Thursday, November 27, 2008

Things To Do Instead of Smoking, Part 2

While everyone suggests that you take up lollipops, hard candies, or breath mints, try and fail to get this song out of your head:

Also: is it just you, or does France Gall's sucker get bigger every time they cut back to it? Probably it is you.

Things To Do Instead of Smoking, Part 1

Consider how this PJ Harvey song stands in response to this poem by D.H. Lawrence. Look, here's a YouTube clip so that you can listen to it from this page:

(I tried to find a live performance, but no luck. There is a clip of a woman singing it to her baby! EMBARRASSING.)

Anyway, here's DH, in part:
When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
She'd been naked all her days before,
But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn't had the fact on her mind.

She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig leaves.
And women have been sewing ever since.
But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
And they won't let us forget it.

Now, the secret
Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
That laugh at the Lord's indignation.

What then, good Lord! cry the women.
We have kept our secret long enough.
We are a ripe fig.
Let us burst into affirmation.

They forget, ripe figs won't keep.
Ripe figs won't keep.
Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
Ripe figs won't keep, won't keep in any clime.
What then, when women the world over have all bursten into self-assurance?
And bursten figs won't keep?
One thing to love about PJ is how well-read she is, and how little she flaunts that. I've heard bands called "literate" simply because they have wordy lyrics, or cite authors by name; PJ, on the other hand, is literate - smart enough to base a song around this poem, for example, or to quote David Mamet and Flannery O'Connor in her lyrics - but in an unassuming, unpretentious sort of way. She puts in the references (high or low, trendy or not) and lets her listeners do the work. She knows what a Sheela Na Gig is, but she's also seen South Pacific and Carrie, and can touch on all three in the space of one song. So, the songs themselves tend to expand and take on new meanings over time, as you become familiar with her reference points.

Another thing to love about her is how she plays with gender. She tends to write songs around extreme, archetypal characters - the macho, violent gender-fuckers in songs like 50 ft. Queenie ("you bend over, Casanova") are balanced out by the whimperingly passive, victimized women in songs like Hook ("my love made me gag, call him Daddy"). This song is trickier. DH has a pretty basic point: women need to stop their yapping if they know what's good for them. PJ's take on it, though, is nearly impossible to get a bead on. She's dancing back and forth, agreeing and contradicting, subverting and supporting. It's a song about ambivalence: opening herself up is going to make her happy, but it's also going to cause some bloodshed. There's no clear resolution.

Oh, hey! Did I mention that she also wrote a song about dumping a dude because he won't put out? Well, she did! Here it is:

Bursten into self-assurance, indeed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Have a New Favorite Blog

I think “The Hills” actually comes from this weird confusing right wing place where sex is considered degrading to women, because women are giant babies (e.g. Sarah Palin). On one hand, it’s a way to keep the show apolitical and generally appealing (how could Lauren Conrad have a stance on abortion rights when she’s probably so afraid of her nanny-boo-boo she can’t even use an OB, right?), but I think beyond that, the lack of sex is meant to show that these girls are powerful and not complete vacant trash—it’s what keeps them from the world of scorn and ridicule heaped on someone like Paris Hilton. They do everything in the world to not deserve anyone’s respect—they barely work, they don’t contribute anything to society, they can’t even support one another emotionally or care genuinely about other human beings— but they don’t fuck, so they’re instantly classier than any girl who has an actual handle on her sexuality, right? Argh, “classy.” Don’t embrace the concept of “classy”, women of America! “Classy” is your gilded cage! “Classy” means you’re to embarassed too masturbate and even though everyone will praise your restrained brand of personal style, you will go to your grave enraged that your husband fucked Marilyn Monroe. For real, people! Classy is the worst lie!


Linking Time! Also: I Will Bring Shame Upon My Family

This morning, I woke up full of dread and shame. Bleary and haggard, I stumbled toward my computer screen.

"No," I muttered. "I didn't do that. I would never do that. I must have dreamed it."

But I was wrong. There, before my eyes, was a pale-blue Safari window, glowing with menace.

"Holy fuck," I said. "I just wrote 3,000 words about Valley of the Dolls."

On that note: it's Linking Time! My most favorite time of all! (Note: this is a lie. My most favorite time is actually Smoking Time, but I am going to give that up - again - in approximately 48 hours. I will be in Ohio, so you won't have to witness my Neely O'Hara-like withdrawal unless you are a member of my immediate family. If you are, well, sucks to be you, I guess!) Here are some people who are much better at blogging than I am:
Man Madness is the single greatest use of the Internet, whether or not you live in DC. Which is manlier - the FBI or the CIA? Place your bets now!

Mainstreaming feminism: it turns out that's a problem! This is because it allows Sarah Palin to cuddle and/or cash in on the movement like it's an adorable Downsy baby. Also, things only get absorbed into the mainstream if they're not that threatening in the first place, so feminism is selectively mainstreamed? And the good stuff about the movement then becomes invisible? See also: sex-positive movement, relationship of Sex & the City to.

You guys, the military is sad and scary. (Have you read Our Guys yet? If not, do it. Warning: it is the only book that ever made me vomit. Aside from Atlas Shrugged, I mean.)

Other things that are sad and scary include: violence against sex workers. The Good Guys trial reports are fascinating. It's like watching a really good procedural, except that Amanda Hess actually writes about strip club workers like they're people, instead of Symbols of Decadence and/or body-count increasing devices. Revolutionary!

Oh, hey, sheep people!

I read Emily Gould's blog. This rambling, ambivalent, occasionally mean, often sad piece - which touches on Emma Goldman,* "Song for Sharon," Prop 8, love, solitude, and that damn Beyonce song - is a good example of why I do that.

Some other people, who are funny and smart, are complaining about the Beyonce song, because they think it's kind of regressive, what with the forcing men to marry you and give you presents for sex and whatnot. Personally, I feel that the song's main theme ("don't be mad when you see that he want it / if you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it") is simply another way of saying, "if you were really that invested in our relationship, perhaps you could have made that clear BEFORE WE BROKE UP AND I STARTED MAKING OUT WITH OTHER PEOPLE," which is a sentiment for the ages.

Now that I'm defending Beyonce, I must also tell you that I read a Bukowski poem that I liked! What has become of my standards, I ask you?

* However, I must respectfully point out that quoting the Goldman piece without qualifying it is objectively kind of bonkers. People do this a lot! Often in Women's Studies classes! Goldman made quite a few points in that piece, many of which were specific to her day and age. For example, she writes that marriage may come about because of love, whereas love does not come about because of marriage, a point which is no longer even vaguely controversial, and which is the precise reason that people tend to live together before getting hitched. She also argues against compulsory marriage, marriage as the goal of a woman's life, and prohibitions against sex outside of marriage - and all of these pressures still exist, but are considerably less powerful now, given the fact that all but the most conservative people resist or ignore them. Goldman also speaks out against marriage as an economic arrangement while completely undervaluing the presence of women in the workplace. If you have no income of your own, you might have to stay with someone who treats you badly out of sheer financial necessity; if you have a job, an income, and savings, however, then you get to stay for precisely as long as the marriage meets your needs. (Hopefully it lasts forever, but, you know, things happen.) At the time Goldman wrote this piece - when you were expected to marry someone without sleeping with him, living with him, or even knowing him very well, and were also encouraged to give up your entire career once the wedding had taken place - some of what she had to say was smart and relevant, if overblown; now, however, people tend to quote the piece as a support for their vague "marriage-is-bad" arguments, which rest mostly on the fact that their parents were fucked up or their exes were mean and they're consequently scared of commitment. This is quite another thing. Anyway, end of post derailment.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Valley of the Dolls: Thrilling Climaxes

If I am going to tell you about Valley of the Dolls - and I am going to tell you about it, believe me - I have to tell you how I found it. After a friend's great-aunt died, I was asked to take part in clearing out her attic. This attic: it was amazing. The woman had lived into her eighties and she had apparently never thrown anything away. We were told to take anything we wanted, because it would make auctioning or donating her remaining things easier for the family. I hadn't known the woman, so I wasn't planning to take away much. Then, when going through the bookshelves, I found that on one shelf, behind the hardcovers, she had hidden a small pile of shabby paperbacks, including Hedy LaMarr's autobiography (Ecstasy and Me), Lady Chatterley's Lover, and a 1967 copy of Valley of the Dolls.

