An Island Never Cries: The Enlightenment, Feminism and Loneliness

I’ve been mulling over this idea for a while now, ever since a coworker posted an article about being a “feminist killjoy” (guilty!) and my general sense of consternation and disappointment in feminist communities. In the past I’ve jokingly said I can focus on more than one thing wrong with sexism at once, but lately I’ve been feeling stretched out in too many directions, wondering where all the disconnects came from and what happened to genuine community.

There are many good reasons for a lack of solidarity and community within feminism.  Trans women are understandably leery of the movement since TERFs poisoned the well with their dangerous rhetoric.  Women of colour have often been excluded from, if not experienced downright hostility by, white feminism.  (See the #solidarityisforwhitewomen tweets that @karnythia got rolling late this summer.)  To many women, feminism has always been synonymous with white, middle class cis women.

I can’t remember a time where I didn’t personally identify as feminist.  It’s possible part of it stemmed from the fact that I was (and still am) a contrary asshole, and I was surrounded by sexism, so rebelling against that became important to me.  A lot of my fledgling feelings about women’s rights were crystallized through stuff like volunteering with Scarleteen in my young adult life.

But then in college, I remember picking up a feminist theology book, either edited or written by Mary Daly, and reading it in the tub one night after class.  Before the water had even stopped steaming, I had to put it down, confused.  Not only did it seem intellectually dishonest – reading aspects of modern feminism back into first century Palestine to the point of speculating the magi visiting baby Jesus might have actually been witches – but it was patently wrong in its examinations of gender and sexuality.  (Mary Daly was quite well known for her vicious transphobia, as I later learned.)  I didn’t like the idea of that being what people thought of when I said I was a feminist, and a theologian.  Was Jesus a feminist? No! Would he be a feminist, if he lived today? Probably (or something similar.)  For me, believing and studying the gospel made me feel that social justice is the only acceptable solution; not that social justice should be read backwards in order to rearrange the gospel to suit us.

I began to read more widely and found some really excellent stuff (Jess (Yee) Danforth’s Feminism for Real, for example, and Lauren Chief Elk, who’s currently getting well-deserved accolades for her letter to Eve Ensler). I also found a lot of feminist stuff that made me deeply uncomfortable – male feminist “allies” getting far more air time than the women who said it better before them; a trend towards making feminism fun, sexy and palatable; feminist narratives around choice that implied that… well, Lisa Simpson says it pretty good:

No, no, I was talking about “As a feminist, virtually anything a woman does is empowering.”

Now, I’m pretty sure that the line in the Simpsons is meant to be a rib at exactly that kind of thinking.  Lisa Simpson, while totally amazing, is also only eight years old and she’s a great avatar therefore for subtly jabbing at misguided ideals.  My biggest and most growing uncertainty about my role within feminism as a community lately has been centred mostly around issues of choice and individualism.

It’s important to remember that, historically speaking, concepts of individuality are relatively young.  The Enlightenment was only a few hundred years ago, after all.  It hasn’t been all bad; concepts of individual human rights isn’t something I’m ready to chuck out.  For certain issues – like reproductive choice – the individual is the only person that matters. That’s the kind of thing, in my mind, “your freedom to do whatever you want ends where my body begins” as an ideal was meant for.

Now, forgive me, because this part is ticklish.  But I’m finding myself more and more concerned with certain aspects of feminism where the individual choice is held paramount and therefore, because the individual is a feminist, the choices are therefore also feminist.

Last year, I had the honour of attending the Faculty of Celebrity Studies hosted by Elaine Lui. You can read the whole experience on my post about it, but a lot of the discourse from the audience was about how they had chosen to become stay at home moms, and how mean feminists were for criticizing their choices, and blah blah blah until I got all Mount St Helen and caused a scene.

Look, it should be obvious: can you be a stay at home mom, and a feminist? YES.  Is being a stay at home mom a feminist choice? Well, for one – how do you define what a feminist choice is?  But more importantly, is it even a choice, when it’s typically more practical for a two-income family that a woman stay at home because she earns less? Or that even today, we’re still primarily bombarded with messages of motherhood being the ultimate fulfilment of being a woman?  (Having done some Christmas shopping for my niece recently, with massive difficulties in even finding gifts that weren’t kitchen or baby-doll related, I’d argue it’s even worse than when I was young!)

Or take a recent post at popular blog Shakesville, there’s a post against this article on high heels (which is admittedly, terrible in equating high heels to self-injury, and issues of consent, which redlightpolitics addresses in her storify on white feminists and consent.) This comes on the, pardon the expression, heels of the selfie conflict sparked by Jezebel, which created interesting dialogue about combating male gaze and controlling the photographic narrative.

But the argument that heels are an important feminist decision because they allow women to feel sexy and/or professional, particularly fat women, doesn’t sit right with me either.  Can feminists wear heels? Yeah, for sure.  Is it a way of spitting in the eye of the patriarchy? I don’t know.  I don’t think so.

