I don’t often write about events the United States of America. This is a conscious choice. It’s too easy to slip into a completely US-centric worldview. I rarely feel a pressing urge to add my point of view to the endless, echoing din of thinkpieces and hot takes. My own small country, despite its relative insignificance on the international stage, has its own host of social and economic problem that could use my time and energy. The USA is not the centre of the universe, even though it sometimes feels that way.
But sometimes something happens and you have to mark it, even if you have nothing new to say.
Sometimes you just have to howl.
2. To be clear
I’m not here to discuss the various merits and/or failings of Clinton and Trump. I’m not interested in Clinton’s emails or her lack of charisma and all the ways she wasn’t perfect enough to secure a precarious victory. I’m not going to write a lament for an alternate timeline in which Sanders trounced Trump. I’m certainly not here to rehash every single racist, sexist, selfish, underhand, outrageous thing that Donald Trump has done or said in his career, because you’ve heard it all before and you’ve already made up your mind. And because I’m fucking tired, and anyway, it’s over. She lost and Donald Trump is President-Elect.
3. The world turned upside down
I’ve been drowning in the deluge of opinion pieces, each pundit scrabbling around for a narrative that answers the terrible question: How could this happen? It was misogyny! It was racism! It was a white working class revolt! The last gasp of neoliberalism! The end of the establishment! Except the establishment is now a woman who worked too hard to get what she wanted and the saviour of the working class is a billionaire bully who only cares about the working class as long as they’re screaming his name in adulation and baying for the blood of his opponents.
I don’t have coherent opinion. I don’t have a pithy analysis or satisfying explanation for what the fuck is going on. Sorry. And because of that, I almost decided not to write anything.
But you know what? Neat narratives about why things happen the way they do are part of the problem. Things are too fractured for neatness, too cracked for coherence. All I can offer is shards.Read More »
“There are a lot of readers who pride themselves on not paying attention to the identities of their favorite writers. […] How many books by writers of color do you think you’ll find on their bookshelves? I’d lay odds that if there are any at all, they will be far outnumbered by the books by white authors. Not necessarily because those readers are deliberately choosing mostly white/male authors. They don’t have to. The status quo does it for them.”
#ReadWomen2014 is about challenging that status quo. At some point last year, I realised that despite the fact that I am a self-professed feminist nerd, my bookshelf is both on high on testosterone and blindingly white. I am not going to belch statistics about diversity in literature at you, because you can get them all here and that is not what this post is about. This post is about putting my money where my literary feminist mouth is. Spurred on by the launch of the Read Women campaign, I decided to do exactly that for 2014. Read women and only women for one full year.
Anyone who reads this blog or who has talked to me for more than five seconds knows how I feel about stories. I don’t think stories are simply a way of labeling and processing the world around us. I believe they shape the world around us, that they are the world both around us and within us. Narratives gain a foothold in our collective consciousness and gradually become a reality. Stories are how we explain ourselves to ourselves. And when it’s white men doing all the explaining, you end up with a story of a world where white men are the most important, the most influential, the most powerful, the most heroic, and anyone who is not white or male has trouble getting a word in edgeways.
I think studying English Literature (as I did) exacerbates the tendency to privilege the white male literary canon, especially if you are not (as I was not) a feminist. When you have five fat novels to read every week and you know there is a vanishingly small chance of getting through even half of them, you start prioritizing. And for some totally mysterious reason (*coughpatriarchy*), when it comes down to the wire, the indispensable texts, the keys to understanding the whole era/genre – and the ones that you absolutely must finish if you’re going to survive your next seminar or your end-of-term exams – those books always tend to be written by men. After four years, this hierarchy of importance and this vision of the canon became deeply ingrained in my ideas about what I should be reading.
