Saturday, January 31, 2009

Adventures In Reading: Big Angry Philip Roth Edition

And so it came to pass that, on the thirty-first day of January, in this Year of Our Lord 2009, I did purchase a novel by Philip "Face-Fucker" Roth. You kind of have to know what you're talking about if you're talking opposition; even though every single long or short excerpt I have read from P.F.F.R.'s novels has made me go "YAAAAUGH" and want to punch something in the face, maybe a kitten, one needs to know the context, does one not? (One maybe does not; although I'm coming in with an open mind, and the misogyny has been surprisingly light so far, all I have learned from The Human Stain is that it is way more traumatic and horrible to be falsely accused of racism than it is to be affected by actual racism itself, YAAAAAUGH PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH, and it all seems to be leaning heavily on the view of education as veering away from Proper Respect for Great White Men and towards total fucking non-white-dude-respecting chaos, as put forth notably by this dude, apparently a bestie of fellow misogygreat Saul Bellow, who was all over this book, like, "yes! Multicultural education will bring about the end of days! Now, allow me to present you with another novel which is in no small part about Jewish identity and experience," so I am not even going to try to parse this, just going to say: wrong. Also, Vivian Gornick is officially smarter than all of us, the end.) Anyway! It occurs to me that you, too, may be engaged in checking out the opposition. I hereby share with you a few survival tips.

First, you must be aware that I bought the Roth novel used, as I am very particular about who gets my money, and I specifically try not to hand it over to actual or suspected obnoxious dicks. I furthermore bought it from the Housing Works bookstore, which donates all proceeds to fight AIDS and homelessness. I was seriously determined to expunge all icky karmic feelings from this exchange. It didn't really help; even after I'd picked it up, I was irrationally convinced that Roth would somehow find a way to benefit from my purchase. Maybe he would stalk the streets of New York and terrorize homeless people with AIDS until he'd gotten precisely $8.50 from their pockets. I had no way of knowing. Anyway, wasn't he benefiting, in some sense, by my consenting to let his work into my life? It is kind of like when someone is trying to pick a fight with you, and you are trying to ignore that person because you really don't need this, and don't consider him significant enough to fight with anyway, and so he just gets louder and louder and meaner and meaner until you finally consent to start yelling at him, and he is like, "ha ha, I win, you care what I think, and by the way what a hysterical bitch you are!" For that reason, I determined not to leave the bookstore until I'd found a book by a woman I had previously ignored.

(For the record: I settled on Joyce Carol Oates. I did this in honor of Big Dead John Updike and his five hundred thousand books, because they both published a lot, and Oates will probably continue to do so, seeing as how she is alive and all, but the conversations I have heard around Updike have been like, "he published so much! Isn't that inspiring," whereas the conversations I have heard around Oates have been like, "she publishes so much, Jesus, it's like she can't control her output." Sexism in the literary world: it takes many forms! This public service announcement has been brought to you by the Task Force to Finally Get Around to Reading Joyce Carol Oates.)

Seeking out women's voices, and the voices of other marginalized people, is a necessary survival tactic. If you are reading this, I am going to assume you know all about that. What I am not going to assume you know is the fact that it is literally impossible to read two books at the same time! You can read them in close sequence - a chapter of one, a chapter of the other - but precise simultaneity is not, in fact, possible to achieve. This is especially hard to deal with when you are reading someone like Roth, when you need, more than anything else, to have a smart and friendly voice in the room. Because Roth, Jesus: I may not survive this.

As an aside, I am currently reading the Alexandria Quartet, which is (a) really racist, (b) really colonialist, and (c) really misogynist, and I am reading it because the prose itself is kind of pretty and it does some interesting things with perspective (nothing that hasn't been done before, and better, but still) and all of the above-listed flaws are both blatant and offensive, but also not impossible to wade through, because the author seems to kind of assume them as part of his and his readers' worldview; he doesn't at any point try to mount a defense of them. I am not defending them here, either. What I am saying is that Roth is different. Reading him is like being hectored, assaulted, insulted, attacked: endless pages, not only of Roth being wrong, but of Roth defending his wrongness and aiming incredible hatred (through both his narrative choices and his characters' internal monologues) at anyone who dares to object. Roth has a physical effect on me, something I've experienced before only in relation to actual people: my heart starts hammering and I feel cold and all my muscles tense up and I am possessed by a rage that scares me. Which is weird, because that kind of rage is actually one of the subjects of The Human Stain - it's just that it is glorified in Roth's narrative surrogates and vilified in everyone else. I am forced to believe that Roth and I may have a lot in common. I am also forced to believe that Roth is too small and narcissistic to ever understand that this may be so. That, not the rage itself, is what keeps his work from being great: though he tries to comprehend other perspectives, he lacks the fundamental empathy and imagination necessary to understand that they may be valid even if they conflict with his own. There is an entire chapter from the perspective of a feminist professor; everything she says in it is correct, and as soon as we dive into her internal monologue we learn that she is sad and lonely and can't get laid and that's why she's out to destroy the hero. There is no opening Roth's ears or his heart. He is trapped in Philip Roth; when you read his work, you are trapped in Philip Roth too.

