So I’m starting work on a Mary McCarthy paper due in May and this amazing interview seems like a good start:
Otoo, Sharon Dodua (2015), Synchronicity, Edition Assemblage
With Illustrations by Sita Ngoumou
Otoo, Sharon Dodua (2012), The Things I am Thinking While Smiling Politely, Edition Assemblage
Is this German literature? Sharon Otoo is not a German writer. She is, according to her page and the book cover, “a Black British mother, activist, author and editor;” and both books under review are written in English. There is a German version of both, published more or less simultaneously by the same publisher, who is headquartered in Münster, in North-Rhine Westphalia in West Germany, but they have both been translated by a person other than the author (Mirjam Nuenning). Otoo lives and works in Germany and is involved in German debates on racism and refugees. She moved to Germany in 2006 and immediately became involved in activism involving blackness in Germany. I recommend reading this interview. This year, she won the Bachmannpreis for a brilliant story, written in German, which was clearly, to pretty much any competent observer, the best text in the competition, despite some excellent work by the other competitors. The two novellas under review are a cultural hybrid, written in English by a writer with English education and sensibilities, but set in Germany and informed by the sharp observations and brilliant details of a critically observant person living in this country. German literature written by Germans of German descent is pretty dull these days, with a few notable exceptions. Too much of it has been nurtured in the two big MFA mills, too much of it is blind, privileged pap with nothing at stake. Otoo’s books are brilliantly aware of traditions and contexts, of how assumptions and narratives intersect. Synchronicity is a near-allegorical tale of migration, community and adulthood and extends the promise of Otoo’s debut. The Things I am Thinking While Smiling Politely, a book about heartbreak, racism and migration. Both books are written with a sharp stylistic economy that never lapses into flatness, a skill that is as rare as it is commendable. If German literature is to have an interesting future, then it is not young writers writing clever postmodern 1000 page books with nothing at stake or MFA mill products with their self-congratulatory emptiness. It is writers with a migratory background who inject fresh energy and purpose into a literature that has grown rather tired. Otoo does not identify as a German writer but it is German literature that most stands to profit from her growing body of work.
Synchronicity is a multi-layered, but straight-forward story of community and family. Everything else, all the magical realism, all the bells and whistles, are woven around this core. Blackness and migration is a tale of fighting to belong. In the much more knotty and fragmented Things I am Thinking…, the protagonist explains that, being “the only black girl in a London suburb” she “quickly leaned that trouble could be avoided if [she] acted white.” This thinking is continued and expanded upon in Synchronicity – while the first novella used the personal as a mirror and medium to reflect (and reflect upon) political aspects, combining heartbreak with thoughts of alienation, this second novella is more deliberate and careful in discussing migration by offering us a set of metaphors on the one hand, and tableau of characters who all relate to the protagonist along an axis of power and nationality. The more streamlined nature of the second book derives to a great part from the genesis of the book as a Christmas tale written in 24 daily installments and sent to friends and family. The idea of turning it into a book came later, which explains why the two novellas are so different in construction. Things I am Thinking… is written in fragments, with a narrator who keeps going back and forth in time, to reveal some things and hint at others. The chapters all start mid-sentence and each chapter is preceded by a “shrapnel,” an emotionally charged quote. The book only makes sense as a complete construction, there’s no way to write that kind of book by coming up with daily installments. And yet the linear nature of Synchronicity is also not a sign of Otoo’s development, because her Bachmannpreis-winning story is exceptionally well constructed, with cultural, historical and theoretical allusions coming together to create a story that is deceptively simple, a story that needed to be mapped out in advance. I suspect when we look at Otoo’s work in a few years, after she has written the novel that she’s writing now (and won the Chamisso-award that she’s practically a shoo-in for at this point) and edited some more books, that Synchronicity will stand out as a unique part of her oeuvre. An unusual work by a writer of uncommon talent.
It is important to note what an incredible progress the author has made since her first novella, despite that book’s high quality. Things I am Thinking… is a dense realist book that is fairly low on allusion and high on clarity of observation. The prose is lean but effective throughout, sometimes leaning a bit towards the journalistic. The real achievement of the book, however, is not the writing or the observations, per se, it is the author’s skill of connecting various elements of her narrator’s life in meaningful but subtle ways. I am sure the author is aware of various aspects of political philosophy, from Foucault to Critical Race Studies, but she wears that knowledge lightly. This is the philosophical version of “show not tell.” The book’s story is about a Black woman who lives in Germany. She has broken up with her husband Till, who is also the father of her child. She has friends of various ethnicities and origins, among them refugees. She has increasingly become disillusioned with the reality of Germany, which is expressed particularly well in the narrator’s attitude towards her husband’s name
So it was a matter of great inspiration to me, meeting Till on my year abroad in Germany. Someone with a surname so unambiguously of the country he was born, raised and lived in that I thought: how sexy is that? And I knew I had to make it my own. This however didn’t stop other officially suited white ladies in cold offices from saying “Wie bitte?” and asking me to repeat myself – like they were disappointed because they had been expecting me to be called something resembling Umdibondingo or whatever. Several months after we were married, I discovered that “Peters” was also the surname of a German colonial aggressor and although I didn’t begin to hate it then, I stopped adorning myself with it.
Otoo pulls off a rare trick – her book is dense and cerebral, but it has a story to tell, as well as a narrative and political urgency. Everything in the book has a purpose and is connected to everything else, but it never feels like Otoo is simply having a postmodern game on. This is not the place to unravel all the book’s plotlines and trajectories, but suffice to say that she manages to see how the different ways power shapes and controls us intersect and collaborate. And her protagonist, who has learned to accommodate various demands of power, is now crashing against the walls of the well-built house of German racism and economics because her personal life implodes. The word “shrapnel” is well chosen for the quotes preceding the chapters because the impression I got reading the book was that heartbreak, a fundamental personal emotion, functions like a bomb that explodes in the middle of a lifetime of accomodation and struggle. The book itself, while not framed explicitly as a text written by the protagonist, feels like an attempt to assemble the shards of a life, where one betrayal has damaged personal, professional and social relationships.
The aspect of migration is not central to Things I am Thinking…. We learn that the protagonist is British, but migration is experienced more through the eyes of the refugees we encounter in the book like Kareem, of whom the author remarks that he “has this matter of fact, nothing-to-lose air about his person. Years of being an illegal immigrant in an unwelcoming country will do that to you, I guess.” Much of the alienation that we learn about is the kind that happens when you look foreign and live in a racist country:
Berlin is a place where anything goes, and you can wear whatever you like, but if you are a Black woman in the underground, be prepared to be looked up and down very very slowly. I cannot tell you how many times I have glanced down at myself in horror during such moments to check if my jeans were unzipped or if my dress was caught up in my underwear. White people look at me sometimes like I am their own private Völkerschau. Staring back doesn’t help. It counts as part of the entertainment. Entertainment.
We get hints sometimes as to how a hybrid identity can develop with migration, such as when the protagonist recounts the criticism her “auntie” leveled at her: “she was truly shocked when she first realized that I had not raised Beth to hand wash her own underwear every night.” The reason for “auntie”’s outrage is the question of identity: “just because she has a whitey father, doesn’t mean she’s not Ghanaian!” The protagonist is not so sanguine about these matters, more interested in negotiating a Black identity in Germany, dealing with the shifting fortunes of being married to someone named Peters, and with the difficulties of establishing trust and loyalties in this country when you’re viewed as foreign.