There shouldn’t be an argument that long-term use of heels, particularly high ones, or heels with narrow toes, do damage to your feet.  There’s no question I’ve seen some seriously hyperbolic rhetoric out there comparing high heels to … idk, burkas and FGM.  That’s bullshit.  Spinning “to wear heels or not to wear heels” as an issue of feminist choice feels bad to me, on a few levels.  One, it feels like we’re gilding the cage.  Heels are necessary, it can be argued, to be seen as professional in the office. Yes. Similar to office dress code rules about cleavage, shaved legs, etc., if you don’t want to be the centre of a shitstorm, you suck it up and follow the code. I don’t feel comfortable spinning that damned if you do, damned if you don’t choice as a feminist act.  We should openly acknowledge it as one of the series of concessions we make in our day to day lives in order to not be in combat 24/7.

I also want to acknowledge that for trans woman, this issue is wrapped up in much more troubling and dangerous narratives about femininity, passing and safety, and I want to be clear that I would never question any woman’s choice about clothing.  Criticizing the practice, and the social history surrounding it is necessary to breaking down the restrictions, though.

There’s been a backlash lately against ironic racism, or ironic sexism, particularly in the comedy world.  If you’re a member of the privileged class, making jokes that sound exactly like racism or sexism, and copping out of it by saying “But I’m not ACTUALLY a racist” is rightly mocked or called out.  Whatever someone’s personal intent is, the audience at large can’t judge it’s truthfulness; only the surface.  Similarly, when a woman wears heels or chooses to stay at home with her kids, there’s no way of knowing at first whether this is a conspicuous choice, or just going with the flow because that’s how life is, or a combination of both.

This does not look like aspic. Some 50s housewife!

This does not look like aspic. Some 50s housewife!

And so on, with sex positivity (sorry, I don’t find vagina-centred feminism very positive, or inclusive, Vagina Monologues)(Eve Ensler’s on everyone’s shit list today!), shaving/waxing/plucking, etc. etc.

Remember the Enlightenment, and me cursing it’s name? (Oh, I haven’t yet? Fuck you, Enlightenment. Eat a butt John Stuart Mill) Here’s where it’s getting me into deep shit. Criticizing the practices has become criticizing the individuals who have made that choice.  Because you’re implying they’re too stupid to not know the societal constraints (They’re not, and I’m not).  Or that you think someone can’t genuinely derive enjoyment from painting their nails or cleaning their house (patently untrue, though I will bemusedly welcome house-cleaning lovers to enjoy my poor cluttered basement if they’re bored).

It’s almost as if the meaning of “the personal is political” has been turned on its head to indicate that personal choices – no matter what they might be – are important political statements.  This is only true if the important political people are recognizing that those personal choices are subversive (and again, in some cases, like abortion, they are!). But when your subversive choices look identical to patriarchal buy-in, then what? The argument then becomes “Well, why aren’t you fighting the patriarchy instead of other feminists?”

The move towards fun sexy feminism has alarmed me in a number of ways. One, we end up with a lot of gross male allies who realize that saying they’re feminist gets them laid. For another, we end up with vitally important concepts like consent being boiled down to “because it gets you laid (and also not charged with rape)”.  Tied into that last link, we also get a bunch of corporate buy-in from Pantene and Dove marketing their beauty care products to women with mildly feminist messages or ideas, which feels alarmingly like point one, only with companies.  Capitalism is anti-thesis to feminism. Shouldn’t we be skeptical?

The problem with skepticism is its lonely.  The moment where you realize you’re a feminist killjoy and you lose all your friends is lonely.  The moment where you realize you’re a feminism killjoy and you don’t even really fit into with a lot of feminist spaces is lonely.  How do we build bridges?  How do people participate in feminism when there are many avenues in which its gone that they don’t agree with, when critiques have become personal jabs rather than a plea to think critically? Is this navel-gazing tome of a blog entry just more of the same? Where do you fit?

Happy Thanksgiving, Have some Thoughts on Working Through Gender & Friendship Through Writing

If you want an idea of how fast my brain moves from IDEA to REALITY, I got the inspiration for this post from this one by the lovely Miss Lora, which was written two weeks ago, and I’m only just now sitting down to write my own version.  First of all, read hers though. It’s very good. I’ll wait.

I wholly understand where she’s coming from. I daresay a ton of us women do.  I was helping facilitate a “Find your Feminism” workshop last year, and was struggling to lead our groups discussion after we ran down the assigned questions.  Finally, I asked them all, “How many of you have said before, ‘I prefer to be friends with guys, over girls, because it’s less drama’?  All of them – including me – put their hands up.  Then I asked them, “How many of you had those drama-free friendships end because the guy wanted to be more than friends, or put the moves on you, and made you feel really uncomfortable?”  All of us put our hands up again, and we moved the discussion forward from there.

What’s wild is we all had the exact same experiences and, until someone wiser than us pointed it out, never made the connection between the two beliefs.  What’s even wilder is that even after leading that workshop last year, and asking those two questions, and drawing a link between them, I didn’t draw the connection between those experiences and how Grace’s main relationships play out in Paucity (and later, in the unnamed sequel).