I found the dirty books.

Smut is weird. It's not about arousal, but titillation; arousal is a natural and common thing, whereas titillation is about deriving arousal from something forbidden. Smut promises its readers a release from shame while simultaneously reminding them that they have something to be ashamed of; a nonchalant attitude toward the subject in question (say, anal sex - Valley of the Dolls, it's said, contains the first "mainstream" depiction of it, although writers such as William Burroughs had published far more explicit scenes, and the claim as a whole is highly suspect) is less rewarding for the intended audience than a celebration of the subject as dirty, vile, depraved, and fantastic. Smut has to remind us of sexual boundaries in order to transgress them; if anything, it strengthens those boundaries by making them crucial to our response. Smut, in essence, is conservative.

This is why dated or bad smut is so instructive. Its sense of shame doesn't quite match ours; it's a bit to the left, or to the right, which makes the whole enterprise transparent. Valley of the Dolls is dated now, but it's always been bad; upon its release, it was widely embraced as a camp classic, especially among gay men, and that reputation has only grown over the years. Try to read the Sontag essay, if you can, before you read this book - and if you can't, just sit with this a while: "Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed, a good taste of bad taste... The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak." This is the mindset you will need to get into. Take this, for example:

"He came up last night." After a pause Neely said, "Anne... I... we did it."
"Did what?"
"You know."
"Neely... you mean...?"
"Uh huh. It hurt a lot and I didn't come. But Mel made me come the other way."
"What are you talking about?"
"He went down on me."
The idea of anyone reacting to an oral sex reference with such raw horror is unimaginable - yet Anne, who, on a separate occasion, is reduced to pearl-clutching shock by the phrase "get laid," is the character with whom we're supposed to identify. Everything in Valley of the Dolls is a little too big, a little too theatrical, and a little too old-fashioned to really work. Therein lies its charm.

The above-quoted passage is actually one of the more sexually explicit scenes in Valley of the Dolls. The novel's relentless, over-the-top vulgarity does not extend to its sex scenes, which are mostly comprised of euphemisms and insinuations. Most of the women in Valley of the Dolls "climax" rather than "come." (When one woman's boarding-school lesbian lover says, "I want to give you thrilling climaxes," the contemporary reader is hard-pressed not to think, "oh, you mean like Return of the Jedi?") The book's only blowjob takes one line to complete: a woman "[falls] to her knees and [begins] to make love to" the man in question. Here is the buttsex heard 'round the world, in its entirety:
He pulled the robe off her. "Turn over," he growled.
She ground her teeth in agony as he tore into her. She felt his nails ripping down her back. Smile, Jen, she told herself. You've made it. You're Mrs. Tony Polar...
End of scene.

You begin to see, I trust, why this is such an entertaining read.


From Broadway to Hollywood, this is the fastest-selling, most whispered-about novel of the year. And no wonder! It reveals more about the secret, drug-filled, love-starved, sex-satiated, nightmare world of show business than any novel ever published.
It begins, in my book, with the jacket copy. Before I read Valley of the Dolls, I knew it by reputation, as a scandalous book, a Hollywood expose, and a bestseller, especially among women and gay men. I was not prepared for how all of those things were apparently a part of the book's marketing strategy from the beginning. The book is not selling from coast to coast; it is selling from Broadway to Hollywood - maybe to the very celebrities whose lives are portrayed therein! Likewise, people are not talking about it; they are whispering, as one whispers secrets. The world it portrays, in fact, is secret, as well as drug-filled and sex-satiated. (Has anyone else ever said, let alone written, the phrase "sex-satiated"?) "Everything you've heard about it is true," the back cover promises.

The entire value of Valley of the Dolls lies in its ability to shock. This is not literature, and it doesn't aim to be. If we are scandalized and fascinated, it succeeds; if we aren't, it doesn't. To evaluate it, you have to work on its terms. The surprise lies in the fact that it still (somehow, sometimes) delivers the goods.


Of course, since this was intended to be a chick book, we've got to have our Opposed Yet Complimentary Personalities(TM). Here they are:
ANNE WELLES: the icy New England beauty who melted for the wrong Mr. Right... an Adonis famous for his infidelity.
The book starts, ends with, and centers on Anne. She is the audience surrogate - the prude who allows her audience an entry point into the non-stop debauchery of the novel. The book opens with Anne looking for her first job in New York, having just run away from stodgy Lawrenceville, Massachussets, where her mother has just told her that sex is rarely satisfying and love does not really exist and the best she can expect is to marry a nice young boy from the neighborhood and hope that he treats her well. Anne will never go back to Lawrenceville... never.... never... never! She believes in love! And passion! For the intended audience of the book - women who stayed in their own Lawrencevilles and married their own nice boys - this is a promise that the book will offer what their lives can't.

This goes awry when we realize just how clueless our Anne is. She soon finds herself accidentally engaged to Aaron Cooper, a meek little insurance agent who reveals himself, at a later date, to be the scion of a fabulously wealthy Italian-American (?) family with shady ties. (This also happened on Gossip Girl, by the way, but the man in question was an English lord.) The scenes with his Joe-Pescian father, Gino Cooper (??), are a particular delight. Yet Anne doesn't love Aaron - and, as with all other men, she is unable to experience even the most perfunctory sexual arousal with him. Anne fears that she may be permanently frigid. Until...

