Life Choices: A 20th Century Book in a 21st Century World

November 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

by ELENA

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.

This review is part of a blog tour hosted by Linda Weber’s publisher, Sentient Publications, who provided me with a review copy. The next blog on the tour is at The Abortion Gang on November 20 and the previous blog on the tour was at The Abortion Monologues. Linda Weber will be doing an actual physical tour of the west coast in February. Please consult her website for more details closer to that date.

Review: Undecided

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

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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.

Quick Hit: Marianne Kirby on Will Grayson, Will Grayson

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

by KATIE E.

Linking because:

1. Marianne Kirby is made of win.

2. As are John Green and David Levithan.

3. I’m writing a kind of huge post about the failure in covering Young Adult books in the womanist / feminist / progressive blogosphere. It isn’t quit done, but I will say here: This is how a feminist should write about YA.

Hate Twilight. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

October 6, 2010 § 7 Comments

Hey readers, we have a dope new contributor. Please welcome Janey! (Read about her here.)

by JANEY

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.

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Life is Narrative

August 12, 2010 § 4 Comments

by ADI

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.

Sad, but True

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)

Boring Books & Fierce Femininity

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.

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Intersectionality Saturdays: Why, oh why must high school students be deprived of life-changing literature?

January 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here’s why (although the reasoning is truly flawed):

Only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, only two days after President Obama spoke of Auschwitz before the SOTU, the South strikes again. With what? This time, a Virginia school system has banned the latest version of The Diary of Anne Frank – a young girl’s account of Nazi Germany up to her death – from being taught. And their reasoning just really tops this all of: homosexuality and sexually explicit content.

According to WaPo:

The diary documents the daily life of a Jewish girl in Amsterdam during World War II. Frank started writing on her 13th birthday, shortly before her family went into hiding in an annex of an office building. The version of the diary in question includes passages previously excluded from the widely read original edition, first published in Dutch in 1947. That book was arranged by her father, the only survivor in her immediate family. Some of the extra passages detail her emerging sexual desires; others include unflattering descriptions of her mother and other people living together.

Anne Frank was a young girl with a tragic life, a life that she documented. I do not know if Anne Frank intended to write for a worldwide audience. I do not know if she even wanted her writing shared. I also do not know if Anne Frank thought that she, along with 11 million others, would die before their time. At least the life of Anne Frank lived on through her written words.

Emerging sexual desires are actually normal for a teenage girl to experience. This was perhaps the one normalcy Anne Frank experienced during her time in hiding. And treating them as inappropriate furthers a taboo on discussing sex, especially in the schools, where students are beginning to have sex or have unanswered questions concerning it. As for “homosexual content,” how dare a school ban a book on that premise? How dare a school make sure that the only books students read are heteronormative? How dare a school do such a thing when there are bound to be homosexual students around who are wondering why a book which only hints at sexuality would be regarded as taboo? This is blatant homophobia and license for it to continue within a legislated school system.

This young girl has changed the hearts and thoughts of millions who have read her, many of whom have been assigned her diary as school assignments. The Diary of Anne Frank is tragic and accessible and it is not meant to be cut short because her life was cut short enough.

This is cross-posted from from the rib?.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow

January 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

I spent most of the holiday vacation zipping through Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a Danish thriller by Peter Hoeg. It was published over 15 years ago but its themes of political corruption, ethnic tension, and the dangers of scientific exploration still feel relevant. The novel follows Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, daughter of a deceased Greenlandic hunter and a power-hungry Danish physician, as she uncovers the mystery behind the death of a Greenlandic child in her building in Copenhagen.

Most mystery novels revolve around men. If a woman is present in the book, she is usually a sidekick, often characterized as exotic and sensual. By the end of the novel, when the murder is solved, they have sex. (Think every one of Dan Brown’s bestsellers.) These women are certainly appealing — male readers are supposed to like them because they’re fuckable and just smart enough (not too smart to be threatening or emasculating); female readers envy them because of their breezy confidence and obvious sex appeal. But these women are insubstantial. By the end of the novel the author assures us that they are mere sex objects.

Smilla, on the other hand, is a fascinating protagonist; on the book’s back cover, People describes her as a “spellbinding central female.” She is complex. She has a sexual relationship with a neighbor, but it does not overpower or overwhelm her. She effectively resists the cold-seductress/willing-sex-object dichotomy, confidently navigating the murky waters between dependence, self-sufficiency, passion, and control.

In the midst of her new relationship, she consciously strives to maintain her own identity, setting aside time to spend alone in her apartment. She’s also damn strong, braving violence and swimming naked through the freezing Copenhagen harbor.

Author Hoeg also takes on issues related to the Danish colonialization of Greenland, exemplified in Smilla’s ambiguous relationship with her father and memories of assimilating to Danish culture after being forced to leave Greenland as a child.

I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries, but I highly recommend Smilla’s Sense of Snow for its intricate plot, brave political implications, and of course, beautifully crafted protagonist.

Sociological Mindfulness and Why We Should ALL Be Feminists

September 5, 2009 § 2 Comments

I came across this passage in my sociology reading, and think that it sums up PERFECTLY why no one should be afraid to call themselves feminists. It also provides a great justification (not that I need one) for contributing to this blog.

I am a feminist through and through, but sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough to show it. As a new college student (I swear to god I will stop telling you all this in like, a month) I am definitely going to get more involved in some social action groups, but if that fails for some reason, I will always have this quote:

Sociological mindfulness also reminds us that we can change a small part of the social word single-handedly. If we treat others with more respect and compassion, if we refuse to participate in re-creating inequalities even in little ways, if we raise questions about official representations of reality, if we refuse to work in destructive industries, then we are making change. We do not have to join a group or organize a protest to make these kinds of changes. We can make them on our own, by deciding to live differently.

Perhaps our modest efforts will reverberate with others and inspire them to live differently. Or perhaps no one will notice, or they will notice but think we are strange. And so you might think, “If no one is going to notice that I am a superior moral being, then what is the point? Why bother to be different and risk ridicule?” That is one way to look at it. Being sociologically mindful, however, suggests a different thought: “I cannot be sure that anything I do will change things for the bettter, yet I can be sure that if I do not at least try, then I will fail to do what I think is right and will be contributing to keeping things the same. Therefore I will opt to do what is right, whether much or little comes of it.”

In the end, sociological mindfulness must be about more than studying how the social world works. It must also do more than inspire curiosity, care, and hope — although these we cannot do without. If it is to be worth practicing, sociological mindfulness must help us change ourselves and our ways of doing things together so that we can live more peacefully and productively with others, without exploitation, disrespect, and inequality. Sociological mindfulness is a way to see where we are and what needs to be done. It is a path to heartful membership in a conversation that ought to have no end.

– Michael Schwalbe, Finding Out How the Social World Works

Um… does anyone else think that is SO beautiful? I obviously do, enough to take the time to type the whole damn thing!

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