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Paucity opens with Grace finding the dead body of one of her neighbourhood friends in the mines they both work in.  She’s upset, but it seems mostly like she’s mad that they survived the system for so long, and having Rose die so close to retirement freedom is just an extra kick to the gut. Grace’s acknowledged best friend is David, though.  He’s the one who tries to follow the guards to Rose’s burial spot so they can leave flowers there, he’s the one who finds out they plan to execute Grace. He’s the one who’s with her when she finds the thin spot in the worlds that brings them both to Uberrime. He puts up with her obsession with old movies, and her close relationship with her parents, and her sarcasm.

But –

He’s also the first one to put down any idea she has in this new world they find themselves in.  He’s the one who gets mad when she has conversations with their captors.  He’s the one who takes out his frustrations on Grace, rather than on the people he’s really mad at.  He’s the one that makes jokes or overtures that are just slightly too sexual.  And he’s the one that runs away when Grace chooses her own path over being with him.

In a post titled, “Describe your Novel in One Sentence”, I ended up writing, “After surviving a parallel universe, a deadly magical disease, enslavement and a bloody civil war, Grace realises her best friend, David, is kind of a dick.”

And that’s really what it’s about, in the end.  Lora’s post made me realize that the driving force/internal conflict for Grace isn’t her desire to overthrow the work camps she slaved in, and Rose died in; it’s not to free herself from the enslavement she finds herself in; it’s not even really to help overthrow the government of Uberrime – it’s her attempt to outrun and redeem herself from the fact that her real best friend died alone, and it took all these above things for her to realize what she had in her friendship with Rose that she lost when Rose died.

I’m lucky in a lot of ways, most especially because I don’t live in a laissez-faire dystopian environmental wasteland, or have to cope with a destructive new magical talent.  But I’m also lucky that all the women I’ve been friends with growing up are still around. I can still message them on Facebook and say, “Hey, being friends with you has been more valuable than I can say, so thanks.” I might be driven by my failure to acknowledge how important female friendships have been to me to say, write this blog post, or this novel, but it’s not a permanent, unfixable failure goading me.

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Oh, and it’s a nice chance to reverse the whole “the best friend was the perfect guy ALL ALONG” storyline. (And yes, I know that both Dawson’s Creek & Hunger Games only avoid this by having some other guy be the perfect guy.)  Having David slowly turn into a weird goose-man is only second in satisfying narrative revenge to Grace friendzoning him over and over again, until

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Of course, I’m the first one to say that “authorial intent means very little in the end product” and that’s true. But a lot of Paucity was created as a result of my frustrations with certain stand-bys in genre storytelling – the awkward quest love triangle, the medieval stasis magical country, the subjugation of women as a requirement for “authentic” fantasy – that it was easy to forget that beneath all that are my real-life experiences and revelations, and not just my literary ones.

PS: I’m starting on Paucity’s sequel this Nano, so I’m willing to take suggestions for a title. The currently operating one is Plenty because I’m an uncreative dork.

For They Were Afraid

I don’t normally make a habit of blogging in the middle of the night, but sometimes an idea grabs you in its teeth and won’t let go until you’ve done something about it. In this case, it’s my relationship to the women of the passion narratives of the gospels.

I can’t, and won’t, make the intellectually fallacious arguments that the bible is in any way feminist or progressive.  It isn’t, and I find most feminist theology tedious and hard to digest.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the stories we do get of women in the bible – particularly the new testament – don’t grab me in a really visceral way. They do – possibly precisely because there is nothing intrinsically feminist about their stories, but rather they mirror my continued struggles with sexism today. In each of the passion stories (save one), despite large theological differences, there is one common thread: the women were the first to know, and the men did not trust them.

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Martha and Mary Magdalene – Carvaggio

Mark 16:

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

In Mark’s version (the earliest attested gospel), three women go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint the body: Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Salome.  When they find the tomb empty and hear the astonishing words of the angel, they flee. They’re the first to hear of the resurrected Christ, and yet say nothing to anyone.  These are the last words of Mark’s gospel. Obviously, at some point, someone must have cracked, or otherwise Mark’s gospel wouldn’t have been written. All the same, I understand exactly why it was written this way.  How often do women, armed with a powerful truth, keep silent because of fear? I know I’ve done it. I’ve probably done it this week. Fear of being laughed at, fear of being ignored, fear of being disbelieved, fear of silencing, often in very permanent ways. 

Mark has always been my favourite gospel to read, probably because it’s very human. The women at the end have shouldered a heavy burden of grief – they know it, and they’re getting on with their lives, even if it means handling the body of a dear friend, because someone has to do it. They’re not hiding in a locked room somewhere, like Jesus’ male disciples. 