She meets Lyon Burke. It is a proven scientific fact that whenever the heroine of a woman's paperback meets a man named Lyon, he is going to rock her like a hurricane at some point within the next 100 pages. This Lyon is a shockingly handsome English WWII veteran who is also fabulously successful talent agent, but secretly longs to write a great novel. This is his sensitive side, which he does not often expose to women, mostly because he's too busy exposing his junk - Lyon gets around. Anne is drawn to Lyon's hidden vulnerability, which leads to some inevitable hurricane-like rocking. Everyone tells Anne that Lyon is bad news! He's trouble! He'll break her heart! Anne doesn't listen - she's in love, and also she can finally get ladyboners. Then, of course, he breaks her heart. Moving on:
NEELY O'HARA: the lovable kid from vaudeville who became a star and a monster.
Neely - we should get this out of the way up front - is Judy Garland. She's an adorably perky teen actress who rooms with Anne, and who somehow lucks into instantaneous superstardom about one-third of the way into the book, at which point the real fun begins. She goes through two sketched-in husbands, Mel (defining characteristic: Jewish) and Ted (defining characteristic: sleeps with dudes) before meeting her true love, Mr. Lots and Lots of Pills (defining characteristic: comes in prescription bottles), with whom she has a long and affectionate relationship. Together, Neely and Mr. Pills lose a hundred jobs, stage a thousand comebacks, and suffer a million spectacular freakouts, all of which are a joy to read. Here's a little sample of what makes her so special:
Ted and the girl were scrambling out of the pool as she staggered out, holding a bottle of Scotch.
"Having a good time, kiddies?" she shrieked. "Fucking in my pool? Be sure you drain it out. Remember, Ted - your children go wading in it every morning."
The girl dodged frantically behind Ted. Neely carefully emptied the bottle into the pool.
"Maybe this'll disinfect it," she sneered. Then she stared at Ted. "So now it's a girl tramp instead of a boy. I guess Dr. Mitchell will tell me you need this too!"
Nothing but class, that girl.
JENNIFER NORTH: the blonde goddess who survived every betrayal against her magnificent body except the last.
Jennifer North has breasts. They are large. This is communicated to the reader through the subtle device of mentioning them in every single scene in which she takes part. All Jennifer wants is love - a husband, some babies - yet The Breasts (usually referred to as "boobs," in the classy parlance of the book) thwart her at every turn. Men, you see, only want her for her body. This reaches delirious heights of idiocy when Jennifer wrangles a proposal from her boyfriend, Tony Polar (uh-oh), by speaking on behalf of The Breasts as if they are independent beings with lives and personalities of their own ("we want you, Tony... we'll miss you, Tony... marry us tonight, Tony") while he stumbles around the room drooling and grabbing for them. In a shocking surprise plot twist, Tony turns out to be retarded. (This also happened on Gossip Girl, by the way, but the man in question was an English lord.) Jennifer is forced to get a divorce, abort her potentially retarded fetus, and retreat to France for a life of non-stop sluttery and art films in which she is occasionally topless. Oh, the shame!


I said that Valley of the Dolls still had some power to shock its readers, and that is true. It is, in some ways, a disturbing read. It's not about the sex, or the drugs - in the age of Ritalin and Xanax, the idea that people might be using prescription drugs to get high is not precisely revelatory - or even about celebrities behaving badly, which may have been the main draw of the book when it was published. Although it's fun to read about Ethel Merman ("Helen Lawson") and Judy Garland having a boozed-up fistfight in a public restroom, today's celebrity coverage has removed any novelty from the idea that celebrities sometimes have messy private lives. It's the same with abortions, premarital sex, or the fact that gay people exist and sometimes work in musical theater - contemporary readers know about these things, and tend to be far more enlightened about them than the characters of this book. So, no, it's not about sex, or drugs, or celebrity: it's about the pervasive bleakness of the book itself, and the fact that each and every character comes to an unhappy end within it. One gets the sense that they're not unhappy because they made the wrong choices, but because they never could have been happy, no matter what choices they made.

In bourgeois novels of sex and scandal, bad girls have to get punished. The readers want to live vicariously through them, but they also need to see them end in tragedy, as an affirmation that their own lives were the ones worth living after all. That much is a given. But why are these girls bad? What are they getting punished for? You could say that it's simply because they're more successful and wealthy than most readers of the book - but, given the dim view the book takes of middle-class existence (a view shared by its author, who was monomaniacal in her pursuit of fame by any means necessary), it's not quite that simple.

Jennifer North - the sweetest character in the book, and the easiest one with which to identify, Breasts notwithstanding - commits suicide. Given her sexual exploits throughout the book (the lesbian lover, the anal sex, the "nudie" pictures, the seven-count-them-seven abortions) this would seem to be a simple matter of killing the slut. It's not. Jennifer is never really after sex; it's just a way to make people love her. She does find a man to settle down with, a man who genuinely seems to care about her as a person. Then she gets breast cancer. (Susann had been diagnosed with the same thing before she wrote the book; it was what killed her.) She needs a mastectomy, and turns to her boyfriend. He tells her that he doesn't care what happens to the rest of her body, but that if her breasts are ever damaged, he won't be able to stand it (or, by implication, her). So, off she goes.

This development - a good man revealing a cruel, selfish side at the last minute (just like on Gossip Girl!) - happens so often that it ceases to be a lame plot device and becomes a theme. You can't trust anyone. Love is never mutual. You will never know another person as deeply as you want or need to. These are the messages of the book.

It's reiterated in the book's only real "romance," the affair of Anne and Lyon. She does marry him, eventually, and has his children. Of course, by that time, he's sick of her, and has moved on to other women. Anne knows about it, and says nothing. As the book closes, she's developing her own drug problem, and is resigned to letting her marriage wither away while she numbs out on pills. Anne is the good girl of the book - the one who espouses chastity, monogamy, romance, and strictly vaginal penetration, the one who makes all the right choices - and in another novel of this genre, she would have been given a happy ending. (She did get one, in the movie.) Why is her ending so dark? More importantly, why are all of her potential endings equally dark? If she'd stayed at home and done as her mother told her, she would have been unhappy; if she'd married Cooper, she would have been unhappy; if she'd stayed with the impotent man she takes up with in the last half of the book, she would have been unhappy; now, she's the heroine of the book, married to its hero, and she is unhappy. There are no good options. There never were. This is another point the book drives home.

As it stands, the only vaguely triumphant character in the book is Neely O'Hara. It's understood that she will self-destruct eventually - as Garland did - and that her comebacks will always be accompanied by relapses - as Garland's were - but the book leaves her poised on top of her latest triumph, instead of falling back into squalor, as Garland had already done by the time the book was published. (She was offered a role in the movie, but was too fucked up to make it through shooting, and was replaced.) By the end of the book, Neely has (perhaps by accident - I'm not crediting Susann with much here) transcended the inside-Hollywood portrait to become an almost allegorical figure, Female Appetite personified. Her weight gain, which is endlessly and cruelly discussed in the book, stands in for something larger, the fact that she consumes - drugs, booze, attention, money, people - without ceasing, and always wants more. Women who want, in most books of this kind, are the villains, and the ones who receive the worst punishments. Neely is a monster; it says so in the jacket copy. Yet she's also the only character who really survives the book, or at least the only one whose destruction is not explicitly guaranteed. You can't trust anyone; there are no good options; take what you want, and take as much of it as you can. Power is all that counts.

It all comes back to the body, in the end. The happiness of the characters is dependent on their ability to overcome its various betrayals - Neely's ability to overcome the drugs, Jennifer's ability to overcome the loss of her sex appeal, Anne's ability to overcome age itself. For the most part, they don't get through it; then again, no-one does. It's strange that in a novel this over-the-top, the ultimate destructive force is nothing sensational: it's just flesh, and time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hey! Want To Hear About Jean Claude Van Damme's Liquid Creamy Seed?

Well, TOO LATE. The attractively-named Sarah Ball of Newsweek has the goods for you. Mr. Van Damme begins:
I really opened myself up in "JCVD." I peeled back the skin of the fruit, cut the pulp and then took that very hard seed. In this film I cut that hard seed, and inside that seed was a kind of liquid cream substance of the man I am, or the woman you are.

It was like being naked—I would love to be naked in front of you.

