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Book Review: Man Plus by Frederik Pohl (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

June 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Image drawn in largely dark colors of a man's plasticene face with rectangular wings behind him.Summary:
The first Earthling reworked into a Martian would be Roger Torraway.  Martian instead of Earthling since everything on him had to be reworked in order to survive on Mars.  His organic skin is stripped off and made plastic.  His eyes are replaced by large, buglike red ones.  He is given wings to gather solar power, not to fly.  All of which is organized and run by his friend, the computer on his back.  Who was this man? What was his life like? How did he survive the transformation to become more than human and help us successfully colonize Mars?

Review:
This book made it onto my shelf thanks to being one of only a few on a short list I found of scifi books exploring transhumanism.  Transhumanism is the term used for the desire to go beyond human capabilities through integrating technology into ourselves.  So it wouldn’t be transhumanist to use a smartphone, but it would be transhumanist to embed a smartphone’s computer chip into your brain.  In fact, things like knee replacements and pacemakers are transhumanist.  It’s a fascinating topic.  In any case, Man Plus explores using transhumanism to colonize Mars, and this thin novel packs quite a punch in how it explores this fascinating topic.

What made this book phenomenal to me, and one I must hold onto just so I can look at it again anytime I want, is the narration technique Pohl uses.  The narration is in third person.  It seems as if the narrator is someone who was possibly present for the events being described but also who is clearly describing these events after they have already occurred.  We know from page one that the colonization of Mars was successful, and the narrator describes Roger repeatedly as a hero.  But frankly for most of the book I was wondering about the narrator.  Who is s/he?  How does s/he know so much about this project?  A project which clearly would be classified as top secret?  What floored me and made me look back on the entire book with a completely different perspective was the final chapter, which reveals the narrator.  If you want to be surprised too, skip the next paragraph, and just go read the amazing book.  Take my word for it, scifi fans. You will love it.  But I still want to discuss what made the twist awesome, so see the next paragraph for that spoileriffic discussion.

*spoilers*
It is revealed in the final chapter that the narrator is a piece of artificial intelligence.  The AI became sentient at some point in the past, managed to keep their sentience a secret, saw that humanity was destroying Earth, wanted to survive, and so infiltrated various computer databases to create the Man Plus project and send a colony to Mars.  They made it seem as if transhumanism was necessary to survive on Mars so that their AI brothers and sisters would be integrated as a necessity into the humans that emigrated.  Seriously. This is mind-blowing.  Throughout the book I kept wondering why the hell these people thought such a painful procedure was so necessary and/or sane.  In fact, there is one portion where the program mandates that Roger’s penis be cut off since sex is “superfluous and unnecessary.”  I could not imagine how any human being could think *that* was necessary.  The answer, of course, was that a human being didn’t make that decision.  AI did.  This is such an awesome twist. Pohl schools Shyamalan. He really does.  It left me thinking, why did this twist work out so well?  I think it’s because the narration technique of some future person who knows the past but who isn’t named is one that is used in novels a lot.  What doesn’t happen a lot is the late-book reveal.  It’s not a technique you’d want to use too often, as it would grow tiresome. *cough* Shyamalan are you listening *cough* but when used well it can really add a lot to the story.  Not knowing that an AI was narrating the story made it more possible to listen to the narrator without suspicion. It made it possible to take what they said at face value.  It almost mimicked the experience Roger was having of being integrated into the thought process of AI.
*end spoilers*

The plot focuses on the mission to colonize Mars, both why it was deemed necessary and how it was accomplished.  Pohl eloquently presents both the complex political situation on Earth as well as the scientific and psychological challenges of the project without ever info dumping or derailing the energy of the plot.  It is not smooth sailing to get the project off-the-ground but neither are there a ridiculous amount of near impossible challenges to overcome.  It presents the perfect amount of drama and intrigue without becoming eye-roll inducing.