Does Philip Roth look up PJ Harvey videos on the YouTube, though? I suspect he does not! You should, however. For, yes, if you are going to do this, you are going to need survival tactics, and you are going to need backup. And the only thing, I repeat, the only thing that has gotten me though this, is listening to this song and a few others on repeat seventy thousand times whilst I read:

Friday, January 30, 2009

LINKING TIME: Big Dead John Updike Edition

You never know for sure how girls' minds work (do you really think it's a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glassjar?)
- Undeniably Great Genius John Updike, "A&P"

So, John Updike's still dead. Did you know that? It is a fact. I've been more or less thinking about him being dead all week, and his deadness at this point appears permanent. I don't know why John Updike is the most important thing on my mind for the first time ever, but he is, and I think it is because of the fact that, of all the various places where lady-hating appears in this world, lady-hating in Great Works of Literature bothers me the most. This is because, once someone is anointed "great," people are compelled to study that person's work, often by professors who are not open to critical interpretations of it, and so their lady-hating is not only perpetuated throughout the culture and/or associated with "cool" intellectual artsy "smartness" and/or imitated by douchebags who think the best way to assert their artistic identities is to observe famous people and then act like them, it is also shielded from honest and legitimate scrutiny.

Roth, Updike, Bellow, Kundera: these men, whose works are openly and earnestly misogynist in a way that you will only ever see at points of history wherein male privilege is seriously and successfully challenged, become a necessary part of one's education and social capital, if one is to make it in academic or "intellectual" or "literary" circles. You cannot simply avoid, say, Phillip Roth. (Never read a whole book; never intend to read one; understand there's a lot of forcible "face-fucking" involved. Did read the rest of those dudes, however!) If you do that, you are out of touch or unintelligent. You also cannot object to Phillip Roth on the grounds of his misogyny, because then you have bad taste and are a philistine who prizes politics over artistic achievement. (Didn't know it was either/or, but: OK!) So basically what you have to do, if you are a woman or even a pro-feminist man, is to approve misogyny, be complicit with it, promote and praise it (or be a "good sport," that is, indifferent and not all passionate or personally affected by it - "ha ha, yeah, it's there, but note how detached and unmoved I am by this because the humanity of women such as myself is something I would never take it upon my weak little lady shoulders to defend") in order to prove your worth within that field, and that whole process discourages women from getting involved or from making their voices heard, because, unsurprisingly, a whole lot of women are not comfortable with that level of complicity in their own oppression.

It definitely affected me, in precisely that way: after one particularly harsh experience with a sexist professor who marked my papers down for gender analysis ("too personal; I detect anger rather than appreciation; we must always strive to respect these great achievements") my feelings about this dynamic, which I had observed and experienced in the past, finally overwhelmed me and divested me of the urge to struggle or to believe that what I had to say would ever be valued. I basically gave up on applying to grad schools and stopped writing more than a page a month; most months, I didn't even get around to writing the page. That block lasted for about three years. This year, I am saying, is when I finally got over the "what's the use" feeling this professor gave me. I can't believe that I'm the only person this has happened to, or that every woman who experiences this eventually gets over it. I believe important, original voices are being silenced, and that is bad news. It also, by the way, reiterates the misogynist message within the works themselves: women exist to gratify and praise men, are to be condemned when they criticize or challenge men, and should never seek to compete with or stand alongside of men intellectually, for they are lesser beings.

I view writing as a form of resistance now. I view not shutting up, in general, as a form of resistance. So, because Art and Life are actually not two completely separate spheres (shocker!) I present to you: the various Ghosts of John Updike.


Ha ha, he doesn't find her desirable, because she can use thoughts and words to form opinions which she then communicates through speech! Based on nothing more than this clip, I have decided that Dick Armey is betrothed to a RealDoll. No "prattle" from her, nosiree!


Anyway, the movie: Right off the bat, it looks pretty great and acts pretty stupid. (Insert a joke about a girl here.)