Well, who wouldn't? Sara (or, in compromised versions, Sarah) is, as we all know, a very attractive name. It can survive almost anything! Few men are indifferent to its powers. Anyway, there's more:

So are you in New York?

Yes, I am.
And are you 27, or 32?

I ' m 22.
Oh, f–––. That is very young. Will you come to the premiere?

I don ' t know. When is it?
I don't know. You will wear all black, a black dress and high heels?

You can come find me, I will be the one with the very broad shoulders, dark hair and a simple suit. We can have some champagne, you and me.

Sarah Ball's answer is not on record. At any rate, I think we can safely say one thing: DAMN YOU, SARAH BALL! He was supposed to be mine. It appears that my dreams of a honeymoon spent tenderly kickboxing were for naught.

Ah, well, Jean Claude. We'll always have the dance, you and I.

Helps Me Find... Brecht! Helps Me Find... Chandler! Helps Me Find... James Joyce!

She always makes the right choice!
In April 2007, 24-year-old William Hallowell was accused of sending salacious and threatening emails to Robin Bernsen, his former boss in the library at the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx. Bernsen had sent an email to address that was similar to Hallowell's email address (but it wasn't Hallowell's), and the response she received included such gems as, "I want your sweet body against my skin! We could do it in the library. I could spank you with a vintage [copy] of Finigan's [sic] Wake."
Honestly, that sounds like more fun than writing a dissertation about it.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Places That Are Better Than My Apartment: An Ongoing Series

You know, it's not often that I feel nostalgic for the days before suffrage. Today, however, it occurs to me that, were I living in that day and age, I could at least have an apartment in Manhattan - namely, the Trowmart Inn.

According to Ephemeral New York (and this article, thanks for linking, guy) it was a "handsome hostelry" for ladies "of the class who [labor] for a small wage, and whose parents have no home within the city." Why, that's me! What sort of accomodations were provided for such ladies, pray tell?
For $4 a week, a girl could have a single room containing a bed, washstand, and table, plus breakfast and dinner.
You also got a library, a "good-sized laundry with porcelain tubs," access to a "medical woman" who worked on the first floor, and, as the Times points out, plumbing which was thoroughly "modern and scientific." In addition to this, there was no curfew, so you could gallivant around at all hours in a manner most unbecoming.

Furthermore, the building's owner, William Martin, was a man with a mission: to improve your love life through superior real estate.
"Girls who work long hours in factory, shop, and store, and whose leisure is spent within the dull confines of a cheap lodging or boarding house, have few opportunities for making and pursuing the acquaintance of desirable young men."
Yeah, tell me about it.
"Girls of gentleness and refinement do not care to be courted upon the open highway, nor in public parks, and thus the world is filling with spinsters, who, according to Mr. Martin, had they a proper place in which to entertain their admirers, would develop into happy, excellent wives."
Well, maybe. At the very least, they could develop into people who could say "come over to my place" without feeling the blush of housing-related shame.

There were apparently lots of lodging houses for working girls scattered throughout the city, but, as one letter to the Times points out, they had a significant problem: women who earned "too much" couldn't get rooms there, even if they couldn't really afford anything else.
"It has long been evident to those interested in the subject that girls earning from $7 to $9 per week were worse off than those who earn $5 or $6... Any one who has tried to find board from $4 to $5 knows from sad experience that the person who obtains it is to be congratulated. One may succeed if one goes far uptown or into the suburbs, but there carfare will bring it up to a higher figure."
Old-timey ladies: they're just like us! If by "us," you mostly mean "me!" And that is usually what I mean! Also, are you interested in hearing about economic and social disincentives for working women? Because this girl has some for you:
"It must be remembered that the more a girl earns the more she will have to spend on clothes. The clothes worn by the writer when she was earning $4.50 a week would not be suitable to wear in a first-class office, nor can she bring a luncheon and eat it in the office, as she did then. Her present salary is much larger than the former, yet she does not save much more in proportion, and she is not at all extravagant. This state of affairs often tends to crush ambition and make a girl regret an increase in her salary, since she must leave her comfortable quarters and probably in sheer desperation resort to doing her own cooking in a small furnished room. Dozens of girls ruin their health in this way, and almost starve in the effort to make 'both ends meet.'"
How much do I love this woman? Smart, ambitious, contrary, not above telling a Times writer what is what - I kind of want to build a time machine just so that I can hang out with her. Of course, she doesn't sign her name; she's just "A GIRL WHO WORKS."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My, What An Interesting and Exciting Day!

For people whose memories of the '80s and early '90s largely involve being driven to and from various functions in the Chevy trucks of their metal-enthusiast stepfathers, on those few occasions when the stepfathers in question were not asleep or working the night shift at Big Bear!*

First we have this fine piece of reporting, which I shall quote briefly:
Metal in America has never been a particularly urban movement; its environment is mostly suburban or rural, and its stronghold is traditionally the Midwest. The image of the stereotypical metal fan - young, white, lower or middle class - has been firmly entrenched in American pop-culture since the late '70s... the circumstances of [two Priest fans'] lives can tell us a good deal about the social circumstances of a large portion of metal's most fervent mid-'80s American fans. [They] both grew up in fractured families in a lower-middle-class area of suburban Reno; had histories of depression, substance abuse, and violence; and used their obsession with heavy metal as a way to define themselves as part of an oppositional subculture.
All of this is quite true, and well written.

Then, to top off the day, Chuck "Are You Being Sarcastic? Man, I Don't Even Know Any More" Klosterman contributed a review of Chinese Democracy to the conversation. That review is neither true nor well written, incidentally, as it is concerned largely with the tormented genius of Axl Rose and his Kaufmanian belief that "every single Guns N' Roses song needs to employ every single thing that Guns N' Roses has the capacity to do," which task no doubt made this album the long-delayed creature of legend that it was. This is incorrect. The reason that Chinese Democracy took fourteen years to complete was that it took that long for Axl Rose to purchase and listen to the Puddle of Mudd CDs that it sounds exactly like. There is no Slash on Chinese Democracy! No Slash at all! For this reason, it is morally wrong to consider Chinese Democracy a GNR record. Look, here's Slash now, doing something nice:

I'm so glad that Slash married a woman who shares his love of ridiculous hats.

Having established that Brian DeLeeuw's piece is the clear winner here, perhaps it would be good to point out some places it could have gone! For example, I think DeLeeuw underplays the scary/fascist elements of metal - and understandably so, because I think everyone of a certain age recalls the hysteria which led certain people to believe that "We're Not Gonna Take It" advocated the widespread tossing of parents out of windows. Still, those elements are worth a look. Yes, a lot of metal albums provided identities and revenge fantasies for suburban dweebs, but they also played into the idea that some people (yeah, THOSE people, you know them) need to be put in their place - and it was easy to work certain agendas into that framework, or to read them in. Then, too, there's the fact that the whole hail-Satan element of metal really only works in a culture in which Christianity is not merely an option, but the option, which does a lot to explain the suburban and Midwestern popularity of metal, and is also why I am not surprised (though DeLeeuw is) to find that one of the only remaining all-metal radio stations is run out of a Catholic school. Metal was a culture of opposition, sure, but one which only challenged certain (I would argue) superficial elements of the dominant culture - it was basically against anything that kept white straight dudes from doing whatever the hell they wanted without getting in trouble for it. Metal is the Libertarian party of rock.