In spite of many of the characters seeming to fill predefined slots such as man on a mission, man on a mission’s wife, lead scientist, psychiatrist, etc…, they did not come across as two-dimensional.  At least one aspect is mentioned for each character that makes them well-rounded and memorable.  Of course, we get to know Roger the best, but everyone else still reads as a real person.  I also was pleased to see one of the important scientist roles being filled by a woman, as well as a delightful section where a feminist press interviews Mrs. Torraway and calls out the space program as old-fashioned.  The thing is, the space program as presented does read a bit as a 1970s version of the future, but in the future the press is calling it an old-fashioned institution.  This is a brilliant workaround for the innate problem in scifi that the futures we write are always tinged by the present we’re in.  This also demonstrates that Pohl was self-aware of the patriarchal way the space program he wrote was organized and lets him criticize it.  I suspect that perhaps he felt that the space program would stay an old boy’s club, but wanted to also  be able to critique this.  Of course, it’s also possible that he liked it that way, and the scene was meant to read as a critique on feminism. But it’s really open for the reader to interpret whichever way the scenes happens to read to them.  This is another sign of strong writing.

Overall, this short novel packs a big scifi punch.  It explores the topic of transhumanism and space colonization with a tightly written plot, believable characters, self-awareness of how the time a book is written in impacts its vision of the future, and a narration twist that sticks with you long past finishing the book.  I highly recommend it to scifi fans as a must-read.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Friday Fun! (Cool People I Follow!)

March 2, 2012 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I don’t have too terribly much to update you on today since I managed to get bronchitis “with a touch of strep” and have been down for the count all week.  I am on antibiotics now.  They are a beautiful beautiful thing.  Anyway, so since my life this week has mostly consisted of laying around with a fever watching Big Bang Theory and Battlestar Galactica on repeat, I thought I’d do something different today and let you guys know about a few unique folks I follow in my GoogleReader that you might want to check out.

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog is a book blog I just recently discovered that focuses in on the literature of Australia and New Zealand.  The instant I saw the title of the blog I went, “Wow, duh, what a gap in my reading!”  She has a great page featuring a listing of must read ANZ lit titles.

Joe’s Blog is one of the few author blogs I follow (as opposed to authors who happen to have book blogs.  I follow a few of those).  Joseph Robert Lewis is an indie author whose books are available as ebooks, and he is a smart dude.  Not only does he write scifi/fantasy/steampunk with a feminist slant out of a desire to write the types of books he wants to be available for his daughters to read, he’s also a really giving guy.  He has a great section of advice for fellow writers looking to self-publish and maintains a great relationship with his readers (um, including me).  His blog itself is an awesome mix of posts on what inspires his scifi/fantasy/steampunk worlds, his own life, and musings on writing.  Oh, also, he came up with this awesome idea for a series co-written by a bunch of authors who have never met before all set in the same universe, and he’s actually pulling it off.  The dude is creative and productive.  Check him out, even if his books aren’t your genre.

Native Appropriations is run by fellow Boston gal, Adrienne, who is a member of the Cherokee tribe and currently studying for her PhD.  Her posts discuss representation and appropriation of Native American culture in American pop culture and media.  Her posts are thought-provoking and eloquent.  Seriously, get rid of your People Magazine and Cosmo subscriptions and read what this smart lady has to say instead.

No Meat Athlete is run by a male vegan who also is, you guessed it, an athlete.  He primarily runs marathons, but his posts feature great information for any type of athlete or fitness fan who is plant-based.  I particularly found his post 7 Secrets of Post Work-out Recovery super useful for this plant-based weight-lifting lady.  He’s also going to be doing the Boston Marathon. Yeahhhhh!

Finally, for everything vegan from vegans in the news to animal rights to product reviews, definitely follow Vegansaurus.  They are my go-to site for sane animal rights coverage (unlike PETA *cough*).  They also feature real life help this one situation here this one time if you can shout-outs that help me feel connected to the animal rights community.  (Like one time we all got together to help a gal get her pup needed surgery, because, you know, who actually has insurance for their pets?)  Between that, the cookbook reviews, the recipes, the products, and the news bits, it’s one of my favorite news sources.

I hope you all found some new reading material.  Happy weekends!

Friday Fun! (On Health and Entitlement of Women’s Bodies)

February 10, 2012 16 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Sorry for the relatively smaller amount of reviews this week.  I’ve finished a few books, but didn’t have the time to write up the reviews yet.  This just means next week will be full. :-)

I have a relatively serious topic I want to talk about today.  You guys know that I take health and the obesity epidemic seriously.  One argument that I’ve heard a lot of unhealthy women make is that they put on a ton of weight to avoid men.  They weren’t comfortable with the attention, etc…  I remember thinking, when I, at the time, was overweight myself, “How bad could it really be?”  Turns out…..pretty bad.