Ha ha, because girls who are smart are undesirable, and girls who are desirable are dumb, so there is basically always a reason to dislike any girl! Or is it that all girls are dumb? Help me, Josh Modell of the A.V. Club, your words are confusing my poor stupid woman-brain!


Quick briefing: Jessica Alba claimed Sweden was officially neutral during WWII. People thought that she was a dumb bimbo because, really, didn't she mean Switzerland? Then they realized that Jessica Alba was officially smarter than them (and me!) because Sweden was, in fact, officially neutral during WWII. This guy is really upset about this, and writes the following [via Pandagon]:

She’s hot … and stupid! Just the way guys like ‘em... No one expects her to be consistent, or even smart. They just expect her to be hot.

Wicked hot. Girl should stick to doing what she does best.

Looking hot.

Illustrated "A&P" style with pictures of her nekkid or in swimsuits, AWESOME. Because her sole worth lies in arousing guys that she doesn't even know, and her mind is in no way connected to that worth and in fact diminishes it, so let's wish aloud that she would never use it and jerk off on her image in a way that is obscurely intended as an insult which puts her in her place, huzzah!


The crystalline descriptiveness of his prose, the kind that makes lesser writers suck in their breath with envy, has always been used against him as an argument that his writing was all gloss and no depth, the way plain Janes insist the pretty blonde must also be brainless.

Ha ha, because he knows that women are all consumed with envy and competitiveness, because it is a stereotype that has been in currency for approximately forever (you can find it, for example, in John Updike's "A&P"!) and therefore has got to be true. Am I right, fellas? Oh, wait: not everyone who reads is a fella? In fact, women tend to read more than men, and also to buy more books? WHAT THE HELL, DUDE.

You can hear it from crazy bloggers. You can hear it from published writers. You can hear it from Great Figures in Literature. You can hear it from elected representatives. What you can't un-hear, once you tune in to it, is that it is always exactly the same thing.

Amanda Hess! Puppies! Dark Wizards! And: The News!

Good morning! Are you ready.... FOR THE GREATEST INTERNET CROSS-BLOGGING DIALOGUE OF ALL TIME? I am just going to go ahead and assume that you are, for it has totally arrived: every Friday, the amazingly always funny and sensical Amanda Hess of Washington City Paper's The Sexist and Me of the Blog That You Are Reading This On Which Is Tiger Beatdown will be discussing the important events of this, our modern age! Oh, and also I will be saying "vagina" a lot, since that is kind of my gig.

This week: Bipartisanship, or the importance of reaching across the aisle to people who assume any kind of extended health coverage for women is equal to Obama personally aborting white ladies' innocent Christian fetuses by force (WHAAAAAAAT) and how that has actually worked out so far, which is badly, the trials of growing up as a Boehner, and why I actually know far less about Blagojevajayjaygerblablalich than Amanda Hess but feel comfortable with assuming he is some kind of dream wizard. Read on!

Illustration: Boehner! Hahahaha.

AMANDA: first up, i hear via Wonkette tweet that Rod Blagojayavavovich is out.

SADY: is he now? i will be sad when he is gone and irrelevant, for he is such a hugely entertaining figure in American life.

AMANDA: he did a lot for women's health in his state, and then said a lot about how he did a lot for women's health in his state over and over again, in order to avoid talking about all the wire tapping business.

SADY: oh, well, yes. he should be in touch with the women's health needs of his constituency, given that he is maybe secretly listening to their dreams while they sleep.

AMANDA: but he's not going to discuss those allegations at this point. okay, so isn't it weird that a) the postal service is taking Saturdays off now forever, and b) the stimulus bill just passed the house with no Republican support?

SADY: damn those postal services. oh, wait, i do everything through e-mail.

AMANDA: yeah i do not use the mail, ever.

SADY: and yes, which makes the "bipartisanship" moves of, say, dropping women's health funding from it, kind of sad now. the more i look at this the more it seems to be a question of economic differences: GOP in favor of tax cuts, Dems in favor of spending on programs they think will create jobs.

AMANDA: why was there a whole big to-do about the family planning stuff then? there were all these reports of obama working congress for hours and hours, shaking hands and kissing babies and whatnot, and it turns out it didn't even matter to the Republicans.

SADY: i honestly think it was just sort of casual misogyny, because the GOP wanted to pick a fuss about "unnecessary" spending, and (in their eyes) what is more unnecessary than extended health services for poor ladies!