Finally, I would like to point out that all of these elements, along with the presumed hyper-hetero-masculinity of metal (lots of songs about fucking! and sometimes raping!) were what made it possible for Rob Halford to dress like a Tom of Finland illustration for years without anyone thinking anything other than "man, that dude must get so much pussy."


*Big Bear has a Wikipedia page. I consider this to be the finest achievement of American culture. I also particularly enjoy their early, ominous slogan, "You'll Be Surprised by a Big Bear." They never really dropped the "a giant bear is going to eat you" gimmick, as evidenced by the realistic, life-sized bear - posed with slavering jaws opened wide and one monstrous paw raised for the kill - that crouched atop the freezers in the frozen food section of our local outlet, which made me cry whenever I saw it for much of my young life. That's branding!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Backlash Generation

Voters reject the term and the category of being a “feminist,” with only 20% of women willing to use that word about themselves. Nor do they want their daughters to become feminists—only 17% of voters said they would welcome their daughters using that label.

But while “feminism” seems to connote a radicalism out of the mainstream, most women have very definite beliefs about the equality of the sexes. Older women believe by nearly 2/1 that when given an equal opportunity, women will succeed at whatever they do. Younger women agree but more of them (43%) feel that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses in what they can do well.

Gee, I wonder why.

(Emphasis mine. Emphasis is always mine.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Little Women: There Will Be Germans. Oh, and Pap.

Let me preface this with a warning: there will be numerous spoilers for the plot to Little Women.

SPOILER: there is no plot to Little Women.

Not a plot in sight! The girls grow up, get married, have babies, and sometimes die. (SPOILER!) Then again, if you are a girl, you know this already.

For those who were spared: Little Women is about four sisters, the Marches, who live in Civil War-era... oh, let's say New England. You would think it would be impossible to tell a story about Civil War-era American life without really mentioning slavery, or the Civil War! You would be wrong. This probably says something about the domestic sphere vs. the public sphere, or the female experience of war, or about trying to create a sense of common national identity in 1868 (they do hate on the British a bit), but it also says something else: B-O-R-I-N-G.

The March sisters are poor, although it's a Jane Austen kind of poverty, consisting as it does of having only one servant (horrors!) and having to take up genteel professions. They spend a lot of time telling anecdotes, having adventures (like that one time Jo goes over to the neighbor's house, or that other time Jo goes over to the neighbor's house, or that time when, you won't believe it, Jo actually goes over to the neighbor's house - man, these girls are crazy!) about which they tell anecdotes, and, of course, extracting a moral out of every single anecdote that they tell. In the absence of any discernible conflict, Alcott relies on the time-honored practice of separating her female cast into opposed yet complimentary Personalities (TM).

Let's see, you've got the sheltered one:

The boyish one:

The annoying, self-centered, if-she-mentions-clothing-one-more-time-I'll-smack-her one:

And the old one:

The book is basically devoted to explorations of how these Personalities(TM) develop, make choices, get married (or die, SPOILER), and learn life lessons. If you do not shudder at the phrase "life lessons," as I do, it has evidently been a while since you read Little Women.

I am being negative. That is not nice. So, let me throw in something positive right up front: I think it is very impressive that Louisa May Alcott managed to write an enduringly popular novel, since she apparently never spoke to another human being in her life. In every scene in which the girls are gathered, the dialogue follows a distinctly unnerving pattern, which goes like this:

Meg says something,
then Jo says something,
then Beth says something,
then Amy says something else.

The order sometimes varies, but the weird spelling-bee effect of the whole arrangement never dies. Let's not even touch on the things that they actually say. ("All the married people take hands and dance around the husband and wife, as the Germans do, while we bachelors and spinsters prance in couples outside!" I've never had a wedding, but if I had, and the guests had suggested "prancing" or doing anything "as the Germans do," I would have closed the reception hall down and sent their gifts back unopened. Not the March sisters. They love German prancing. They prance the shit out of that German business. They are prancing balls over at the March place. )

So: let's rattle off the list, shall we?

Meg March, the oldest, is boring. She wants to get married and have babies, and then she does. The dude - a German tutor - is poor, which is kind of a problem, except that it isn't. So, um, check!

Beth March is the simple child that they keep locked in the basement. She's so shy that she can't talk to anyone outside of her immediate family, she rarely leaves the house, and her only interests in life are her piano, her many cats, and her collection of creepy, disfigured dolls.
"There were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child still, and loved her pets as well as ever; not one whole or handsome one among them... [as one had] no top to its head, she tied on a neat little cap, and, as both arms and legs were gone, she hid these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket, and devoting her best bed to this chronic invalid. If anyone had known the care lavished on that dolly, I think it would have touched their hearts... She brought it bits of bouquets; she read to it, took it out to breathe the air, hidden under her coat; she sung it lullabys, and never went to bed without kissing its dirty face."
Boy, that sure touched my heart... WITH EVIL! SHE'S EVIL! Anyway, Beth dies. There is some business involving tending to the poor and a lingering case of scarlet fever. After wasting away for approximately seventy-five percent of the book (and taking lots of belladonna for her health) she finally kicks off.

This leaves us with two well-drawn characters in the book, Jo and Amy. Before we get into that, however, let us pause to consider the dark, throbbing heart of Little Women: Marmee.

Marmee is the girls' mother. She is terrifying. When you live at Marmee's house, you don't get presents for Christmas: you get inspirational Christian tracts. Actually, you get the same tract, purchased four times. Marmee could have gotten you other presents, but preferred to give you the same incredibly disappointing item over and over, just to rub it in your face. You don't get breakfast; you give your breakfast away to the German family down the block. (Again with the Germans!) Do you miss your dad, who is away in the war? Well, Marmee has a story for you. It's about the time she met a guy whose four sons were killed in that very war, and how you are all selfish shits because your father isn't dead. One of the most heartwarming/creepy scenes in literature comes when Marmee advises Jo on how to deal with emotions:
"I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it... I've learned to check the nasty words that rise to my lips; and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away a minute, and give myself a shake, for being so weak and so wicked."
That's right, Jo - just swallow it, SWALLOW IT, push it all down into your gut until it becomes a black cyst of rage threatening to burst at any moment, pulsating with hatred for yourself, your husband, your disgusting spawn, and god WHO KNOWS WHAT you could do when it's finally unleashed, WHO KNOWS, you could just TAKE THE BELLADONNA and DROP IT INTO THEIR SOUP, they'd never suspect you, no-one would suspect you, who would suspect DEAR OLD MARMEE, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA.

Back to Jo and Amy. They are the two most disappointing daughters, and therefore the most interesting. Amy is every girl you've ever hated. Her priorities include (1) her hair, (2) her clothes, and (3) being popular, which has a lot to do with hair and clothes, she would like you to know. She's spiteful, manipulative, shallow, none too bright, and overwhelmingly fond of herself. This isn't a hard character to draw, but it is surprising how well the portrayal holds up, with certain little details (after the girls get the books, Amy's only reaction is "I'm glad mine is blue," as if she can't find anything worth remarking on other than the color of the binding, because, you know, it's a book) seeming true even when very little else does. It is easy, even enjoyable, to dislike Amy as her creator intended - not least because she is mean to Jo.