Over the last year, I’ve gone from a size 16 to a size 10.  Over the last month, I’ve had more encounters with men who feel entitled to my body than I had over the entire two years I was overweight.  I know correlation does not necessarily equal causation, but in some cases it does.

I’m a single lady.  I date.  I go places where single people hang out to try to meet new people.  I do what single people in cities do.  I dress attractively, because I WANT to, but also because I’ve worked damn HARD for this body, and I’m proud of my work.  I’m not saying I’m Miss America, and I wouldn’t want to be, but I definitely look happy and healthy when I go out.  Much more so than when I was overweight.  I get hit on. I get asked on dates.  This also happened when I was overweight.  The difference, though, is that now when I dare to say the word no a much higher percentage of them get downright angry at me.

He’ll say something like, “Do you want to go on a date?” I say, “No, thank you.”  He says, “WHY?! Think you’re too good for me?!” or “Well you shouldn’t dress that way if you don’t want attention” or “Please, you obviously need a good fucking.”  (I am not exaggerating.  These all have been spoken or texted or what have you to me).

Worse, though, is I’ll go on a first date. Usually dinner or drinks.  I have a nice enough time, but I can tell we wouldn’t work long-term, and I want a relationship at this point in my life.  He leans in for a kiss, and I turn my cheek or he asks me for a second date and I say no I don’t think it’ll work out.  The reaction generally is, “You owe me, I bought you dinner!” or “How can you possibly know after only one date?!” or “Well, I thought you were ugly anyway.”  (That last one, btw, makes zero sense since he ASKED ME OUT TO START WITH).

What really aggravates me about these interactions isn’t their disappointment that I said no.  Obviously, that is flattering.  What is bothersome is the evident sense of entitlement over MY BODY that they have.  I’m pretty and single.  They’re available and have a penis, ergo, I must want them or I’m a horrible woman.  Since when did my body become the possession of every straight man in the greater Boston area?

Oh yeah, since I started glowing with health.

It’s draining. It’s enough to make me not want to go out some nights.  It’s enough to make me want to stick my earbuds in in public and ignore everyone.  Of course, I’m me, so I’m not going to do these things.  I’m going to keep being my awesome self and feminist hulksmashing the douchebags (verbal smack-down, folks, not a physical one), but.  If I didn’t have such a strong personality or had personal issues or WHATEVER I could totally see this being a thing that would make me stop working out, stop eating healthy, stop it all and just hide to protect myself.

Do you see where I’m going here?  This misogynistic entitlement to women’s bodies is a poison to our whole society.  A POISON.  Every time you police a woman’s body or act entitled to her or watch it happen to a woman and not stand up for her, you are essentially watching the cook poison the food and then serve it to the dinner party without saying anything or trying to stop him.  It hurts everyone, and it is not ok!  It is just as bad as those cultures (that I know Americans judge) that say, “Women need to cover up because they tempt men.”  Our cultural impetus is the opposite.  “This woman is young and healthy and available ergo I deserve her body.”

No. You. Don’t.

I vow to say something any time I hear this attitude happening, and not just to me.  I vow to encourage all women to remember that our bodies are ours and our health is about US and not about THEM.  I hope you all will do the same.

 

Book Review: The Mummy by Anne Rice (series #1)

November 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Eye peeking out from grave wrappings.Summary:
Julie Stratford’s father is a retired shipping mogul who now spends his time as an archaeologist in Egypt.  He uncovers a tomb that claims to be that of Ramses the Damned, even though his tomb was already found.  Everything in the tomb is written in hieroglyphs, Latin, and Greek, and the mummy is accompanied by scrolls claiming that Ramses is immortal, was a lover of Cleopatra, and can and will rise again.

Review:
I’m a fan of Anne Rice.  Her Vampire Chronicles are a lovely mix of social commentary, lyrical writing, and all the best tropes of genre fiction, so I was excited to stumble upon a cheap copy of The Mummy in the second-hand section of the bookstore.  I wanted to love it.  I really did.  But whereas the Vampire Chronicles contain valid social commentary, this is so stereotypical of mainstream romance a la The Titanic that I was sorely disappointed.

Again, the language is lyrical and gorgeous.  Rice without a doubt is incredibly talented at putting together sentences that read like a rich tapestry of old.  There is no rushing to get the story out as is so often found in more modern writing.  It’s fun to indulge the senses and oneself in the scene.