AMANDA: yeah, i feel like it's also easy to explain to "the people." it's easier to say, "they want to kill babies with this stimulus bill" than a whole bunch of economic jargon that I, admittedly, also do not understand.

SADY: right, and you get to scare people with the ever-present "poor woman slutting it up."

AMANDA: and on the democratic side, don't you imagine Pelosi et al were frustrated? i mean the economic sense of the family planning stuff seems fairly straightforward, but once you get "they want to fund abortions instead of rebuilding the country" into the equation, that's probably hard to shake.

SADY: right, big ups for my Ohio homedude John Boehner for the scary scary thought of taxpayers! being forced! to fund! the abortion! industry!

AMANDA: "Boehner " still makes me laugh, but that's neither here nor there.

SADY: right, with a name like that your life can go either into porn or into insane puritanism. i imagine the mere thought of boners drives him mad with shame as he imagines the playgrounds of his youth. yet it's weird that the dems backed off so easily.

AMANDA: and i think in a larger sense this just shows how women's issues are sensationalized in the political process all the time. and i have to think a lot of it, as i think you said earlier, is that there are just vaginas involved. when there's a vagina involved, suddenly everyone has an opinion--- but the other billions and billions of dollars of provisions we don't even hear about.

SADY: exactly. the actual bill itself just removed a step from a process that was already happening. yet Chris Matthews is like, "forcing people not to procreate with their vaginas any more? letting people have sex with their vaginas? Vaginas!" the rest of it is not salable in that same way.

AMANDA: vaginas. but, and speaking as someone who has a vagina, i can't really be bothered with all this nonsense anymore. i just want to take my medicine or whatever and have it be as cheap as anyone else's medicine.

SADY: exactly.

AMANDA: do you think that women's health is always going to be a dividing line between these parties?

SADY: honestly, insofar as "women's health" is linked with contraception is linked with abortion is linked with women's being defined NOT entirely around popping out the babies for their husbands, i think it will always be a sore point. and one which can be exploited. yet so often it seems cynical to me. the socially conservative folks who vote based on these issues are not the same economically privileged folks who would be benefited by, say, the GOP's tax cuts.

AMANDA: yeah, and it's unfortunate that in this case, because that chain of associations was set off, women will suffer.

SADY: right, exactly. and i get that obama is looking to create coalitions, but (more boehner news) certain outlets are reporting that, as boehner walked to the floor for a vote, he, like, flashed a "zero" with his fingers to signify the number of GOP pro votes that would be cast. there's a determination not to cooperate that is really scary, because it honestly seems like it is not about the issues, but about opposing this current president.

AMANDA: and on the other hand, too, i mean there's this massive bill that the democrats know isn't going to get major republican support. and they don't change much of the bill, they just decide to toss out what essentially is a "token" admission to the republicans. but why sacrifice women's issues the token issue when you know they're not going to support you anyway, and in fact, their support does not matter?

SADY: exactly! that's what bothers me! how easily this was backed up on and characterized as inessential when it is totally not! i mean, i get the sense that we could be voting "innocent puppies: should they all be killed?" and certain folks would be like NO WAY AM I DEALING WITH THAT PUPPY SYMPATHIZER OBAMA.

AMANDA: hey, did he pick a puppy yet?

SADY: i don't know, i seriously feel like this puppy is going to be the unseen force that governs all our lives. we may never know whether a puppy has been picked or not. this is an inexcusably long time to wait for a puppy, i am saying.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Trials of Moderate Leadership

And it is the Lilly Ledbetter act, hurrah! This very important law (the best law ever? PERHAPS, but soon to be surpassed by my "Free Kisses from Adorable Puppies Every Day Unless You Are Allergic" bill, for which I will be lobbying hard) "expanded the time frame in which workers can sue for discrimination they have experienced based on gender, race, national origin or religion." (Does this not cover sexuality-based discrimination? If so, BALLS. We as a people need coverage of that, and also free kisses from adorable puppies, which you will get if you vote me into Congress, I am just saying!) This means that employers cannot discriminate against you, then keep you on board for most of your adult life, and then, when you find out about said discrimination which has apparently shaped your entire career path, say, "oh, but we've been doing that forever, so it is OK," and have that be legally true. Also, per Phyllis Schlafly, it will allow us to sue the dead. You all know how much I hate the dead. Also, the Dead. I am not even going to pretend I feel bad about that one. Jerry Garcia, being both dead and Dead, is of course the object of my constant wrath and scorn.

HEADLINE RATING: 4 out of 5 long-assed guitar solos that go nowhere with stupid grown-up Boomers dancing around and pretending that they're not going back to work at the World Bank tomorrow. This is actually a positive rating, in case you are confused.