Synchronicity, on the other hand, is primarily dedicated to these questions of heritage and migration. There are basically two stories, layered one above the other, in the book. One, the surface-level story, is the one of Charlie Mensah, known as “Cee,” who is a graphic designer who, one day, starts to “lose” her colors. This is meant quite literally. For a couple of days, she stops being able to see certain colors, with one color absconding per day. Blue, red, green, etc., until just gray remains. The beautiful illustrations by Sita Ngoumou provide a lovely background to this contrast. This is challenging to Cee, who is a freelance designer, with a big and well-paid project coming up, and who has suddenly lost the use of one of her most important faculties. Eventually, however, the colors return, one by one, albeit in a different form. This, so far, is the story as a realist narrative would describe it. There are smaller plotlines woven into it, such as Cee falling in love, and her conflicts with her client, but basically, this is it. The other story is the one concerning heritage and identity. This loss of colors is not some disability, not some virus or sickness, it is a process of maturation that happens to all the women in her family. The “different form” that colors are regained in is what the author calls “polysense,” a special form of synesthesia. And this is not all that is different about the women in Cee’s family. They are also all women who don’t reproduce sexually. They are parthogenic, which, as Cee explains, “means we have children alone – that our bodies are designed to become pregnant completely by themselves.” This is not some science fictional theory, although it echoes such science fictional worlds as the planet Whileaway in Joanna Russ’ feminist classic The Female Man. Otoo, beyond the term, never goes into details, because this strange genetic heritage serves primarily as a metaphor for migration and alienation. The people in Cee’s family live alone. They raise their daughters to be independent and then, once they are adult, they push them out of the house and then let them fend for themselves. The maturation process to polysense, and the insistence on independence makes it hard for these women to establish personal bonds; thus, Otoo found a metaphor to reify something that has been part of immigrant experience for a long time.
A better way, I suppose to frame it, is Axel Honneth’s innovative take on the subject of reification, where the process of recognizing the other is fundamental to the way our subjectivity is constructed and yet that recognition, which, as Butler writes, “is something achieved” that “emerge[s] first only after we wake from a more primary forgetfulness,” can be abandoned. The forgetting of recognition is, in Honneth’s reading, what. In classic terminology, we called reification. What does migration to to emotional recognition? How do we react when we migrate into places that see us as a constituting alterity, that use us to create their national and personal narratives. In Otoo’s slender and careful book, the answer, given for many generations of immigrants, is to retreat to a specific kind of subjectivity that rejects recognition. The parthogenetic reproduction is a perfect metaphor for that. But the tone of the book isn’t dark. Otoo, who works as an activist, imbues her novella with confidence in the future. Her migrants break free of this mold. Cee’s daughter refuses to accept the ways of her family and Cee herself sees changes in her and the world around her. She falls in love with a policeman who isn’t white, representing a fusion of her horizons with that of the country she migrated to. The most powerful description of the policeman is not the first time she sees him, it is a moment of recognition, which, for Honneth, is something that is part of maturation:
That policeman. I recognized him straight away this time because he had a particular kind of walk. Like he was happy to be walking at all. In fact, if I had to choose one word to describe his body language it would be: gratitude. That really fascinated me. I stared at him for quite some time as I walked towards him – he was in deep conversation with his white colleague. I could tell the colleague was white because his walk was altogether more sturdy and authoritarian. He placed his feet firmly onto the ground, each step conferring a heritage of legitimacy and ownership unto him.
The book is a Christmas story, which explains its optimism and lightness, but it also offers a literary third way between assimilation and rejection. Critical optimism, if you will. It is a unique quality that appears to be emerging in Otoo’s work. Things I am Thinking… is a much darker work, but the story that Otoo read at the Bachmannpreis walks the same line as Synchronicity does. I don’t think I’ve ever read quite the same kind of story in this country and I don’t think I have ever read a writer quite like Otoo.
At the Bachmannpreis (I had a short post on it last year here) the jury discussions of Otoo’s text and the one of Tomer Gardi, another exciting text read at the competition, as well as the contrast to the bland terrible awfulness of the texts read by Jan Snela, Julia Wolf, Isabelle Lehn or Astrid Sozio (who, slotted directly behind Otoo, read a spectacularly racist text) maybe shows where literature written and published in this country needs to turn. The comfortable and unnecessary tales of migrancy from a MFA-educated German mind do not add to the conversation and they do not produce good literature. That is a dead end, and nothing demonstrated that dead end as well as the comparison of the field with Sharon Otoo’s excellent text, and Otoo’s work in general.
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In yesterday’s review of China Miéville’s Dial H, I mentioned the regrettable dearth of female creators and characters in the New 52 relaunch. The difference to other publishers like Marvel (most notable probably is Kelly Sue DeConnick’s (female) Captain Marvel run, which so far (I am two trades in) is absolutely fantastic) is noticeable. Now, DC has announced a major new event, the first since they relaunched all titles. So, how do female creators fare there? Sue from DC Women Kicking Ass did the math:
Forever Evil is a huge event. In September the publisher will have 52 issues that will have villain on the cover. It will also have a seven issue mini series, Forever Evil, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by David Finch.
That’s a lot of writers and artists.
Just for the 52 issues appearing in September the number of credits is mind-boggling. I counted more than 150 credits and that includes the 20 artists that will be participating in Justice League #23.3: Dial E.
With only six of the artists announced for that issue, here’s the total on female creators.
Total female creators credits for Forever Evil announced to date:
So. There’s that.
rubbleofempires has a very persuasive case for the political ineffectiveness of projects like the Slutwalk and other attempts to ‘reclaim’ slurs. I’m not entirely sure I agree but he has a point about how oppressors deal with this, and about how much, consequently, violence remains part of these discourses and practices.
An excellent post on Feministe about the Assange rape affair, clearing up a point that has been oddly reported in the news.
There’s a lot going around in bloglandia and on the interwebs about WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange’s sexual assault charge in Sweden; commentators are saying that Assange didn’t really rape anyone, and these are trumped-up charges of “sex by surprise,” which basically means that Assange didn’t wear a condom and so days later the women he slept with are claiming rape. Totally unfair, right? Well, no, I’m not sure it’s that straightforward. The actual details of what happened are hard to come by, and are largely filtered through tabloid sources (…), but it sounds like the sex was consensual on the condition that a condom was used. It also sounds like in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn’t, and the woman didn’t realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not. (…)
Withdrawal of consent should be grounds for a rape charge (and it is, in Sweden) — if you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape.
It comes via an almost as good post on Salon.com called The rush to smear Assange’s rape accuser. Please read both.
Some recent nonsense (especially the publication of The Male Brain, the newest installment of what one expects again to be the usual dose of bad science by Louann Brizendine), and the generally dismissive attitude towards alleged ‘non-scientific’ knowledge that swamps so much impoverished contemporary intellectual discourse, have reminded me of “The seductive allure of neuroscience explanation“, a 2008 article in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Here is the abstract:
Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naïve adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) x 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two non-expert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on non-experts’ judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.
