89 posts categorized "wimmin stuff"

September 18, 2008

Reading Update

I can't believe I haven't reviewed this yet!

I just read E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I think at Gwenda's recommendation. Despite my absolute moratorium on "The BLANKITY BLANK OF NAME-ITY NAME NAME" titles, I have to say ... Wow. This is a book about a wealthy-ish (not super wealthy) girl at a top board school discovering sexism and acting out. And it's amazing.

When I first started the book, although I enjoyed it, I was disgusted by the Gossip-Girl-esque fascination with the unattainably rich and the assumption that what concerns the rich will somehow be universal to us all. This girl doesn't really have any problems, and her bratty distress at being treated like a child (at all of 15 years of age) by adults and older kids is a really extended boo-fuckin'-hoo moment. Plus, she suddenly grows good looks and becomes arm candy for her crush, the most popular boy in school. So what's the problem?

But then, as I read on, the real sexism that even privileged women are subjected to started leaking in to the scenario. Unlike what this book would be in the hands of a lesser writer, Lockhart doesn't turn Frankie into a sudden, total, feminist heroine. Frankie doesn't quite get what's happening to her when her new boyfriend starts ignoring and excluding her in favor of his guy friends. She doesn't really understand why it upsets her, especially when she looks around her and sees all kinds of examples of relationships where it either isn't happening, or where the girl lets it happen. What's never mentioned here is that this is exactly what happened in her (divorced) parents' marriage and her mother set her the best example of how to handle it: leave.

So Frankie starts acting out in a typically (for women of this class) passive agressive way. That is to say, she takes over, by email, the all-male secret society her boyfriend nominally runs, pretending to be another boy, the other secret-society "king" (who gets so much credit, he doesn't dare out her), and ordering the rest of them to commit culture-jamming pranks the quality of which the society hasn't committed since its inception. In the process, she starts to recognize qualities in herself that she simultaneously likes and dislikes. She is clearly an alpha (like the boy she's impersonating, whose actual nickname is "Alpha"), with all the concomitant desire for attention and control, and also the ability to think for herself and to synthesize others' opinions. She also has creativity, a sense of humor, physical courage, and a profound, motivating, egotistical irritability.

It's entirely to Lockhart's credit that she never comes down on the side of "good? or evil?" with regard to Frankie's alphaness. It's neither and both. It's a force of human life; a social force, and ultimately, that's what Lockhart is examining in this book: power. I know, it sounds crazy that a  boarding school book about a prankster girl could be the best novel in this election cycle about sources of socio-political power and effective dissent. But that's exactly what this is.

Lockhart doesn't fail to make those connections increasingly througout this book. She shows us Frankie thinking through the implications of all these ridiculous high school hijinks. She notices that more than one former member of this secret society has become President. Frankie's father, also a former member, is shown in his circle of high-powered professionals, who are not only at the top of their professions, but also at the top of mainstream society. The silliness of these boys' games is there, but their importance to society as a whole can't be gainsaid. This is truth that exists in the real world: a three-month-long high school rivalry or friendship will have more effect on world politics than decades of community activism. We all know this, but we like to let ourselves forget. And by the end, Frankie can say to herself that, as much as she is excluded, she still needs to be near to the sources of power so that she can express her alpha personality in the ways she wants to later in life.

Reading this book has helped me to understand Hillary Clinton better than a thousand magazine articles and pundits' pootles. Of course, Frankie is idealized and likeable as a teenager, but I can easily see her turning into another Hillary: compromised, hard-edged, cynical, and still a little idealistic. This book is clear-eyed, but essentially optimistic, with the understanding that, beyond high school, our society has many mansions.

The book is, in more than one way, the anti-Chocolate War, looking at a privileged, attractive girl's secret fight against a prankster secret society, as opposed to the dark and pessimistic look at an underprivileged, unattractive boy's public fight against a bullying secret society. The two books should be read together, really. In school. And then A Little Commonwealth, The Education of Henry Adams, and The Second Sex should be read.

September 12, 2008

My First Blog Take On Palin

So recent history is proving my thesis. Let me quote myself:

It seems that these are the two avenues to political power for women: align yourself with the political party that would most oppose having a woman leader, and become more hardcore than your compatriots (look at how Meir and Thatcher inspired frequent jokes among their conservative colleagues about their masculinity); or marry into, or be born into, a political dynasty and work your husband's/father's legacy hard.

... It's clear: women politicians are ... iron ladies who sacrificed their marriages and family life for politics, or privileged wives and daughters. Liberal or moderate women don't ascend to real power without the power of a political family behind them; they must be linked by flesh and blood.

"Iron lady" is already taken, so everybody's calling her "pitbull" and "moosehunter," but the implication is clear: it's not Palin's "femininity" that people are interested in, it's her masculinity.

And like Meir or Thatcher, Palin's husband, while masculine, is not a politician, so her success in politics doesn't compete with or detract from his career success.

God, the world is sooooo typical.

August 18, 2008

Awesome

In a unanimous decision, the [Cali Supreme] court rejected a San Diego County fertility clinic's attempt to use its physicians' religious beliefs as a justification for their refusal to provide artificial insemination for a lesbian couple.

You go on with your bad, robe-wearing selves. You build that paper trail, people. They've killed so many fundie birds with this stone, it's just awesome.

I'm mighty pleased with the Cali Supreme this year. Mighty pleased.

August 15, 2008

Hillary the Man and Barack the Woman?

Damn, how did I miss this one back in March? And a man wrote it!

This overnight love for my brotha makes me very nervous, when in the next breath the same people utter the most hateful language to describe someone who looks like their mother, sister or wife.   Hillary remains the "Bitch", demonic, evil, divisive.  "She acts just like Bill.".

That is when it hit me.  "She acts like Bill!" That was code for what I knew but could not voice my suspicion. Survival for Black people in America demands that we do a daily decoding of White folks language and commentary about us and themselves. Of course they hate Hillary! They hate Hillary because she acts like a white man. She is assertive, she is confrontational, she is smart, she is aggressive, she knows how to fight, she has an alfa male personality. White men and "uncle" white women are punishing Hillary because she has stepped out of the prescribed role designated for women. She has dared to have the personality of a Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Rudolph Guliani.

American white women never forgave her for distancing herself from those house wives, sitting around listening to Tammy Wynette sing that self-effacing lyric,"Stand by your man". Hillary early in building her relationship with the American public made it clear she would not be the sweet little blond in the White House baking cookies.

In contrast America has fallen in love with Obama.  He warms the hearts of White Americans because his public personae is that of a "White woman."  He is the nurturer, he makes people feel good, he is polite, he is non-aggressive, he inspires us to want to be helpers, he wants to fix things. His speeches are generally neutral and he is always willing to adjust his tone to accommodate White sensibilities. He has a smaller waistline, he wears the appropriate uniform, unlike Hillary with those pants.

Okay, this seriously is my last post on this topic.

August 08, 2008

Paris Hilton Is Still Full Of It

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

I don't know why everybody thinks this is so great. Probably because they're meant to think it's great.

Let's keep in mind that Paris did not write this herself. I have no proof of this, but come on. She probably didn't think it up, either. She's a brand, people. She has clothes, "music," and other stuff to sell, not to mention a chain of hotels whose image has undoubtedly benefited by her fame. Making herself seem cool and/or desirable is her job, and she has an army of people to help her do it.

She's been out of the headlines for a while now, which threatens her brand. So McCain, intentionally or not, did her a favor by giving her a--and I use this word advisedly--platform. She's a professional egomaniac. What did you expect?

So it depresses me that even the feminist blogosphere fell into line so quickly on this one. I don't think it's so much about Paris reading cue cards with four-syllable words on them, as it is about her successfully calling out John McCain. We're so ridiculously partisan at this point that we'll jump on any idiot's bandwagon who manages to get egg on McCain's face.

Come on, people, it's not that hard to get egg on McCain's face. He's the incompetent who put his wife up for a topless beauty contest.

You also gotta love how everyone is saying that she sounds intelligent. But her "energy policy" is a crock of shit. The problem with offshore drilling is that it won't hit our markets for years, and that it will never reach a volume that will fill even a fraction of our needs. Plus, it can't be done in an environmentally sound way, no matter how much Paris's daddy's business friends say it can.

I point this out because what she's doing here is taking no political position at all. She's promoting her brand which is, at bottom, a brand that thrives on people wondering just how stupid Paris is. She has to sound "intelligent" for the duration of the two-seconds' thought most people tend to give to public policy, but farther she does not need to go. So her handlers selected a position that will offend no one and please everyone, because it sounds neat and reasonable, for two seconds.

Characterizing this as "Paris fighting back" (as many bloggers have done) is absurd. What does she have to fight back against except loss of media attention? Her image as the most shallow and worthless human being on the planet is one she created for herself. And given the fact that this image is the essence of her brand, I suspect she created this image knowingly and willingly.

Crossposted at EnterBrainment.

July 29, 2008

Recent Figure-outey

Because of a recent post I did on my entertainment blog about the Bechdel test, I've been thinking about it lately. And the only big moobie I've seen this summer that passes that test is ... drumroll please ... the Sex and the City moobie. And I haven't even seen that movie.

Makes you think don't it?

July 07, 2008

Still Waiting

Unity sounds refreshing in a political culture battered and wearied by vicious partisanship. But bipartisanship means that sometimes the other side -- those people you've come to regard as the devil incarnate over the past 30 years -- will get what they want and you won't. Anyone who assumes that self-interest is what really motivates political groups isn't going to expect them to be moved by high-flown appeals to conscience and guilt; there will be wheeling, there will be dealing, and there will be half-measures. If he is elected, and if Obama asks his most idealistic champions to countenance some sacrifices, they will hardly be able to say that they weren't warned. Their disillusionment is most likely to come soon. Whether in the long run we'll regard him as a president who got things done or one who sold out will take a lot longer to decide.

That's all well and good--yes, yes, Obama's our whore--but to get people to the table so that they can compromise, you have to bid them come to the table.

Where's my invite?

July 03, 2008

A Truly Feminist Obama Campaign

Make a Point at Current.com

While I like the point that Rebecca Traister makes in this video---that a feminist campaign wouldn't look that different, only women would be addressed directly as adults---I don't think she goes far enough.

This isn't just any potentially feminist campaign. This is a potentially feminist campaign that needs to win over heartbroken and angry Hillary Clinton supporters who have not only, as is usual, not been dealt with as adults themselves, but have also gotten to watch their candidate of choice being dealt with like a recalcitrant child, or a monstrous creature, rather than an adult human being.

I want to address one particular issue which is essential to the Obama campaign: that of the emotional involvement Clinton's supporters felt and feel for her. The emotion with which Clinton's campaign was greeted by her female supporters should be instructive, and not--as it has been--an item of mockery and contempt. Instructive because when was the last time you saw women voters get that emotionally invested in a campaign, rather than just rationally involved? Women are not, as has been hinted over and over again this year, emotional voters. We have never seen such a public spectacle of respected women leaders getting upset (and often saying stupid things about race) around an election. Women public figures have always behaved with rationality around elections heretofore ... elections of white men.

And the fact that everyone feels so comfortable dismissing the emotion of Clinton supporters (because women always come back to the party fold even when their candidate loses) is a testament to how reliable, valuable, and non-emotional women voters are. So the rage seen in the aftermath of the Clinton campaign must be respected because this is the time when women Clinton supporters' emotions have genuinely been tapped, and the party really could lose supporters if they don't reach out.

And how is the Obama campaign to respect that emotion? Let me point out that the Obama campaign is hands down the most deliberately emotionally engaging campaign I've ever seen. The "Yes We Can" speech? Was there anything rational or wonky in that speech at all? And the sight of will.i.am and his Hollywood buddies getting literally ecstatic while singing along to Obama's words is far and away the most mockable, vulnerable, emotional political spectacle I've ever seen. And that includes Howard Dean's campaign-ending screech and Eminem's "Mosh."

From start to finish, Obama's campaign has been an appeal to emotions: hope, power to the powerless, triumph, unity, healing, peace, justice, renewal, passing of the torch. And he's proven to be a knockout at managing this process of appealing to emotions ... to people's better emotions, instead of the fear, anger, and selfishness that Republican campaigns always appeal to. In fact, this is why he beat Hillary. Because Hillary's advantage, which was also largely emotional (nostalgia for the nineties, attachment to the Clintons, desire for a woman president, etc.) was squandered in her campaign's attempt to sell her as serious, rational, and wonky.

So why isn't the Obama campaign drowning Clinton supporters in emotion the way they've been drowning men, young people, and people of color in hope, etc? Why doesn't Obama get his ass out there and give a rousing "Yes She Can" speech? Why do the particularities of over half the population as a group get short, or no, shrift with Obama? The longer his passion goes on being silent on women's issues, the more sexist, uncaring, and disrespectful of Clinton supporters he looks. And there will be a point at which he can't come back from this.

To be more specific: The "issues" page on Obama's website  doesn't have a "women" section. You have to go into the issues menu to find the page on women. And the page that deals with women's issues is the driest, wonkiest page on his whole website. It's thorough, sure, but completely uninspiring. We've been hearing progressive candidates mentioning all this stuff within our hearing, for our benefit, for decades now, and seen no movement on these issues. Spouting the standard issues is the prerequisite. What we really need is for the candidate who most benefited from the misogyny directed at Hillary to show passion about women's issues specifically, and to engage our passions.

And this is pretty fuckin' weak stuff. What, you couldn't spare more than two sentences, one of them run-on, to woo 18 million voters?

I'm still insulted, and the longer this crap goes on, the more insulted by Obama's campaign I'll be. If you can't be bothered to treat with me and 18 million others when it matters this much, why should I trust that you'll represent my interests when the campaign is over? I'm waiting.

I'm still fucking waiting.

June 26, 2008

Having a Bad Week

Just finished watching the John Adams miniseries, which is terrific.

A lot is going on this week. Aside from all that, I'm realizing how wearing it is to participate emotionally in this election.

The Carl Brandon Society did a panel at Wiscon about identity intersectionality in an election year. It was called "Some of Us Are Brave" and focused on African American women.