Yes, and they passed it with no GOP votes whatsoever. You may think this is good, because you care about the economy and the state of the country and are a fundamentally unselfish person, but I, as an emotionally crippled narcissist unable to prize anything above the welfare of my own personal ladybits (and also those of others, I suppose, whatever, fine) am pissed right the hell off. For, as you may recall, Obama supported stripping extended family planning coverage from said package. This coverage, far from being a master plan to pay illegal immigrants to give teen prostitute welfare queens free abortions and also to steal the babies of good Christian mothers from their cradles and replace them with gay Muslim communist anti-gun lobbyists, which is more or less how was actually presented by folks on the right, was really pretty boring: it would allow clinics to provide family planning services (UPDATE: or rather, extend family planning services through Medicaid to women not normally eligible for Medicaid and FUDGE this is hard to communicate precisely) without applying for a federal waiver. As it stands, they will still have to apply for waivers. There's going to be a whole lot of waiver-applying going on.

No, the legislation itself (which would have been good, though not nearly so awesome as the GOP's nightmare version of it would have been) is not nearly so interesting as the fact that women's rights (and queer rights, and the rights of the poor) are continually used as wedge issues or political footballs, and that liberal administrations of the past have historically been willing to withdraw their support of these marginalized populations when it meant losing needed support from the right, and Obama chose to continue that legacy by actually weighing in to request (according to some sources) stripping the coverage. Yet, by doing so, he was actually courting support that was (a) not needed, since it passed the House without GOP support, and (b) not forthcoming, because seriously, what were the odds that these crusty old right-wing bastards working to create a "permanent Republican majority" would support a leftish economic stimulus package from a dude they've been calling a "socialist" for nine million years?

The right is incredibly organized, and incredibly determined to fuck up each and every person or movement that stands to move this country leftward in the slightest. They are cynical and adept manipulators of their voters' fears, and they stand together when challenged. It took eight non-stop years of massive failure from a Faulknerian man-child to even break their stride. The Democratic party... not so much. It even has trouble standing unapologetically for its base. It's really disappointing that, given feminism's long and conflict-filled history with the American left, and the vital role of women in electing Obama, it seems that feminism is still not central to the platforms of many powerful "liberal" or "progressive" establishments, and women are still tossed under the bus and regarded as inessential when it's "bipartisan" time. Selling out in order to accomplish something is sad. Selling out for apparently no reason at all is just pathetic.

HEADLINE RATING: I can't give a rating right now, you guys, my lady parts are too upset. Oh, okay, fine. You want a rating? I give it zero. Zero Happy Vaginas. Is that enough for you?


But... but... the Ledbetter act! Signed! Today! And... but the stimulus package thing was really crappy... but... Global Gag Rule...

I cannot deal with centrism, I have discovered. I am a simple woman with simple thoughts. I think of things in terms of "right" (all people are created equal = right!) and "wrong" (people who are women do not have the right to self-determination or bodily autonomy = wrong!) and shady moral compromises wherein you sit everyone down at the table and give each of them a part of what they want even if what they want is kind of evil... do not translate to my mind. I am either thrilled by Obama or seriously disappointed by Obama. Remember when journalists were all coming up with cute catch phrases containing the letters "O-B-A-M" in that order, like "Obamania?" Well, I have Obamanic Depression. It sucks.

If only there were some sort of Xanax-like moral salve which could help me to even it all out. Oh, no, wait: Free Kisses from Adorable Puppies! 2012!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Weekly Short Story Report: "A&P," John Updike

As the news of John Updike's passing trickles down into obituaries, then appraisals, then annoying comment threads in which it is argued that feminist lit crit should just disappear because what matters is not whether John Updike created worthwhile, convincing fiction but whether he was "true to himself," whatever that means, oh and also he is no longer alive so let's just rush him into the canon already because you don't want to speak ill of the dead or anything, one story is mentioned, over and over, as his finest: "A & P."

By sheer coincidence, "A & P" is now available online! Also, I had been planning a weekly short story critique! Novels: they are too big for blog posts, guys. So, let's read, shall we?
In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I'm in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don't see them until they're over by the bread. The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs.
So it begins. Enjoy the prose here: its prosody ("sweet broad soft-looking"), its visual quality ("two crescents of white"), its command of the telling detail ("where the sun never seems to hit," the vulnerability of the hidden implicit there). Note that this is an Updike piece not entirely written in Updike Voice, except (you'll see later) when Updike decides he can get an effect by slipping into it. Oh, and also: OMG half-nekkid ladies! Sweet!
I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She's one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I knowit made her day to trip me up. She'd been watching cash registers forty years and probably never seen a mistake before.