Great article over at sexactu.com. I want to draw attention particularly to
3) Les féministes sont meilleures au lit parce qu’elles aiment les hommes. Sans doute le point le plus important. Je crois sincèrement que les femmes non-féministes méprisent les mecs. Leur discours, c’est que les hommes ont dans leur nature le viol, la violence, la guerre, la domination gratuite, et que par conséquent il faudrait leur pardonner comme on pardonne à un chat de bouffer un lézard. Personnellement, j’ai une plus haute image des garçons et je pense qu’ils savent parfaitement se servir de leur cerveau, donc 1) ceux qui se comportent comme des connards doivent aller en prison, 2) les autres doivent être considérés comme des humains et pas des prédateurs sanguinaires. A mon niveau, théoriser la violence permet d’évacuer la rancoeur. Si je n’étais pas féministe et que je regardais les infos sur, par exemple, les Talibans, peut-être que je me mettrais à haïr les mecs. Et ça, vraiment, j’ai pas envie.
5) Les féministes sont meilleures au lit parce qu’elles sont consentantes. Sinon elles diraient “non”. Et en l’absence de “non”, tout le reste est “oui” – un vrai “oui”, pas “chais pas enfin nan mais en fait aux tréfonds de mon âme je pensais non et tu aurais dû deviner”.
I was told the following one was incorrect but I hereby lodge my protest. It is very perceptive and well-put:
9) Les mecs féministes sont aussi meilleurs au lit. Mes trois derniers mecs étaient féministes. Je ne reviendrai jamais en arrière 🙂 Oh non, jamais jamais jamais.
I notice I haven’t mentioned this blog before but I’ve spent a lot of time there these past months and am recommending it highly. Here’s the link again. The blog is written and maintained by Maïa Mazaurette
Ruth Padel, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, made history at Oxford when she became the first woman to be elected to the position of Professor of Poetry since the job was created in 1708.
But Padel’s election was marred by Nobel literature laureate Derek Walcott’s decision to withdraw as a candidate from the election after anonymous letters attacking him were sent to Oxford academics.
British newspapers reported that the letters made reference to an allegation of sexual harassment made against the St. Lucia-born poet by a former student in the 1980s.
The papers said the letters included references from the book ”The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus,” by Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner, which carries allegations against Walcott made by a Harvard freshman in 1981. At the time of his resignation, Walcott said he had never commented on the claims and would not do so now. But he called the anonymous letter campaign an attempt at character assassination.
Padel came under increasing pressure after The Sunday Times quoted e-mails it said she had sent to two unidentified journalists drawing their attention to the book. In a statement announcing her resignation, Padel acknowledged sending the e-mails. But she said she did not engage in a smear campaign, explaining that she had only passed on information already in the public domain.
”I acted in complete good faith, and would have been happy to lose to Derek, but I can see that people might interpret my actions otherwise,” she said in the statement.
Oh, they might?
Today, on i09: Annalee Newitz on Feminism in Battlestar Galactica, one of the best TV shows of recent years. Her excellent article is a nuanced piece of thinking about her subject. This crucial distinction here’s from the conclusion:
If we define feminism as the critique of a world where men unfairly wield power over women, then BSG is post-feminist. In other words, that critique is no longer necessary in the world of BSG: The show more or less successfully depicts a universe where women and men are equal in the realms of work and family. However, BSG was not made in a post-feminist world, so there are all kinds of hiccups where you get retrograde characters like Cally, or naked cylon chick fetishism, that are relics of our own society, which still so desperately needs a feminist slap upside the head on a regular basis.
A debate at two blogs, among them Irene‘s wonderful blogeous ode to inebration, has centered on outrage against prescriptive modern feminists. What they, especially Sybarite (post one, post two), think of strident feminists is well described by the slur “Feminazi” that neither of them uses, but that people who take the exact same line, do use. And yes, it is no accident that their positions, especially Sybarite’s, can be summed up as using a slur coined by Rush Limbaugh. I started to write a comment at Sybarite’s blog but it became too convoluted so I thought I’d take it to my home turf.
Rereading their posts, I think they fail to see a major problem: what some feminists are saying is that you only THINK you are choosing for yourself, that your choice is, in fact, made for you, once you learn language, behavior and manners. The cultural imprint is so strong that it is an illusion to be able to chose for one’s self. And yes, it is a very dangerous balance, between liberating women and rhetorically restricting their behavior. A good case in point is judith butler’s work on feminist matters, which vacillates between severely pessimistic accounts and accounts of freedom. You can’t disprove Butler’s argument easily, especially not by saying: how can I not know myself and my own decisions? which makes it all a tightrope act. Where do you cross into tyranny, into paternalism? I especially feel extremely uncomfortable writing this because my kind have been silencing female voices for centuries, and am I not now engaging in a similar undertaking? That creeps me out, to be honest.
So I’ll keep things brief. One thing, neither of the two mentioned, is the sexualization of little girls, the Bratz dolls are a case in point (also, related, remember the recent scandal over the Sasha and Malia dolls?). The things some feminists are complaining about hurt our children first, there are issues such as bodily self-image, sexualization, plus, most recently, the American culture which has experienced a rollback in sexual morals (will post the study once I dig it out); to cut to pop culture: look at how girls describe their love and admiration for Stephenie Meyer’s inane Twilight books? To brush all this aside by a coquettish moue, saying: But I like it that way! is appalling, to me. The direction our societies are taking is clear, unmistakeable, and ugly.
To reiterate: your own decisions may not be your own decisions, especially since they reinforce cultural stereotypes, which are shown to be culturally specific, most certainly not biological, so if feminists point that out, i.e. the fact that you dress in what amounts to a garb of capitulation to the prevailing cultural misogyny, they may not be “replac[ing] a patriarchy with a matriarchy” (a misogynistic term if I ever saw one) but, on the contrary, point out the mire we’re all still in. still the same stereotypes, only this time we like ’em. the wide acceptance by the so-called “new feminism” of essentialist, hurtful images and ideas is frightening.
All this is rather vapid, empty blather, since I am reluctant to dish out. It is not my place to speak up here, it just isn’t. My position is best described by Katha Pollitt, an old-fashioned feminist, and an invigorating writer. IN her 2006 collection Virginity or Death! she writes the following:
Women have learned to describe everything they do, no matter how apparently conformist, submissive, self-destructive or humiliating, as a personal choice that cannot be criticized because personal choice is what feminism is all about.”
The bitterness of her words and the trap that she sees there, are both important and noteworthy.
Feminism is a complex issue, not easily resolved. There are very smart feminists as well as utter idiots (Camilla Paglia, anyone?). Arguments such as Sybarite’s, which miss several important points, succeed, because they attack a position by attacking the dimwits among the supporters of such a position. That’s too easy. Take it up with the smart ones.
Despite initial “hopes for co-operation” the Vatican has fallen out with President Obama just days after his inauguration, accusing him of “arrogance” for overturning the “global gag rule” or ban on state funding for family-planning groups which facilitate abortions overseas.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said that with “the arrogance of someone who believes they are right”, Mr Obama had signed a decree which would “open the door to abortion and thus to the destruction of human life”.