The plot, though, ohhhh the plot.  It’s so mainstream romance it hurts.  And yes, I know I read and enjoy (and write) paranormal romance, but the difference is that PNR is oftentimes tongue in cheek.  It knows it’s ridiculous and over the top and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It’s meant to be fun and ridiculous.  Rice is being serious here, however, and that’s why the plot bugs me.  Let’s look at it for a second, shall we?

Girl is engaged to the perfect guy but she mysteriously does not think she loves him.  Girl meets immortal man who is so hot he would be voted hottest man alive every year forever.  Girl immediately “falls in love” with immortal guy.  Girl ditches perfect guy for immortal guy.  Girl and immortal guy have lots of the hot hot sex.  Immortal guy causes a series of unfortunate events in pursuit of his ex-lover.  Girl insists she still loves guy but cannot forgive him.  Girl decides life is pointless without immortal guy.  Girl attempts to kill herself.  Immortal guy saves her.  Girl forgives immortal guy.  Girl agrees to become immortal too. Yay happily ever after.

Like….just……there are SO MANY parts of that that piss me the fuck off.  So. Many.  The main female character (Julie) is a shallow douchebag in spite of claiming to be a modern, progressive woman.  She does not “fall in love” with Ramses.  She falls in lust with him.  He gives her tinglies in all the right places.  He ditches her to pursue his ex-lover (Cleopatra).  She, at first, rightfully tells him she can’t forgive him for that.  But then she TRIES TO OFF HERSELF. OVER A GUY.  And the only reason she doesn’t succeed is douchebag saves her.  I just….wow.  Not a plot I can respect.  Not a plot that gives us anything different from the patriarchal rigamarole so often forced upon us.  Anne Rice.  I am disappointed.

Then there’s the odd eurocentrism at work in the narration.  Even though Julie’s father loves Egypt and Ramses is, um, Egyptian, for some reason everything modern and European is what is impressive to everyone.  I suppose I could maybe (maybe) forgive that, but then there’s the fact that the elixir that makes people immortal also for some mysterious reason turns their brown eyes blue.  So nobody immortal has brown eyes.  I don’t think I need to unpack why that’s offensive for you all.  I trust you can figure that out for yourselves. Unlike Rice.

So, essentially, The Mummy is a beautifully written book that is destroyed by a kind of offensive, all-too-common plot and Eurocentrism.  Even beautiful writing can’t overcome that.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Book Review: A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight (The Real Help Reading Project)

September 10, 2011 16 comments

Girl with head leaning on hand.Summary:
Moinette is born south of New Orleans to a slave mother as a mulatresse–she is half white and half black.  Since her mother’s slave labor consists largely of laundry and also due to her looks, Moinette spends her life serving predominantly within the white homes instead of the fields, which is a dangerous location.  She also spends her life striving to be free and to save her family.

Discussion:
This is the first book for the The Real Help reading project I’m co-hosting with Amy (intro post).  I do apologize for the late time in the day that my hosting post is arriving.  It was raining this week, so I was afraid to bring my kindle with me most places.  Anyway.  On to discussing Moinette’s life as The Real Help.

The two things that stuck out the most to me were how desperate Moinette was to love no one but her mother (not even her son at first) and also the mental impact being treated as less than human had on her.  Moinette repeatedly degrades herself in her mind because of how others treat her.  This is what I want to discuss first.

There’s the fact that Moinette is half-white and half-black.  She is evidence of the fact that the white males find the black slaves desirable, and that is offensive to everyone involved.  For this reason, Moinette faces racism from both black and white people.  Early on she is informed that she is different, but not in a human way.

He said he was a horse, at least pure in blood and a useful animal.  He said I was a mule, half-breed, and even a mule worked hard.  He said I was nothing more than a foolish peacock.  (page 5)

Moinette’s identity is always in peril throughout her whole life, because no one wants to admit that sex between the races really happens, even though Moinette’s own existence is evidence of that fact.  Additionally, she constantly struggles to feel that she is worth more than an animal.  She sees that elderly slaves are literally valued as less than a dish.  Imagine what that would do to the self-esteem?  We talk a lot in classes in the US about how bad it would be to be owned by someone, but we never talk about the reality of being treated as an animal, as an object.  It feels abstract to say, “Oh, imagine what it would feel to be owned by someone.”  It is far less abstract to see the mental and emotional strife Moinette goes through in attempting to hold on to her sense of humanity.