By the time I got her feathers smoothed and her goodies into a bag -- she gives me a little snort in passing, if she'd been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem.

This is the passage which directly follows the opening, quoted above. What is interesting here is how the (young, desired, so far speechless) girls in their bathing suits are followed directly by an older woman who is described in the most unflattering terms possible. She's old (if "about fifty" is old), still given to sexual display (the rouge) in defiance of the fact that this particular man does not find her attractive, she confronts the narrator for making a mistake, and she is thus a witch, a hag, a bitch, for no other reason than that she apparently wants the narrator to do his job.

She isn't the last woman the narrator will denigrate over the course of "A&P": in fact, every single woman in the story, including the bikini girls, will come under fire. Those three, however, exist in a different space: the inevitable criticism balanced with worshipfully purple prose about their bodies. They are desired and therefore spared, more or less. However, in order to praise them, Updike has to present each and every other woman in his fictional universe as inherently undesirable, ugly, and bad. He praises certain women as exceptional in order to degrade women as a gender, or maybe it's the other way around; either way, it's a narrative technique that Updike used over and over again in his work. And the women he praises at first usually turn out to be the most dangerous and terrible of all, as we shall see here, in due time.

There was this chunky one, with the two-piece -- it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit) -- there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn't quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long -- you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very "striking" and "attractive" but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much -- and then the third one, that wasn't quite so tall. She was the queen.
Note how the narrator is miraculously able to infer the entire social order and relationship history of these girls based on simply watching them for no more than a few seconds - not talking to them, not seeking their input, not even overhearing them as they speak to each other. Male authority over female truth, the narrator's authority over fictional truth, the author's authority over his fictional world: they blend so seamlessly into each other, lending legitimacy to each other, that we almost take the narrator and Updike at their words before we realize what Updike has done.

Note, too, how precisely their rankings in this imagined hierarchy correspond to how attractive the narrator finds them. He (and Updike?) naturally imagine that, as he values them, so do they value each other. Female value is located solely in the desirable body; a flaw in female beauty lessens female worth. At least the chunky one has a nice can; the tall one (Updike's fiction has more than a few short, self-conscious male protagonists - just saying*) is "the kind of girl other girls think is very striking and attractive but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much." Aside from his apparently telepathic insight into the lives and thought processes of women to whom he has never spoken (and I imagine this is what people are referring to when they speak of Updike's "insights into mundane life," since it is such an eloquently regurgitated cliche about female competitiveness, shallowness, and bitchery) note what "making it" means here: being wanted by men like the narrator. Does she want? Does she have preferences? Does the narrator or author at any point attribute desire, meaning preferences for specific people or types of people, to this sexualized character? No. She needs to be wanted. That is what success is supposed to be, for women. That is all it is.

Blah blah, narrator gets implicit boner, blah blah, purple prose that breaks the rules the author has set for his narrator's voice ("this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light"), blah blah other women are disgusting ("house slaves in pin curlers," all other women in swimsuits wear shorts too and "are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobody, including them, could care less"), blah blah, more boner, blah... Oh, look! Men!

"Oh Daddy," Stokesie said beside me. "I feel so faint."

"Darling," I said. "Hold me tight." Stokesie's married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that's the only difference. He's twenty-two, and I was nineteen this April.

"Is it done?" he asks, the responsible married man finding his voice.

Amazing, isn't it? Within three short paragraphs, this character has been given a voice, personality, and history, complete with relationships and implicit psychological conflicts. Is he a boy, or a man? A responsible husband and father or a kid who can leer at asses and make dirty jokes with his friends? We don't know, and neither does he. We know he struggles. After all, he's only twenty-two. The distance between Stokesie and the narrator is alternately far smaller and far larger than it appears. The narrator feels it too.

We are halfway through the story and no female character has had a line of dialogue. Or a distinct motivation. Or a name. Just thought I'd let you know.

Lengel comes in from haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel's pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn't miss that much. He comes over and says, "Girls, this isn't the beach."

Queenie blushes, though maybe it's just a brush of sunburn I was noticing for the first time, now that she was so close. "My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks." Her voice kind of startled me, the way voices do when you see the people first, coming out so flat and dumb yet kind of tony, too, the way it ticked over "pick up" and "snacks."