That's how I've been thinking of intersectionality, too, and not really applying it to myself. At the same time, though, I've seen Asian Americans as a group called out for supporting Clinton, called racist. I've seen white feminists as a group called racist for supporting Clinton. I've seen my male friends, Asian Am and otherwise, supporting Obama and giving Clinton's Iraq War vote--and nothing else--as a reason. At the "Some of Us Are Brave" panel I've had a middle-aged male Asian American Obama supporter try to school me on how to manage Asian American activism--something I've been doing for ten years. And this week I got called out by an older feminist for disagreeing on a minor matter, and again schooled on issues I've been discussing and acting on for twenty years.

And another thing: I've gotten no second of public space to enjoy the ascendence of our first biracial presidential nominee because absolutely everyone, from white Republican to black Democrat and back again, is deeply invested in reading Obama as just black (except when it suits their agendas not to), despite the extremely nuanced reading of his own identity that he's offered the whole world for years now. I don't get to feel a kinship with him based on that.

I am extremely dissatisfied with every party, every Democratic campaign, and the behavior of every group of supporters in this election. There is no group, no campaign, and no candidate who has not been treated unfairly in public, and who has not also treated someone else unfairly. And because of the multiplicity of my own identity, group belonging, and loyalty, I have been able to come down nowhere.

My loyalty to Clinton has been treated as racist and suspect, because of hatred of Clinton herself, because of the stupidity of Clinton's supporters, and because of my own identities: my Asianness, my whiteness, my non-blackness, my gender, and my age. If Clinton had lost fair and square, i.e. not because she's a woman, I would be now recovering my joy at Obama's candidacy. But I feel no joy whatsoever, because I feel that every part of my public, political self has been attacked from one angle or another.

And it goes on even now. It's as if there's no joy anywhere at Obama's win, because we've already built up too much bitterness. The racial and gender watchdog machines are on red alert, the racial and gender offense-taking machines are white hot from cranking out product, but where are the liberal joy machines?

This is not all that's going on and stinking up my week. But it's a big chunk. I think I'm going to try ... try ... and take a break from politics for a week or two. Maybe that'll lighten things up a bit.

June 23, 2008

Betraying Hillary


So, after being bitchy about Michelle Obama last week, I finally sat down and watched Hillary's whole Obama endorsement speech. I'd been avoiding it without noticing that I was actively avoiding it. This is how out of touch with my own feelings I am: the moment Hillary walked onto the stage in the video, I literally burst into tears and continued sobbing sporadically throughout the entire speech. I completely surprised myself.

It's been a long campaign already.

It was what I wrote earlier about my experience of Hillary that triggered it. See, Hillary is my Hillary. She came onto the scene in a big way in early 1992, which was when I was getting ready to graduate from college and go out into the world and ... do what? We'd drained our already compromised coffers with a pointless war, added immeasurably to the national debt, and the economy was in the toilet. There were no jobs for kids fresh out of college.

Plus, we'd been at war barely a year before. The frenzy of that time and its immediate aftermath, the protests, the car-horn fights on the streets over bumper stickers, wondering if my friends were really going to be drafted, feeling utterly betrayed by my leaders in a very visceral and immediate way ... all of that exhausted the part of me that engaged in public life.

The war was a capper on a very long 12 years of incredibly damaging, nation-changing Republican rule. I'd been brought up at constant odds with the culture around me. My entire adolescence and young adulthood had been about being politically and even morally under the public gun. I couldn't bear thinking about entering adulthood in that atmosphere of hostility to everything that was important to me.

Does any of this sound familiar to you young Obama supporters out there?

By 1992 I didn't care anymore, and, in fact, left the country four days before the election. (I voted early, of course.) I didn't come back for six years.

But something else that happened in 1992 was that I got to meet Hillary. My parents are heavily involved Dems in their Midwestern town, so when Hillary did a charter plane tour of the Midwest to visit local party stalwarts, my folks got an invite. They brought me along.

The deal was that the local Dems would bring out the folks to the lobby of the chartered plane terminal at the local airport--usually a prettied up hangar--get their name tags on, entertain them with refreshments and local politicians (this was the first time I was ever glad-handed and it freaked me out), and then line them up along the wall when Hillary's plane landed. Hillary would step off the plane, go into the lobby, walk around the rectangle of people, shaking hands, get back on the plane, and go to the next town. She could hit five or six towns a day, if not more.

And the whole thing went off without a hitch. I got smarmed by local candidates, I ate some kraft cheeze on crackers, and then stood against the wall. Hillary appeared, short and smart in her pastel suit, headband in place (remember the headband, ladeez?) and started her circumlocution. She was good at it. When she got to me she managed to get my name without appearing to look at my name tab. "Hello, Claire," she said, and shook my hand, looking me right in the eye.

Hillary's the only politician I ever fell in love with, so I have nothing to compare it to. Of course, it's not like falling in love, but the only language we have for our intensely personal feelings for a public figure is the language of love and seduction. She "seduced" us with her charisma---and folks, let there be no doubt about it, the woman is dripping with charisma. It takes a charismabomb like Obama to make her look bloodless by comparison. Remember, she even held her own standing next to Bill Clinton, and that man radiates from a distance of a football field. It's why she sets so many men's teeth on edge: that's how you feel about a person you hate, whose charisma is unavoidable.

And anybody who wants to say that in 1992 Hillary was touring the country by herself as a wife and not a politician in her own right can go fuck themselves with a chainsaw. That was why Hillary was so profoundly hated by men from the git-go: because she and Bill offered her as a co-politician, not a wife. She helped get Bill into office and then was resented for doing so.

But more than her qualities as a politician (charisma and the ability to command loyalty, interest and collaboration among her colleagues, which, let's face it, she has in spades) it was the fact that she was outspokenly feminist at at time when the backlash against the women's movement in the 70's hadn't quite died down yet. She changed the paradigm of the First Lady. She drew attention to her own career and skillsets. She wasn't a helpmeet; she was a partner, at a moment in history when our culture was struggling to find a term for "life partner" that could apply to both women and men, both married and unmarried couples. She was a partner in every sense of the word. And she was the first First Lady who was a Ms.

Let's remember how important language and naming were in the Clintons' campaign. Hillary insisted on being called "Hillary Rodham Clinton," making it clear on a sub-verbal level that the "Clinton" part was the compromise, not the "Rodham" part. This is why she became "Hillary" to the nation at large--both to her supporters and her detractors: she was using language and naming protocols still too new in the mainstream culture for people to be comfortable with, so they stuck to her first name. Even this was a triumph: she did an end-run around people's feelings and got them on a first-name-basis with her out of sheer discomfort. From there on out, even the most vitriolic attack had a slight ring of familiarity, of affection, to it.

I can't tell you how profound having Hillary center mainstream was for me. I was just 22 when Bill secured the nomination and Hillary declared her cookielessness. The female-empowerment I was raised with was turning into a feminism that I didn't quite know what to do with. I was discovering that while I shared the concerns of my male friends--concerns that didn't always affect me directly--they were not sharing my concerns, even those that DID affect them directly, like reproductive rights.

I had no public leadership in these concerns. Don't get me wrong: there were the Gloria Steinems and the Camille Paglias (I love that she's so passé now; she wasn' t then), but they were considered either tokens from the margin, or special interest leaders. Hillary was the first outspoken feminist at the center. She was also the first Baby Boomer at the center, not a coincidence. To have my opinions and concerns reflected back at me for the first time in my life from the campaign stump---to see a person on the stump who "looked like me" in a profound way, who respected and shared my beliefs about myself---created a revolution in my thinking about politics, my nation and its possibilities, and even about who I was in the world.

I was a young woman in 1992 looking for a place in a world that had changed a great deal, but hadn't yet finished changing to accommodate me. And Hillary's leadership changed my view of how the world could work.

Does any of this sound familiar to you young Obama supporters out there?

If I was 22 now, I might well be feeling the same way about Obama. But I'm 38 now, and I don't believe that I'm young enough in mind to ever feel that way about a politician again. That so many of my male cohorts DO feel this way about Obama saddens me. It tells me that they never got to fall in political love when they were young enough to do it. They've had to wait too long. Their love is now tinged with an ugly bitterness: they couldn't, perhaps were not allowed to, love Hillary when they were young, and now hate her for trying to interfere with their overripe love for Obama.

I never realized that Hillary was a wedge driven between me and my male cohorts back then, because wedges start out in a tiny crack. It isn't until the wood splits that you can even really see the division. I can't ever care about Obama as much as I care about Hillary because Hillary has been with me for sixteen years. She's been a light on the political landscape for sixteen years. She's been my Hillary for all my adult life. Obama made a speech three and half years ago, two years ago started scrabbling at the position that my Hillary has been earning for two decades, and suddenly, I'm supposed to love him?

But I don't think men of my generation or older can love Obama as much as they hate Hillary, and for the same reason. They've been threatened by her for sixteen years. Part of Obama's appeal during this campaign has been that he has a chance of defeating a very strong Hillary. They'll never admit it, these men who have been living with Hillary, as I have, for sixteen years, but their votes until now have been as much a not-Hillary vote as they are an Obama vote.

My anger is the anger of someone who has looked around her and seen that her peers, her partners in the world, the men of her cohort, do NOT share her values ... not really. (I'm not talking about the fringe that constitutes my social circle. We're all freaks here.) But my sadness is all directed at myself. I did not acknowledge, did not even realize, how much Hillary meant to me personally until it was too late. I was intimidated by the loathing men I used to respect unleashed in public. Even while I saw how wrong it was, I allowed myself to be mealy-mouthed in supporting Hillary.

And I allowed the people of color who supported Obama, both men and women, to intimidate me with their covert and overt accusations of racism directed at all Clinton supporters. (Again, not necessarily those of my freakish fringe.) I have always refused to tacitly support the idea that a person's argument is only as good as their identity by refusing to present my credentials before I speak. But I've allowed myself to be afraid in this debate that my identity and my decade of full-time anti-racism work would not be enough. And I did not speak out clearly enough that this woman of color supported and loved Hillary.

My male liberal cohorts did not betray Hillary. They've always been clear about hating her. They betrayed ME, but that's almost another story. My sadness is that I'm the one who betrayed Hillary ... because all of this hatred--all of this hatred from liberals towards a successful, strong liberal ALLY--hurt and intimidated me and succeeded in making me less effective than I know I can be. I let it go too much, and I suspect I'm not the only one who did. And perhaps my failure in strong advocacy is what made the tiny percentage point differences that lost Hillary the nomination.

Feminists intimidated by male hatred into advocating their cause less strongly. Is there a more powerful argument for the continuing effectiveness of misogyny than that?

So last week, I mourned Hillary's lost chance, and my lost chance, the way I should have celebrated it while it was still alive. And I'm writing about it this week so that I can put it away in time to get the Obama campaign on the clue train. Yeah, that's right, I'm not asking if they want me ... I'm not asking at all. I'm there and they're going to listen to what I have to say about gender issues and what the fuck have they been thinking for the past year and half.

I might even write them an open letter. We'll see.

June 18, 2008

Falling Us in Love with Her

Look at her. She's dooon it, just like Hillary did sixteen years ago. Winnin' us over.

Why is it that a candidate's wife ends up being the voice of reason more often than not these days? Funny that in that way they can only compare her to Laura Bush.

But then also: why is he the drama and she the class? That's classic politics. To compare her to Jackie.

Here's the thing: so far, she's comparable to Hillary as a person, but not in the role she's playing. Because Hillary aroused ire from the git go by being outspokenly feminist--i.e., being more feminist than the mainstream was ready to take, remember?--and by making it clear that her role wasn't to be classy but to be co-dramatist. She was going to operate drama along with her husband.

So far, the Obamas are not making that choice. And who knows what role Michelle really plays, or will play, in the political side of their marriage? So far, she's grounding his campaign, as well as classing it up. She's playing equality theater in gesture, but separate-but-equal in dress and family role. She's able to appeal to a generation of women still smarting from the mommy wars, no matter which side they came down on.

And already she's being felt as more feminine than Hillary, which in itself is a triumph against stereotypes of black women. I'm thinking that might be part of the point of how they're casting her. Because there's a Hillary, that makes it easier for Michelle to look "softer" and more feminine. It's easy to forget that she's a lawyer, like Hillary, that she's 44, exactly Hillary's age throughout most of Bill's first campaign. She didn't want in to politics, she says, so it's easy to imagine that she won't want in later, after her husband's been president. All that scary stuff is easy to forget as long as Hillary's on the scene.

It'll be interesting to see how her image evolves whether or not Hillary gets the VP nom. But I'm guessing that with Hillary will be different strategy from without Hillary.

And all this critique aside, I gotta admit, I love her. Not as much as I loved Hillary way back when. Way back when I wasn't yet seated in my adulthood and still screamed at my guy friends for calling me a "girl." Now I'm just six years younger than Michelle and realize that, given a real choice, she's a person I'd never socialize with, or trust at a local level. Hillary was a role model for me. Michelle is an elevated equal.

I admire the figure she cuts and her demeanor. But I'm not sure yet how she's earned further admiration, although I'm ready to give it to her. We'll see.

June 04, 2008

I'm SOOOO Tired of This

First, Geraldine Ferraro says reverse racism, and Harriet Christian says "inadequate black male."

They get reamed, as is proper and right, with a thoroughness that you can google yourself.

Then, Joan Walsh says,

Beyond Christian's deplorable reference to Obama as an "inadequate black male" was a wail worth hearing. She also said, "I'm proud to be an older American woman!" I can feel her pain. Reading the sexist attacks on Clinton and her white female supporters, as well as on female journalists and bloggers who've occasionally tried to defend her or critique Obama, has been, well, consciousness-raising. Prejudice against older women, apparently, is one of the last non-taboo biases. I've been stunned by the extent to which trashing Clinton supporters as washed up old white women is acceptable. A writer whose work I respect submitted a piece addressed to "old white feminists," telling them to get out of Obama's way. I've found my own writing often dismissed not on its merits (or lack thereof) but because as a woman who will turn 50 in September, I'm supposed to be Clinton's demographic. Salon's letters pages, as well as the comments sections around the blogosphere, are studded with dismissive, derisive references to bitter old white women.

Then, Ta-Nehisi Coates says:

Once I heard Walsh invoking the words of two bigots to make her point, I checked out. Physician heal-thy-mutherfucking-self. Ferraro is the same woman who argued that "racial resentment" was OK. Walsh apparently thinks Harriet's description of Obama as an inadequate black male, "was a wail worth healing." I'm physically sick reading that. I never much agreed with Walsh's take on the Clinton's, but for my money, she just fell into Pat Buchanan territory. Anyone who thinks there's something to take from someone who says it's fine to resent black people racially, who claims that there's something worth hearing in describing the first black man to ever win a major party's nomination as "an inadequate black male" is the moral equivalent of a racist to me.