You go on, because you must. I can’t stop myself from seeing misogyny anymore than I can stop myself from blinking. It’s a bad bargain, because when fear stops up your throat and locks your tongue, the truth festers inside until you can’t help but scream it or perish. If you manage to say out loud, “That’s a sexist thing to say,” or “That attitude is hurtful to women,” or even just a flabbergasted, “You fucker, why would you do something like that?” you’re met with resistance. Anger. Fear. Silencing. Worse, you’re met with nothing. No acknowledgment whatsoever that you’ve done anything other than bow your head and go on. Because you must.

Luke 24:

Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

“We know it’s true because a man did it.” Sometimes, as a feminist, you’re so grateful that someone put it into words other men will listen to, you’re willing to forgo the frustration that countless women have attested to it already. Stay silent, because you’re afraid.  Speak up, and they don’t believe you. In the game of he said, she said, he prevails. 

Though Matthew and Luke stem from the same sources (Mark and an unwritten, theorized Q gospel), their passion narratives differ. Matthew’s gospel has a punchier, action-movie feel to it. An angel appears to the women, telling them to tell the others that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Why, we don’t know, because Jesus himself immediately appears to them, and says the exact same thing. (A big budget picture, this one.) 

The eleven do go to Galilee, where Jesus meets them, as he said, but the consistent flow is lacking. For one, there’s an anti-semetic little interlude where the high priests and elders bribe the soldiery to tell everyone the disciples stole Jesus body “(a)nd this story is still told among the Jews to this day.” Which is darkly funny when you consider that all the passion narratives save this one are about how you can’t believe everything you hear. So while Matthew’s gospel makes no mention one way or another of whether the disciples when to Galilee because they believed the women’s story, or they went because they had nothing to lose, it’s easy to see why the author wanted to avoid conflating the silly, non-Christian Jews who believe any old lie they’re told with the followers of Jesus who believe in the resurrection. From a narrative standpoint, the omission makes sense. From a comparative reading standpoint, it stands out like a sore thumb. It’s entirely possible the disciples just ended up in Galilee independently of anything the women might have said – we don’t know. 

I can’t put my finger on why this version unsettles me. Erasure, perhaps. Every other passion narrative takes such pains to mention, however briefly, the women’s actions and reactions to the empty tomb, that this one rings extra hollow. It’s possible I just really hate Matthew’s gospel. (I do.) Maybe the author’s favourite drum to bang was the rather infamous anti-semitism (this is also the gospel that has the Jewish people claim the blood of Jesus on their heads), it super-ceded the cultural norm of ignoring and erasing women. Not a terribly comforting thought.

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Mary Magdalene at the Tomb (I was unable to find information on the artist of this one. If you know, please tell me!)

John 20:

So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.

 

Peter is a dope, it is known. But similar to the story in Luke, he has to see what Mary said to believe it. And all he really knows is the body is gone. Later:

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 

(Author of John, don’t think I don’t see you reusing Matthew’s wording about the Jews.) Basically, it’s like the author couldn’t decide which to use: Luke’s story where the women are not believed until the men see it for themselves, or Matthew’s where the women ostensibly tell the disciples something, but Jesus takes it into his own hands and appears to them just to make super sure they know it’s true. 

Here’s the craziest thing about all these, and why these stories are keeping me up tonight: this is about someone LITERALLY COMING BACK FROM THE DEAD. The women did not speak because they were afraid, or they were not believed because their story was so flipping crazy-sounding. That’s shitty, in and of itself, but not unusual. But Jesus appears to the men, and they believe and speak in tongues and hug snakes and all sorts of cool things I am given to understand happens after the resurrection.

For us – for me, anyway – we can speak openly about sexism. We can give examples, name facts and statistics, tell our stories. Violence against women can literally happen in front of people – some of the things i have experienced were not without witnesses. It’s not a once in a lifetime occurrence. It happens all the time, in public and in private. Everyone can and should be able to see it, at least once in a while.

And yet.

Somehow, the thought that there still remains violence against women, slurs and sexual harrassment, and disbelief in competence, and wage gaps, and the feminization of poverty, and continued internalization of misogyny BY women is more incredible than someone coming back from the dead is mindblowing. People, good people as well as terrible ones, think this.  It keeps me awake at night.

They did not tell anyone, for they were afraid.  God help me, I’m afraid. I’m afraid to speak up, and I’m afraid to remain silent. 

 

I Graduated from the Faculty of Celebrity Studies

Last night I had a dream that I lived in a world where gossip was a felony crime, and being caught with gossip rags or thinking about celebrities was a dangerous act of rebellion. My first thought was, “Wow, what a shitty world to live in.” My second thought, close on its heels was, “Oops, I never did write that post about going to Elaine’s lecture.”

A few years ago, a good friend of mine introduced me to Lainey Gossip. “It’s different,” she said. “Just read.” Indeed, without Belen’s timely intervention and shameless wielding of “I’m coming from really far away just to see you!” we might have not even gotten an invitation to the Faculty of Celebrity Studies.

Since we’re both camera shy dorks, have a representative graphic of the evening:

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Belen’s the one in the teal dress with the curly brown hair. i’m the one in the lighter teal dress with the shorter brown hair.