What the... another named, speaking, male character with an actual past and personality! Things are getting CRAZY up in this here A&P! And a woman speaks for the first time in the whole entire story! (There are only three lines of female dialogue, so enjoy them.) And, miraculously, as soon as she speaks, the narrator finds a reason to dislike her! Her voice opens up the possibility that she has a personality, one which may not be solely based around the wild desire to gratify the narrator with her body. Since women's worth is primarily derived from their bodies, of course, that voice is "flat and dumb," but how can you expect a woman to have a mind worth engaging? It is also "tony," meaning rich, meaning that she possesses power that the (working-class or at least lower-middle-class, we assume) narrator does not, which makes her a threat... oh, I'm sorry, I mean "a bitch." I forget that men are never scared of the women they demean, and that misogyny is never directed at a woman because she seems stronger or smarter than the men who seek to diminish, intimidate, or humiliate her; that would be ridiculous, because how could a boy ever be threatened by a lesser order of life? My bad.

"We want you decently dressed when you come in here."

"We are decent," Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy. Fancy Herring Snacks flashed in her very blue eyes.

Geez, listen to her, all "having opinions" and "resisting authority" and "expressing anger" and absolutely for sure because the narrator is psychic somehow thinking that she's better than people like him. I hope she doesn't turn out to be a bitch like all the rest.

A word, here: the question of John Updike's misogyny is not about whether or not his male characters call his female characters "bitches" and "cunts." Those gendered insults are misogynist, but there are a thousand ways to frame them; their appearance does not automatically render a text sexist. The question of John Updike's misogyny is definitely not about whether his male characters are sexually attracted to women, or sexually active with women. The idea that feminists are somehow offended by male lust itself is an ancient and idiotic straw man argument that is barely worth addressing here. Here I go, anyway: desire does not presuppose that a woman's only worth lies in her ability to gratify a man. Desire does not presuppose that failing to gratify a man is some sort of character flaw, nor that the female party in a sexual exchange is always less than fully human, some sort of unknowable but undoubtedly inferior Other that one should not even really desire to know. Desire does not presuppose that sexual activity makes a woman worth less and a man worth more, while holding the paradoxical position that women who are not sexually active are cold, cruel bitches who are refusing to give men what they need and want and deserve. There are a thousand ways to desire. Desire is not misogyny. Misogyny appropriates desire and promotes the myth that one cannot exist without the other; then, because people like desire, it promotes the myth that people who oppose misogyny also oppose desire; thusly, it communicates that misogyny is itself desirable because it makes pleasure possible. This is untrue, but it is definitely part of why the question of whether Updike's work is misogynist is so regularly confused (by non-feminists) with the question of whether he wrote about sex.

So, the question of John Updike's misogyny is not and has never been about sex. The question is: what position do women hold in his fictional worlds? How are female characters created and deployed? How is their reality conveyed, and (since he strove for realism) is it consistent with the actual reality (the motivations, the inner lives, the choices and actions) of women? What function do women serve in Updike's work? Here is one answer:

The girls, and who'd blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say "I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open and they flicker across the lot to their car, Queenie and Plaid and Big Tall Goony-Goony (not that as raw material she was so bad), leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow...
Ah, yes, the "reward me for my 'unselfish' actions on your behalf with sex, since I do not actually care about you, but about my boner" move. Always a winner. But do the girls respond appropriately? Do they fall all over the hero in a beswimsuited orgy of sucking and fucking, or at least ask him out on a date, or at least praise him to the skies? I mean, he'd even take the fat one or the ugly one! He's not asking for much here, just that they realize they exist for his gratification and be appropriately grateful for his not insulting them, or at least not insulting them aloud! And they do not, they are not, they fail!
I just saunter into the electric eye in my white shirt that my mother ironed the night before, and the door heaves itself open, and outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt.

I look around for my girls [MY?! - Ed.], but they're gone, of course. There wasn't anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn't get by the door of a powder-blue Falcon station wagon. Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'djust had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

Note the text's final disgusting woman, a screaming young wife with children. The narrator has risked his all due to his desire for women, and those women have betrayed him. The ones he wants, he can't get; the ones he could get, the ones other people have gotten, are awful. The text's assortment of aging or married women are not placed in the story accidentally: they are what the bikini women will be, in time. Women are bitches for not gratifying male desire; women who gratify male desire are, or will be, bitches. Desire leads to relationship leads to marriage leads to children; desire leads from the screaming young wife to the house slave in pin curlers to the hag who ought to be burned; women are a trap, women are a tragedy, women, put bluntly, are just plain bad. Oh, how hard, how very hard it is to live in this fallen and woman-infested world.