He added: “What is important is to know how to listen, without locking oneself into ideological visions with the arrogance of a person who, having the power, thinks they can decide on life and death. If this is one of the first acts of President Obama, then with all due respect it seems to me that we are heading toward disappointment even more quickly than we thought”.
(from the Times) Note that this statement comes from the Catholic Church. methinks someone would do well with a tad self-awareness.
“It was a horrifying world, but it was a real one. How many of us can say we’ve made a new world out of the things that terrify and move us?” At least a few of the women writing horror today can say just that. And there’s no way to mistake the new worlds they’re making for the work of men.
That was from an overview of recent Horror fiction written by women and although I’m generally wary of the olde ‘women write differently than men’ claim, and have yet to find an instance of a decently argued statement of that claim, the quoted point is interesting.
Heard this twenty times today. May delete this later when I stop loving this. I still don’t like her delivery but this song hit me hard when I saw the video today. IT’s so well done, not just matters of gender but also race, power etc. Look closely. Not subtle but really great. And the song gets better as it progresses.
I am thinking about how to phrase/frame a certain issue when this post @ Girls read Comics caught my eye, expounding on the same issue:
The aftermath has included some excellent discussions […].
It has also included numerous fascinating examples of that amusing phenomena I like to call “Look! A monkey!” wherein someone will defend something they or someone else has said, not on the grounds that the thing itself is defensible, but because this person has done or said other things that were laudable. Or has acted in support of the group that they have now pissed off. Or in the most egregious examples, have a girlfriend/black friend/gay brother/transgender roommate/Jewish teacher, so it is totally unfair to call them out on the misogynistic/racist/heterosexist/transphobic/anti-Semitic thing that they have just said.
This is a good person and you are hurting their feelings! Stop taking this out of context of the rest of their lives! Can’t you concentrate on the positive? LOOK: A MONKEY.
In New Orleans today, McCain explained his opposition to the bill by claiming it “opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems.” Later in Kentucky, he added that instead of legislation allowing women to fight for equal pay, they simply need “education and training“.
Joshua Henkin’s right on the money (emphasis in the following quote’s mine)
The [Blue Flower] won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1997 […]. There were a few grumblings at the time (Underworld had been the favorite in some circles), revived more recently when someone (one of the judges? I can’t remember exactly) suggested that The Blue Flower had been a compromise choice and that a smaller, less ambitious novel had won out over a book that swung for the fences. No disrespect meant to Delillo or any of the others, but The Blue Flower, though it comes in at just over 200 pages, is neither small nor unambitious. Would people have said the same thing if the writer had been a man?
Judith Warner watches pro-choice and pro-life activists revisiting Roe vs. Wade in a push for Obama’s attention and concludes
“What we are waiting to hear from Barack Obama,” Campolo [a democratic pro-life activist] said on Tuesday, “is that he … sees this as a moral issue and an issue of conscience.”
Let’s hope Obama doesn’t take the bait. Or better yet: let’s hope that, as he seeks out new religious allies (the problematic Jeremiah Wright becoming a much more distant memory), he pushes hard to redefine the moral high ground in the abortion rights debate. Sanctifying life – without care for the living — is little more than a morality play.
Most of the criticism thrown at Hillary Clinton was that she was too mannish somehow — similar to the way in which similar criticisms were levied at Margaret Thatcher later in her career. What is it about standing up to men that makes a woman “mannish,” and why is that a bad thing? To the contrary, while Clinton may have worn pants the entire campaign, she made it a point to eschew the black pantsuits for which she had become known in Washington for ones in a variety of jewel tones and earthy colors. Her hair was always impeccably colored, it was rarely out of place and a relatively flattering cut. She never forewent make-up or jewelry like certain bloggers I see in the mirror every morning, and I have, more than once, seen her in a pair of cute kitten heels that I coveted. But, still, “mannish” was how she was tarred. If she’s mannish, I’d hate to see what women would have to do to be considered womanly.
Hysterical (see the pun?) new study
Most employees — male or female — would hesitate to yell at their superiors, but new research provides new evidence that women who show anger in the workplace are viewed as less competent — while men are not.
In three studies, 463 men and women between 18 and 70 years old watched video of actors pretending to be job seekers or employers. The participants then wrote down which applicants should get the job, the type of responsibility they could handle and how high their salaries should be.
“We found that the women (on the tapes) who were judged as angry lost out in every category,” says Victoria Brescoll, an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Management. […]
“When women express anger at work, no matter what they do on the job, they can be seen as ‘out of control’ or are viewed in a negative light,” Brescoll says.
Newish series on the always fabulous Jezebel blog (I loves you Tracy Egan), under the heading “What it feels like for a Girl”, using fellow blogger Gavin McInnes to demonstrate some facets of “What it feels like for a Girl”. Currently we have a report on Makeup (daytime) and Makeup (Nighttime) as well as walking in high heels and the followup, really walking a mile in high heels. Earlier they got yet another blogger to get his sack deforested.
Zwicky @ the Language Log is tired of the same ol’ sexism masquerading as science. This time it’s about the New Scientist cover story:
Oh, spit! Here we go again, with reports of previous studies of anatomical and neurological differences (critiqued in a long series of postings here) interpreted as establishing categorical differences between the sexes and so echoing “common knowledge” in a crude way. I haven’t the heart to reflect on yet another chapter in this story.
Language Log as usual debunking strange and unproven claims. Very readable Article here. Here’s the synopsis:
Let me summarize the evidence in one simple sentence: There is no functionally significant difference between boys and girls in auditory sensitivity.
Righteous indignation is so easy, so pleasant, when you can sit back and fling it overseas.
I had that edifying experience on the D.C. Metro Wednesday morning, reading in the Times about the Muslim women in France who are going to cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacement surgery so that they can bleed as seeming virgins on their wedding nights.
It’s a practice that has, apparently, become relatively common in the immigrant communities of Europe. But, of course, it seems like hair-raising news in a country like ours, where a young woman’s right to do with her body as she sees fit has, for decades, been enshrined as perhaps the most essential part of her God-given human dignity.
As my 11-year-old says, Yeah, right.
The Wall Street Journal reported back in March that some women were worried that “the resistance to Senator Clinton may embolden some men to resist women’s efforts to share power with them in business, politics and elsewhere.”
It’s a reasonable fear. Every fizzy triumph of feminism I have covered — Geraldine Ferraro’s selection, the Anita Hill hearings, Hillary’s co-presidency — ended up triggering awful backlashes. In the end, feminism sputtered out as a force.
Hillary has brought back that old feminist religion, at least for now.
Clinton is very much a product of the generation that accepted a certain amount of humiliation as the price of progress. […] She would never let her daughter, or anybody else’s daughter, think that she quit because things got too tough. And she never did. Nobody is ever again going to question whether it’s possible for a woman to go toe-to-toe with the toughest male candidate in a race for president of the United States. Or whether a woman could be strong enough to serve as commander in chief.