FCS was held in London (ON, not UK), at my alma mater UWO. Compared to the other stops on the tour (Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax), London was a small and strange detour – save the fact it was also Lainey’s old college. So, under the stern and paternalistic eyes of the presidents, Lainey presented her lecture & discussion on elements of what it means to gossip, images of celebrity motherhood, gender biases in advertising and expectations of privacy in a social media world. Don’t be fooled – this wasn’t a two-and-a-half hour session on who’s dating who, where and the literal ins-and-outs – Lainey is canny and pointed, and doesn’t hesitate to use her years of experience in the celebrity studies world to call people’s assumptions into question.

On privacy: What right do we have to expect it, especially when we’re constantly updating our Facebooks or our Twitter accounts? When we use those mediums to further other agendas? (For example, the tweet I’ll make about this post when I’m done.) Most of all, why do we do it? For one student, it was simple. She has a lifestyle blog. Using Facebook and Twitter, she devises ways to connect with her audience in a seemingly personal manner, so they’ll be intrigued and look at her blog, thus earning her money. Lainey: “So, you believe your lifestyle is aspirational, which is why you share it with the world?” “No, but I think people are interested in the places I eat, or the wines I drink.” It’s conceit, but none of us want to call it that. For me, personally, privacy is a weird duck. I expect it; as a person, I’m entitled to it. But neither am I surprised when my illusion of privacy is broken. I mean, before the internet, I had a little unicorn diary with a rinky-dink gold key and lock, and I don’t even think then I expected my thoughts to remain especially private.  The internet only serves to disseminate that violated privacy far and wide.  It’s not my fault either, for not buying a bigger lock for my diary, or stronger privacy settings on my Facebook account. It’s the fault of the snooper, the boyfriend who shares illicitly gotten sex pictures, the corporations mining social media for consumer data.  Anita Sarkeesian didn’t stop putting herself out there after she was targeted for daring to criticize video games from a feminist standpoint; she just disabled the comments. (Angering tons of men who wanted to call her awful names, which indicates she’s doing the right thing in both cases.)  We don’t need to hound the targeted – we need to make targeting far less valuable than it is.

Celebrity motherhood was another hot topic, leading eventually to what I had to call “the incident” (but I’ll get to that). We went through slideshows of celebrity moms and sometimes dad out and about, just living their lives despite the beleaguering mobs of paparazzi. “Paparazzi aren’t that lucky,” Lainey said, “They’re not just going out for Starbucks and lucking into getting a few shots of Thor holding a baby burrito. They know ahead of time, either because the agents, or the celebs themselves call them.” Jessica Alba hasn’t made a movie in years, yet she remains consistently photographed. Her films aren’t her brand anymore; motherhood is. (Literally.)

Hear that stony grinding sound? That’s me, and Belen, wearing our teeth down to nubs as audience member after audience member praises the mothering lifestyle. On the other hand, they were careful to note that ‘real’ mothers don’t have housekeepers, or nannies, or nurses, like Jessica or Gwyneth.  Thus hoisted by their own petard of choice feminism, the conversation wandered in unusual and ugly circles for about half an hour with regards to motherhood and choice and careers, despite Lainey’s best efforts to herd it back. (“Why do you think they’re so often white?” she desperately asked a group of 40-50 middle class white women.)  Finally, I end up cutting into a woman’s rambling story about how her 4-year-old son loves their law-school babysitter so much, he wants to “take care of her when they’re married.”

“It’s not a choice, not really. How can it be, when we’re raised from birth to supposedly want to mother children and keep house? How can we say, ‘I chose this’, when the media is carefully self-selecting women who are moving away from acting careers, not into scriptwriting or directing but motherhood?” That was the gist of it, I think, drowning as I was in bellinis and confusion. In a way, it was good because when the shouting died down (one woman asked me from across the room, “Do you have children?”), we got to take a five minute break.  A few women spoke to me during the break, and I got a cool celeb head-rush when Duana told me to keep on trucking. But I felt painfully aware of the consequences of a difference kind of privacy – feminist yelling on the internet in the privacy of your home is so much different than doing it in a physical space. To me, the room felt stifling and awkward. Then felt awkward. Belen patted my hand and told me she was proud of me.

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The evening wrapped up with an audience free for all: Is Vin Diesel a dick? (Yes. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth over that one. From like, two of us. Okay, from me and Belen.) Are a bunch of different people gay? (“What is everyone’s obsession with who’s gay?” – Lainey) Was meeting Gwyneth exciting? (Very, even though they couldn’t shake hands because Gwen just had her nails done.)  Is Mariah Carey a diva? (Second-hand story but yes, and brilliant about it.)  My one regret is that the event happened too early for the Star Trek: Into Darkness junkets to really get going because I am dying to pick someone’s brain about John Cho being just plain excellent.