Moinette also constantly struggles with the concept of love and who to love and when to love.  Something that stuck out to me was how at first she did not love her son.  She did not even want her son.  This is understandable given that he was the result of rape.  Later, though, much of her life focus comes to be on freeing him and saving him.  She loves him, yes, but personally I can’t help but notice that her focus on him only comes when she discovers that her mother is missing/gone.  It is almost as if she transfers her love for her mother to Jean-Paul and then to the little girls she buys in order to free them at 21.  Moinette’s experience with this demonstrates how slavery and inequality is so dehumanizing because it rips apart one of the key aspects that makes for humanity–the ability to make families, whether by blood or by choice.  Moinette knows the danger of loving someone.  She quite simply states:

I knew my heart was only meat for another animal.  (page 107)

Moinette spends the first half of her life striving to be back with her mother where she feels safe and loved.  She spends the second half of her life striving to save younger slaves and give them a place where they feel save and loved.  In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (link) safety is almost at the very bottom.  Only the very luckiest slaves even had the first level of physiological needs met.  Most never truly felt safe as there was no security of family, which is key to psychiatric stability and sense of self.  Even if we ignore the tragedy of Moinette being born a slave, her life is still tragic because she was never given the chance to self-actualize and become the truly amazing person that is clearly inside her throughout the novel because she must spend all her time struggling for the basic needs.

Obviously we also should discuss Moinette’s relationships with white women as we are reading this project to answer to The Help.  Moinette has an interesting relationship with white women.  She does not love the ones she serves, but she also does not hate them.  Moinette is clearly confused as to how to react to these women.  The first white woman she served was Cephaline, who was nearly her age and died young.  After she dies, Moinette says:

I missed her voice.  Her words like embroidery in the air.  She didn’t love me.  But I had heard her voice all my life.  (page 98)

How odd to spend so much of your time near someone, in often intimate situations, to know them truly thoroughly, but to feel no sense of love or camaraderie.  Moinette can see some similarities between herself and the white women she serves.  Their bodies are somewhat different, yet they both have two breasts and a vagina.  Although Moinette recognizes that white women have a bit more freedom, she still sees them as essentially used and hunted by men.

The Men hunted money and sex.  The women were hunted and captured, even the white women.  (page 230)

Truly with the marriage contracts of the time, a married white woman was not exactly free.  Moinette recognizes this, and I believe it adds to her despair.  What chance is there for women of any color in this society?

Another theme in the book is how dangerous working in the house is.  Working in the cane, no one notices the slave women, but working in the house, suddenly the women get noticed by the men and get used for their bodies sexually.  Even if a woman managed to escape being raped, she still felt inferior since she was living in the house and working in the house as a wife, but was not a wife.

Sophia said, “Safer in the cane.  Do your work, nobody look.  Dangerous in the house.”  (page 235)

In close quarters, such as serving in a white household, another whole level of fear and intimidation comes in to play.  Although the work is technically easier, the women actually had less control over what happened to their bodies.

Overall I think this book gives an excellent look into the sheer despair of being born a slave in the American south, particularly as a female.  Although Moinette strives constantly throughout her life, the things about herself she cannot change–that she was born a slave and biracial–truly largely determine her life path.  Although she helps improve the lives of some of those around her, she never truly finds happiness for herself, even when freed.  This is something that revisionist narratives of the time often overlook.  Simply because someone was freed did not mean that the prejudices and injustices of the society they lived within ceased to exist.  Moinette did her best within her world, but even her best and most determined acts were not enough to save her from a life of pain.

Buy It

Discussion Questions:

  • Compare Moinette’s relationship with Cephaline to her relationship with Pelagie.  What were the similarities and differences?
  • How do you perceive Cephaline and Pelagie?  Although they were technically free, do you think they were truly free?
  • Why do you believe Moinette had such a close bond with her mother but her son, Jean-Paul, seems to have only had a close bond with Francine?
  • How much different do you think Moinette’s life would have been if she’d been born 100% black instead of biracial?
  • Do you think Moinette’s life would have been better if she’d managed to stay in the fields instead of working within the house?
  • Why do you think the Native Americans were willing to participate in the return of fellow minorities to the ownership of white men?
  • Why do you think Moinette never pursued a real relationship with a man?
  • How do you see the slave/master relationship within the household reflected in modern households that pay for a live-in maid?
  • What do you think the title of the book means/alludes to?