Oh, HELL NO. Walsh specifically said beyond the deplorable "inadequate black male" comment was a wail worth hearing. It is NOT OKAY to twist that into her saying that "inadequate black male" is a wail worth hearing. That's just plain stupid. Walsh was VERY CLEARLY saying that these women had a message about sexism that was obscured by their racism, and NOT that their racism was okay.

And pointing out that a woman who is a forty-year democratic party stalwart, as well as a woman who is the nation's first female vice presidential candidate, might have something apropos to say about sexism in elections despite their manifest racism, does NOT put Walsh into the lunatic fringe. There are few women out there being loud and passionate about the sexism in this campaign who aren't outright Clinton supporters and, racist or not, all white women Clinton supporters have been accused of implicit racism in this election at one time or another. To say that a woman who approves the gender message of a racist commenter is herself beyond the pale is tantamount to an attempt to silence the debate on sexism in this election.

I'm sooooo sick of hearing people say that racism puts people completely beyond the pale ... that the moment somebody says something racist, you simply don't have to listen to them anymore. People can be--and usually are--vastly ignorant about everybody else's oppression, but very clear and articulate about their own. The poor whites who blame undocumented immigrants for their own bad education and healthcare and underemployment are obnoxious not because their situation isn't truly bad, but because they're blaming it on the wrong people. And ignoring the whole complaint because of its racism is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

This is EXACTLY the attitude that led to Obama's stupid and arrogant bitter white people comment. This is exactly the attitude that puts educated, powerful blacks like Obama beyond the sympathy of poor and working class, less-educated whites. If Obama is going to win, not only does he have to stop making bitter white people comments, but his supporters have to stop ignoring the desires of people tainted with the racism brush, since they make up the majority of voters.

If a misogynistic black man can be both held to account for his misogyny, and also listened to for his experience of racism, then racist white women who have just been treated to the year-long public spectacle of a wealthy, powerful, and respected white politician publicly pilloried by men of all races because she is a woman can be both held to account for their racism, and MUTHERFUCKING LISTENED TO for their experience of sexism.

And just like non-blacks don't get to tell blacks when they've crossed the line in their frustration with racism, MEN DO NOT GET TO TELL WOMEN when they've crossed the line in their frustration with sexism. If Coates wants to analyze, instruct, or ream Ferraro and Christian for their racism, more power to him. And yes, it's time for them to shut up. But to dismiss the just protest against manifest and obvious sexism made by these women is not okay. And it's not okay to dismiss Walsh's argument because she jumps off of Ferraro's and Christian's comments.

Coates says further:

I want to see Barack Obama out there courting the vote of all women. I want to see him talking specifically about what his plans are. But I've got no interest in seeing him court those who would use feminism, as a cover for their own blackaphoic views. Later for them. Let them vote McCain, and go join the party where bigotry is part of the platform. The rest of us have a country to save.

HUNH? Does Coates really think that Ferraro's and Christian's public brainfarts were about how afraid they are of black men? Their feminism isn't anything but a cover for their racism? Wow, that's gotta be the most sexist thing I've heard all year.

DUDE, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. I know it's shocking, but sometimes, even in a world Obama inhabits, even in an election that includes your wannapund ass, race isn't the thing people are focused on. These women are angry about a woman NOT getting elected, they're not really angry about a black man GETTING elected. They're blaming it on a black man getting elected, because they need something to strike out at, and this is something new that they don't understand. But their passion is all about the wimminz. Shockingly enough, they're passionate about THEMSELVES, NOT YOU.

Of course it's not okay for them to be striking out in this racist manner. And yes, they need to be called out for it. And yes, Ferraro and Christian need to shut up, now. They've lost their right to the talking stick because they can't seem to hold it without being racist. But let's be clear: if the race had been between Clinton and Edwards and the same thing had happened, the same campaigns had been run minus the racial element, Ferraro and Christian, not to mention Gloria Steinem, would be making just as loud public statements about the sexism of the campaign, and would be just as angry. And rightfully so.

At the end of the day, a woman's racism will not buffer her from misogyny. DO NOT tell me or anyone else that racism somehow makes a woman's testimony about sexism worthless. And Walsh does get to point this out because SHE'S got the talking stick.

May 28, 2008

Rachel Moss and the Legions of Hiding Assholes

Those of you who haven't yet heard ...

there's an internet brouhaha going on over a girl -- word used advisedly -- named Rachel Moss, who went to WisCon and posted a con report on Something Awful with pictures of mostly fat and transgendered participants, taken without permission, making fun of these people for their non-normativity. She apologized, then took her apology back. She took her post down, but someone else put it back up without her permission and a dogpile of cretins jumped in to finish the work. By the time they were done, they pulled WisCon photos off of Flickr to add to the mess, making fatphobic, transphobic, ablist, racist, and generally misogynist comments about a wide variety of individuals, many of whom are my friends, and all of whom are at least nominally my allies, by virtue of being WisCon attendees who treat others with the modicum of respect required for this Con. There's a link to a mirror of the original post at Angry Black Woman, who is also calling for people to post about this and make sure Rachel Moss' name is well connected to this on the internet.

I don't care about Rachel Moss -- the culprit here -- and I'm happy to see her banned from WisCon, but I'd be just as happy to see her show up again and get snubbed and hissed as she deserves. I doubt very much she'll even try to come back. Apparently she's on the public (blogging) record as having an eating disorder of her own--bulimia--which makes this attack both more understandable and more disgusting. I'd ask that no one who comes through this post attack Rachel Moss for her eating disorder--that's her problem--but rather for her unacceptable behavior regarding WisCon.

I have the advantage of having been an extremely close friend for 18 years of a woman who suffers from Cushing's Disease, a disease that affects women disproportionately, and that actually makes women fat. I got to see her develop from a physically healthy and average-sized petite 20-year-old into an obese woman in her late twenties, without any "normal" reasons for the change. I got to watch her fight misogynist doctors and careless HMOs for over a decade before she could get someone to diagnose her with the often fatal disease she already knew she had. I got to see total strangers casually call her "lardass" and suchlike on the street, dropping bombs on her when they weren't even in a bad mood (I get the bombs usually when the bombers are in a bad mood), simply because that's what you do with a fat woman.

 

And we're talking about a woman whose obesity was very definitely not "her fault."

But then I've also gotten to see in close friends the effects of early abuse and early eating disorders pushed upon them by family members (I tend to think pushing eating disorders on a child is abuse, but the abuse I'm talking about was often from someone else, and far more serious and devastating than even eating disorders). If these people "made themselves" obese by overeating, what person who knew the kind of childhood they had, the kind of families they have, could possibly blame them or say that their eating was their own fault?

And who the fuck are these people to take it upon themselves to decide that someone deserves to be openly hated -- and to hate themselves -- for a body that they did not choose? Thinking about it makes me want to cry in a way that thinking about all the bullshit that actually touches my own life --- the racism, the stupidity about multiraciality, the neverending aggression I get from men for being tall, and all the put-downs I've had from misogynists --- does not make me want to cry.

My feminism, my antiracism, my refusal to allow total strangers to get me to agree that my tall woman's body is abnormal, all of these empower me. But watching fat people get smacked down makes me want to cry because while most of me is an ally, a small part of me still tugs me towards the smack-down crew, and how can we fight this when I'm also the enemy?

There's still a little voice in my head that agrees with such awful people as Rachel Moss when they say awful things about fat people. I've come close many times to stomping that little voice out, but it's a tough one. It's the same voice that tells me I'm fat, but it's okay as long as other people are fatter. I know a lot of you out there know that voice, even if you won't admit it.

Rachel Moss knows that voice, only she has completely failed--if she ever tried--to stomp it out. She's let that voice take over, and it's a monster's voice. That's what she's turned into for the time being: a monster, who's projected her hatred of her own body onto the bodies of others, to get some relief. Who can really doubt that that's what's happening with women who hate on fat women?

And who can doubt that that's what's happening with women who hate on disabled people? I read the blog of a friend every day who posts about how much pain she's experienced that day and whether or not--and for how long--she was able to stand before having to resort to her wheelchair. Her blog strikes me dumb because nothing I experience puts me in such physical pain and I can't even properly imagine it. And some ... god I don't have bad words enough to express it, let me resort to other languages ... some turtle's egg, some drecksau posted a picture of her in her wheelchair and called her a "cripple" and someone else hoped she'd get cancer and undergo chemo so she could cosplay Charles Xavier.

I'm actually crying with rage as I write this. I don't think I can dig deeper into the comments on that post to find the extraneous shit. So far they've turned a picture of a (black) friend of mine into an icon with the tag "100% N*gger" on it, hoped that a Muslim woman's head gets chopped off, and ... I'm not continuing with this filth. Who are these people? And will someone who knows how to do this please let the rest of us know how to get them kicked off the social networking services they're using so we don't have to hear about their shit anymore?

But all you need to know about shame and cowardice is that every one of those losers posting in comments is hiding behind a username and icon, and every single one of the women they are making fun of is out in the open on the internet.

I'm closing comments on this post because I'm just passing the word on.

Reading Update

Back from WisCon with much to say and little time to say it in.

Finished reads:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Jane Jacobs, which I will review over at atlas(t).

Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper #1 Tamora Pierce.

This was as satisfying as all the other Pierce books I've read (I've ignored the two Circle of Magic series so far, but will probably give in soon), but more so because it's a mystery! This is the first of a series, which I hope will be more than a four-book series, and has the potential to be, since it's a mystery! The character reminds me of Kel from "Protector of the Small," which is my favorite Pierce series so far, in that she is quiet and stubborn. She's a little too perfect so far, like all of Pierce's heroines, but there's hope for her yet. Plus, it's a mystery!

Cons: the only second world poc in this one was a baddie: the mage who poisons people. All the white hats are white except for a black police sergeant who has a reputation for punishing her charges for the way her people have been treated by working them hard in training. Unfortunately, she bears out her reputation and there's no more discussion of it. She's Louis Gosset Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Also, I kept channeling Terry Pratchett's Night Watch series. Although Pratchett's work is piss-take and Pierce's serious, her city of Corus criminal underworld and cop's world is SOOOO much like Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork that I swear I kept expecting Captain Carrot or Nobby to come running around the corner. She's gonna have to work on that. The FEEL of this world is just too much like the feel of Ankh-Morpork.

But humongous kudos to Pierce for finally addressing the working class and working poor. She's sort of done so before in the characters of the Circle of Magic series, which I have mostly avoided thus far (I can't deal with four protagonists in a single series) but they are people taken from all walks of life and thrust into a privileged position, whereas the Dogs (police) in this new series occupy the exact position that a Renaissance city guard force would have occupied back then. They are very clearly from the servant class and are not going to rise above that.

This is partly what makes the book so reminiscent of Pratchett: his Night Watch books fairly reek of class conflict; it's one of the engines that drive his stories. Pierce's (thus far) focus on the privileged classes and the ascension of lower-class people to privilege, vs. Pratchett's ongoing focus on class conflict, is a direct result of their nationalities; Pierce is American and Pratchett is English. Part of the genius of Pratchett is that he takes the weird medieval obsessions of fantasy and mines them for the real human conflicts that would have existed in such worlds if their  authors had been more thoughtful. Pierce's popularity comes from a less sharp, but similar tactic: turning the gender relations of European feudalism on their ears. It seems she's learning from Pratchett, and her world of Tortall is already the richer for it.

Now, if we could just work on that race thing ...

May 23, 2008

At Wiscon

Hey all!

Those of you at Wiscon who want to meet up should:

  1. Come to Opening Ceremonies at 7:30 tonight (Friday) for a Carl Brandon Society-led hootenanny.
  2. Come to the Carl Brandon Party tonight (Friday) after 9 PM in room 623, which we're sharing with the Speculative Literature Foundation. New and renewing members will get a special cocktail!
  3. Come to the Carl Brandon Society update panel tomorrow (Saturday) at 10 AM in Conference Room 5 to find out what's going on with the awards, the scholarship, our wiki, and other cool things we're doing.
  4. Come to my reading with Doselle Young and Alaya Dawn Johnson tomorrow (Saturday) at 4 pm at Fair Trade Coffee at 418 State Street.
  5. Come to the Carl Brandon Society panel "Some of Us Are Brave: Identity Intersections in an Election Year" on Sunday at 4 PM in Conference Room 5.

Plus, I'll just be around, dude!

May 13, 2008

Obama Gets ...

... reverse Shakespeare's-sistered.

I'm glad someone went to all this trouble because, even though I was seeing the trees and knew the forest was there, I wasn't quite seeing the full forest.

The main point for me here is that, although Hillary has talked a great deal about civil rights for people of color (admittedly, in an increasingly awkward way), Obama really doesn't talk about equal rights for women. And Obama doesn't get name-called the way Hillary does, even by Republicans, much less by other Democrats and Dem-voters.

This doesn't mean I'm not going to vote for Obama if he gets the nomination, but let's get real, people. Rightness does not live in Obama's campaign HQ anymore than it does in Hillary's.

via Racialicious.

May 07, 2008

My Wiscon Sked

Is as follows:

Carl Brandon Society Update
Join the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee for some brainstorming, some celebration of people of color in SF, and an update including information on the Awards and the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. The gang will mostly be there: Nisi Shawl, Victor Raymond, Candra Gill, Bryan Thao Worra, 'n' moi!
Saturday, 10:00-11:15 A.M.
Conference 5

Red Beans and Rice
A reading, starring Alaya Dawn Johnson, Doselle Young, Bryan Thao Worra, 'n' moi!
Saturday, 4:00-5:15 P.M.
Fair Trade

May 06, 2008

One More Word On Hillary

With regard to Hillary's experience in the White House: We've simply never had a presidential candidate with her kind of experience before. There has never been a real presidential candidate before who was the spouse of a president. So we have no idea what kind of experience Hillary can claim, or how this experience will translate into her own presidency.

That's where this whole confusion about whether or not she gets credit and/or blame for Bill's presidency comes from. We know she was active in his presidency. We know she had a level and kind of access to him, personally as well as politically, that no other politician in US history has ever had to a president before. We know that, at times, her role in his presidency was one of a presidential appointee. We also know that, technically, if she opposed him on anything, she would not only be easily overridden, but would also be personally constrained to keep her mouth shut about it in public.