I remember clearly the moment where I stopped thinking about what I should be reading, and started reading for pleasure again. It was August 2010, the summer after I graduated. I had been hawking around a cheap paperback copy of On The Road by Jack Keroauc, because what better book for a long lazy summer of freedom than a seminal travel novel from one of the greats of the Beat Generation? I’d had it in my rucksack for nearly three months, and it was dog-eared and stained, but I was still only around three-quarters of the way through. Every time I had an opportunity to sit down and read it, I would find something else to occupy my time. However, this day was a sunny day and I wandered out into the garden of my parents’ house with a blanket and a glass of cranberry juice and On The Road tucked under my arm, grimly determined to finish the damn thing.
Hi pals! It’s been a while since I’ve updated, because things were very crazy at work, and then I was on holidays, and then I had roughly seven draft posts kind of halfway ready to go and just got paralysed and overwhelmed and decided I needed to lie down because blogging that’s just how it goes. Anyway. Here are some recent and not-so-recent articles I found equally entertaining and enlightening in the past month!
Patriarchy in action: the New York Times rewrites history Reclusive Leftist neatly busts open the myth that women have never invented anything or contributed to scientific advancement, then smashes it with a sledgehammar and throws the shards of patriarchal bullshit into the roaring furnace of common fucking sense.
Georgia Salpa, Catholic Guilt and Ireland’s Weird Misogyny The awesome Roisin Kiberd examines Ireland’s specific brand of “kitsch misogyny” as it manifests in Irish Models (not to be confused with models who happen to be Irish) “who occupy an uneasy cultural space between nation’s sweethearts and national joke.”
No one is paying for my birth control but me A lot of people in the US are wringing their hands over employers having to “pay for birth control” for their slutty slutty female employees. That is to say, a lot of people in the US don’t seem to understand how their own incredibly fucked up health insurance system works.
All lead actors in The Gods of Egypt will be white because of course they will. But it doesn’t matter! Because race doesn’t matter! As long as all the main characters are white! This article is also a pretty good rundown of some of the more egregious cases of whitewashing in Hollywood’s recent history.
Manfeels Park is a webcomic that finds comments from real “hurt and confused men with Very Important Things To Explain”… and turns them into conversations between Jane Austen characters. And why yes, it is my new favourite thing on the Internet ever, in case you had to ask.
How to be PoliteAn entertaining and thoughtful personal essay on the “stubborn power of politeness”. As someone who is usually quite polite, but occasionally not polite AT ALL – and as a woman, which means my bog-standard politeness is often interpreted as a) a sign that I am a doormat or b) an invitation to touch my leg – it gave me a lot to think about.
In other news, here’s a small sample of the some of the Internet I have been enjoying this week!
Dissent Unheard Of – Ashe Dryden unpacks some of the techniques typically used to silence people who speak up to promote and protect diversity. Focused on the tech sector, but applicable pretty much anywhere.
Why we should give free money to everyone – Turns out the best way to spend money on the poor might be to give money to the poor. Unconvinced? Read this great article by Rutger Bregman of Decorrespondent about consistent success of basic income experiments.
My Breakup with Exercise – This personal account from Leah of Talkin’ Reckless is a really good reminder that everything in moderation – including exercise – is the best way to live a sustainable healthy and happy life.
We’re not here for your inspiration – A reminder from Stella Young that disabled people don’t exist to put your problems in perspective, nor to illustrate your cloying motivational posters. Most of them are just trying to get through the day, just like their able-bodied counterparts, and no matter what Scott Hamilton says, they don’t owe you a good attitude.
These Female “Privileges” Suck – It’s no secret that I’m a fan of a good takedown, and this one from Sophieologie is a particularly satisfying annihilation of Thought Catalog’s latest puerile listicle. Sidenote: does anyone else feel sad that the once-useful concept of privilege is now deployed solely for the purpose of mudslinging, by people who have no idea what it actually means?
Your Map is Racist – Q. When is a map racist? A. When Greenland is as big as Africa and the equator has mysteriously shifted downwards so we can see more of Europe.
On Colbert and White Racial Satire: We Don’t Need It – In the wake of the #CancelColbert tweetstorm, Mia McKenzie cuts through the bullshit (as usual) and asks: what exactly white racial satire is doing for people of colour, and is it really more helpful than harmful?