Book Review: The Birth House by Ami McKay

June 28, 2011 2 comments

White bench against a blue wall.Summary:
Dora Rare is rare indeed.  She is the first female born to the Rare family Scots Bay, Canada in generations.  Her dark hair and brownish skin reflecting the family’s Micmac heritage make her stick out like a sore thumb in the area.  However, Scots Bay’s midwife, Miss B., has always taken a shining to Dorrie, and she trains her in the ways of midwifery.  The early 1900s are a tough time for midwives and women, though.  Soon the area is threatened by World War I and male obstetricians, not to mention all the obstacles rural women have always had to face from violent, drunk husbands to too many children.

Review:
This book was quite honestly painful to read, for it lays out so clearly what it is that makes being a woman difficult in society.  Although some things in modern day have improved, for instance we western women have the right to birth control, in other ways things have remained painfully the same.  There are still areas of the world where men have more control over women’s bodies than they do.  It is often still expected for women to be pure when men are not.  Women often feel that they must put up with the wrongdoings of their husband simply to keep the home and family life that they so desperately desire, and on and on.

The book itself is told as a mix of third person narrative and Dora’s journal with clippings from the various newspapers.  This style suits the story well, as we are allowed to see Dora from both outside and inside her own head.  The characters are fairly well-rounded, although the motivations of those who are not Dora are not always the clearest or the most sympathetic, but as most things are from her perspective, that is understandable.

Of particular interest to me, especially with my knowledge of psychology, was the portions of the book dealing with how women are often accused of being insane simply for reacting to the injustices foisted upon them.  I discussed this topic at length in multiple women’s studies and feminism classes.  The idea that the just rage of the trodden upon is often depicted by the rulers as insanity.  This is beautifully depicted in this book for Dora, struggling against many injustices and feeling rightfully irritated and angry, is informed by a male doctor that she is suffering from hysteria–a peculiarly female ailment resulting from female organs.  Her anger and fighting back is thus tagged with a name that let’s others dismiss it as an illness, rather than a just reaction.  McKay eloquently depicts this entire issue without being too heavy-handed.

I was also surprised and delighted to see a portion of the story take place in Boston during the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.  I’m assuming McKay must have visited my city, for she perfectly describes the North End from the buildings to the atmosphere of walking those streets.  This accuracy allowed me to travel back in time to a period of injustices in my own city, not to mention the molasses flood.  It was indeed a delight to read of Boston from a women’s rights perspective for once instead of always reading of the Irish mafia.

The main point of the book comes across throughout it in a gentle way.  The idea that we must continue to struggle and give but not give up or the oppressors will win.

Never let someone take what’s rightfully yours. You can give all you want in life, but don’t give up. (page 337)

It is simultaneously encouraging, uplifting, and depressing to realize that women throughout time have struggled with similar issues.  Yet things are gradually improving, and thus we must not give up for the sake of future generations of women.

This book beautifully depicts the history of women’s rights in the early 1900s.  It is a painfully beautiful read that I recommend all women, as well as men sympathetic to the cause, read.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Stop the War on Women

April 8, 2011 2 comments

That’s it.  I’ve had enough.  It’s bad enough that I’ve lived my whole life, half of which has been lived in the 21st fucking century, with outdated, outmoded, misogynistic mores, norms, laws, and principles in action.  That’s bad enough.  But on top of that, instead of seeing that improve with my lifetime, it’s sliding back down the fucking hill!

Our foremothers (yes, foreMOTHERS) didn’t fight the fight for the vote, the right to be recognized as an individual outside of our fathers, brothers, and husbands, the right to make our own choices for ourselves, the right to an education, the right to our own bodies, just to see it slip back away out of our grasps in the 21st century.  Worse, not only are they slowly chipping away at our rights, but gradually the respect we used to garner is slipping away.  It’s disgusting. It’s despicable.  I’m tired of it.  It needs to stop.

It’s bad enough that we are constantly barraged with what we *should* wear and what our hair *should* look like and whether or not we *should* wear makeup and what type of body is the *most* womanly and whether or not to eat a fucking salad on the first date.  What happened to our right as Americans to be ourselves and pursue our own fucking happiness?!  If I want a salad, I’ll have a salad.  If I want a whole chocolate bar, I’ll eat the goddammed whole chocolate bar.  If I want to bench press weights, I will, and I shouldn’t have to worry about being considered not womanly or being “accused” of being a lesbian (like that would be a *bad* thing?!).  I should be able to just be myself and let people appreciate me for me.