So we simply cannot evaluate her first ladyship--as a political experience--adequately. This is for obvious, personal reasons: even a president must have his private life respected. But it sets up a situation in which Hillary can claim credit for the good things and refuse blame for the bad, and no one can credibly gainsay her, because no one really knows.

Which is why so many men Obama supporters are saying unacceptable things about how her experience ain't shit, or how she has to take the blame for NAFTA, or how Bill gets credit for anything good she does. Because, although we require women in our society to get their access to power through the men in their families, when women turn that access to power into real power, we don't understand how that works.

Unambiguous power is power accessed directly. This is why we talk about "privilege" when we talk about racially clueless white women. You never hear WOC, even during this last bout of absurd racial cluelessness, ranting on about white women's "power." Because we understand "power" as something that is accessed directly, and any feminist knows that even the most privileged white woman has a limited and compromised access to direct power. "Privilege," on the other hand, is something that can be conferred, or accessed indirectly, through familial or marital relationships, or simply through racial or socioeconomic group membership.

Ambiguously accessed power makes us profoundly uncomfortable, for various reasons. One of them is that ambiguously accessed power renders the line of accountability also ambiguous. That's very dangerous. And we're seeing this played out right now in Hillary's candidacy. She's IS trying to take credit for Bill's successes and avoid blame for his mistakes, and she'll--mostly--be able to get away with it because we just don't know.

On the other hand, what Hillary is actually trying to do here is parlay ambiguously accessed power (through her husband) into real, direct power. Once she is president--or even the party's nominee--she cannot fob off responsibility on Bill, no matter how direct a hand he takes in her campaign, or her administration.

Other countries have allowed women to do this: to take ambiguously accessed power and turn it into real power. But the United States has never allowed it. So far. I've made the argument before that this is the only way a liberal woman can achieve highest office, and I still believe that. And for that reason alone, I regret that this is also the election where race will be tested, because it makes it difficult for us to watch the election where gender roles will be tested and see a "clean" result for either one. And I, for one, am fascinated to see if the most powerful nation on Earth will allow a woman into real power.

April 27, 2008

Blogging Beats, Amanda Marcotte, and Seal Press

Even a personal blog like this one has a beat. Although I'm a feminist and have been known to blog about women's issues on occasion, I don't consider myself in any way knowledgeable about feminism as a field. I read what I need to get on with my life and try to listen to more smarter and reader feminists than I. So I don't usually engage in discussions in the feminist blogosphere and the women of color blogosphere on my blog since there are tons of women out there saying the things I would have said if I knew enough, and saying it better.

I'm also allergic to appearing to be jumping on bandwagons, so when a discussion that doesn't fall within my specific beat is raging, I tend not to post about it myself. But on the other hand, I think meme-ing information is essential for its spread; that's the whole point of using the internet for political discussion. So it's puzzling to me to figure out how to pass news on in a way that feels natural to the functioning of my particular blog.

I've been following the flap about Pandagon blogger Amanda Marcotte and Woman of Color blogger brownfemipower. I've also been following the flap about Seal Press and its ill-judged response to women of color wanting more representation in the press. And I hadn't found a way to blog about it when the two flaps intensified exponentially by meeting in the middle. At this point, this is a story that needs to be passed on, whether I have anything of substance to say about it myself or not. And I suspect that some of my friends who read this blog may not have heard about this so I'm by way of performing a service ... or something.

So this post is just a pass-along. I'll list the relevant links to the sources of information at the bottom. To avoid link stack-up, if you intend to blog about this you might want to just link directly to the secondary sources below. (They're secondary since the original sources of the first two flaps are inaccessible.)

THE STORY SO FAR ...

Feminist independent publisher Seal Press came under fire this month for a discussion on a closed blog that I can't access. Apparently, in the post a woman of color expressed frustration that Seal Press didn't publish more books by women of color. The Seal Press editors responded in the comments defensively, saying they didn't get enough submissions by women of color, that it wasn't really their job to do outreach, and they didn't have the bandwidth anyway. They also said books by woc don't sell and accused the blogger of "hating," also stating that they knew the "you all engage best through negative discourse."

They eventually issued an explanation on their blog which ended up being edited without strikethroughs.

Independently of this flap, Pandagon blogger Amanda Marcotte ... well her wikipedia page puts it succinctly:

In April, 2008, Marcotte posted an essay entitled "Sexual Abuse Fueled by Abusive Immigration Language" on Alternet. In it, she discussed the intersections of racism and sexism as experienced by female illegal immigrants to the United States "without one attribute to any blogger of color, male or female." This led to allegations of appropriation on Marcotte's part ...

Numerous feminist bloggers pointed to Marcotte's actions as symbolic of a wider process of cultural and racial appropriation, in which the words and work of feminists of color are both given less value than those of white feminists, and co-opted by them. Several bloggers accused Marcotte of directly plagiarizing the work of another well-known blogger, Brownfemipower, as much of Marcotte's article appeared to be derived from Brownfemipower's work. These bloggers pointed to Brownfemipower's extensive history of highlighting immigration as a feminist issue and Marcotte's lack of history dealing with immigration on her blog, as well as Marcotte's previous admissions that she read Brownfemipower's blog regularly. Marcotte denied these allegations, claiming instead that she was inspired by a speech on a related subject delivered by Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Blogger Problem Chylde did a smoking gun on her in a post that linked every line of Marcotte's article to a post on Brownfemipower's Woman of Color blog where the wording was similar.

As a direct result of this flap, Brownfemipower stopped blogging and took her blog down. Now even back posts are inaccessible.

Women of color bloggers were linking these two incidents already when a new scandal arose, involving both Amanda Marcotte and Seal Press. Again from Marcotte's wikipedia page:

In 2008, Marcotte published her first book, entitled It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. In August of 2007, Marcotte [had] posted an image of the chosen book cover on her blog; the image "was a retro-Hollywood pulp cover of a gorilla carrying a scantily clad woman." The image immmediately came under fire for perpetuating racist tropes, and, consequently, Marcotte and Seal Press changed the cover image.

When the book was finally released, it again set off controversy in the feminist blogosphere for use of images that many saw as racist. To illustrate the volume, the publishers used images taken from the 1950s Joe Maneely comic, Lorna, the Jungle Girl, which was chosen for its retro comic art look. The illustrations used included stereotypical images of "savage" black Africans being beaten up by a white, blond, superhero. Marcotte immediately issued an apology, adding that a second printing of It's A Jungle Out There will not contain illustrations.

The latest news is that blogger Blackamazon, who was directly involved in the original Seal Press flap, has taken down her blog as well.

My only comments to this are as follows:

Although it's shocking that all three of these happened at once, I'm glad they did. If they had happened separately, at a distance of months or years from each other, it would have been easier to gloss them over, as many are trying to do now. But, unfortunately for Marcotte and Seal Press, each incident--which in itself is relatively easy for the ignorant to explain away--bolsters and amplifies the women of color bloggers' interpretation of the other events, until it becomes difficult for any reasonable person to not say, "wait a minute ..."

And I also wish that Brownfemipower and Blackamazon hadn't taken down their blogs. I understand them needing a break, or perhaps even deciding not to blog anymore. And I also understand them not wanting their work to be raided nor to hear the awful comments people were leaving.

But their blogs were important public resources, and although the blogcott is a strong statement, it's one that's felt most powerfully by those bloggers' allies and readers, and NOT by the bloggers' opponents. In making a statement of relatively small impact to Marcotte and Seal Press, the rest of us are being more powerfully deprived.

Perhaps more to the point, this flap has drawn a lot of more mainstream attention to Brownfemipower and Blackamazon and I wish all the new readers who are going online looking for their blogs could actually be met with the wealth of information and intelligent commentary that was there to be seen.

Here are the links:

A description of the Amanda Marcotte/Brownfemipower flap at Feministe.

A description of the Seal Press not publishing enough women of color flap on WOC PhD.

The offensive images from It's a Jungle Out There on Dear White Feminists.

Black Amazon's sign off on Problem Chylde blog.

 

*****Update

Seal Press announced on their blog a few days ago their publication of a book entitled Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey.

When commenters objected to the use of the word "harem," the editors responded:

The Turkish harem comes from the Arabic word Ḥarām, meaning "forbidden." It's a word that originally referred to the "women's quarters" and literally means "something forbidden or kept safe."

Tales from the Expat Harem is neither a sexist nor a racist title. Please, let's not look for the racially embedded wrong in every one of our books.

I left my opinion in the comments if you want to see it. I have only this to add: being criticized so heavily in public must be very hard, and the editors of  Seal Press must be smarting bad right now. I appreciate that.

But as another commenter pointed out, common sense would/should militate at this point against shooting back defensively. Probably the best thing for them to do is ride all this out with an occasional "thanks, we'll think about what you said." At least until the smarting goes away and they can breathe again.

March 30, 2008

"Clinton has gone too far"

I've just about given up on the left-side Clinton/Obama debate being anything approximating rational.

Obama has impressed me recently with his whorish ability to please opposing types of Democrats simultaneously, and I'm hopeful that this could translate into effective executive skills, although with Obama we just won't know until we know.

But I've almost stopped caring in any case because Obama-supporting online wannapunds have utterly failed to notice how brilliantly whorish--rather than brilliant--his race speech was, and continue to accuse the Clinton camp of the same kind of whorishness, broadly accusing them of racism while refusing to use the word.

Lately people have been saying that "Clinton has gone too far."  Interestingly enough, everybody who expresses this sentiment uses the exact same words. Also interestingly, many of the "gone too far" purporters have identified wildly different incidents as the straw that broke the camel's back. (Some otherwise smart commentatoresses have actually taken issue with Hillary questioning Obama's experience and credentials, as if a presidential candidate's experience and credentials are somehow not fair game. Seriously?)

And many of them have simply not bothered to identify where and how, exactly, Hillary went too far. So where, actually, did Hillary go too far? Or was it Bill who went too far? Is there a difference in people's minds? (And, btw, do I still need to explain why it's a problem to take issue with Bill and blame it on Hillary?)

And most importantly, do you really think they arrived at this opinion independently?

I'm remembering a time I try hard to remind people of (but no one seems to remember it) about 20-12 months ago, when the word on every Dem-voter's lips was "I like Hillary but she's not electable." It was such a pervasive sentence, and was said over and over again by different people in exactly the same word order and tone, that it was impossible not to conclude that the whole thing was a stealth campaign.

Of course, it became so pervasive that the press had to pick up on it, and the moment it broke the surface, Clinton's campaign dispatched it, ruthlessly and effectively. I tend to think the Clinton campaign did a stealth campaign of their own to make the story break cover so they could squash it. No one says that Clinton is "not electable" now. They just say she's "gone too far." How curious.

What I'm also hearing, particularly from black online wannapunds, is that, while before they would have voted for Clinton if she got the nomination, now they won't. WTF? So you, lefty liberation atheologist, with a hard-on for social justice, will vote for fucking John McCain because clueless Clinton hath offended thee? Or, almost worse, avoid the polling place entirely?

Seriously?

That's the point, isn't it? If those of you undecideds out there don't choose Obama, the rest of us Dem-voters will take our ball and go home, and you can just sit there with your President McCain for eight years, kicking yourself for not choosing the Unity Candidate with the Sexy Voice. After all, if you don't choose Unity, then the lack of Unity is your fault.

It's blackmail, of course, but who am I to object to political blackmail? If it's effective, that is.

It's frustrating because I'd like rational debate, but this is an election, and elections are not about rational debate and probably shouldn't be. Because, as I've said before, we should be electing not the person with the best program, but rather the most effective political whore whose program approximates the one we want. So the person who best manipulates the election is clearly the best whore. That may well turn out to be Obama.

Two more points, no three:

Firstly, on the rational debate about the issues tip--which everyone says they want, but nobody really wants--Clinton constantly surprised everyone by how great she was on debates about the isshooz. Every time, in fact. Her only missteps were when she was confronted (read: blamed) for Bill Clinton's policies, when she was confronted with her pro-Iraq-War-whore vote, and when the debate veered away from the issues into the gender/race/electability thing. So here we are in the loooong post-important-primaries wasteland, where the isshooz have pretty much been exhausted and there is nothing new to say. So what are we focusing on? The candidates' identity issues ... where Clinton doesn't do well and Obama, because of his whorishness, does.

Second point: remember folks (why do you keep forgetting?) Obama is only 46. He's a top-end Gen Xer, or else in the crack between generations. Culturally, he belongs more to the later generation. As the brief debate over his supposed drug use suggested, rather than having to assert his non-inhaliness like a Baby Boomer candidate I could mention, he in fact may have exaggerated his drug use in a savvy ploy to speak to his natural constituency. He grew up after the heaviest part of the civil rights movement and during the heaviest part of the feminist movement. His understanding of race and gender politics, purely from a generational standpoint, would have to be different from Clinton's; given his family and personal history, his understanding of both is necessarily more sophisticated.

Is this a bad thing? Of course not. But it's not necessarily a good thing when you're trying to appeal to older voters who do not have the same sensibility as you.

By the same token, Clinton is firmly a Baby Boomer and second wave feminist. Her language and understanding of race and gender are Baby-Boom-Generation-determined. Does that mean she's behind the times? Well, she's no more behind the times than most of the rest of her generational cohort. (I won't break that down. I'm not satisfied with her language or concept of these issues, but then I'm a third wave feminist and a Gen Xer.) Does this means she's off-putting to Obama's GenX supporters? Yes. Does this mean that the awkward language and concepts she uses will lead her to support the wrong policies? Well ... not necessarily.

Does it mean that she may not prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Maybe. And does Obama's greater sophistication on these issues mean that he will prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Hmmm ... I somehow doubt it, especially in the light of his race speech which said, pretty clearly, "It's understandable that blacks are so angry, but their anger isn't right. And by the way, whites' anger about affirmative action is just as legitimate so we should all just get along."

And finally, keep in  mind that we're all getting bored with this and want to move on to the main event. This is why we're starting to unravel and shoot ourselves in our collective feets by saying stupid things like "I'd rather vote for McCain than Clinton because she's gone too far!"  It's like a playground where the nerd who doesn't know how to stand around and be cool gets hopelessly ragged on. Or maybe, the adult who doesn't know what "hella" means gets hopelessly ragged on. Earnest Hillary, who is no better than she should be anyway, can't hang out and be cool with the cool kids and Obama can. So, in our after school before dinner boredom, we're beating up on Hillary.