RELAXING: AN INTENSIVE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE – “You probably think of relaxation as an unattainable dream, if not just a myth altogether. Adhere to this guide with precision and get ready to experience the most rigorous relaxation of your life!”
“The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion” – A fascinating series of accounts from physicians and counselors who have provided abortions to anti-choice women; in some cases, women who turned up to picket the clinic the day after the procedure.
OK, Internet. New Game of Thrones just started, and I know we’re all very excited. Before the deluge of internet commentary really begins, I think this is an appropriate moment to have a chat about the relationship between fiction and history, and more specifically the relationship between the fantasy genre and the specific periods of Euro-centric history from which it tends to borrow heavily. And specifically, to answer the question: what do we mean by historical accuracy?
It’s a tale as old as the Internet. Someone writes an article about a book/film/game/ interpretative shadow-puppet musical from the fantasy genre. Some members of the audience say, “Hey, I really like this thing, but I would like it more if the women were not being sexually assaulted quite so constantly and the brown people were not costumed entirely in Generic Tribal Chic.” Then, without fail, a deeply indignant nerd type will pop his head over the parapet of the comment box and let forth his ancient war cry: “BUT HISTOOOOOOORY THEREFORE YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVAAAAAALID!!!”
It may seem like I’m overstating for effect here, but this exact exchange just happened on a recent post from Media Diversified. Shane Thomas made some excellent (and, at this stage, well-worn) points about Game of Thrones and its race problems. This attracted the attention of one intrepid commenter, who didn’t bother to read the whole post but nonetheless left a long comment – equal parts condescending and clueless – which boiled down to, “The Mongols existed at some point, therefore Game of Thrones can’t be racist.” In his response, Thomas acknowledges that he is aware that history is indeed a thing, but the fact that history is extremely racist does not give a modern TV show set in a fictional world a free pass to also be racist.
Joss Whedon spoke about feminism at a benefit event for an organisation called Equality Now. More accurately, Joss Whedon spoke about the word “feminist”, because this incoherent self-satisfied trainwreck of a speech completely and utterly failed to engage with the substance of feminism for most of its fourteen minute duration.
Quite a few people sent me this video. Most of them were like, “Look! Yay! A famous nerdy dude said some stuff about feminism!” Sorry friends, but that literally could not have been further from my reaction. Jezebel called it perfect (lol and also facepalm). Lots of feminist organisations I follow on Facebook posted it with approving commentary. (Including The Y Factor, who appear to have deleted it since I left a mild comment suggesting it was a crock of shit. Bad form, Y Factor. If you thought it was good, own it and explain why.)
It’s possible that I would have been more on board with Whedon’s speech if I could actually follow it. He starts off describing – in indulgent syllable-by-syllable detail – how “feminist” as a word just does not do it for him personally. Then he changes track and for a while seems to be equating the word “feminist” to the word “racist”, even though those words have nothing in common besides the dreaded “-ist” at the end. After that, he abandons “feminist” altogether and suggests that we need an equivalent word to “racist” for when we’re talking about gender discrimination. Those words already exist, I hear you cry? Sexist? Misogynist? Nah, those words don’t do it for Whedon either because some people are resistant to them, but mainly because he’s too busy trying to introduce his new word which he came up with ALL BY HIMSELF, GUYS. Guess what it is? Wait until you hear this genius stroke! Genderist! People who discriminate based on gender can be called “genderist”! Inspired! And this will achieve… what exactly? I have no clue, and neither does Whedon by the sounds of things, but he really wants everyone to start using it right away.
This post is long, so if you’d prefer, you can just look at the accompanying diagram, which is probably the most succinct transmission of my thoughts on any subject ever to date. But if you want more, there is more.
First off, apologies for my long and undoubtedly keenly felt absence. In the last month, I have been busy completing a Masters, moving country again, starting a new job, finding somewhere to live and trying to revive my French. Many of these activities necessitated extended periods of being away from my beloved Internet.
