Roxane Gay’s piece in the Guardian courageously faces the awful truth emerging about Bill Cosby. Read the full piece here.
Category Archives: Culture
Happy Feminist Halloween!
First, check out this list of feminist costumes––something nice to counter the obnoxious getups relentlessly marketed to women and girls. My personal fav: Notorious RBG!
Second, you will undoubtedly still come up against at least one irritating costume. Case in point: the “delicious women’s PhD darling sexy costume.” Do you think they got enough adjectives in there? Well, don’t let the stupidity get you down. Just scroll on down to the comments, where you’ll see feminist pop commentary at its finest in one mocking, hilarious review after another.
It’s one of the things I love about the Internet age: how intelligent people call out demeaning crap and show the designers how silly and clueless they really are.
National Institutes of Health and Gender Bias
Did you know that many clinical trials of drugs and medical devices deliberately exclude female subjects? Scientists have traditionally preferred male subjects because they believe that female hormonal cycles might cause variability and skewed results. Of course, the deeply flawed logic of this thinking should be obvious – if hormonal fluctuations affect results, then results are not skewed but in fact may indicate a key gender difference. But nothing has been done about this bias until recently. The latest good news is that the NIH is now starting to require the use of female subjects in trials. See the details here.
Domestic Violence and the Ladies Home Journal
A lot of talk this week about domestic violence and why women stay with abusers, as feminists and other writers respond to the painful case of Janay Rice. As many have pointed out, it is Janay’s (and every other woman’s) right to stay with and even to defend her husband, as horrifying as that may be for some of us to witness. It is her path to take, and I’m not interested in judging her even as I worry about her safety.
For many, it’s so hard to understand why these attitudes and behaviors toward women are so persistent. How are the attitudes constructed and why are they so hard to change?
So much commentary on the Web about larger issues doesn’t include historical context––as if anything that was written prior to the Internet is irrelevant. A lot of this context comes from sources fading from memory or that younger readers have never even heard of.
So it’s great when we find stuff like this: Rebecca Onion’s piece on the column “Can This Marriage Be Saved,” which ran in the Ladies Home Journal magazine and was hugely popular throughout the mid- to late-20th century. The column offered what was considered sound marriage advice to middle-class, educated women, a major part of which included making sure that wives understood their inferior status in the marriage relationship. Putting up with emotional and physical abuse was simply part of the deal:
Perhaps most disturbingly, ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’ counsellors minimised and ignored domestic violence… Wives would report incidences of physical aggression, but these were never headlined as the major complaint – they were submerged in the couple’s larger story. Popenoe introduced the September 1953 column, which featured ‘Sue’, a wife who showed up to the counsellor’s office with a ‘large purple bruise darken[ing] her cheekbone’, by referring to the husband’s complaints, rather than the wife’s: ‘Many a husband has to pay the penalty for his wife’s failure to get any real education in homemaking before she married, or to acquire such skills after the wedding, when she must have begun to realise that she needs them.’ (Again: the wife should have known that she wasn’t measuring up.)
The column repeatedly advised women that it was their responsibility to keep their husbands’ tempers under control, that if they wanted to avoid violence, they needed to make sure dinner was on time and that men controlled what happened in the bedroom.
Onion goes on to tell us how, in the 1970s, feminists protested the magazine and even occupied its offices, to demand change, but how much change has occurred in more recent years? Read the full piece here for Onion’s answer.
More important, remember that if you’re scratching your head over why Janay Rice and other women stay with their abusers, understand that it was not so long ago at all that “respectable” society––including trained psychologists––believed that wives were responsible for whatever treatment they got from their husbands. The cultural sanctioning runs deep and wide. Domestic violence was never and is not some brutish misfortune limited to the uneducated or poverty-stricken. It was rooted firmly in mainstream culture.
Sadly, that tree still bears fruit.
What’s Neoliberal Feminism?
Sarah Jaffe explains in this piece. Some basics:
One of the insidious things about neoliberalism is how it has managed to absorb our vibrant, multifaceted liberation struggles into itself and spit them back out to us as monotone (dollar-bill-green) self-actualization narratives. The way this has happened to feminism is particularly instructive. As I wrote in Dissent last winter, the so-called “second wave” of feminism fought for women to gain access to work outside of the home and outside of the “pink-collar” fields. Yet in doing so, as Barbara Ehrenreich has written, some feminists wound up abandoning the fight for better conditions in what had always been considered women’s work—whether that be as teachers and nurses, or the work done in the home for little or no pay.
There’s a bit more to it, and this topic is crucial for helping to frame the current cultural debates over the extent to which women have achieved equal opportunity, and thus whether and what kind of feminism is needed in the 21st century.
For example, Jaffe contextualizes the cultural climate fueling the debate that raged upon the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. She helps us go deeper than having to take simplistic sides dictating that we basically support or condemn Sandberg’s line of thought, by showing that what fuels Lean In is something much larger. For details read the full piece here.
Jeanette Winterson on Love, Past and Present
The world is so lucky to have the wonderful and wise Jeanette Winterson. In her latest piece for the Guardian, she explores the ways in which we remember past love relationships, and how these ways affect the present. With one of her classic, brilliant hooks, she begins with, “Nostalgia for lost love is cowardice disguised as poetry.”
It’s not that we shouldn’t have fond memories of past loves, or even regrets, she says.
But recognising the past as our past, and being able to groan, giggle, blush, sigh and play with those memories, is not the same as a corrosive secret infatuation with the idea of that special someone we managed to mislay. Sighing over a fantasy drains energy from reality. What happens in our heads isn’t private; it is unspoken, that’s all. We all know what it’s like to live in the stifling atmosphere of what is unsaid.