I still don't know who would be the better president, but I'm starting to suspect that all of this adds up to Obama being the better candidate.

March 02, 2008

The Dude Whisperer

I love advice columns. I looooooooove advice columns. I'll read any advice column about anything: bicycle maintenance, hiking tips, how to maximize your physics class, anything.

I especially like advice columns about sex and romance. And I've always wanted to be friends with a really cool advice columnist.

And guess what? Now I am!

My anonymous friend, husband of a longtime, also anonymous friend, has become famous (among friends) for interpreting dude behavior to women (he's a writer and that's, arguably, the job description). So now he's taking it to the public: he started a blog called The Dude Whisperer, and is open for business.

Check it out, especially if you have a dude question. Warning: he's a dude, so he has a tendency to say "I don't know" when he doesn't know, unlike Cary Tennis, but that's why I love The Dude Whisperer.

February 26, 2008

Voting The Minority

Two interesting opinions up at Salon today.

Edward McClellan says in  "The Dude Vote" that a lot of men aren't copping to the fact that they won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman:

A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that, among men, McCain beats Clinton by 9 points. Against Obama, he only ties. There are also plenty of guys who voted for Barack Obama in the primaries but will switch to John McCain if the lady gets the nomination -- even though they'll have to leap over a huge political divide to get there.

... I never said to myself, "I want a man for president." I said to myself, "I want a leader who can unite the country." Like a lot of guys who are about to furtively nod their heads, I think of leadership as a masculine quality, so Obama and McCain seemed like the strongest candidates. I was also leery of Clinton's association with the culture wars -- I don't want to go through that again -- but she was a polarizing first lady because she was given power over healthcare before the nation was ready to see a woman in that role. (In 1994, I walked into a religious bookstore and saw an anti-Clinton biography titled "Big Sister Is Watching You.") Ultimately, it was impossible to separate my reservations about Clinton from the fact that she's a woman.

I also told myself I wasn't dismissing Clinton because I disliked her. I was dismissing her because other people disliked her. That's a popular objection, apparently. According to a CBS-New York Times poll, 81 percent of Americans say they would vote for a woman president; only 56 percent think other people would. But it's also a convenient dodge. If I voted against Clinton because "too many people hate her," wouldn't I just be validating the haters? They are, after all, largely responsible for making her "divisive."

Gary Kamiya takes a nearly opposite position in "It's OK to vote for Obama because he's black," saying that a lot of whites won't cop to the fact that they're voting for Obama because he's black.

This reaction is understandable. It feels more racially enlightened. To baldly proclaim that you support Obama because he's black seems to diminish his real qualities and achievements -- his stellar academic career, his work in the urban trenches, his liberal voting record, his ability to inspire. Foregrounding Obama's ethnic heritage implies that you're unhealthily obsessed with race, and make artificial decisions based on it. It can be seen as patronizing, as a merely sentimental, pie-in-the-sky gesture.

... Some critics who directly acknowledge the racial nature of Obama's appeal have argued that the wave of white support for Obama bespeaks not a genuine desire to bridge the racial divide but a bad-faith attempt to escape into some post-racial never-never land.

... Obama's charisma, which is his unique political strength, is real, but it cannot be separated from the fact that he's black. When Obama speaks of change and hope and healing divisions, his words carry an electric charge because of who he is: He embodies his own message, the very definition of charisma. As a black man offering reconciliation, he is making a deeply personal connection with whites, not merely a rhetorical one.

Some observations:

  • It's easy to accuse white men of racism or sexism, when white men are rarely motivated so purely by an ism in such a situation. It's less easy to accuse poc of sexism or liberal women of racism, even when there's a healthy dose of those operating.
  • Regarding sexism vs. black/white racism in this election, I'm seeing that the sexism operating in this election is the view that men and women are two different types of technology with completely different capabilities, whereas the racism in this election is more the view that black (men) and white (men) are the same technology but at different states of the art. Men and women would be, respectively, cars and iPhones whereas white men and black men would be, respectively, Porsches and Yugos.

Hillary is an iPhone with wheels. Obama is a pimped out Yugo. The paradigm shift required to take each of these two candidates seriously is completely different.

  • This may be obvious, but people who are sexist, aren't always racist, and people who are racist, aren't always sexist. I'm sure there are plenty of Clinton supporters who truly believe that she's the best candidate, and that many women could be, and also aren't sure that a black man can get the job done under any circumstances.

And it wouldn't surprise me to find that there were voters, men and women, who believe in Obama for a plethora of reasons, but can't quite get their heads around a woman president.

  • The people who have most to lose from a more equitable distribution of power among women and racial minorities don't always put their racism or sexism first. We could safely assume that a lot of racist, sexist Republicans would vote for Elizabeth Dole, or Condoleeza Rice, or Colin Powell, before they'd vote for John Edwards. Likewise, a lot of racist, sexist Democrats, faced with a confusing choice, aren't necessarily subconsciously comparing their prejudices, but rather going with an emotional reaction to charisma, or to familiarity and nostalgia.
  • Obama's popularity among young liberals isn't questioned as possibly being motivated by sexism. Sure, there's been plenty of feminist punditry about how Gen X/Y women have sold out feminism for Obama's charisma because they're not really proper feminists. But I've seen little speculation about whether we might be looking at a generation that, lacking the strong, widespread female fiscal and political leadership second wave feminists were expecting right about now, some of the young 'uns might simply have no model of female leadership to place Hillary into. I.e. they might straight up not believe a woman can be a good president, but, lacking prefeminist language and knowing vaguely that such sentiments are not okay, might lack a language to talk about this.
  • And Hillary's popularity among older women isn't questioned as possibly being motivated by racism. It's cast entirely positively, as in: second wave feminist generation women are voting their feminism. It's never: older white women won't vote for a black president.
  • The recent nonsense about racist Latino or Asian American voters is cast entirely from a mainstream, basically white American perspective. This perspective assumes that Latino and Asian voters see themselves in a racially essentialist way--see themselves as a member of a racial group and articulate themselves as people of color--and view the American political landscape as one in which people of color have common cause.

So let's say this again, people: the majority of Latino and Asian Americans are immigrants. Most of these immigrants are coming from a position of being a racial or ethnic majority in their countries of origin, even if they are of lower class. Most of them have a majority identity in their past. Most of them are struggling toward a position of self-determination and some sort of tolerable integration into their new society, not towards the marginalization of being people of color. Yes, some might vote racism or sexism, but most will have more pressing needs. And which candidate they see meeting these needs will be at least somewhat unpredictable to a native-born American.

February 21, 2008

A Letter to the World About My Body

Dear Everyone Who Isn't Me, and Especially the Wonderful Women of BlogHer,

I want to participate in your Letter To My Body project. I really do. I think it's wonderful.

But in trying to compose a letter to my body I realized something: I don't see my body as separate from my self. Presumably here, "self" is mind, while body is some sort of symbiotic adjunct. I don't pretend to understand mind/body split. All I know is that when I say "I," and when I say "me," I mean, in both cases, my body + my mind + my soul, if there is such a thing. My "self" is something composed of all the things I put "my" in front of, and my mind is no more--or less--connected to my self than my body.

This is not because I am Special And Better Than You. I live in this fucked up western youth and beauty obsessed culture, too, and I'm not all that strong-minded. Just ask my container of cornnuts.

I think it's, very simply, because I am a type 1 diabetic. Diabetes shares with other chronic, incurable illnesses a number of traits, and a great many effects on the psychology of the sufferer. But one thing I think is unique to diabetes (I say this in all ignorance; there could easily be other diseases with similar traits) is that the disease enables many diabetics to track the effects of eating and exercise--the twin bugaboos of skinny-bitch culture--on their bodies and minds in real time, and gives them the tools to control these.

I won't go into the details of why (I might at another time); let it suffice that diabetics under a regime of insulin therapy can feel amplified effects of eating various foods, or not eating enough food, or exercising too much or too little. These effects are felt immediately, in a matter of minutes or hours. And, most importantly, these effects work immediately on the brain functions, so that a diabetic's mood, rationality, even intelligence, memory, and problem-solving abilities, can change literally minute to minute depending on food intake and exercise.

When my blood sugar goes down, it's not "my body" failing "me," it's me fucking myself up. My mind disappears with the failure of my body. I literally lose the part of me that people seem to most consider the "self" when my body crashes. I don't see mind and body as dependent upon one another or arising out of one another. They are the same. They are two ways of talking about me.

You may not see this in diabetics who got the disease during or after adolescence, and you may not see it in teen girls whose parents underscore society's body-image lesson. But I got sick when I was eleven. I was a late bloomer in any case, and eleven for me was hardly even "tween." My first experience of body-consciousness was the disease and its management, not fat and boobs and periods and sex.

Sure, I thought I was fat all through my teens and into my mid-twenties, when I smoked so much that I got really, really skinny. But I never got into the habit of doing anything about it, because the consequences of crash dieting and excessive exercise (insulin shock) or of not taking my insulin (which helps you put on weight) were so severe and unpleasant that I would simply rather be "fat" than have to live like that, day in and day out.

Don't get me wrong. Just because I consider my body's "flaws" in the same way I consider my personality flaws, doesn't mean that I haven't hated myself, and don't still hate myself often and often. I do hate that my thighs are fat. I don't like my legs, period. I really, really wish that that roll around my waist would go away. In fact, the moment a fad diet appeared that spoke the language of diabetes, I jumped on that wagon train and am still riding it.

I smoked heavily for well over a decade, and still smoke a little now and then. I used to drink like a fish, and still tie one on when I feel I can get away with it (I usually can't). I pig out. I do recreational drugs, when I can get them. I avoid exercise. I do all sorts of self-destructive things, still.

But when I diet, I'm not punishing my body, I'm punishing myself. When I struggle to control my diabetes, I'm not fighting my body, I'm fighting the diabetes.

I am my body, so the struggle is not against my body but against myself. It can be a subtle distinction sometimes. But at other times it's a huge, honking distinction.

It can be a bad thing. Because I don't objectify my body, I dress and groom to express my mood to a much greater extreme than most of the people I know. So I'll often mismatch the occasion, or go for two days without showering, or fail to wear makeup in formal situations and then go all out with the eyeshadow to go out for a beer. Other people seem so much more able to look better than they feel. I'm getting better at this, but it's hard to look like something I don't feel.

But it, of course, can also be a good thing. Because when I feel good about something smart I said, I feel good about my body. When I feel good about some beautiful prose I wrote, I look beautiful. When I manage to be kind to someone I don't have to be kind to, my shoulders relax. I don't live split in half.

Like right now, just now, when I was thinking about writing a letter to my body, and I peeled my mind away from my body for a moment and I did not at all like what I saw.  My body, apart from "me" is just a collection of failures. I hate seeing photos of myself for this very reason. I don't know how to pose for pictures. What I look like is in motion, because my mind and body are always in motion. You can't freeze a frame of that and get a true picture of me.

I don't think I've ever put this into words before. I've just never been good at participating in girltalk about bodies. My answer to "if there was one thing you could change about your body, what would it be?" is, of course, "take the diabetes away." But if you changed that, I wouldn't be me. Even that is me.

I've always been discomfited by this line of talk, and always thought my uneasiness was just political. But it's not. It's personal. I just don't think this way, and the project of trying to heal your mind/body split by underscoring your mind/body split seems like the wrong tack to me.

Talking to your body as "you" rather than "me", making two of one, won't make you love the putty that is your flesh any more than you already do. Hell, I have terrible trouble loving myself, and my every grain of flesh is animate.

Just wanted to try to articulate that.

Love,

Claire

February 10, 2008

Why Juno Is Loathsome

I mentioned yesterday that I loathed the movie Juno and that was all I was gonna say about it. But now Lauren, who is normally smart as a whip, says she liked it, publicly defending it against the wannabe macho dismissal of a critic who thought No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were the best moobies of the year. I share her argh about the latter, but argh back at her about the former so much that I must write this blog post.

David Edelstein of New York Magazine, goes to bizarre extremes to attack Juno by criticizing both director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody (whose name he snarks on) for having successfully “engineered every response” from the audience, as if that’s not what filmmaking is at its heart.

... I think it’s also important and darn fascinating to pay attention when a bona fide cultural phenomenon is prancing tweely across your radar. Juno is that dancer. Among the many wonderful things about this movie is the fact that it could not have been made at any other time in history. It is positively fresh on the subject of teen sexuality and reproductive choice and it manages to be hilariously funny and gut-wrenchingly poignant at the same time.

Yes, Juno's twee, and that's annoying, and no, twee is not the argument against that stupid flick that I want to push. All teen films are either twee or outright sentimental, so no big deal. Harold and Maude was twee, but I love it anyway.

But Lauren's argument that all films manipulate the audience doesn't hold water. It's true that all art is manipulation in the purest sense of the word. But the art that we treasure as great is that which manipulates the senses to mediate an experience in a particular way. That experience must overwhelm the audience sensually so that their senses (perhaps not all of them, but the ones engaged by that art form) are employed wholly in the service of the piece for its duration. The experience must also short-circuit the audience's sense of the normal and the ordinary, so as to present them with the spectacle of some element of mundane life in a manner that makes that element fresh.

So much for great, or even good, art. There are also films--art--that are successful without overwhelming the senses with new input, or making the familiar intelligible by rendering it strange. These films rather grab hold of our expectations, both sensory and narrative, ... and fulfill them. That simple.

Of course, that's not easy to do because experienced filmgoers have highly developed bullshit detectors and a hunger for novelty that almost--but never quite--overwhelms their demand for fulfilled expectations. So these not-so-good films succeed insofar as they are able to disguise with successful handwaving their ability to give you exactly what you've had before.

Juno is one of the latter sort of films. It belongs in a genre of film whose structure is derived from the gestation period of homo erectus. "Conception--pregnancy--birth" is the  "incentive moment--rising action--climax" of this subgenre, point for point. The purpose of this subgenre is to "celebrate" the "renewal" of "human" life and "hope" in the form of the "next generation" and to "reaffirm" our current family structure or to affirm and confirm (some kind of "firm") a new one. It is a genre that, intentionally or no, cannot accept the presence of abortion ... quite simply because abortion is a narrative party pooper: you can't end a story before the climax.

