review soon – unofficially)
June 3, 2010 § 2 Comments
This post right here is inspired by Tiger Beatdown‘s recent (spectacular and spectacularly titled) series What We Read When We Don’t Read The Internet.
What I want to talk about has little to do with who’s writing a particular book, and more to do with what they write about. Because I’ve noticed that regardless of an author’s gender, if their book makes the TRAGIC AND FATAL mistake of being at least partially centered around feminine topics, it’s a literary megafail. Texts focused on women-stuff — romance, friendship, children and parenthood, gradual life processes — tend to be dismissed as soft, as less meaningful than texts focused on men-stuff — violence, foreign lands, epic journeys, dramatic showdowns.
Often these books explore issues that are socially “feminine” by focusing on female characters. A great example is Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters (1998). I first discovered this book in seventh grade, when I borrowed it from Ruth after she raved about it at a sleepover. (Yeah, we’re cute.) I loved it, but in my mind it didn’t amount to real literature. It wasn’t a book that I could reference in my English class, or talk about with my parents. It just didn’t seem important or serious enough.
People: It wasn’t even someone else, some sexist ass, who told me Summer Sisters was trashy and unworthy of critical attention. It was me! My own self! (That’s how deep patriarchy is embedded in us.) I was willing to admit that I enjoyed it, but only as an escapist beach-read — not as the complex narrative of broken friendship, shifting family dynamics, sexual awakening, and class tension that it is. I’d say to my friends, “I just read this great book! It’s kind of trashy; you can borrow it if you want. It’s a little silly. So do you want it?” instead of “I just read this great book! By Judy Blume, a feminist literary goddess. It describes so beautifully the pain and loveliness of friendships, the pain and loveliness of family, the angst and hopelessness of growing up. I really recommend it! Do you want to borrow it?”
What a mistake! I regret that time before I realized how fucking awesome this book is.