Her campaign didn’t resolve whether a woman who seems tough enough to run the military can also seem likable enough to get elected. But she helped pave the way. So many battles against prejudice are won when people get used to seeing women and minorities in roles that only white men had held before. By the end of those 54 primaries and caucuses, Hillary had made a woman running for president seem normal. […]
For all her vaunting ambition, she was never a candidate who ran for president just because it’s the presidency. She thought about winning in terms of the things she could accomplish, and she never forgot the women’s issues she had championed all her life — repair of the social safety net, children’s rights, support for working mothers.
Interesting statement in the post:
“Western stereotypes surrounding the hijab – the scarf that covers the neck and hair of Muslim women – include the assumption that women are wearing it because of subjugation and religious indoctrination. Some argue that such coverage is used to make women subservient and invisible. But what really makes them invisible is assuming that the women who choose to wear the hijab, the abaya or anything else did not make the choice themselves.”
It does gloss over important issues, but the point is well worth making.
Maureen Dowd points to a fascinating, -if saddening- case of (overcoming?) race and gender and the consequence of that.
Barack Obama is going to get down if it kills him.
[…] Checking out what the vets were drinking, he announced, “I’m going to have a Bud.” Then, showing he’s a smart guy who can learn and assimilate, he took big swigs from his beer can, a marked improvement on the delicate sip he took at a brewery in Bethlehem, Pa.
Obama is also doing his best to impress hoop-crazed Hoosiers with his passion for basketball. On Thursday night, in shirt and tie, he took on an eighth grader named Aaron at a backyard picnic in Union Mills in an impromptu game of P-I-G. “You know, he’s tough,” Obama laughed about his 14-year-old opponent. “He’s like Hillary Clinton.”
The lioness of Chappaqua is hot on the trail of the Chicago gazelle, eager to gnaw him to pieces, like a harrowing scene out of a George Stubbs painting.
Proclaiming that the upcoming elections in Indiana and North Carolina would be “a game changer,” Hillary and her posse pressed hard on their noble twin themes of emasculation and elitism.
Cherry-bombing the word “pansy” into the discourse, Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina said Hillary made “Rocky Balboa look like a pansy.”
Paul Gipson, president of a steelworkers local in Portage, Ind., hailed her “testicular fortitude,” before ripping into “Gucci-wearing, latte-drinking, self-centered, egotistical people that have damaged our lifestyle.”
James Carville helpfully told Eleanor Clift of Newsweek that if Hillary gave Obama one of her vehicles of testicular fortitude, “they’d both have two.”
Obama, on the other hand, may seem esoteric, and sometimes looks haughty or put-upon when he should merely offer that ensorcelling smile. But he is very well liked by his Secret Service agents, and shoots hoops with them. And I watched him take the time one night after a long day of campaigning to stand and take individual pictures with a squadron of Dallas motorcycle police officers on the tarmac.
It must be hard for Obama, having applied all his energy over the years to rising above the rough spots in his background, making whites comfortable with him, striving to become the sophisticated, silky political star who looks supremely comfortable in a tux. Now he must go into reverse and stoop to conquer with cornball photo ops.
Alice Walker offering her well-reasoned two cents on Obama, Clinton and Whiteness. I’m glad to’ve been able to read it.
I made my first white women friends in college; they were women who loved me and were loyal to our friendship, but I understood, as they did, that they were white women and that whiteness mattered. That, for instance, at Sarah Lawrence, where I was speedily inducted into the Board of Trustees practically as soon as I graduated, I made my way to the campus for meetings by train, subway and foot, while the other trustees, women and men, all white, made their way by limo. Because, in our country, with its painful history of unspeakable inequality, this is part of what whiteness means. I loved my school for trying to make me feel I mattered to it, but because of my relative poverty I knew I could not.
I am a supporter of Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time. He offers a rare opportunity for the country and the world to start over, and to do better. It is a deep sadness to me that many of my feminist white women friends cannot see him. Cannot see what he carries in his being. Cannot hear the fresh choices toward Movement he offers. That they can believe that millions of Americans –black, white, yellow, red and brown – choose Obama over Clinton only because he is a man, and black, feels tragic to me.
When I have supported white people, men and women, it was because I thought them the best possible people to do whatever the job required. Nothing else would have occurred to me. If Obama were in any sense mediocre, he would be forgotten by now. He is, in fact, a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves. […]
But most of all I want someone with the self-confidence to talk to anyone, “enemy” or “friend,” and this Obama has shown he can do. It is difficult to understand how one could vote for a person who is afraid to sit and talk to another human being. When you vote you are making someone a proxy for yourself; they are to speak when, and in places, you cannot. But if they find talking to someone else, who looks just like them, human, impossible, then what good is your vote?
It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as “a woman” while Barack Obama is always referred to as “a black man.” One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance.
I can easily imagine Obama sitting down and talking, person to person, with any leader, woman, man, child or common person, in the world, with no baggage of past servitude or race supremacy to mar their talks. I cannot see the same scenario with Mrs. Clinton who would drag into Twenty-First Century American leadership the same image of white privilege and distance from the reality of others’ lives that has so marred our country’s contacts with the rest of the world.
And yes, I would adore having a woman president of the United States. My choice would be Representative Barbara Lee, who alone voted in Congress five years ago not to make war on Iraq. That to me is leadership, morality, and courage; if she had been white I would have cheered just as hard. But she is not running for the highest office in the land, Mrs. Clinton is. And because Mrs. Clinton is a woman and because she may be very good at what she does, many people, including some younger women in my own family, originally favored her over Obama. I understand this, almost. It is because, in my own nieces’ case, there is little memory, apparently, of the foundational inequities that still plague people of color and poor whites in this country. Why, even though our family has been here longer than most North American families – and only partly due to the fact that we have Native American genes – we very recently, in my lifetime, secured the right to vote, and only after numbers of people suffered and died for it.
When I offered the word “Womanism” many years ago, it was to give us a tool to use, as feminist women of color, in times like these. These are the moments we can see clearly, and must honor devotedly, our singular path as women of color in the United States. We are not white women and this truth has been ground into us for centuries, often in brutal ways. But neither are we inclined to follow a black person, man or woman, unless they demonstrate considerable courage, intelligence, compassion and substance. I am delighted that so many women of color support Barack Obama -and genuinely proud of the many young and old white women and men who do.
Imagine, if he wins the presidency we will have not one but three black women in the White House; one tall, two somewhat shorter; none of them carrying the washing in and out of the back door. The bottom line for most of us is: With whom do we have a better chance of surviving the madness and fear we are presently enduring, and with whom do we wish to set off on a journey of new possibility?
NYT on an interesting phenomenon
“I cannot tell you how many of the e-mails that we got from last year’s ‘Work Out’ reunion that were women saying, ‘I am married. I have never looked at another woman. I have a huge crush on Jackie,’ ” Mr. Cohen said.
The audience for “Work Out,” which returns to Bravo on Tuesday for a third season, grew by 25 percent last season, according to Nielsen Media Research, to 659,000 viewers, the median age of which is about 36.
“I’m from St. Louis,” Mr. Cohen said. “When I go home a lot of times I’m amazed by the suburban married women that are coming up to me and saying, ‘I’m in love with Jackie Warner.’ ”
This, women of St. Louis, is not news to Ms. Warner.