About Jo: oh! My God! There is so much going on there! Endless papers have been written about Jo - as feminist, as queer, as portrait of the artist, as tragic figure - and, to be frank, you need a lot of papers to sort Jo out, for Jo is complex. Here are a few things you need to know: (a) Jo refers to herself as "the man of the house," and responds to someone saying "he's a stubborn fellow" with "so am I," (b) Jo says she will never get over being born a girl and not a boy, (c) Jo's "gentlemanly" or "boyish" demeanor is referred to throughout the book, (d) Jo uses slang and other forms of language ("can't do that" instead of "I can't do that," for example) that are gendered male, (e) Jo is disgusted by the prospect of marriage, and when a boy kisses her, she backs away in a manner that is not at all flirtatious, but actually freaked out, (f) Jo insists that the boy address her as "my dear fellow," (g) Jo insists that her income will be earned rather than married into, and that her happiness will depend on her professional success, and (h) Jo gives up all of this by the end of the book, and it is crushingly sad.

The one thing that everyone remembers about the second half of Little Women, aside from Beth finally dying, is that Jo turns down her friend Laurie's proposal of marriage and ends up with some ancient German (!!!!!) who convinces her that she is a shitty writer and should give it up, even though she is well-published by that point. Laurie ends up married to Amy. This pisses people off to no end. What no-one remembers is that Jo never had any romantic interest in Theodore "The Fellows Called Me Dora" Laurence. She wanted him to marry Meg. When he kissed her, she apologized and said they shouldn't drink together any more. The Laurie and Amy thing came about because Louisa May Alcott wanted to annoy people; she was incensed that, after Jo had explicitly stated her distaste for marriage (and possibly dudes?) 5,000 times, her readers kept writing her letters that went like "OMG can Jo & Laurie get married they r meant 4 each other!!!!" Laurie marries the most insufferable March sister for the same reason that Jo gives up her career to get with the AntiSexy: Louisa May Alcott was fucking with you. You wanted Jo and Laurie to get married? Fine! They do! To the worst imaginable partners! Suck on that.

What stands out about this story is that, unlike any of the jokes in Little Women, it is actually kind of funny. In fact, it raises the question of how a woman willing to pull this sort of stunt could tolerate the pious, mealy-mouthed, intolerable dreck shoveled out by noted author Louisa May Alcott. Here is a pretty interesting piece about Jo March and young women's literature in the 19th century. It includes this little gem:
Alcott herself saw the book as a biographical and moral story about female coming-of-age, and feared its didactic, moral overtones rendered it boring (295). In response to one of the energetic young admirers who wrote to her praising the novel, Alcott replied, "Though I do not enjoy writing 'moral tales' for the young, I do it because it pays well" (Showalter 56-7). While she enjoyed the financial power (and to some degree the public recognition) that Little Women brought, the biographical evidence extant suggests that Alcott found little pleasure in the actual writing of the novel and tended to dismiss it, as well as the similarly-configured stories she produced after it for the same audience, as "moral pap" (Saxton 16).
Okay. You know what? I like this woman.

Lady Business Book Reports: Prolegomena

Once upon a time, in a magical land called Brooklyn, I got very drunk and ended up having a passionate discussion about Christopher Pike with someone I had just met. There were two dudes at the table, and one other lady. I don't know what we had been discussing before - politics? - but I do know that, up until that point, everyone had been involved. The second Christopher Pike came up, however, it was just me and the other girl, frantically trying to figure out who killed whom in Gimme a Kiss (so, this girl faked her death, because someone else read her top-secret sex diary, although she'd fictionalized the hot stuff because in reality her boyfriend was kind of a choad, and then he died trying to save her life, although she wasn't really dead, so WHOOPS, and then Fakey McNotDead's friend found her hiding out in a shack, and Fakey set her on fire for reasons that remain unclear, although I think the friend killed people too because Dead Choad had given her herpes and the herp had driven her mad, mad for revenge) while the dudes were like, "huh what why no let's go get some beer."

This is an extremely roundabout way of saying that I believe there are books in this world that most women have read. These books tend to overlap with the books that men don't read, or are encouraged not to read. It's not new or groundbreaking to point out that women buy books more often than men do, but books that are specifically gendered as feminine tend to receive a whole lot of scorn. (Scorn and terrible cover designs.) A man who writes a book primarily for other men (like, say, The Corrections, or All the Sad Young Literary Men, or any of the FUSWG canon) is perceived to be more serious and literary than a woman who writes primarily for other women. Virginia Woolf and Adrienne Rich both made this point, in their own ways: men can and do write for men with no difficulty, whereas women have to perform for both genders, or maybe just for the guys, if they're going to be taken seriously. Lots of girl-focused books (I refuse to utter the term "chick lit") are, in fact, poorly written, broadly stereotypical, and regressive - but then again, so is the work of Chuck Palahniuk and Nick Hornby, and as far as I can tell I may never stop hearing people praise those men.

I sometimes contribute to a blog for young women. The writing staff of that site once received an e-mail reminding us that we should be fun for guys as well as girls. I spent a while puzzling over that one. Then I turned in an article about birth control and waited for the site's male commenters to show up and call me a whore again. To be fair, they had a lot of fun with it! That's another sad fact about writing while female, one which several of my friends can confirm: write about sex, or clothes, or anything traditionally feminine, and people will call you a vapid slut. Write about the issues of the day, and people will call you a stupid bitch who should stick to writing about sex and clothes. Write about dieting: you're anorexic. Write about the pressure to be thin: you're a pig. Girl stuff isn't to be taken seriously - and it is allllways open to insult and ridicule - but God help you if you should try to cover anything else. That's man talk!

Anyway, I had a little epiphany about all this while watching Mad Men - specifically, a scene in which all the secretaries are huddled around a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover, giggling about the dirty bits, and Joan reflects ruefully that "men still won't read it." I have no idea whether this was accurate (I am thinking yes, based on other things I've heard and read) but it would make sense for women to be early adopters of Lady Chatterley, because, unlike other novels of infidelity, such as Anna Karenina (which was about wanting "passion," in some vague sense) or Madam Bovary (which was about some woman who'd been corrupted by reading too many sentimental novels), Lady Chatterley was very specifically about a woman learning how to get off. Admit it: at some point in your life, maybe when you were eleven or twelve years old, another girl passed you a dirty book in secret. Everybody knows basically how dude parts work - we certainly hear enough about them - but girls still have to take an active part in digging up information about their bodies. In the early sixties, a book like Lady Chatterley, despite its flaws, would no doubt have been used to aid in the investigation.

Women use stories socially - to form a basis of shared knowledge, to communicate things we're not supposed to know or discuss, to approach difficult personal topics, and to conduct all manner of lady business. Girls still probably get copies of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret at puberty, and after one breakup, I received no less than three copies of Eat Pray Love. It was the first thing that women wanted to do for me: give me a book so that I could understand what had happened. They'd read it; they wanted me to read it; it was the book one read in such a situation. Oprah knows about this stuff. That is why she is rich.