Subgenre All-Stars include: Nine Months, Parenthood, Father of the Bride II, The Seventh Sign, Fools Rush In, She's Having a Baby, The Snapper, The Object of My Affection, and and and. The only title I can think of belonging to the category of "classic" is Rosemary's Baby, a precursor to the curse of eighties and nineties pregnancy flicks, and a pre-deconstruction of them all. The rest are, at best, B movies. I didn't seed the list. I seriously couldn't think of a single top-ranked or top-critiqued movie in this genre, nor find one on a google search.

And for a very good reason: the genre is crapulous, status-quo-reifying, herd-placating "family fare." It's not about questioning anything, but rather making everyone feel great about the way things are.

In the new millenium this genre has taken on new life. The three 2007 avatars are Waitress, Knocked Up, and Juno. But wait, didn't everybody loooooooove all three films last year? I mean, looooooove them?

Well, of course. After all, Gen X is both in charge of movieland AND making babies now. So we've updated the genre to satisfy our own ideas of what family must be and placate our feelings of having sold out ... whatever our generation was supposed to stand for ... in favor of parenthood, condo purchases, and stay-at-home-somethings.

The major difference in new-millenium-Gen-X pregnancy movies is that they are all about confirming "alternative" families, which is, of course, all the to good, if you consider giving alternative families their own crapulous sub-genre "good." Juno and Waitress are ultimately both affirmations of single motherhood, when necessary, as it clearly is when the father leaves you because he's a child or you leave him because he's abusive. Both are, not coincidentally, written by women.

Knocked Up is a more traditional pregnancy flick. It's written, produced, directed, and from the point of view of men, which is why it posits that ugly losers with no jobs, income, responsibility, charm, or personality can walk into a complete family life with a beautiful, successful woman, just by going into a nightclub one night that the real world wouldn't let them in the door of. It posits the only family that straight guys would want, then "reaffirms" it with a "funny" birth scene involving your buddies and a beautiful, happy ending.

Juno manages to disguise its genrehood slightly by being about both the family for whom the baby is destined, and the birth mother. But, although the dialogue is snappy, nothing is questioned or subverted. We don't want to reify teenage motherhood; teenage mothers are supposed to be confused, so this one is confused. We want to support adoptive families, which we have more and more of as the "me, too!" generation puts off childbearing even longer than the Baby Boomers, so we make Juno not bother considering abortion seriously. We want to affirm single motherhood, so we get rid of the adoptive husband while turning him into a plot-point/red-herring.

Most importantly, we treat motherhood as a reward for virtuous women. Juno is not virtuous: she had sex when too young and undereducated; she had sex without considering herself in love; she had sex without thinking responsibly about it. Clearly she doesn't deserve a baby. Her weeping after the birth is the seep of remorse.

The Jennifer Garner character--played by an actress who, already popular, swept the hearts of America by marrying Ben Affleck and naming their adorable baby something both slightly unusual and not at all rock-star-weird--clearly possesses sufficient adulthood, responsibility, and virtue, and is rewarded with motherhood at the end.

One more point: Juno, as many critics have remarked, is given Gen X hipster dialogue. No kiddie today, not even Frances Bean Cobain, could possibly have all the Gen X indie cultural referents that Juno pretends to. That's the tip-off, folks, that you're being manipulated: your teenie hipster protag, cooler than school and wrestling with things way beyond her maturity level, still has the time to flatter your taste.

It's a flat, empty, manipulative, masturbatory, neck-chaining, nose-to-grindstoning, mainstream-behavior-mold of a piece of shit of a movie. And no, it's not a coincidence that it topped off a year of other such movies in the same year that the US Supreme Court upheld the first federal abortion ban since Roe v. Wade.

'Nuff said.

January 14, 2008

The "Missing Black Woman Formation"

Not to be down on Scott Westerfeld, whom I consider a friend on the skiffy side of the blanket, but his recent blog post about the "Missing Black Woman Formation" (hereafter referred to as MBWF) needs some complications added to it.

The MBWF concept is explained by one of the characters of Scott's YA novel So Yesterday thus:

“You know, the guy on the motorcycle was black. The guy on the bike was white. The woman was white. That’s the usual bunch, you know? Like everybody’s accounted for? Except not really. I call that the missing-black-woman formation. It kind of happens a lot.”

Scott then goes on to point out that we're living through a MBWF right now, posting a picture of our current Democratic presidential front runners (Edwards, Clinton, and Obama, natch). He underlines this by posting a photo of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus from The Matrix.

Okay, but not really.

There are a number of problems with this, starting with how complaining about a missing black woman only works for commercials (which is mostly what the So Yesterday characters were talking about.) Commercials are 30-120-second gestures in the direction of a brand. You have time to say one simple thing, so that's what you say.

The black man inserted into a white couple says, "Our brand is diverse!" whatever that means. The missing black woman, if she were to appear, would say, "We're selling to blacks and whites equally!" which is not what most commercials want to say. Most want to say, "Hey, liberal white guilt dollars! Flow this way!"

When you get into broader pop culture, and especially when you get into the bizarre mix of current mainstream reality, branding, idealism, fearmongering, and passion play that is the contemporary presidential race, the MBWF has nothing interesting or true to say to the matter anymore.

Gloria Steinem proved this in the NYT op-ed that Scott (and everybody else) linked to. By Shakespeare's sistering Obama (dang, can't we get some new feminist tricks?) Steinem sought to prove that women have it worse than blacks, but only managed to give every reader a case of  SIWWTABIDKW (something is wrong with that argument but I don't know what), which is usually accompanied by a terminal case of the squirmies.

What was wrong with that argument, by the way, is that you can't compare apples and oranges (or sexism and racism), and you can't predict society's behavior towards the intersection of the two except by, as Steinem did, assuming that each must be overcome separately before the intersection will become penetrable (Frex: we needed an Albright, and a Powell, before we could have a Rice.)

So, a listing of problems with MBWF as applied by Scott:

Flip through a magazine and check out the ads. In any group of three or more models, one invariably will be black. (If there are six or more models, one will be Asian and one Hispanic.) Same on TV. In any commercial for beer or snack food, one of the guys on the sofa is always black. This probably misrepresents the incidence of interracial hanging out, but it isn't just tokenism. It's a harmony fantasy, buried deep in the collective conscience.

I.e. the MBWF, a white fantasy scenario, is leaving out a much more complicated, and truly diverse, group of people because that would complicate and diversify the white audience's social scene, rather than placating them for having a mostly white peer group. So it's a bit more complicated than just a missing black woman. If we're going to look at negative space, let's really look at it.

  • I'll take the last one second: Keanu Reeves isn't white. He specifically was chosen to play Neo in The  Matrix because he is obviously multiracial. Many people don't know that Keanu is multiracial--not because he doesn't look multiracial, but because he's been offered to us as white since the mid-eighties and most people have never thought to question that. In the mid-eighties, it was because the mainstream consciousness had no concept of multiraciality, especially not Asian multiraciality. But those same people who were incapable of noticing Keanu's halfiness in the mid-eighties have become, in the interim, so sensitized to it that they would notice it in an instant now if they were to encounter a second Keanu. But Keanu himself, name and all, is grandfathered in as a white dude.

It is for both these reasons--the obvious multiraciality and his acceptance by mainstream audiences--that Keanu was cast in the racially radical Matrix. Suitably millenial, the first Matrix suggested that a lot of race mixing had gone on among surviving humans after the apocalypse with its casting of actors of a variety of races and mixtures (including Marcus Chong, Tommy Chong's adopted son, whose ancestry isn't public, but is almost certainly multiracial.) This was deliberate.

Morpheus as the odd black man out in a MBWF is questionable, but his status as a magical negro? not so much. I said the first Matrix was radical, not perfect. (By the way, I distinguish between the first Matrix and subsequent Matrices because the Wachowskis got lazy in the race element, as well as everything else, and let a bunch of black actors stand in for diversity thereafter, i.e. losing grip on the multiracial aspect of the whole thing.)

  • Finally, with regard to our beloved Donkeys, can I just remind everyone that Obama is a biracial child of an immigrant. Far from being a quibble, this is absolutely essential to understanding how Obama has gotten as far as he has, and how he might even have a real chance at the presidency.

As I said, in our new millenium, our mainstream culture has become sensitized to multiraciality, so that we begin to recognize it when it appears in the public forum. But we're not so sophisticated as all that. We recognize it, but we still gawk at it. It's still unusual, exotic ... and not yet re-problematized, as all new, exotic things are.

Obama's clear and apparent multiraciality (one that left him with darkish skin and European features, which earn him the adjective "handsome" even though he's nothing of the sort) put him beyond our immediate racial hierarchy into a biracial status that is still fluid in the public consciousness. If he were just black, he wouldn't be here, but because we don't exactly know what he is, he might still be electable. So there, Gloria Steinem, my lass.

Furthermore, Obama is not the child of an African American descendant of slaves and a white American; i.e. he's not that difficult and problematic product of centuries of slavery and sexual stereotyping. Rather, he's the child of a white American and a black immigrant. A what? Exactly. We don't know what to do about it, because it's an exotic and new story: the black immigrant. But, dudes, immigrant. Undocumented labor issues aside, the American identity is an immigrant identity, and the American story is the triumphal story of immigration and assimilation.

In this context it's much easier to see why Obama, the child of a black man and a white woman, doesn't trip more people's black man/white woman wires. The white woman in this case is the agent of assimilation to an honorable immigrant. As copious recent immigration from the Caribbean and East Africa shows, it's a toss up whether such an immigrant will come down as black or as immigrant in their interlocutor's estimation, when the shit really hits. Clearly this question is decided by what is most beneficial to the interlocutor. If the black immigrant in question is threatening them, then they're black. If, however the interlocutor needs an ally and the black immigrant shows willing, then they're an immigrant.

White America needs an inspiring leader--an ally--to take us away from all this horrible Bush stuff, so Obama falls off on the immigrant side in our popular subconscious, even if the public debate has been hijacked by the word "black." I'll bet a lot of people have already forgotten the recent debate over whether or not Obama is really black or black enough. That fight had to be fought out to get detractors out of the way so that we could talk about Obama as a black candidate without digressions. What no one has noticed is that we're processing him simultaneously at both levels: as a surface black, and a crypto-immigrant.

By accepting Obama as our symbolic representative, even if only for a few months, we are essentially underlining and celebrating our existing core American values: immigration, assimilation, triumph, and pot-won't-melt-in-my-mouth virtue.

And via Racialicious, here's a little sumpin' sumpin' to make you think hard about the intersection between race and gender: a nice, long, fascinating article about transgender people of color.

January 08, 2008

Hillary As First Woman US President *updated*

Look, the women heads of state that we know about, the famous ones, are either hardcore elected conservatives, like Thatcher or Golda Meir, or daughters/wives of assassinated or simply dead former leaders---inheritors of political dynastic power---like Megawati Sukarno, Indira Gandhi, Cory Aquino, or Benazir Bhutto.

It seems that these are the two avenues to political power for women: align yourself with the political party that would most oppose having a woman leader, and become more hardcore than your compatriots (look at how Meir and Thatcher inspired frequent jokes among their conservative colleagues about their masculinity); or marry into, or be born into, a political dynasty and work your husband's/father's legacy hard.

Sure, there are occasional porn stars who win legislative seats on the strength of their novelty, but no one believes that a woman could be forgiven an early career in entertainment sufficiently to become a national leader the way a man could.

It's clear: women politicians are novelty acts, iron ladies who sacrificed their marriages and family life for politics, or privileged wives and daughters. Liberal or moderate women don't ascend to real power without the power of a political family behind them; they must be linked by flesh and blood.

So comparing the Clinton dynasty to the Bush dynasty, and turning on Hillary with the cry, "no more dynasties!" is not merely disingenuous, but also at its base, misogynist. A feminist moderate liberal like Hillary Rodham would have not a snowball's chance in Hell of getting even a nomination; her only choice would be to pull down the party for a term or two by being cast as a political helpmeet, somebody no one wants to elect, and a mistake that even the thoroughly incompetent Dems won't make again.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the other hand, could be president, and Bill doesn't even have to die first. We will only get a woman president through dynastic succession. Yes, it's a dangerous game, but the Monday morning quarterback says that by now we only wish Dubya had let his father (you know, the CIA guy who actually read intelligence reports?) be the power behind the throne.

I don't think that this means we get to look forward to a President Chelsea Clinton in twenty years either. I think, rather, that once Hillary breaks the ice, Chelsea will have too many competitors to really have a chance ... unless she's good.

Bottom line: just like we need a black president to break us through that barrier, we also need a woman president to break us through that barrier.

While we're on that subject, I just want to tell all the "woman president as a symbolic act not good enough" idiots to shut the fuck up. You clearly don't understand symbolism, or culture, or political representation. No you don't. Not one little bit.

Dubya understands it, though. Just ask his lesbian intellectual black woman Secretary of State. Condi is throat-blockingly important, and not in that tinny, Star Trek, meat-tenderizer-symbolic way. Because we've had a Condi, we can have black iron ladies in the cabinet now from here 'til doomsday. And Republican or Democrat, black or white, whore or brassy bitch, do you think for an Iraqi-check-point-second that there could have been a Condi without Bill Clinton did it first? It's a one-upping. A Dem hires a woooman, so the Repub has to hire a queer black woooman.

The White House will be the same. Before a woman of color can get up in there, a white woman has to do it. Before a random white woman can do it, a white woman wife or daughter of a former president has to do it. Its a progression. Hillary is the only likely choice we have right now who's left of right. Pelosi is not electable; please see the two paths to world leadership above.

Which brings me to my third pointish: our first woman president must be a liberal. Yeah, yeah, Hillary's not really a liberal ... shut the fuck up. I'm not even gonna argue that. The UK's first woman head of state was a rabid conservative and look what happened. "Women can be just as disgusting and compassionless as men" is not really a good argument for women leaders.

I want the conservatives scared of liberal women leaders. I want women to wake up and realize that gender representation means ... gender fucking representation. Women allowed to be women in a political office will bring a woman's perspective into hot issues that most of the public agrees on, but that the stupid elite men in power like to manipulate to keep themselves in power. Conservative iron ladies have to spend their tenures scaring liberals, not conservative men. Liberal or moderate women dynastic successors, on the other hand, have to spend some energy proving their femininity to the men of the house, but otherwise are expected to act kinda like women, on steroids.

So ... Hillary. Hillary Hillary Hillary.

Hillary. Not a compromise. Not a lesser evil. A necessary next step.

*update*

oh. my. god. I wrote the above before Clinton pulled decisively ahead but then just read this.