“They get crushes,” she said in her office at Sky Sport & Spa, her penthouse gym in Beverly Hills with sweeping views of the city and the Hollywood sign. “I have hard-core women that get major crushes. I have women that send me — this is the weird thing — I have women that send me photos of themselves with their husbands and three teenage boys or whatever — I’m just giving you an example — with a love letter attached.”
Other women, said Ms. Warner, who has trained the likes of Paul McCartney and Anne Hathaway, hit on her during training sessions. Those who can’t afford the $400 an hour fee have joined social networking groups such as “If Jackie from ‘Workout’ hit on me, I’d definitely reconsider my sexuality.”
As a woman with the moniker LibbytheCute put it in the interactive magazine Zimbio.com. “I’m straight. Very straight, and even I would seriously consider batting for her team.”
Ludicrousness at ABC, in this NY Times article
Kendall Hart “is a very aspirational character for women,” Mr. Frons said. “She’d come from a trailer park and had built up a cosmetics company, and we felt that was the stuff of good female fiction.”
Y’know. Not good writing or useless stuff like that. Asprational Characters. Right-o.
The all-women Orange literature prize is still needed, despite women winning prizes in fair competition with men, the organisers have said.
The Orange prize longlist, published yesterday, includes Anne Enright’s The Gathering, which won the unisex Booker a few weeks ago. In the past two years, women have won both the Booker and Costa literary awards.
The novelist A. S. Byatt told The Times that the Orange was a sexist prize, saying that she was so critical of what it stands for that she forbids her publishers to submit her novels for consideration. “Such a prize was never needed,” she said, noting that many works of literature were by women.
John Sutherland, the academic, said that ghettoising women writers did them more harm them good. Anita Brookner, a Booker winner, has dismissed positive discrimination and is also believed to have declined having her novels entered for the Orange.
Harriet Hastings, project director of the Orange prize, shrugged off the criticisms, maintaining that it was international and had no need to justify its existence: “Although major prizes have been won by women, the value of the Orange is as a celebration of women’s fiction.”
Kirsty Lang, chairman of this year’s panel, denied yesterday that the Orange was positive discrimination, saying that most readers are women, and prizes are to attract readers. (via)
If you know me I have strong opinions about the policies of the Nobel committee and have been known to scream at people who decry political aspects of that award (both attacking Jelinek’s and Lessings’s awards as being politically correct awards that should belong to MEN such as John Updike (*retch*) or Philip Roth.). But an award just for women? I dunno.
A well reasoned mini-rant on the log attacking a common and tiresome position on feminism and how it destroys language.
[David Gelernter’s] claims are apocalyptic. Although English “used to belong to all its speakers and readers and writers” it has now been taken over by “arrogant ideologues” determined “to defend the borders of the New Feminist state.” A major “victory of propaganda over common sense” looms: “We have allowed ideologues to pocket a priceless property and walk away with it.” The language is on the brink of being lost, because although the “prime rule of writing is to keep it simple, concrete, concise”, today “virtually the whole educational establishment teaches the opposite”. This is the mild part. Soon he gets more seriously worked up, calling his opponents “style-smashers” and (I’m not kidding) “language rapists”, and claiming that “they were lying and knew it” when they did what they did.
What, then, is the terrible thing that the style-smashers have done? The following is (and I stress this) a complete list of all the facts about English usage he cites:
* Some writers now use either he or she, or singular they, or purportedly sex-neutral she, instead of purportedly sex-neutral he, to refer back to generic or quantified human antecedents that are not specifically marked as masculine.
* Some people recommend the words chairperson, humankind, and firefighter over chairman, mankind, and fireman.
* Some try to avoid using the phrases great man when speaking of a great person, or using brotherhood when making reference to fellow-feeling between human beings.
Gelernter insists on the beauty and clarity of “Shakespeare’s most perfect phrases”, calling them “miraculously simple and terse”; […]
Gelernter huffs and puffs a lot about the use of he or she, but this is only a prelude to something more serious: a furious condemnation of singular antecedents for they (“a student who lost their textbook”). In his telling of the story, the feminist language terrorists weren’t content with imposing he or she on us, a phrase that is merely clumsy; worse was to come when grammar itself “collapsed in a heap after agreement between subject and pronoun was declared to be optional”, i.e., they was permitted to have singular antecedents.
But his ignorance of the history of English literature on this point is breathtaking. It is quite clear that he has no idea Shakespeare used they with singular antecedents […]
Gelernter also specifically singles out Austen for praise: “The young Jane Austen is praised by her descendants for having written “pure simple English.” He obviously is not aware that Jane Austen is famous for her high frequency of use of of singular-anteceded they […].
Gelernter thinks singular they was invented by post-1970 feminist “ideologues”, rather than a use of pronouns having a continuous history going back as far as a thousand years. One might think it remarkable that someone this ignorant of the history and structure of English would nonetheless presume to pontificate, without having checked anything. But not if you read Language Log. We have noted many times the tendency to move straight to high dudgeon, skipping right over the stage where you check the reference books to make sure you have something to be in high dudgeon about. To take a random example, when Cullen Murphy accused three word-sense usages of being modern illiteratisms, Mark Liberman showed that in fact all three were the original meanings from long ago. And then a couple of months later Mark found John Powers had made an exactly analogous mistake with three other words. People just don’t look in reference books when it comes to language; they seem to think their status as writers combined with their emotion of anger gives them all the standing they need.
It’s not yet clear which prejudice will infect the presidential contest more — misogyny or racism.
Well. I have written on this topic thrice before. This is a difficult issue. Both the racial as well as the gender divide appear to be at work here and both blacks as well as women have repeatedly complained of expectations of loyalty to Obama/Clinton based on their gender/race. For those weirdos who think like that the situation of black women appeared to be particularly fascinating. CNN reports
Within minutes of posting a story on CNN’s homepage called “Gender or race: Black women voters face tough choices in South Carolina,” readers reacted quickly and angrily.
Readers want media to focus more on the candidates and how they feel about the issues not their gender or race.
Many took umbrage at the story’s suggestion that black women voters face “a unique, and most unexpected dilemma” about voting their race or their gender.
CNN received dozens of e-mails shortly after posting the story, which focuses largely on conversations about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that a CNN reporter observed at a hair salon in South Carolina whose customers are predominantly African-American.
An e-mailer named Tiffany responded sarcastically: “Duh, I’m a black woman and here I am at the voting booth. Duh, since I’m illiterate I’ll pull down the lever for someone. Hm… Well, he black so I may vote for him… oh wait she a woman I may vote for her… What Ise gon’ do? Oh lordy!”
For a while it appeared as if voters were divided along two tough lines of bigotry, so that, for instance, analysis seemed to show that whole ethnic or racial groups could be expected to vote for/against Obama because of his race and because of his race only. see for example this early February analysis:
Yesterday’s primary voting laid bare a profound racial and ethnic divide among Democratic voters, with African Americans overwhelmingly preferring Sen. Barack Obama and Latinos largely favoring Sen. Hillary Clinton.
In this discussion Bill Clinton’s infamous remarks fit squarely:
Clinton reminded reporters out of the blue that “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in ’84 and ’88. And he ran a good campaign. And Senator Obama’s run a good campaign here. He’s run a good campaign everywhere.”