Maybe it is the same for guys! Maybe they are all passing around worn Norman Mailer paperbacks with instructions to read certain passages, or providing each other with giddy recaps of their favorite Hardy Boys novels. I've heard (oh, okay, I've read) that sports, and talk radio about sports, provides sort of the same function: it's a space that is overwhelmingly male, and when dudes get together to talk about it, they're also, in some back-handed way, discussing masculinity. Is it better to stay with your team or your team's city, demonstrating loyalty, or to carve out the best possible deal for yourself, showing independence and assertiveness? Is it better to be a star player, or to negotiate your role on a team so that the team is winning more even if you're spending less time with the ball? Things like that, I take it, are what guys discuss in a sports context. Then again, I am not a dude, so I have no idea!

I am a lady, and I conduct lady business. So: because of all this, and because this is apparently my Winter of Projects (dear God, I love projects), I am taking it upon myself to read books of the girly variety, and to report on them. That, in case you were wondering, is why I have a copy of Little Women in my bag right now. Look - don't even start.

The Fug of War

What is first female four-star general Ann E. Dunwoody wearing?

Oh. I'm sorry. I thought that's how we talked about it when women did things.

~This Blog Post Dedicated to the Endless Coverage of Michelle Obama's Dress.~

~Miss You, Coverage!~

Friday, November 14, 2008

Do You Know Why...

... this would be a good idea? Because you wouldn't have to listen to me yelling about this business for the next four to eight years, that's why. I know he's probably not going to get it; still, the fact that he was even considered is gross. ("Dump our toxic waste in Africa, you say? Ladies are dumb, you say? I, President-Elect Barack Obama, who was raised by a single mother, have relatives in Kenya, gave a shout-out to women's suffrage during my acceptance speech, and have stated repeatedly the importance of strong diplomatic relations and internationalism, think that's swell!" Dude: do not even.)

Yes, that's right: I am the American Voter, and I demand token appointments! I will ruin your dinner party until I get them, too. Sorry, but that's just how democracy works.

To Be Fair...

... I want to hug them both. Mostly because I'm convinced that one of them was me and I had this conversation while drunk and then forgot about it. And also, somehow, was disguised to look like a college student (ha, NEVER AGAIN IN MY LIFE, for I am withered).

Feast Ye Now Upon Your Condemnation. Served With a Hearty Red!

The Catholic Church has always had its problems: with the Ladies, the Gays, the People Who Use Birth Control, and the People Who Get Married More Than Once. (Hi, Mom!) They also have problems with the Left-Handed, by the way. Maybe this is not as much of a thing, but I recall being seven years old and hearing that Mary sat at "the left hand of God" because she was a woman and because it was the "unclean hand," and I was DEEPLY OFFENDED, living as I do at the intersection of these two equally important forms of prejudice. I cornered the priest after Mass and let him have it!

Short answer: yes, I have always been a sanctimonious twat.

Anyway! The Catholic Church has added a new group to its shit list: the People Who Voted for Obama. Actually, it might just be this one guy:

"Our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president," [Rev. Jay Scott] Newman wrote, referring to Obama by his full name, including his middle name of Hussein.

"Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation."

So, you totally can't have communion now unless you do your penance, although this is slightly complicated by the fact that (a) no-one knows who you voted for unless you tell them, and (b) the priest can't tell if you did penance or not unless you tell him, as evidenced by the many times I did not say a "Hail Mary" for calling my little brother a poopface and thus damned myself to Eternal Hellfire. To be fair, though, he was being a poopface. I think God agrees with me on that.

In fact, I've checked with God, and he would also like you to know that Obama is not even remotely a pro-abortion radical. Obama doesn't even believe that psychological distress counts a health-related reason to abort. I, however, am a pro-abortion radical, and drove many people mad throughout election season with bitter, non-productive comments about the choice positions of both major Democratic contenders. "Why won't Hillary say she's okay with abortion? Why won't Obama say he's okay with abortion? Why does no one like abortion as much as I do? Why am I not having an abortion right now? You know who would be a better Vice-Presidential candidate than Joe Biden? An abortion! Obama/Abortion '08! GOD, I JUST LOVE ABORTION SO MUCH."

Short answer: yes, I am still a sanctimonious twat. Now, however, I'm a sanctimonious twat who won't stop talking about abortion! Also, I don't go to church any more.

You know, given the fact that Obama's election drove this dude into an epileptic rage fit, I can't wait to see how he reacts when he learns who the Secretary of State is going to be. (Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease.)

[Via this via that.]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Profiles In Douchery: Dan Savage

So, yes! This is apparently becoming a blog about people who write shitty things. Shitty things which make it to the Internet, no less! Even as the economy collapses, the douche industry booms: Ian Sloane, Aaron P. Taylor, and Former Tenured Professor of Molecular Biology Alexander MacPherson have all made vital contributions to the field. Yet, in our focus on these rising fuckwads, we must not forget the dipshits who have pioneered the art of Saying Embarrassingly Stupid Stuff on the Internet. When we look to these early-adopter dickweeds, we can see that one trailblazing young man has made endless and selfless contributions to douchery:

Behold Dan Savage: the Ur-Douche. Unlike these flash-in-the-pan douches, Dan Savage has been saying embarrasing shit for years and years and years. Behold! As he insists that bisexuals do not or should not exist!
Bud, a gay man dating a married bisexual man, was frustrated about having to share his "soulmate" with his soulmate's wife... Under the circumstances, telling Bud to rule out bi guys and married men was sensible advice. Sorry, but avoiding bi guys is a good rule of thumb for gay men looking for long-term relationships.
Yes, Dan, and it is a little-known fact that all bisexual men are married to women. They come out of the womb that way! Crazy, huh? Here, Savage reflects sensitively on heteronormative prejudice:
Bi guys who want opposite sex partners are under tremendous pressure to stay closeted. And when a guy is closeted -- as most bi guys are -- he can't really be there for his boyfriend, can he?
You know what encourages people to come out of the closet, Dan? Telling them that, if they do, no one will ever - or should ever - want to have sex with them again. It is just really, really, really, really helpful.

Here's Dan admonishing a woman for saying the word "what" when her boyfriend brought up an extremely rare kink!
There the guy was, boned for you, and he was brave enough to put his desires out there, to make himself vulnerable (which is what the ladies are always saying they want, right?), and you lobbed the ol' "What?!?" bomb at him and made him feel like a freak. Is it any wonder that he quickly moved on to "other things" and, one would hope, better sex partners?
The kink, in case you were interested, was inserting his nutsack into her vagina. I've been a sex educator. I've talked to people about sex - lots and lots of people, actually - and I've heard some pretty unusual stuff. I've never heard of that. In this particular case, a "what" is pretty much merited, if only so that you can figure out how that particular arrangement might work. Anyway, in the same column, Dan addresses a guy who might have gotten some poop on himself during anal sex with a lady (it would have to be imaginary poop, since this is the most obvious fakeout I've ever read, but whatever):
You did all the right things after that Spanish tramp shit on you... [she] owes [you] the courtesy of being appropriately mortified... I'd say she was blind drunk, utterly clueless, into shit, or all of the above. Whatever her major malfunction, SSBB, wipe her number from your phone's memory.
So, for the record, straight ladies (and bisexual ladies, if you exist), the answers are (a) do what your male partner is into, or you are a terrible lay and a bad person, and (b) do what your male partner is into, or you are a terrible lay and a bad person. Oh, and for the record - dudes who want things their ladies don't like are poor sad vulnerable flowers, whereas ladies who want things their dudes don't like are tramps who should be ashamed of themselves.
Okay, so Dan Savage has issues with bisexuals and ladies. How about trans people? Here, he addresses a cisgender mom whose son refuses to speak to his other mom, a trans lady in the process of transition:
Children have a right to some stability and constancy from the adults in their lives. Perhaps I'm a transphobic bigot, but I honestly think waiting a measly 36 months to cut your dick is a sacrifice any father should be willing to make for his 15-year-old son. Call me old-fashioned.