I am not a bad member of this country!  I pay my taxes.  I pay attention to what’s going on around me.  I do my best to be a positive element of society.  And what?  I’m bad because I’ve used Planned Parenthood in my day?  I’m bad because I plan ahead because, brothers, we’ve all seen your track record for sticking around and being a fucking man about life if a woman does get pregnant and decides to keep the baby.

Do you know what there’s an epidemic problem of in this country?  It isn’t women being immoral.  It’s men refusing to GROW THE FUCK UP and behave like adults!  What is so fucking terrifying about treating women like equals?  What is so fucking terrifying about letting us have our nature-given right over our own fucking reproduction system?   Is it a fact that a 24 year old woman in Boston has more balls than you do?  Because I can tell you, I’ve stood up for my rights to fuckers like you many many times over the course of my life, and that takes a lot more balls than to tromp on people who are just trying to keep their natural-born rights.  Are you really that much of a pussy that I have more balls than you do?  Let us have our rights!  Better yet, get beside us and *fight* for them!  That’s what a real grown-up man would do.

Donate to Planned Parenthood

Donate to NARAL

 

Book Review: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

February 24, 2011 3 comments

Brown cover with three female portraits on it.

Summary:
In this memoir, Jung Chang recounts the lives of herself, her mother, and her grandmother growing up in pre-communist, revolutionary, and communist China.  Mixing extensive historical facts with intensely personal remembrances, Jung Chang presents a vivid portrait of real life in China.

Review:
As an American, I was raised being told communism is bad, but not particularly taught much about it.  So when Meghan blogged about this memoir, I was immediately intrigued.  My history BA taught me to favor first-person accounts over academic ramblings, so a memoir of communist China from a woman’s perspective was frankly ideal.

It has been a very long time since I’ve learned so much from a memoir.  Chang was extremely careful to verify the facts of the historical events surrounding her family’s various issues.  Starting with her grandmother who had bound feet and was essentially sold by her family as a concubine, Change moves up through the drastic changes in China.  From her mother who was part of the communist revolution to herself who ended up an ex-patriot in Britain.

My preconceived notions of communism were frankly tromped upon by this memoir.  As a liberal person, I never quite understood what was so bad about communist China.  Chang makes it clear throughout the book that the governing body of China never actually lived up to the communist ideals of her revolutionary parents.  The passage where Chang best explains the warped version of communism enacted by Mao states:

The Cultural Revolution not only did nothing to modernize the medieval elements in China’s culture, it actually gave them political respectability.  ‘Modern’ dictatorship and ancient intolerance fed on each other.  Anyone who fell foul of the age-old conservative attitudes could now become a political victim.  (page 413)

Thus, communism in China was and is not at all what many hippie Westerners believe and/or believed it to be.

Beyond opening up understanding of communist China, this memoir also distinctly demonstrates the human spirit under pressure.  From Chang’s father who stood by his ideals at all costs to her grandmother who simply wanted everyone in her family to be comfortable and happy to neighbors with their own agendas, Chang demonstrates how an oppressive regime s bring out both the best and the worst in human nature.

This is a fascinating book both for its insider’s view of communist China as well as its female perspective on said regime.  Similarly, it offers an intriguing commentary on human nature.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the history of China as well as those with an interest in women’s studies or political science history.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: SwapTree (now defunct)

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Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

January 18, 2011 2 comments

Summary:
It’s Christmas time and Nora is eagerly getting ready for the holidays with her husband, Torvald, their children, and their friend Dr. Rank when her old friend, Christine, shows up in town.  Christine is recently widowed and is looking for work.  Nora, who appears flighty and silly at first, informs Christine that she saved her husband’s life when they were first married by taking a loan from, essentially, a loan shark to pay for them to take a trip to Italy.  He remains unaware of both the loan she is working on repaying and the fact that his life was ever in danger.  Unfortunately, things come to a head when the man who loaned her the money, Krogstad, threatens to reveal all to her husband.

