I haven't posted articles in a long time, mainly because I read very little nonfiction over the winter. But now that the weather is warmer I can return to reading the New Yorker while walking the dogs (random hobby). So here goes, I've been on a feminist kick lately:
(1) Sex and the City - The New Yorker has a great article on "How Sex and the City Lost its Good Name." Do you still like the show or do you find it dated?
"Carrie and her friends—Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte—were odder birds by far, jagged, aggressive, and sometimes frightening figures, like a makeup mirror lit up in neon. They were simultaneously real and abstract, emotionally complex and philosophically stylized. Women identified with them—“I’m a Carrie!”—but then became furious when they showed flaws. And, with the exception of Charlotte (Kristin Davis), men didn’t find them likable: there were endless cruel jokes about Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Carrie as sluts, man-haters, or gold-diggers. To me, as a single woman, it felt like a definite sign of progress: since the elemental representation of single life at the time was the comic strip “Cathy” (ack! chocolate!), better that one’s life should be viewed as glamorously threatening than as sad and lonely."
. . . .
"So why is the show so often portrayed as a set of empty, static cartoons, an embarrassment to womankind? It’s a classic misunderstanding, I think, stemming from an unexamined hierarchy: the assumption that anything stylized (or formulaic, or pleasurable, or funny, or feminine, or explicit about sex rather than about violence, or made collaboratively) must be inferior."
(2) Writing Like a Man - Claire Vaye Watkins' article "On Pandering" may be the best piece of nonfiction I've ever read.
"The stunning truth is that I am asking, deep down, as I write, What would Philip Roth think of this? What would Jonathan Franzen think of this? When the answer is probably: nothing. More staggering is the question of why I am trying to prove myself to writers whose work, in many cases, I don’t particularly admire? I recently finished Roth’s Indignation with nothing more lasting than a sincere curiosity as to whether Roth is aware that these days even nice girls give blow jobs.
I am trying to understand a phenomenon that happens in my head, and maybe in yours too, whereby the white supremacist patriarchy determines what I write.
I wrote Battleborn for white men, toward them. If you hold the book to a certain light, you’ll see it as an exercise in self-hazing, a product of working-class madness, the female strain. So, natural then that Battleborn was well-received by the white male lit establishment: it was written for them. The whole book’s a pander. Look, I said with my stories: I can write old men, I can write sex, I can write abortion. I can write hard, unflinching, unsentimental. I can write an old man getting a boner!
Here are the lampposts, here is the single-screen movie theater. It’s all an architecture of pandering. It’s for them.
She can write like a man, they said, by which they meant, She can write."
(3) Headscarfs - I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about Elif Batuman's essay on her personal conflicts with wearing a headscarf while traveling in Turkey.
"I wondered why it hadn’t occurred to me sooner to try wearing a head scarf—why nobody ever told me it was something I could do. It wasn’t difficult, or expensive. Why should I not cover my head here, if it made the people who lived here feel so much better? Why should I cause needless discomfort to them and to myself? Out of principle? What principle? The principle that women were equal to men? To whom was I communicating that principle? With what degree of success? What if I thought I was communicating one thing but what people understood was something else—what if what they understood was that I disapproved of them and thought their way of life was backward? Did that still count as “communicating”?
I found myself thinking about high heels. High heels were painful, and, for me at least, expensive, because they made walking more difficult and I ended up taking more taxis. Yet there were many times when I wore heels to work-related events in New York, specifically because I felt it made people treat me with more consideration. Why, then, would I refuse to wear a head scarf, which brought a similar benefit of social acceptance, without the disadvantage of impeding my ability to stand or walk?
And yet, when I thought about leaving the scarf on for the rest of my stay, something about it felt dishonest, almost shameful, as if I were duping people into being kind to me. Those girls who smiled into my eyes—they thought I was like them. The guy who helped me on the bus—he thought I was his sister."
(4) Angry White Females - I loved the LA Times article "Angry while female: Why it matters that Beyonce, Kelly Ripa and Samantha Bee won't hide their outrage."
"For women, though, it’s a bit trickier, as all those “angry feminists” can attest. As clashing reactions to Ripa and far too many studies reveal, women are still often penalized for getting angry, even when anger is the appropriate reaction to the situation.
During the recent #Oscarssowhite controversy, for example, both Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith announced they would not be attending the ceremony. But it was Pinkett Smith who became, and remained, the butt of angry jokes, many of which boiled down to “..., who said you were even invited?”
The b-word, of course, is cited in study after study about the different perceptions of male and female anger: Where men are considered “firm,” women are seen as “controlling” and worse.
As Ripa discovered, women who react when provoked are still often accused of seeming “crazy” (which, with its evocations of a time when women could be committed to an asylum for rebelling against their husbands or fathers, is in itself a provocation).
“Jealous or crazy,” Beyoncé sings over and over again in “Lemonade’s” “Hold Up,” blurring the words synonymous before deciding: “More like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately / I’d rather be crazy.”
Some of it is a simple question of volume: Men shout in righteous rage, but women who raise their voices are still often seen as losing control or, heaven forbid, “shrill.”
(5) Nannies - In "the Cost of Caring", Rachel Aviv (somewhat heartbreakingly) profiles Filipino caregivers in America.
"During meals in Chappaqua, Emma sometimes felt guilty and lost her appetite. “If you are a mom, you want anything you eat to be shared by your kids,” she said. Sometimes, as she dressed the girls in the morning, she cried as she imagined her youngest children preparing for school with the assistance of the helpers. One of the helpers had a young son. Emma asked her children who cared for the boy while his mother was at their house, but her daughters didn’t know. Emma imagined a chain of mothers parenting other mothers’ children around the globe."
. . . .
"Timing one’s departure from America is a precarious art. Emma, Ivy, and their friends speak of their return to the Philippines as a kind of afterlife, an endless family celebration, where they will finally reap the rewards of their sacrifice. The window for return begins once they’ve put their children through school—often their grandchildren, too—but then the calculation becomes more complex. Should they stay longer, save for retirement, and risk growing ill in America? Or leave prematurely, run out of money, and be poor again in the Philippines?
Recently, one of Emma’s friends tragically mistimed her return. She was given a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in December and, less than two months later, died without having seen her husband or her children in years. Emma and her friends raised money for “death aid.” They wanted to help the woman’s husband, who ran a poultry farm that Emma used to visit, pay for his wife’s body to be shipped home. The day after the body was flown overseas, I accompanied Emma to her nannying job on the Upper East Side, where she was struggling to put the memory out of her mind. When she viewed the body, three days earlier, she was shocked by how thin her friend had become. “What kind of life is this?” Emma said."
(6) Botox - And finally, Amanda Peet's anti-Botox essay went viral this week (I feel that I should disclaim that I'm personally a Botox fan, but I still found the essay a great read).
"Another frightening scenario is that one or both of my daughters will do as I did in my youth: go to college, take Feminist Texts and Theory, and stop shaving their legs and armpits. As hard-core feminists, they'll write me off. I'll cry, Why aren't you coming home for Thanksgiving? And they'll be like, You're nothing but a foot soldier for the beauty industrial complex. Letting my face age naturally will be my ace in the hole. My counterclaim. Proof that I didn't pander to the male gaze.
. . . .
our cultural obsession with beauty and self-improvement is compounded by the fact that we're living in the Age of Digital Narcissism; and how, because of this phenomenon, girls as young as nine — the age of her [my sister's] daughter and my eldest — show a "disturbing level of anxiety" about their looks."