Unfortunately, your ex wasn't willing to make that sacrifice (selfish tranny!), or it never occurred to him to make that sacrifice (stupid tranny!).... If your son can't deal with having his dad/mom/whatever around right now, support him and tell his dad/mom/whatever to leave the two of you alone for the time being.

Wow. Male pronouns? Insisting that a trans person should just put off resolving her gender dysphoria, which routinely causes severe depression? Calling a trans person a "whatever"? Encouraging people to cut off contact with trans family members? I think we've hit the bottom of the barrel. I think this is as low as Dan Savage can possibly go.

But wait: have you seen what he writes to rape survivors?
I’m extremely sorry that you were raped, DRARS, although your baseless accusations of rape make me doubt you when you claim to be a survivor of rape. The feminist bloggers are going to accuse me of thought crimes: If a woman says she was raped then, by God, she was raped. (Tell it to the lacrosse team.) But if my reaction to your letter is a thought crime, I can only plead entrapment: I wouldn’t have had these illegal thoughts if you hadn’t sent me such a stupid letter in the first place... Finally, DRARS, I hereby withdraw my consent for you to read Savage Love. If you continue to read my column against my will, well, we all know what word to apply to your actions.
Oh. Well. OK, then.

So, maybe it's foolish to have any expectations of Dan Savage. I certainly try not to! For example, when he posted his charming little screed about Prop 8 and black homophobia (which, apparently, is much more of a problem than queer white racism, because they couldn't possibly be equally important problems, could they, we couldn't possibly live in a country where most people are simultaneously privileged by some aspects of their identity and marginalized by others, leading to counter-productive and ugly divisions between communities) and it became one of the focal points in a trend of blaming the Prop 8 verdict on increased turnout by voters of color, like, of all the problems with homophobia and black voter disenfranchisement in this country, the real problem is that black people are voting, and this in turn offered social conservatives a further chance to spread homophobia by saying that all gay people were racist, and Dan Savage, who was in a unique position to object to this, given his huge and admiring readership and the fact that he was one of the first people to get major attention for these sentiments, refused to admit that there was anything wrong with what he'd written, well, I was... not surprised.

I was, however, impressed by the fact that directly before Savage went on Steven Colbert's show, that piece magically disappeared! Yep: you can only find it on Google Cache now. His petulant rants and links to similarly race-blaming articles are still available on the Slog, however. Enjoy the piece that opens with "
black and Latino voters drawn to the polls in California because they were excited about voting for Barack Obama boosted the 'yes' vote on Prop 8" and then explicitly denies that he's placing blame on anyone! I know I won't.

Anyway, I was impressed, because it occurs to me that this is the closest Dan Savage will ever get to an apology: denying that he's said anything wrong in the first place. I mean, damn. This is a man who will call a rape survivor a rapist for daring to question his work. Being an utter coward and deleting his blog right before he's in a position to be called out on it is actually kind of a step up.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And This Is Why I Read Bitch

From "The Ambition Condition: Women, Writing, and the Problem of Success," by Anna Clark:

Perhaps you know about Emily Gould’s cover story, “Exposed,” in the New York Times Magazine last May. Even if you didn’t take in all 8,002 words on the former Gawker editor’s gains and losses from blogging about her personal life, it would be hard to miss the criticism of the piece elsewhere... Whatever the valid faults of Gould and her article, the attacking comments were unmistakably gendered. “Attention whore,” was one favorite catcall. “Get over yourself, sweetheart,” advised a commenter. Another scoffed, “You are just a stupid little girl”—a comment 67 others recommended. What’s more, the comments were full of parental advice offered as if to a 10-year-old and intended to steer the writer away from, well, writing: “Don’t you have important things to do?”; “Like your tattoos, I’m fairly sure you’ll regret all this by the time you get into your 40s”; and, “You really want to find some meaning?… Go to the local VA hospital and volunteer to spend a week changing bedpans and rewrapping dressings. Or try teaching English as a second language to a new immigrant...or read to the blind.”

And then there was this one: “I suspect that one day, when a stalker appears in this girl’s life (you can’t call her a woman), she will have no idea that she brought it upon herself.”

Yep, it’s all the fault of the “girl” writer who put herself out there. Add the Gould Incident to the uneasy history of ambitious women writers told that they have nothing of worth to say.
Oh, and also:

So goes the equation of female ambition with selfishness and unhappiness. But the translation of this old story into the world of writers takes a curious turn.

Anyone who’s stepped into a literary community—readings, performances, writing workshops, MFA programs—will testify to the disclaimers that issue regularly from the mouths of women writers in particular. “This is just something I thought I’d try,” and “I’m not really a poet, but…” are words regularly uttered even by those who made drastic life changes in order to carve out time to write. I prepared for months for a major fiction contest in college, for instance, which I entered five years in a row, claiming to others each time that I just “threw something together.” Later, I applied to a single MFA fiction program, and told no one until I got in. I just didn’t want anyone to know what I wanted most. Perhaps I was preparing for failure: If I said openly that I not only wanted to be a writer but that I worked hard at it, my ambitions could be judged against external rewards—and easily dismissed when I missed out on them.
Oh, and:
Furthermore, to even say that you want to write lasting novels, garner hundreds of thousands of blog hits, or handmake a chapbook is to expose yourself to the “who are you to think you have anything to say?” sort of pummeling that Gould received. It can be tempting, then, for women in particular to write quietly and hope that the work will speak for itself. But by not owning up to her ambitions—whether they are in the public or private realms—a writer feeds the machine that discounts the aspirations and talents of all women writers. The silence is implicit support for editors who claim that their byline disparity is because women don’t want it enough. It sets an example for other writers that ambition is something to be ashamed of. Though it might be the last thing in the world she means to do, by keeping her intentions for her work hidden, a female writer allows others to make assumptions about her work, and to decide where it will and will not go.
Seriously, I may never stop quoting this piece. Read the entire thing. It's brilliant.

Also, since we've fallen onto the subject, most of my opinions on personal writing, and on the Gould backlash (which, by the way, did I mention that JOSH FUCKING STEIN wrote a nasty Page Six article about Gould which was met with just about zero backlash, even though it had his name on it and pictures of him brooding in a sweater, as opposed to her anonymous blog which disguised his name, and she was supposed to do what? Let him control the public representation of a difficult period in her life? Fuck that) were summed up by Melissa McEwan in a blog post that has nary a mention of Gould, so yeah, read all of that post, too:
Making the personal public and political is serious business. Because women's stories aren't told, it's incumbent upon female feminists to tell their own stories, to fill that void, to be unrepentant and loquacious raconteurs every chance we get, to talk about our bodies, our struggles, our triumphs, our needs, our lives in every aspect. It's our obligation to create a cacophony with our personal narratives, until there is a constant din that translates into equality, into balance.

Telling our tales is not a weakness. It's a strength.

No matter who says otherwise.
Correct. Also: if a woman writes something you like, tell people about it. It's not going to get out there on its own.