It was probably one of the most interesting lectures I’ve ever attended on Western’s main campus (sorry but I’m an affiliate kid through and through) but I couldn’t help wondering how different the audiences and interactions were in other cities. London is a medium sized town, bursting with some pretty serious issues with racial ghettoization and class privilege.  I was disappointed, though not surprised, how heavily it affected the conversation.  Especially when Elaine states pretty baldly how her experiences shape the ways she interacts with gossip:

“When I’m writing, I quite often infuse celebrity reporting with my own experiences. I see celeb gossip through the prism of my life,” she says. (UWO alumni gazette)

That’s true for all of us; however we interact with the concept of celebrity, we do so through our own lenses. The reason why Elaine’s site is so compelling is that it’s a fresh lens, poignant and sharp and witty, skewering our expectations of gossip and often subtly lampshading or turning the tables on the reader to consider the broader social understandings that we draw from, and corporations and media infuse into, celebrity culture.

Are you a gossip girl? Trash talker? Smuthound? Give us the deets.

Sorry Not Sorry II: I watch Game of Thrones

A Note: A short while after I posted my first Sorry Not Sorry, someone mentioned that they hated that phrase because of how dismissive it sounds, a cousin to “I’m not homophobic *pulls out bullhorn and screams* BUT…” I chose this name partly out of practicality (it’s topical, it’s catchy), but also because for me, it sums up the contradictions in being a queer woman and participating in media culture.  Pretty much everything I consume, whether it’s literature, television or video games, is going to have its problems, some far more than others. However, I like participatory criticism, and given the popularity of some of these works, the criticism has a broader chance to get out there and be heard. Maybe that’s still naivete. But it’s my naivete, at least.

Safe to say, this post will contain spoilers for seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones, and while I’m talking about the show over the book, consider the post as having spoilers for books 1-5 as well.

Sansa and Shae

Ready?

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You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry (But you don’t seem to like when I’m polite, either)

There have been a lot of reasons to be angry this week. Truly, legitimately angry.  Most prominent would be the Stuebenville verdict and the backlash Jane Doe has faced. (And her compassionate response to everything continues to be an incredible inspiration to me.)

Or how about Adria Richards, who tweeted a request for PyCon employees to deal with some con-goers making sexual jokes. She did it via twitter in order to not disrupt the on-going presentation, and tweeted a picture IDing the perpetrators.  As you can see, it was handled! Excellent. However…not only is PyCon in the midst of changing their code of conduct after the fact to avoid similar firestorms, but Adria also lost her job (as did one of the men making the jokes) over the incident after internet heroes started ddosing her company’s website, not to mention the ubiquitous threats and slurs.

Or the release of Anita Sarkeesian’s first video in her Tropes versus Women project, which is wholly (almost to the point of blandness) the bare bones of feminism 101, and still received and continues to receive a shitstorm of threats, not to mention just plain absurd accusations of being a Fake Gamer Girl.

Right, so here’s the thing.

I do not, as a matter of course, wake up angry. When I got married, more than one person signed off their cards with, “never go to bed angry” and I try to hold to that. (I guess they meant towards my husband and not existentially, but eh, what’re you gonna do?) I do not even engage in people saying things I disagree with angry.

But I sure do get angry fast when my (to my mind) relatively mild disagreement becomes phrased as “too angry” or “an attack” or, my personal favourites “irrational and/or hysterical”.  Nothing in my entire experience prepared me for how easily people will call you angry – and then suddenly, other people see it too! Whatever the topic of conversation was, it falls to the wayside in the wake of a discussion on whether or not I was angry, am I justifiably angry, how much literal venom am I pouring into innocent bystanders ears. “You’re right,” I murmur, “I was angry all along. I retract my position because this anger is unbecoming and causes frown lines.”

Okay, maybe not the last part. But I do, at that point, start get angry. Anger has perhaps even become a default starting point, if only so I can skip the song and dance about exactly how angry I am. It’s like cutting out the embarrassing stumbling around after someone asks you if you’re pregnant. (“No, just fat. welp, you must be embarrassed.”)

So, yeah, I’m angry.  I’m angry that in the year of our lord twenty thirteen we are still having discussions about whether or not a woman has a right to bodily autonomy; yes, even if she signed a contract. I’m angry that I see women going before me into the tech and game industries and be pushed aside, pushed out or drop out from the sheer exhaustion of dealing with idiot men. I’m angry that most people can’t point out what rape is on a map. Sometimes I take that anger and channel it into a project I’m working on. And sometimes I use it to fuel a discussion about any of those topics long past the point where I just want to throw up my hands, understand that equality isn’t ever going to really happen except on the most superficial levels, and sleep the day away in a pillow fort filled with cats.

I’m tired of fighting in my own circles. I have just as many, if not MORE, arguments with people who want to be allies and other feminists, than I do with Straight Up Card Carrying Misogynists. Sometimes these arguments can be good, a way to clarify and expand on my own thoughts on feminism and women’s rights. Often, they’re infuriating, borne out of a societal drive to promote a Meritocratic Individual who Has Opinions (And opinions, naturally, can never be wrong.) I don’t like being angry at people who are ostensibly “on my side” but I don’t want the half-assed deals they’re offering, either!