Maybe it was the sight of a strong woman finally showing some emotion.

Or maybe it was the "guys" beating her up in a weekend debate.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, rocked in Iowa just days ago, scored an upset victory against Barack Obama in the state that salvaged her husband's first run for president 16 years ago.

It was female voters who breathed new life into her campaign.

Weekend polling indicated Clinton and Barack Obama were running about even among women, but the former first lady went on to best Obama among women by 13-percentage points. Women also voted in much larger numbers than men.

What changed during that brief period? Clinton — looking vulnerable and human.

She choked up Monday when asked how she mustered the energy to campaign each day — a startling display from a woman so tough she appears at times to be cloaked in armor.

Many skeptics viewed the unexpected show of emotion as more Clintonian calculation, especially since it came as she delivered a stinging rebuke of Obama.

"I just don't want to see us fall backward as a nation," she said, voice breaking.

oh. my. god. Do I have to look forward to eleven months of this shit? And it was written by a woman. "the sight of a strong woman finally showing some emotion?" "'the guys' beating her up in a weekend debate?" "in the state that salvaged her husband's first run for president 16 years ago?" (just couldn't avoid comparisons with her husband, could she?) Did it have to be only the point about "female voters who breathed new life into her campaign" that gets emphasized? "looking vulnerable and human?" Is she saying that Obama already looks vulnerable and human? Or simply that he doesn't need to to get votes? "choked up?" "startling display?" "voice breaking?" "a woman so tough she appears at times to be cloaked in armor?"

Give me a fucken break. I was right about liberals having to prove their "femininity," though. Sigh.

December 28, 2007

Reading Update

I feel like I've missed some books in my reading update, but perhaps I've just been watching too much TV.

The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman.

Both re-reads. I find that Compass holds up very well. I remember a great deal of it, and a lot of images from it as well, although not the main plot resolution. Knife, not so much. It's kind of a mess, doesn't have the same high impact imagery, suffers from too-many-parallel-worlds syndrome, has too many bad guys, none of whom actually matter, and is more of a doorstop than a plot.

I'm also having political issues with Knife, in which Lyra decides to submit her spirit and mystical ability to commune with Dust through the Compass to the boy's judgement. I can't even remember the boy's name and I just read the book. Basically, because he's a murderous "warrior", all her courage and intelligence and ability is nothing, if not put in his service.

Also, the only choices of strong female characters in Knife are Mrs. Coulter (evil, crazy bitch), or the witches. the witches are kickass, but aren't quite human, live off in this entirely man-free society, and are sexually available to any man of sufficient accomplishment. in fact, they are so apt to fall dangerously in love, that they represent a fatal force of nature when rejected. their centuries of life and power are, of course, thrown to the winds in pursuit of some stupid man who will only live a fraction of their lives. this is in direct contravention to how Serafina Pekkala describe the witch life in Compass, in fact.

Also, Lee Scoresby, who didn't really do all that much in the first book, suddenly becomes (yet another)father figure to Lyra (after spending about a week with her in the first book) and gives up his life for the chance of protecting her. Retch. And where's Iorek Byrnison?

So basically we're dealing with a first book that offered extremely nuanced and complex understandings of the varieties of human nature, and a second book that gave itself way too much to do and so simpliflied everyone into a stupid stereotype.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

By all rights I shoulda hated this one, but it was really fun. Basically, a novelization of a superhero comic-book style story, but with complex characterization and much use made of the entirely verbal narrative. Way too precious and jokey and self-conscious, but it really works. 'Nuff said.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

I know him. Fun book. Go read!

December 21, 2007

Top Ten Novels

Inspired, or expired, or despired, by all the year-end top ten lists, plus something I saw somewhere about writers' top ten novels lists, I've decided to do my own top ten novels list.

But, of course, there has to be a caveat. This is not necessarily the top ten best novels I've ever read. That would be too difficult, given my moodiness. These are, rather, the novels that created my understanding of what novels are, broke that understanding and remade it, added to it substantially, or, in at least one case, helped define a whole area of things that novels shouldn't be. This is a litany of idiosyncratic reading experiences; not everyone--or even most ones--would have the same eye-opening experience upon reading these books, although I can heartily recommend all of them, and, in fact, do. This is really just a reading memoir, really. And I hate memoir. And redundancy.

Also, there are more than ten, as you will have immediately noticed. But Top Ten just rolls off the tonguish.

  1. The Dark is Rising: I wrote about it recently so I don't have to repeat, but this is a peculiar and beautiful little jewel of a book: not logical, nor perfectly structured--as YA and fantasy and YA fantasy must usually be--but intuitive and grand and cold and mysterious and ritually layered and smart and adult and complex all at once. I never found an age-specific book to match it because there is none, and it didn't so much confirm my childhood reading as point away from it, into the possibilities beyond.
  2. Pride & Prejudice: is so popular right now it hardly needs more elegy (or more accurately, rhapsody) added to its account. But beyond the "romance", which I started finding suspect at a fairly young age, P&P remains a favorite because it is so damned perfectly structured. I've read it twenty times (no exaggeration) and the structure never fails to usher me through the same emotional experience. You can become so accustomed to something that you sicken of it; you can build a tolerance to drugs; but a perfect narrative arc somehow never fails to raise your blood pressure at the right moment, even when you know what's coming better than you know the feeling of your own birthday.
  3. Jane Eyre: people pass over the weirdness of JE, I think because it's weird and that makes people uncomfortable. But weird is what happens when you take the sketchiness of a fairy tale and inhabit it with complex characters. I don't mean what Gregory Maguire does. Wicked and ilk is just a more complex formula. I mean, when you play out fairy dust in the real world, to its logical conclusion. When wives go mad and husbands are half-wild and damagingly entitled, and a half-benevolent, half-malicious universe intervenes to allow women of spirit to both escape, and be enslaved, in equal measure. JE is an anomaly among Victorian novels not because every single aspect of it wasn't a rampant trend of its era, but because Bronte committed absolutely to every device, and every line, took all of it absolutely seriously, rather than allowing herself genre and ironic distance like all the mens did. The result is Emily Dickenson weird, like focusing on flies' buzzing, or how to paint a billow, or the expression on a dog's face at twilight, when the universe shrugs to startle the master's horse.
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude: hardly needs commentary either. Again, this was an issue of structure for me, a lesson in how Pride & Prejudice five-act fiction wasn't the only way to go about it. My first spiral structure, and induction into the pleasures of varying velocity. I didn't see it until the end, but the final sentence of Solitude tells you all you need to know about the book ... but only if you've already read the book. So it was also my first experience with that successful paradox of show vs. tell. And the book, also paradoxically, while falling me in love with lush lyricism (just like everyone else), was actually what put me on the road towards a more stripped down prose ... because once Garcia-Marquez has rained petals from the sky to mourn the death of a patriarch, what more can I or anyone do? Plus, an experience of pure, extended beauty. Truly. I was in a daze for a week. One of my few moments with the ecstasy of writing, felt while reading.
  5. The Dispossessed: Rather a dry experience, compared with all of the preceding, but a book that set me intellectually on fire because it was the first political novel I ever read. I mean, sure, I had to read Upton Sinclair and Orwell and Steinbeck and Uncle Tom in high school, but when the politics of the book is over--and come to think of it, all of those were books about political situations that had been largely resolved, although they left a mean residue--so is the book's impact. The Dispossessed was something of a complicated utopian novel, the first one I ever read after all the dystopias I read in high school (1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451). I'd never experienced a political world that I so wanted to inhabit, nor felt the representation of a political reality better than the one I already inhabited. I'm no revolutionary, and I wouldn't go so far as to say the book created an activist of me. But what I have been able to do since then is at least partly enabled by the awakening of my political imagination ... something very different from political consciousness and much more essential to the workings of true democracy.
  6. The Joy Luck Club/The Woman Warrior: I'd be the first to scream if someone else glommed these two together, but I have to put them together because in my mind, they are the good and bad sides of the same coin, and the one didn't take effect on me until the other one had been thoroughly assimilated (used advisedly). I read Woman Warrior in high school, after picking it out of a used books bin in--where else?--SF Chinatown as a tween. It kinda fascinated me and kinda turned me off, partly because I was looking for some reading experience I could finally identify with, and, although I recognized the universal Chinese mother, Kingston--like any good writer--took care to make her mom an individual rather than a universal, and a Chinatown girlhood isn't the same as a hapa midwestern suburban girlhood. The other turnoff was her careful and fabulist deconstruction of novel, memoir, and superhero/hero's journey narrative. I was not at an age to appreciate that.

    Then in college I was home for the summer and helped my mom out with a cocktail party she threw without being asked and she was very impressed with my sudden maturity--I had always previously bellyached about having to greet and serve guests. When I finished the dishes I retired to my room and that night she left her new hardcopy of Joy Luck Club outside my door with a note thanking me for my help and telling me I was a good daughter (underscore hers). That's my mom all over: half serious, half self-reflectively ironic. I still have the book, and the note, and, although my bitchy mind started deconstructing the book almost immediately, I recognized in Joy Luck the orthodox version of the unsatisfying meta-memoir in Woman Warrior. At the time, I uneasily thought of Joy Luck as the better book. I now recognize Woman Warrior as the ur-text, the brilliant, unique one, which had to be tamed before it could be codified as the arc of the assimilating immigrant. I've written about this in Hyphen magazine and won't bore anyone with it here, but this was my beginning as an Asian American writer.

  7. Howard's End: Modernism wouldn't have made much sense to anyone without Forster to bridge the gap and I'm no exception. And just as everyone takes what they want from Modernism and leaves the rest, I went forward in my reading only to eventually go a step or two backwards to Forster. He introduced me to the deconstruction of the third and fourth dimensions ... but gently. Howard's End, with its timeless mansions and perpetually updating railways, is the novel of space/time compression fighting it out with imperialist expansion. I didn't experience any of that my last two years of college, but I did feel the way Forster messed with the reader's experience of time, so that important moments pass in a sentence, and untangling their implications is the quotidian work of the rest of the novel. With a little hindsight I can see that Howard's End--all of Forster, really, since I gobbled his entire oeuvre in a year--slammed the door on the following classics: Jane Austen and her manners insulated from the source of their wealth (see Tisa Bryant on Mansfield Park), and Charlotte Bronte and her Indies-plantation-owning-African-mission-going romantic males. Forster's literary heir is really Orwell.
  8. Middlemarch: Speaking of steps backward, my big discovery during my grand tour of Europe after college was Eliot. I went and read more and more and more Victorian-era novels: all of the Brontes that I had missed, all of Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tostoi, maybe a little Georges Sand ... and of course, all all all of Eliot. And--not to diss the intellect of all of the preceding, especially Forster, but Eliot's oeuvre--Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and especially Middlemarch--were my first encounter with fiction written by an intellectual writer and critic with a broad understanding of her time and a clear and expressive (rather than emotional and expressionistic) prose style. It's hard to rhapsodize about effectively, but emotional intelligence, breadth of vision, passion for people, and the ability to inhabit every stage of perspective, is my definition of genius thanks to George Eliot. She influences me more than I ever know when I'm in the midst of writing, and if I had to choose only one writer to emulate, Eliot would be the one.
  9. Cosmicomics: Not a novel, of course, but close enough to make a difference. Beautiful, weird and whimsical, funny, and with a simultaneously light and heavy touch ... everything I have written since I started reading Cosmicomics has been an attempt--in its way--to reproduce the effect of that book. It's that (to me) horrifying construction, a book of linked short stories, that remakes the novel, and indeed the short story for me. Not because of any structural or space/time funkiness--once you get past the sci-fi-y surface, these stories are very traditional--but because the ideas are so lovely Calvino just sort of ... doubled them back on each other, for the fuck of it. My most purely loved book on this list.
  10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius please don't try to tell me this isn't a novel. And no, I'm not interested anymore in that discussion about the memoir/novel or the novelistic memoir, or the true novel or the fictional autobiography. Suffice it to say the lines have been blurred, who cares by whom? It's all the--by now--GenX clichés Eggers wielded with excellence (yes, excellence) that make this book for me. Maybe I'm slow but it blew my little mind in 1999 and made a permanent dent. Eggers remains the only writer of my generation who has successfully blown my mind. (Lethem has also blown my mind, but not with a single book. Not that that's less valuable than the single-book-mind-blow, but that doesn't play as well on top ten lists.) Eggers is a negative influence. All due respect, but I have to fight hard not to write like him. He set up some rhythms and phrasing tricks that are so. damn. easy. to imitate.
  11. Parable of the Sower: My introduction to Octavia Butler. I've written about her here and here and don't feel like getting into it again. She found me a way to write science fiction, something I had always wanted to write but couldn't find a way to do while incorporating all my Asian American issues. 'Nuff said.
  12. Mumbo Jumbo: And finally, the book that answered my lingering questions about how I want to--and can--write what it is I have to write. Or put another way: what do I actually have to write. Reed gave me the structure of a process for using the code-switchy language of my actual life and not the prettified standard language Asian Americans are supposed to learn to get a dialogue with the power butlers. Reed teaches that surface and depth can be completely connected, so your linguistic polyrhythms can show and tell about what mainstream American wants to dismiss as schizophrenia simultaneously. Complex and challenging, but not white noise; a wall of word noise textured with different weights of meaning. A language that cites its sources moment by moment. Aleluja!

December 14, 2007

Halliburton Rape Petition

Hey all,

Moveon.org has a petition drive to get Congress to investigate the gang-rape of Jamie Lee Jones, a Halliburton employee working in Iraq, by her coworkers. Jones was held in a shipping container after the rape and refused medical treatment until US embassy workers came to rescue her. See the announcement below.

Jamie Leigh Jones was working in Iraq for a subsidiary of Halliburton when she was drugged and brutally gang-raped by several coworkers.

For the last two years, she's been asking the US government to hold the perpetrators accountable, but the men who raped her may never be brought to justice because Halliburton and other contractors in Iraq aren't subject to US or Iraqi laws.

I just signed a petition urging Congress to investigate the rape of Jamie Leigh Jones, hold those involved accountable, and bring US contractors under the jurisdiction of US law. Can you join me at the link below?

http://pol.moveon.org/contractors_accountable/?r_by=11800-5166246-_riSn_&rc=paste

December 03, 2007

I Knew This Stuff

... but I'm still horrified at this.

Be sure to go and read the whole series.

Via Pandagon.