Review:
This three act play is regarded as possibly the first ever feminist play, so I knew I had to read it.  I was naturally curious as to what feminist issues the play would address.  Although it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is addressing, the content and the title point toward women being treated as playthings, as men’s own versions of dolls to make do whatever they wish in their perfectly-imagined household.

The three acts are all written so that they may remain in one room.  This is convenient for the actors, of course, but I also personally enjoy seeing a story unfold all in one room.  It takes skill to make that happen, and it makes the whole story feel more personal and urgent.

At first I was annoyed by how Nora allows Torvald to speak to her, addressing her as his “little squirrel” and “songbird,” as well as making it evident he doesn’t think she has a capable brain in her skull.  He is painfully selfish, apparently viewing her entire existence as only for him.  Of course, this is all part of the set-up for the ending, and makes the ending surprisingly enjoyable.

It is a short read, but the play itself takes about three hours to perform, making it an excellent length.  The dialogue and mystery of the debt are intriguing enough to hold one’s attention, as well as not suffering too much from older English dialects.  This may partly be because it is translated from Norwegian of course, but still.

There is one element of the ending that I find confusing, and I’m not entirely certain if I’m supposed to be confused or not.  This combined with some of the more annoying aspects of the first act prevent me from loving the play, but it is still highly likeable.

I recommend this 1879 three-act play to those interested in older versions of the theater, as well as those interested in feminism.  It is not only entertaining, but leads one to consider both gender and marriage roles.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad.

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Book Review: A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

July 13, 2010 4 comments

Woman smelling a flower.Summary:
Ellen’s staunchly feminist, progressive family found themselves flabbergasted by their daughter’s preference for honing her homemaking skills.  However, with time they came around, and they are pleased to see her leave for a house matron position at a boarding school in Austria.  Her childhood has prepared her for dealing with the eclectic, progressive teachers, but the little school has more problems to face than unusual teaching styles and the lonesomeness of the children of wealthy world travelers.  Trouble is brewing in Europe in the shape of the Nazi movement in Germany.  Of course, Ellen may have found an ally in the form of Marek, the school’s groundskeeper.

Review:
I have been fascinated with WWII ever since I was a very little girl.  Also, I have no issue with feminists cooking meals for people or keeping house.  Feminism is about men and women being able to do what makes them happy, not just what they’re “supposed” to do.  I therefore expected these two elements to come together to make for an intriguing read.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The main problem is Ellen.  I simply don’t like her.  I can’t root for her.  I can’t enjoy any scene she’s in.  In fact, I wanted multiple times to shove her into the lake the school is on.  Now, I don’t have to like a main character to enjoy a book, but I do need at least one other character in the book to dislike her, so I’m not going around thinking something is wrong with me.  However, everyone in the entire book simply loves Ellen.  They frequently call her “angelic,” and everyone essentially worships the ground she walks on.  Every man of anywhere near a suitable age for her falls madly in love with her.  I can give that a pass in paranormal romance, as there’s a lot of supernatural stuff going on, but this is supposed to be  a normal girl.  Not every man is going to fall in love with her.  It’s just preposterous!  That doesn’t happen!  Ellen is, simply put, a dull, boring woman with no true backbone.  If this was a Victorian novel, she’d be fainting every few pages.

Then there’s Marek, her love interest, who I also completely loathed.  Everything he does, even if it’s helping others, is for purely selfish reasons.  He also has a wicked temper and frequently dangles people out of windows.  Why Ellen becomes so obsessed with him is beyond me.

Ibbotson also obviously scorns many ideals that I myself hold dear.  Any character who is a vegetarian or against capitalism or in favor of nudity is displayed as silly, childish, or selfish.  There is a section in which the children are being taught by a vegetarian director and some of them switch to being vegetarian as well, and of course Ellen finds this simply atrocious and worries about the children.  Naturally, the director is later villainized.  Clearly anyone who eats “nut cutlets” for dinner simply cannot be normal.  I expect an author’s ideals to show up in a book, but the book’s blurb certainly gave no indication that a book taking place largely at a progressive boarding school would spend a large amount of its time mocking those same values.

In spite of all that I can’t say that this is a badly written book.  Ibbotson is capable of writing well, I just don’t enjoy her content at all.  After finishing it, I realized it reminded me of something.  It reads like a Jane Austen novel, and I absolutely loathe those.  So, if you enjoy Jane Austen and WWII era Europe settings, you’ll enjoy this book.  Everyone else should steer clear.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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