When women were imprisoned during the American federal suffragette movement, due to bullshit charges (Obstructing Traffic, for example), when they were issued pardons, some refused to take them, because they hadn’t committed a crime to begin with. Taking the pardons meant admitting guilt in the original instance. There are hundreds of posts’ worth of problems with first-wave feminism, but I admire that particular spirit.  I don’t want fun, sexy feminism. I don’t want to assuage men that I shave my legs, and abhor misandry to get them on board. I want them on board because it’s the right thing to do.

Yeah, I’m angry. What are you going to do about it?

REVIEW: World of Shell and Bone by Adriana Ryan

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up World of Shell and Bone, to be honest. The blurb makes it sounds like most post-apoc/dystopian YA: devastating war, weird obsession with young women procreating, overthrowing fascist government. I don’t think I could have anticipated what I actually got, though.

The writing is passable, if flowery. It’s obvious there’s been some editing there. It feels weird to even mention this, because editing/decent writing is like that one feminist ally dude who feels like you should salivate over his progressiveness because he thinks rape is wrong, you know? But in the world of self-pubbing, this causes the book to stand out.  Same with the cover – it’s flashy and nicely done, and I appreciate that. (David Dalglish sucked me in the same way.)

But…

Vika Cannon lives in a world where sixty five years ago, a nuclear war devastates the world (barring most of Asia, for reasons unexplained except Because China), so that the depleted populations of North and South America band together and form one country known as New Amana, run by a feminist regime, because Men Like War, and War is Bad. 

There’s a number of problems here with the time line and world building.  For example:

Religion is not allowed any longer, although my mother can remember a time when she actually went to church as a young child before the practice was abolished…Churches and temples still stand, but they’re used for educational purposes now, to show how religion clouded people’s thinking before the War.

Vika’s mother is still alive in the course of the story, making her ~75 years old (and 55 years old when she gave birth to Vika). At no time is religion really ever mentioned again – no older people viciously clinging to their beliefs, no cultural memory of worshipping, or gods, or anything.  Just completely wiped out, except as a historical relic, in a mere 65 years.

Even more glaring is her description of race and ethnicity:

People in New Amana have interbred so the distinct ethnic groups of my grandmothers time are no longer in existence among the young, mainstream population. Now, almost everyone is some shade of medium brown with hazel or brown eyes, and hair that ranges from chestnut to soot.

Assuming the idea that In the Future Humans Will be One Race is even possible, having it happen within 65 years – ONE generation – is so outside any plausibility it just reads like some utopian wishful thinking. For what reason is unclear, given what a crapsack shithole New Amana is and how often the author reminds us of it. Under a feminist regime, women are still basically walking wombs, but at least there’s no race issues anymore? Jeez, who knows.

The whole underpinning of Vika’s story is the problems she faces under the New Amana government comes completely undone the more you learn about the world she lives in.  There’s a huge focus and pressure on women to procreate, despite the nuclear war creating a continent-wide nuclear desert and scarcity of food and resources. Women who currently haven’t had children are forced to wear red armbands with big zeros on them, for… some reason? It’s never really made clear why, even when Vika gets pregnant and gets a new armband (with a golden tree heavy with fruit!).  Given how much of your life rides on being able to give birth and emigrate to Glorious China for a life of hard labour/soldiering, armbands seem like an awfully flimsy protection.

Or how about the fact that the government, which the book solemnly makes clear to us Is Bad And Wrong, desperately wants women giving birth, but they are only allowed six months to try and conceive (reduced in the book to three months, due to emigration bottlenecking), before they are arrested and gassed to death. Why a world scarce in resources wants more children is beyond me, but it’s the motivating factor for most of the book for Vika and her peers, but why they gas the women (and not the Husbands) under a feminist regime is beyond me. 

Oh, sorry, did I say women? I meant “females”:

A Husband must have utmost faith in his female at all times.

 

“The Rads have some terrorist females,” Moon replies.

That is some Save the Pearls shit right there.  Men are subjugated, lesser, more or less indistinct from one another – but at least they have NAMES. They have titles!

The Radicals? Legitimate, lifted from the pages, redditors:

Rads are dissastified with the feminist angle of the government, and oppose nearly everything it does… they wear black to symbolize their oppression.

 

The Rads have always been vocal about “their” daughters being taken away, even though they know full well going into the Match process that the children belong solely to the female.

 

In order to force the men to break up their protest, they are sprayed with acid by the maintenance crews – lavender acid! Misandry is real here, you guys. Oh, by the way, though Guards and Escorts are women, for some reason, Maintenance crews are the enforcer types, and they’re all men. Confused yet? I sure am.