BUT I AM BACK NOW. Here is a list of links from the past few weeks. Above, watch Lily Myers use beautiful words to express some sad things about the way women are socialised to apologise for taking up both physical and intellectual space.
This is a heavy link farm. There’s been a lot of crappy stuff in the news, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and I have not had much time for Feminism Lite recently. Most of this is link farm is articles and most of them are angry and important or both. Emphasis on the important.
NIRBHAYA: Human Rights Theatre (Kickstater, content note for graphic theatrical depictions of rape) Nirbhaya means “fearless one” and it is the pseudonym that the press gave to Delhi student Jyoti Singh Pandey, the young woman who was violently raped on a bus and subsequently died of her wounds last December. It “tackles the issue of sexual violence by exploring the true stories of sexual violence endured by each of the performers who use Jyoti’s death as a catalyst to break their silence.” It won multiple awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Watching the trailer made me go cold and start shivering. The company now want to take the show on tour in India. Theatre can change things and this is important. If you can afford to throw some money their way to help achieve this goal, you definitely should.
Neo-liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism (video) This lecture is an hour long, but it’s essential viewing for anyone who takes their feminism seriously. Professor Gail Dines on how modern feminism has lost its way by focusing on “the individual rights of a small group of elite white women” instead of functioning as vehicle for radical social change. She absolutely annihilates I-choose-my-choice individualist feminism; the idea of feminism as a personal philosophy that’s different for every woman, a customisable set of beliefs that can be altered and decorated just like fun hat! It’s all grounded in historical context, economics, critical and political theory and… seriously, just go watch the whole thing.
Rebranding Feminism(article) The ever excellent Laurie Penny explains why the idea of “rebranding” feminism is and always will be a massive crock of shit, especially when the charge is being led by a “fashion and beauty magazine, not a historically notable manual for gender revolution.”
African women blazing feminist trails (article) Did you know women form the majority in the parliament of Rwanda? Did you know Malawi, Liberia and Senegal all have female heads of state? Because I sure as hell didn’t. Minna Salami asks why these achievements have been met with loud silence from western feminists and why we aren’t taking more cues from the African women who have actually made real progress in the arena of political equality.
I Am So Very Tired (article) – For any woman, nerd or otherwise, who is sick and tired of having to state her case for being allowed to exist in traditional male-dominated spaces without being harassed or objectified, over and over again, online and offline, patiently wading through the same fucking prosaic, flawed and harmful arguments from gender essentialists, harassment defenders and fucking devil’s advocates, please have this cathartic rant from Foz Meadows. I love all of it, but especially this: “I am tired of assholes who think that playing Devil’s advocate about an issue alien to their experience but of deep personal significance to their interlocutor makes them both intellectually superior and more rationally objective on the specious basis that being dispassionate is the same as being right (because if they can stay calm while savagely kicking your open wound, then clearly, you have no excuse for screaming)”
And finally, last week Emily Yoffe (of the Slate’s Dear Prudence) wrote a long article imaginatively entitled “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” which is, shock horror, about how young ladies should never have more than two drinks – and certainly no shots! – if they don’t want to be raped by horny college boys. On the one hand, snore, because there is literally nothing in the entire article that has not been addressed, deconstructed and roundly and rigorously critiqued by feminists, in multiple forums, from multiple backgrounds, approximately one million thousand times. On the other, FUCK SAKE, because Yoffe has an extremely popular advice column, which implies that people actually take her views on this shit seriously. So yes, here are the two best takedowns of her harmful victim-blaming rape apologia.
College Men: Stop Getting Drunk(article) The litmus test of sexist bullshit: do the same standards and rules apply to men? As Anna Friedman effectively illustrates, it’s drunk men doing all the raping, so why is it the ladies who have reign in their partying and forego tequila shots?
And on that note, I am going to lie down and watch some cartoons. Something resembling a regular blogging schedule should resume now that I have an apartment with an internet connection and a reliable source of tea.