This is of course as close to a slur as Clinton could allow himself to get. And everyone noticed the inappropriateness of this remark and of similar remarks, even Internet comedians mostly stayed away from that, unless the souce was downright hostile to Obama’s campaign. Putting down Obama because of his race wasn’t permissible.
However, it seemed easily permissible to riff on Hillary’s gender. Comparing her to Tracy Flick, for example, as in this collage, or discussing endlessly the degree to which Hillary Clinton is feminine enough and whether her tears have won her New Hampshire, and no, it’s not suddenly a better idea just because the Clintons embraced it themselves after winning. In case you’re interested, here‘s a piece that explains the difference between the polls and the surprising outcome.
If this post sounds confused, well, that’s because the whole issue has become really strange. On the one hand the racist hatred that tricks even pollsters and then, on the other hand, stuff like this:
In a webcast, prestidigitator Penn Jillette talks about a joke he has begun telling in his show. He thinks the thunderous reaction it gets from audiences shows that Hillary no longer has a shot.
The joke goes: “Obama is just creaming Hillary. You know, all these primaries, you know. And Hillary says it’s not fair, because they’re being held in February, and February is Black History Month. And unfortunately for Hillary, there’s no White Bitch Month.”
This last quote, as well as the quote at the beginning of this muddled post is taken from an insightful article by Maureen Dowd, which doesn’t answer that question though.
So. Where are we? To clear this up: no, I am not telling people to vote for the person who is most discriminated against. That’s absurd.
No, this is about the astonishing extent to which misogyny has become a part of our culture. Or (to turn again) is it about misogyny? To a certain extent, sure. Many of the journalistic instincts, how to ‘explain’ results best, are more or less sexist and insulting. Yet, as Stanley Fish has pointed out here and here, Hillary Clinton-hating contains elements of sexism but is an all-out attack on her person and that of her husband. So, isn’t it about sexism after all?
I am, again, not so sure. The fact that she has become such a widely hated person has to do with anti-Clintonianism that simmered still in the public. However, that does not explain the vehemence, the furor, which accompagnies these Anti-Clinton attacks these days. It just doesn’t. I say her gender is not the only but it is the central part of Hillary-bashing. And the worst thing about this is the fact that it is not recognized as offensive, especially compared with racism. Dowd relates an interesting anecdote:
Elaine Sirkis, 77, an Obama supporter, confided that she just isn’t sure she’s ready for a woman president. Betty Conway, 83, a Hillary supporter, confided that she just isn’t sure she’s ready for a black president.
As Conway walked away, Sirkis smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry,” she told Berman sweetly about her friend. “She’s a bigot.”
I am pretty sure that this situation is not reversible. Isn’t that sad? Misogyny is still normal, a smaller offence, good clean fun, as they say. Boys will be boys. Ah doesn’t it make you want to puke?
Now, I know this bit is slightly older but, just in case you haven’t read it yet, here‘s Sir Tim Berners-Lee on discrimination in the male oriented geek culture:
The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called for an end to the “stupid” male geek culture that disregards the work of capable female engineers, and puts others off entering the profession.
According to Berners-Lee, a culture exists where women can be put off a career in technology both by “stupid” behaviour by some male “geeks”, and by the reactions of other women.
“It’s a complex problem — we find bias against women by women. There are bits of male geek culture and engineer culture that are stupid. They should realise that they could be alienating people who are smarter and better engineers,” said Berners-Lee.
Engineering research facilities that interview candidates based only on how many papers they have had published also risk adding to the problem, according to Berners-Lee, because of an apparent in-built bias against women.
One academic went through a sex change, submitted the same papers under both identities, and found that papers were accepted from a man but were rejected when they came from a woman, said the web inventor. This bias is unaccountable, but adds to institutional bias, he said.
I have a list of articles on Language Log that I wanted to talk about concerning the stupidity of most pop science treatments on the so-called difference between man and woman. I may have voiced some disparaging comments of my own here and there and in other articles as well. The following excerpts are taken from an older Language Log article (please read the whole thing. It’s short and very readable).
On page 91 of The Female Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine writes (emphasis added):
Males have double the brain space and processing power devoted to sex as females. Just as women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion while men have a small country road, men have O’Hare Airport as a hub of processing thoughts about sex whereas women have the airfield nearby that lands small and private planes. That probably explains why 85 percent of twenty- to thirty-year-old males think about sex every fifty-two seconds and women think about it once a day — or up to three or four times on their most fertile days.
This striking different in rates of sexual thoughts is also one of the bullet points on the book’s jacket blurb — but there, female sex-thought frequency is downgraded from “once a day” to “once every couple of days”:
* Thoughts about sex enter a woman’s brain once every couple of days but enter a man’s brain about once every minute
Whatever the exact numbers, it’s an impressive-sounding difference — scientific validation for a widespread opinion about what men and women are like. And this is interesting stuff, right at the center of social and personal life, so you’re probably wondering about the details of the studies that produced these estimates.
in the following part of the article Liberman reviews her cited sources and, having done that, comes to these conclusions:
Adding up this study’s tally of undergraduate male sexual thoughts, we get 4.5 male urges + 2.5 male fantasies per day on average, for a total of 7 sexual thoughts, or one every (24*60*60/7 =) 12,342 seconds. Compare Dr. Brizendine’s figures: “85 percent of twenty- to thirty-year-old males think about sex every fifty-two seconds”. That’s more than 237 times hornier — even if the other 15 percent never thought about sex at all, the average frequency would still be at least two orders of magnitude greater than Jones & Barlow report. (And they sampled male undergraduate psychology students, who must surely be near their life maximum of sexual consciousness.)
How about the female numbers? Jones and Barlow’s student diaries yielded 2 female urges + 2.5 female fantasies per day on average, for a total of 4.5 sexual thoughts per day. That’s 450% greater than the “once a day” that Brizendine cites in the book’s text, and 900% greater than the “once every couple of days” rate in the jacket blurb. Not that the average self-reports from the “47 female undergraduates” in Jones and Barlow’s 1990 American sample should be taken to stand for the nature of all women in all times and places — but this is still 47 more women than we’ve been able to connect with Brizendine’s estimates, at least so far.
Note also that the Jones and Barlow numbers for women amount to one sexual thought every (24*60*60/4.5 =) 19,200 seconds. But you’re not going to sell any books by writing that “Men think about sex every 12,300 seconds, while women only have a sexual thought every 19,200 seconds”.
It’s always somewhat irritating how easily people (i.e. readers) swallow the “hey I’m right, cuz see, it’s scientific” ‘argument’. Science. mainly because it’s such a heavily specialized field right now (not that this kind of misuse wasn’t common in earlier days as well, remember Edward Long?) , is easily misused and I as a reader have a strong mistrust against people who base outrageous claims on ‘science’. I am sometimes suprised that other people aren’t and that all these bad science books sell so well. And the funniest thing about it is that many natural scientists, who should know better, who can see their sciences being misused and trivialized on a daily basis, often do not behave in a better way whenever they write about, or make use of, fields like literature, philosophy or theology. Oh, well.