The Radicals main objective is to destroy the Asylums where the Defecteux – the Defective – are taken “for the good of the people”.  Ostensibly, the excuse is that unfit children should be studied so that people can stop producing kids with developmental disabilities or in the case of Vika’s sister, epilepsy.  Of course, there’s no scientific advancement involved, they’re just giant rape factories! Which… again, why do they exist then? If something serves no utilitarian purpose in a place so strangled for resources, why do they have it, especially when they are gassing perfectly healthy women?  The stakes are way too high for women alone in this feminist regime, and it makes absolutely no sense to me.

Vika and her Husband, Shale, witness a neighbour’s son be taken to an Asylum for being sickly, and he begs her to help but Vika refuses, nervous at the retaliation SHE might suffer. Later that night:

I part my legs. There’s a pause. Shale adjusts himself, puts his knees on either side of me. I wait for the starting words, my eyes trying to search his out, but it is too dark in the bedroom. Finally, he pushes off me. “I’m sorry,” he mutters, “I can’t tonight.” And he disappears into the bathroom again.

Look. I do not want to see the main character force him. Rape is awful, and it’s impossible to cheer for a protagonist pro-rape and coercion.  BUT Vika is the one who dies if they fail! It’s her life on the line! I would hate it, but at least with the world-building, it would be consistent for her to make him stay. In fact, if house husbands are so important to women in this world, why they aren’t consistently doped with viagra and/or calming meds (as we’re regularly reminded by the narrative, men might be lesser, but they are Biologically Stronger than women still, and we need to be careful not to anger them.) The fact that Vika just lets him go was the point where a strangled “waak??” came out of my throat.

Via Shale’s connection to the Radicals, he convinces Vika to help him (when she does, he shows her his appreciation by buying her a bunch of cooking utensils on the black market! Because she likes to cook! But she can’t, because it’s unfeminist!) She comes with him to a meeting, because she wants to be a part of a plan to break into the Asylums and free the children there (including her sister):

The door opens wider and the man steps out. He’s dressed in the Rads’ black uniform, a black bandana around his mop of curly hair. He thrusts his chin at me. “Who’s the cunt?”

 

When we enter, I stand still a moment, allowing my eyes to adjust to what is all around me.  The most taboo of le marche noir material is slathered on the walls. Twentieth century style posters of women in compromising positions and skimpy outfits are everywhere.

Wow, I can’t imagine why charmers like these are hunted by the feminist government! It’s because they’re scum. Why on earth I am meant to swallow the idea that a uniform race exists and religious memory mostly obliterated within 65 years but “bitch”, “cunt” and porno mags still exist is beyond me because it’s impossible.

The second half the book is mainly a blurry mess. Vika and Shale leave Ursa to go to Toronto to rescue her sister, they’re betrayed, she leaves Shale behind and finds a refugee camp full of Nukeheads and asylum escapees including her sister, who is thirteen and raped into catatonia basically. Vika is captured by a Rad and she is raped. The book ends with Vika and her sister on a boat, and Shale magically alive.  The only passage of any note once leaving her city is the magical makeup scene, part of an idea to help her sister by throwing a birthday party for her and the other Asylum escapees:

Soon I am braiding a whole group of girls’ hair. After that, I decide to work on their clothes. Yellow coveralls aren’t very becoming, we decide, so I loop some twine around their belt loops on either side of their waists and string it in tight to cinch in the waist. Some of the girls make flower cuffs out of wildflowers and grass. Others grind red and pink flowers into a paste and use it to stain their cheeks and lips. I watch in wonder as they are transformed from lost little girls into graceful young women.

And of course, then the girls have no problems dancing with men at the birthday party! Hurray, they’re healed from their aversion to men! Take that, feminism!

If this book was written by a dude, I would just be all over tearing him up one side and down the other.  Internalized misogyny is one hell of a drug, though, and it’s a bit more complicated than Victoria Foyt’s white supremacist fantasy world. The “feminist” government is clearly not written with any kind of feminist theory in mind, which, okay, ideologies can be perverted, maybe even within the short time frame set up in the book.

The hell of the whole mess is that this idea could have maybe worked with a little more research, a little more honesty and a little less desire to cash in on this whole concept of reverse oppression. Don’t make the male radical dude the hero! Don’t make the main character a loathsome, braindead obey-o-bot. Start with a main character who already knows the problems New Amana has caused in perverting the feminist ideology, who has access to stories about what feminism actually is about – people live to old age in the society, are you telling me she couldn’t track down ONE secret feminist?

All the problems listed above would be cast in a completely different light if Vika had been questioning them from page one. She doesn’t start asking why until her radical husband teaches her too – and they have magic, excellent sex. Somehow.

The fact that this same issue is plaguing stories about feminist leadership since Pamela Sargeant who was writing in the throes of second-wave feminism, where some backlash was a little understandable, is depressing as hell.

If you’re breathless to read a story where women are in charge and men are scarce and unimportant, at least in A Brother’s Price, women are given equal screen time and the Wild West setting is mildly interesting. Not so much here.  Perhaps between now and whenever the sequel is released, Adriana Ryan will do some much needed reading of feminist thought. 

Dear god, I hope so.