October 03, 2007

readin' update

Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane

Wonderful, again, like the first. And, again, like the first, a little bit of a disconnect between the hokey-jokiness of meeting whale wizards, and finding out dolphins' real, and very silly, names ... and the very serious and dark turn the book takes around the middle.

Beautifully written and heartfelt. But this tonal disconnect is starting to worry me. Don't know if it's just a personal limitation or if it's a problem with the book. I'll definitely keep reading, though. This stuff is too good not to.

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Still digesting. But a few initial observations:

  1. after this, no one gets to use a "The ______, _______ Life of _______" title anymore. Oscar Wao finished that mini-trend, and anybody else will be overkill. I mean it. Francis MacComber will crawl out of his short, happy grave and eat your brains if you try it.

  2. Diaz also brings the geeked out, pop-cultured, genx hipster, muscle-voice to a point. Everybody's been trying it (including me) and it's taken care of now. Enough.

  3. I've been rebelling against the American Immigrant Story Structure for so long now, that everything stinks of it. I can't tell if this is regressive, or if this actually moves it forward. I don't think it moves the immigrant story out of its mid-century straightjacket, but, like I said, I'm still digesting.

  4. If you imitate the voice and outlook of a terminal macho asshole so well that your readers can't tell the difference between authorial and narrator's voice, then aren't you the terminal macho asshole? Just because you namecheck Los Bros and Luba, to get all meta and distance yourself from the fact that your one strong, alive female character is racked like a bowling alley, haven't you still showcased the breasts before the person?

I haven't decided on all this yet, and I finished the book a week ago. That's a good thing.

September 12, 2007

Road Rape

Well, I didn't have much to say about McCarthy's The Road at first. It packs such an emotional wallop that it's hard to (hard to want to) analyze or even think about. But as time went by, I was more and more bugged by the tremendous (if par for the course) misogyny of the book.

I mean, it's a father and son, for the whole book. and all they encounter--to speak to, to act with or against--are men. As the book progresses, the absence of the boy's mother grows heavier and heavier until her absence is finally explained: she gives up, and wanders off out of camp to die alone.

And what is her argument? Well, that she fears being raped, of course--and her son being raped, naturally.

Naturally. In Cormac McCarthy's world, rape is still a Fate Worse Than Death. The whole world has died, cannibals are roaming the Earth, there's no hope, and she's worried about being raped.

As if her husband wouldn't be just as raped in such a world.

My ogd, can McCarthy simply not conceive of women strong enough to survive a holocaust the way the men here have? Can he somehow not imagine women banding together, or even together with men, to form less predatory groups?

Arg. That's it. I'm not reading any more McCarthy. I was feeling emotionally devastated by the book at first, but as time goes by it just makes me feel dirtier and dirtier, and more and more tired of it, and less and less inclined to think about it. It's apocalypse porn, looking for the most horrific thrills: keeping people alive to eat them slowly, or bringing a pregnant woman with you so you can eat her baby when its born (and what happened to the pregger woman once her baby was born, anyway? She just disappears.)

Argh! I'm done! McCarthy can go hate women off in his little southerly corner and leave me alone!

June 28, 2007

Oblique Fannishness About Laurie Marks, Whose Third Elementals Book Continues to Annoy and Astound, in Equal Measure

Why must I feel vaguely masculine for not wanting to center my fiction in the domestic sphere? Why do third wave feminist artists and writers fetishize Home and the Domestic, and not question women's relegation thereto in art and literature?

We can write about warriors and philosophers and travelers and border crossers and farmers and soldiers and witches. We can write about violent impulses, nonpretty lusts, hunger, scars, frostbite, the plague. We can forget to write about menstruation, for once, since in real life it's mostly a minor annoyance for most people, except when you forget to bring a tampon.

We can not always be the ones tied inextricably to the earth and fecundity. We can stop imagining the Venus of Willendorf and Mae West are the only female icons to retreat to when we've shuffled off this Paris Hilton roil. We can write prose in praise of muscles, and be talking about women.

We can write into a genre exactly as far as we need to and stop there and revolutionize the rest. We can take some tropes and leave others. We can weave our rebellion and newness so thoroughly into the narrative that nobody sees it, everybody feels it. We can, really, write whatever the fuck we want to.

So why is nobody doing it except Laurie fuckin' Marks?

Please tell me who else is doing it.

May 20, 2007

Reading Update

I took a writing workshop class several years ago when I was working at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco. ACWLP held several workshops and this one was called something like "what you won't learn in an MFA course". It was taught by Noah Hawley, who had recently published his first book A Conspiracy of Tall Men.

I read the book and was terribly unimpressed. It seemed incoherent with what I now recognize as the incoherence of an insufficiently edited first draft. (Would that I knew what a sufficiently edited second draft looked like!) He also turned out to be a terrible teacher: he clearly had no teaching experience and seemed to think that sitting there, letting us ask him questions, and occasionally giving us an exercise or inviting one of his Writers Grotto buddies to speak to us would replace a lesson plan, or an active effort made at breaking down the craft of writing for us, or, ya know, teaching.

So afterwards I put him out of my mind.

Then I recently watched some tv--I think it was an episode of Bones--and saw his name in the credits as the script editor or somesuch, and thought it high time to check in and see if he'd published anything else. He had. It's called Other People's Weddings and I just read it and it was surprisingly good.

The protag is 36, divorced, and a wedding photographer. She meets a dude who makes a habit of attending weddings uninvited, like a lighter version of Tyler Durden, or Harold from Harold and Maude. This proves his quirkiness and lovability to an Essentially Artistic Woman. He courts her while she deals with her failed marriage, which in turn leads her to examine her rotten childhood at the hands of crazy parents. Sound like a nightmare? It's really not.

It's chick-lit, but chick-lit written by someone trained in lit fic concerns. You know this genre/lit fic meld is dear to my heart, so he won me over almost immediately. He won me over even more--and annoyed me by turns--by making it clear in the book that he's been working in television. Every chapter began in medias res and ended with a Grey's Anatomy-style revelatory moral. It was a book written in episodes. But then, what's wrong with that? If Dickens can do it ...

I even thought for a while that it might go off the chick-lit rails and become something else entirely. It was so beautifully structured, the quirky, meet-cute romance interspersed with increasingly dark revelations about the heroine's childhood and how resolutely horrible and damaging it was. Naturally, her bizarre family was much, much more interesting than her near-perfect mate-to-be, who is the man of every 36 y/o single woman's dreams: formerly married, just to prove that he's capable of committing, and widowed, just to prove that he's not the leavin' type. (I'm 37, by the way, and I dream of the divorced men, 'cause I roll that way.)

The family revelations were even perfectly calculated to do away with the inevitable question of why we should care about a protag who is so obsessed with relationships. Her central family tragedy is the obsession of romantic love within marriage. So she is the perfect heroine to conduct us through a novel examining romantic love in the context of marriage. And what is chick-lit as a genre, if not that examination? Only the genre is not really an examination so much as it is marriage porn. This book isn't, even though it gives us our happy end.

The attitudinal sea-change that leads to this happy end is unexpectedly satisfying. And the descriptions at the beginning of how failure and love-obsession can form (and sometimes deform) a person's life and perceptions are some of the best writing I've read in a while.

It's a fun, and sometimes challenging, read. Go see.

April 11, 2007

Comments On Don Imus Debacle

  1. I take back what I've been saying about "at least blacks are no longer treated with as open contempt in the media as Asians are" blah blah. I guess it was said more in wishfulness than in truth.
  2. After an hour on Google News, I still haven't found a white commenter who thinks anything other than blacks are overreacting. They're all male. I haven't found any random white women commenting. Is every white male on the internet a privileged cracker? Is every white woman on the internet a fucking ostrich?
  3. Oh My God. Why did it take me half an hour on Google to find out about the "Jigaboo" comment? Why did that not merit attention?
  4. The white (male) commentary ranges from "You're all reverse racists this is free speech fuck you lynching Don Imus Free speech fuck you!" to (sadly, wryly) "Yeah, he shouldn'ta said it, but it's teh blacks overreacting that gives his comments meaning" (no shit. somebody actually made that argument.)
  5. Not a single white male in my search has been found to have the imagination to wonder what the Rutger's women's basketball team members feel about all this ... like maybe are they feeling hurt or insulted. It's all about Don Imus and what he does and doesn't deserve. Can it be that this all comes down to a lack of empathy? Talk about identity politics! Look who's identifying now!
  6. It took me all of five minutes to find commentary by "a black man" who thinks teh blacks are overreacting. I don't know which is worse: the possibility that the writer isn't really black, or the possibility that s/he is.
  7. I've found every possible breakdown of Imus' comments, saying that this element was offensive and the other wasn't. There was one that said that "ho" was offensive, but "nappy-headed" wasn't. There was one that said that "nappy-headed" was the offending remark. There was one that said that if the comment had been made about, say, that nappy-headed ho Foxy Brown, instead of those fine, upstanding Rutgers wimmin, then no one would have said anything because, let's be honest, she is a nappy-headed ho. There was one that said that the use of "Jigaboo", which the commenter apparently only knew from Do The Right Thing, made the whole radio exchange a grand allusion to Spike Lee, and not a racist insult at all. All of these comments tried to do away with the offensiveness of the whole by placing it "into context" as if there was any context in which two white men talking about a largely black women's basketball team's looks using the terms "nappy-headed ho's" and "Jigaboos vs. Wannabes" might not be offensive.
  8. Let me break it down for you again:
    • "nappy-headed": no, whites don't get to use it. It's insulting: it's too familiar, it's too racist. And no, you don't get to be arbiter of what teh blacks get to say to each other. Buleeve me, if you bothered to read anything that black people write, you'd already know there's a long-standing and lively discussion of this issue. Your input is not needed.
    • "ho's": no, you don't get to say this about any women, black, white, or ignored. "Ho" is short for "whore", which is insulting slang for "prostitute" and an insult commonly used to deride women, in the belief that a woman's chastity is still important. Once again, black rappers may well be using it. Doesn't mean Don Imus gets to. See above. Plus, who says black rappers get to use it with impunity?
    • "jigaboo": also not okay. No, it's not from Spike Lee. It's an old school racist term on par with the "n-word", only never used as much. There is no universe in which it is not offensive.
    • "context": here's the context, folks. The Rutgers women's basketball team was news because they had just lost a championship game. Imus and pal decided it was appropriate to discuss both the Rutgers players' and their opponents' looks, because they are womenz. They pronounced the Rutgers team "rough-looking" (i.e. not good looking) and backed it up by saying they had tatoos and were "nappy-headed ho's" and "jigaboos". Spot the "ism"! This is racist, sexist, and entirely off topic. There is no way you can tweak this context to make it okay.
  9. How long, sweet Jesus, must we sing this song?

(cross-posted at Other Magazine staff blog.)

April 06, 2007

A Fat Rant

Wow. I love this. It applies to so many things, too!

Via Shrub.com.

March 14, 2007

Betrayed By My Mother

Just wanted to share:

I was at a family dinner tonight with my uncle, cousins, their little sub-cousin kids, and my folks. My slightly older cousin was saying how she thought she looked damned good for her age (she does), and I quoted Gloria Steinem on being forty: when an admirer told her she "didn't look forty" she said, "This is what forty looks like."

So my mom steps in and says she had lunch with Gloria Steinem once.

I said, "Had lunch with, or were seated at a table with, along with twenty other people?" It turned out to be the latter. "Did you talk to her?" I asked.

"Of course," Momage says haughtily.

'What was she like?"

"She was very nice. Very outspoken. ... Really, she wasn't very feminist."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, you know, she was normal."

There was more, much more, but my cousins and I were laughing (and I was screeching) too hard for me to remember what all she said. Trust me, it was a world of negative definition.

Mom, I never knew you felt that way!

March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day!

I like to think of this non-holiday as a time to really think about--not women in general, that's too vast and silly--but the women in your life who are really important to you.

Here's mine:

My mother, of course, the first woman in my life, the person I am turning into (ack!) and who is turning into me (the ornery old coot is gettin' rebellious.)

My sister, who is far away, and my niece, who is slowly/quickly becoming a woman.

My grandmother, who just lost her husband.

My favorite cousin Aimée, who is having a bad month.

My cousin Abby, who is moving soon.

My cousin-in-law, Heather, who is having her third!

Former friends who are also far away, but who have taught me what long-term love and loyalty and selflessness are--and sometimes when you need to stop being selfless and go lick your wounds.

Current friends who have been on my mind lately for one reason or another (in no particular order): Sam (who just broke her knee), Patty (who just left her job), Praba, Tempest, Wendy, Shailja (in permanent transition), Sita, Lauren (who just sold her first book), Sabina, Jean, Robynn, Liz, Charlie (who kicks ass), Nisi, ... and the ones I haven't thought of this week but will think of again soon.

My idols, role models, and mentors: George Eliot, Octavia Butler, Yuri Kochiyama, Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula Le Guin, Shelley Jackson, Lil, Laura Brun, Nancy Hom ... such a short list. Why?

And all of my new colleagues at Women's Initiative for Self Employment, my new job, where mostly women (and some kick-ass men) help other women become self-sufficient. You have never seen such a well-organized, effective group in your life. Seriously.

Think about the important women in your life, then give one a call.

And then donate some money in honor of an important woman in your life:

Women's Initiative for Self Employment

Maitri

A Room of Her Own Foundation

February 05, 2007

Wherein I Am Again Appalled

Okay, I'm happily, merrily, writing this on my brand spankin' neue wireless internet service. Yes.

However, I'm ever so slightly disturbed by the fact that the nice, entirely American young man who helped me set up over the phone, called me "Mrs. Light", and then, when I said, "That's 'Ms.'!" came back with "Miss?"

I had to repeat it three times and spell it for him. He'd never heard of it. What the fuck?

Then I called back later with another question and got another nice young man who called me "Miss Light". I let it go.

But seriously, what the fuck?

I got into a shouting match last summer with an Arab immigrant motel manager who insisted on calling me "Miss" and then thought that I was correcting his English when I told him to use "Ms." He'd never heard of it. What. The. Fuck.

At Safeway, where I use my club card, I am invariably thanked as "Miss Light" by everyone, furriner and Amerkin. What the hell is going on? Did I get off at the wrong dimension the last time I woke up from a dream? Has "Ms." not been standard for all business practice for, like, twenty-five years? When did we start rolling back?

And dude, let me remind you, I'm in San Francisco.

What the hell is going on?

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