She goes on to discuss the hard work that real love demands and how she finally realized that she was running the same story through all her relationships. But the line that stays with me is the one that unveils the myth of privacy: What happens in our heads isn’t private, simply unspoken. How true, and how easy to convince oneself otherwise.
Winterson concludes by inviting readers to share their stories of lost love. For details, read the full piece here.
“America I Saw You” by Bridget Meeds
When I taught Leaves of Grass a few years ago the students just didn’t buy it, though they loved Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Their rejection of Whitman’s grand American hope comes back to me every now and then. Was it the poetic claim to omnipresence that irritated them, or did Whitman’s egalitarian vision of hope seem like nothing but hype to young readers in a post-9/11 world, where climate has become a threat and employment prospects are grim at best?
This reaction was all the more striking when they embraced Edward Albee’s anxiety-ridden world of illusion and rage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so wonderfully captured onscreen by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.That world made perfect sense to them, and they loved it on paper and on film.
I thought of those students again when I recently read Bridget Meeds’ stunning Whitmanian poem, “America I Saw You.” Meeds brings the maker of American Religion into the 21st century, and I have a feeling my students would have loved it:
America, I Saw You
America, I saw you leaping from the burning skyscraper, believing in your urgency that you
America, I saw you on the on-ramp, smiling with meth-brown teeth, holding a sign that said
“homeless and pregnant please help,”
America, I saw you huddled in the belly of a Chinook, earbudded and solitary,
America, I saw you up at four a.m., ironing your blouse for work,
America, I saw you punching a stop sign, screaming in Chinese,
America, I saw you looking straight with seventeen pounds of pot hidden in your spare tire,
America, I saw you texting while driving,
America, I saw you bite your father in a fury,
America, I saw you put on ten pounds,
America, I saw you walk the winning run,
America, I saw you asking for an epidural,
America, I saw you raise your hand to strike your child,
America, I saw you eating roadkill woodchuck.
America, I saw you drinking a kamikaze by the hotel pool,
America, I saw you at the Super Great Wall buffet with blue swastikas tattooed on your neck and
America, I saw you in your 87 Oldsmobile, wearing your best wig and sunglasses, God radio
America, I saw you in your private helicopter above Manhattan, doing mental arithmetic,
America, I saw you walking a dog who was wearing a Hello Kitty t-shirt,
America, I saw you waving a white linen napkin from a broken window in the burning
America, I saw you fall.
To get in touch with Bridget and find out more about her fabulous work, click here.
Robert Webb on feminism: “It’s an unloved word–we should give it another chance.”
It’s not so easy to write convincingly and with humor in support of feminism, but this lovely piece from the New Statesman makes the grade. In it, writer Robert Webb schools the gentlemen:
Guys, your doctor might tell you to lose a few pounds – but the taxi driver will not; the Daily Mail will not. You won’t open the Sun and compare your own cock to that of a well-endowed model. You won’t get dressed for a party and worry if you look like a slut, or get called a slut, or get raped on the way home “because you look like a slut”. In the rare event that you do get raped, the police won’t seem to mind what you were wearing. Lawyers won’t ask what you were wearing; your mother won’t ask what you were wearing.
When you dance in a ballroom, you won’t have to do it backwards in high heels; when you speak in a boardroom, you won’t have to second-guess yourself in case you’re coming across as “shrill”. You reached that boardroom with the grain, not against it. You didn’t need to look hard for role models. If they cut your genitals when you were an infant, they didn’t expect it to make much difference to your enjoyment of sex. If they cut your genitals while you were giving birth . . . Ah, but then you will never give birth and nobody will make you feel guilty about whether you breastfeed or not. You don’t judge yourself for eating a cake; you haven’t, since childhood, been encouraged by the media and by every careless comment from your family to have a relationship with food that borders on psychosis.
Webb builds up to what so few people are willing to say: If you are a man, you (unlike women) “never had it explained to you and you never had to figure it out for yourself that in this world, you’re slightly wrong. That everything is going to be made more difficult for you than for the opposite sex.”
This is the good medicine. For the sweet humor that makes it go down easy, read the full piece here.
Roxanne Gay on Ferguson: “Silence is not an option but words are not enough”
I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent police terror in Ferguson, Missouri. I wish I could say that I’m completely shocked, that I can’t believe this level of racism still happens in the U.S. But I’m mostly deeply saddened that so many people still don’t have basic human rights.
The words of Roxanne Gay are helping me to break through the numbness, the weary feeling of “Oh, god, not again…” Part of what helps is acknowledging the feeling of helplessness while affirming the need to never give up:
Those of us who are watching at a remove are trying to find the words to describe our horror, our dismay, our anger but nothing seems adequate. We are not there. Our good intentions on social networks won’t change the situation. Our pithy comments about how we are now, finally, like the rest of the world won’t change the situation.
We need action from our political leaders. We need change in how the police protect and serve. We need to redefine how the law regards black people. As individuals, we need to fundamentally alter how we think about race in America. We need to do the hard work of overcoming our lesser selves.
Her conclusion that “silence is not an option but words are not enough” is a fine model for how to keep pushing beyond “our lesser selves,” in the face of what seems like an endless, hopeless cycle of violence. Read the full piece here.
Narcissism and Culture
We often think of narcissism as a maladaptive personality trait, but what if the culture of neoliberal capitalism makes narcissism increasingly necessary? Here is Sarah Burnside’s review of Anne Manne’s book The Life of I, which offers a new look at narcissism as a cultural phenomenon, rather than simply as a personality flaw.