And how often do I think about sex? As they say: that’s for me to know and for you to find out. 😉
Ah. This is the first entry I had written with respect to this topic and I notice I promised to elaborate when more sober. Well, that’s obviously not going to happen tonight, no sir. But I did find a short but interesting and very readable op ed in the NY Times, which I will shamelessly quote the best parts of now, but do please read the whole piece, as the author’s making some more valid points fully worth your attention.
Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.
So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.
But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.
What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations.
What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn’t.
What worries me is that reporters ignore Mr. Obama’s dependence on the old — for instance, the frequent campaign comparisons to John F. Kennedy — while not challenging the slander that her progressive policies are part of the Washington status quo.
You, my dear readers, see me equally worried about these things. Of course, the author’s simplifying the situation, race has played a major role for instance in discussions of Oprah’s involvement in the campaign. But it’s an op-ed, not an academic essay. And broadly speaking, she’s right. And we do have cause for worry.
PS. Fresh off the NYT Caucus blog which I’ve been monitoring tonight while reading and drinking are these oddly fitting statements:
Our colleage, Michael Powell, sends this in from Clinton HQ: “In the end, the tear was almost a galvanizing moment. It shook a couple of voters of their mental fence and solidified others in support of Mrs. Clinton. Elaine Marquis, a receptionist from Manchester, went back and forth, but she was leaning to Mrs. Clinton when that moment came. Someone asked a personal question and the candidates eyes misted. “I think it was absolutely wonderful,” Mrs. Marquis said. “Women finally saw a woman. Perhaps a tough woman but a woman with a gentle heart.”
Jim Neilsen, a 68-year-old retired sociology professor, has been in the Clinton camp for months. He said that voters are finally seeing a woman who has real emotions. “It did not bother me, I loved it,” he said. “I was moved.”
PPS. Even fresher off the same blog, please look at this picture. It could very easily be used as an illustration of the op-ed, couldn’t it?
Lately, what with a woman running, and Oprah making a pitch for Obama and discussions of Clinton’s male behaviour in the discussions, the gender asoect has become sort of intriguing. I will write (mostly quote) more about this in the following days. See for instance, today’s NY Times:
The politics are complex; even as rival campaigns seek to peel away women’s votes from Mrs. Clinton, they are often careful to acknowledge and pay tribute to the broader significance of her candidacy. “Women, I think, should take pride that Senator Clinton is running, the historic nature of her race,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said in an interview Thursday. “That’s a genuine sign of progress.” He said he tried to convey to his two daughters every day “that you’ve got the same opportunities and shots as everybody else.”
But he quickly moved on to make the case that the candidate’s sex is not, and should not, be the deciding factor. Women, he said, “can look at a whole series of issues and know, ‘You know what? This guy’s going to fight for us, partly due to biography.’ Because I know what it’s like to be raised by a single mom who’s trying to work and go to school and raise two kids at the same time, doesn’t have any support from the father. These are issues I’m passionate about.”
Moreover, he argued, his leadership offers the best prospects for delivering on that agenda.
The gender factor is rarely addressed head-on by Mrs. Clinton’s rivals.
More tomorrow when I’m more sober.
[if I weren’t almost finished…(he said whistfully)…hell, there is a fine paper in this]
Today’s online edition of the NY Times on a bit of interesting news
Ms. Simone was talking about her rise from hairstylist to online commentator to professional comic-book author. This month she added a new title. With the publication of issue No. 14 of Wonder Woman, which hit stores two weeks ago, Ms. Simone has become the regular writer of that amazing Amazon’s super-adventures, published by DC Comics. She is the first woman to serve as “ongoing writer” (to use the industry’s term) in the character’s 66-year history.
It’s an assignment that will only increase Ms. Simone’s profile. It’s also the latest move by DC Comics to push Wonder Woman, the company’s third-ranked hero, behind Superman and Batman, into the spotlight.
During a telephone interview from her home in Florence, Ore., Ms. Simone was effusive when discussing Wonder Woman. “She’s just the best kind of person,” she said. “She was a princess who didn’t need someone to rescue her. I grew up in an era — and a family — where women’s rights were very important, and the guys didn’t tend to stick around too long. She was an amazing role model.”
Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 treatise on the “Vindication of the Rights of Women” has held up remarkably well, considering the advances that feminists have made in the decades since. She emphasizes the rationality of women and their ability to be able to be strong enough to “rise in the world” without having to marry first. The fact that ground gained in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of feminist insights has been lost in the past decade has lent her arguments new power and demonstrates the longevity of gender stereotypes.
The text insists on destroying myths about women, the most damaging of which is the idea of feminity as being inherently “pretty” and of all women being a “frivolous sex”, not to be taken seriously. Wollstonecraft naturally realizes that she herself will be judged by that standard, which explains the vehemence of her attack against these stereotypes. In order to offset herself better against that myth she eschews a polished style so as not to make an impression of prettiness. Wollstonecraft wants to be seriously considered, as a “rational creature”, someone to be reckoned with as an adult, i.e. a person who can adequately discuss serious matters.
Thus she refutes the myth of women being unable to shine in any area of expertise apart from childish hobbies. However, she never denies that women are doing useless and childish things: “they dress; they paint and nickname God’s creatures.” Yet even though her disapproval is tangible, she does not berate women for adhering to these gender roles. Instead she chooses “to persuade women” to behave in a different fashion and condemns society for binding women to certain gender roles. It is a veiled attack, part of it directed against “writers”, part of it against an education system which teaches women to be caricatures of women. She doesn’t yet have the critical vocabulary developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s to describe the problem in a more exact way.
This is not to say, however, that she isn’t astonishingly modern in her criticism. Her recognition of the fact that women are made ‘women’ by their education is heavily reminiscent of modern ideas of sex and gender. Meanwhile, the most baffling connection between Wollstonecraft’s text and current attitudes towards women is not a theoretical one.
Rather, it becomes uncomfortably clear how far back the recent rollback in feminist matters has taken modern Western society. Since the mid-1990’s a new generation of women celebrate what they call their ‘womanhood’, emphasizing their ‘feminity’ and their differenece from men. The entertainment and advertising industry has catered to that impulse, providing TV Shows, hundreds of women’s magazines and books about women being from Venus and men being from Mars.
An American feminist was attacked in the NYTimes recently for decrying this harmful development in a style that was to the reviewer woefully indicative of a 1970’s frame of mind, replete with 1970’s vocabulary and concerned with 1970’s battles. The feminist complained that ‘choice’ these days has been perverted to also mean ‘choice to be feminine’, ‘choice to not work and be ‘married” and such things. It has been fashionable again to refute women’s rationality in favor of their ‘intuition’ and “libertine notions of beauty.”
As early as 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft recognized the trap which ‘feminity’ has become for women and she has decribed its contours in a precise way. Even though she is vague as to the construction mechanism of that trap and even though she continues to make problematic assumptions about the role of women in society, her text is still, 214 years after publication, remarkably forceful. This is not due to a stagnation in society and ideas about women but to the massive rollback which feminism has suffered in the last decade. Wollstonecraft’s attempt to “point out in what true dignity and human happiness consists” deserve to be read anew and to be read seriously.