Misogyny? That's putting it lightly. Yet if I rejected every book with undertones of misogyny or sexism, my list of total books read and enjoyed would diminish by at least half. Sexism is an undeniable part of history and culture, hence of the literary landscape, and you know what? I love to read. I love to read D.H. Fucking Lawrence, folks. I have no problem with putting up with sexism if the work is decent. Yet in this story, the clumsiness, the self-indulgence, the overdone symbolism and straining for deeper meaning and liberal substitution of cliche for character or insight, the unevenness of the basic craft, the absolute lack of any innovation in terms of technique or insight by which the author might hope to justify these obvious flaws... John Updike was a misogynist, sure. That's only a part of why he was a bad writer.

*UPDATE: I have been informed that Updike was, in fact, tall. Of course, he is also being reported as "handsome," so. What can I say? He writes like a small man. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Compare and Contrast: John Updike

Now: John Updike wrote and published an enormous amount of fiction and non-fiction, in defiance of the fact that seemingly everything he had to say about the world had been said more eloquently by someone else (see: suburban domesticity breeds conformity and destroys the soul) or was insultingly stupid (see: women are devouring monsters, out to destroy men by withholding the sex they deserve or else selfishly gratifying their own bestial lust at the expense of the poor helpless men who can't resist their charms). His form was mostly devoid of worthwhile content and, ultimately, not that exciting or innovative as pure form. (Ah, pretty prose which utilizes imagery well! How very rare! Surely we should not expect anything more from a book, when this is on offer? Tell us more of this "adultery" of which you speak, and how it does not solve everything, but is so hot; we are intrigued.) Updike lived a long life and died of natural causes. 

None of the above-listed things were true of David Foster Wallace. 


UPDATE: Zombie Schlafly Eats President's Brain

Has Obama already renounced his Feminist Superdude status? Because he is allegedly "begging" Henry Waxman to strip extended birth control coverage from the economic stimulus package. Now, I imagine he has reasons for this - because, you know, birth control is a vital health need, especially for poor women, and unplanned pregnancies and children increase poverty, being all expensive and whatnot, and most women who abort pregnancies do so because they feel unable to shoulder the costs of pregnancy and/or motherhood, so reducing the cost of access to contraception, or just plain making it more accessible, would actually help with that "reducing the number of abortions" thing Obama keeps talking about, so it would be totally insane if he didn't, you know, HAVE REASONS - but I have no idea what they are.

Do you, Phyllis?

... PHYLLIS? Oh, God, Phyllis, why won't you answer me?

Why are you smiling? Oh, God, you know something, don't you, Phyllis?

... Oh, God, you've done it, haven't you? You've finally done it. You've gotten to him somehow, infected him, turned him into... no. No. It's too horrible. I won't say it.



Zombie Schlafly Arises Through Dark Magic of Google; Is Cranky

It is still totally weird that Obama is President, by the way. We are about a week into it, and I still have these moments where I pause and take a second to realize how weird it is. I think the first of these moments happened when I saw a newspaper refer to "former President George W. Bush," and I was like, shit, former, as in he's gone, as in it's over. I voted for Gore a few months after my eighteenth birthday (and there were people who were mad at me for not voting Nader - in Ohio! - and there were people who were mad at me for voting at all because "the system was broken" - in Ohio!) and I recently read one of my diaries, and it was like, "Gabe says it's too close to call; Florida is still up in the air," and I totally laughed and/or was weirded out because this was written at 7:00 p.m. on Election Night, and also I had never gotten beyond third base when I wrote it, so you can see why I have a hard time believing that the Bush Era, which was the historical context in which I lived basically my entire adult life, is over. It is over, though. I keep looking around and being, like, "this is what America looks like while Obama is President" and then it all looks totally the same and totally different, and then I castigate myself for being a sentimental feeb, and then I go back to feeling like I have slipped into an alternate dimension. Then I wonder: where will I get my rage?

So, good news! There is still a place where Phyllis Schlafly is allowed to publish! I always thought she was "media dead," which is what happens when someone is so irrelevant that when he or she actually dies you are surprised because you thought s/he'd been devoured by sharks or something several decades ago and you just missed it. Nope! Her work is available on a website called ("Headquarters of the Conservative Underground!") which is positively swathed in advertisements for Ann Coulter. Did you know that there is a place where you can sign up to "Get Ann's scathing commentary every week?" Well, you do now, suckers. In this week's installment, "Feminists Expect to Cash in With Barack Obama," Phyllis warns that the no-good meddling feminists are asking the President to advance their vile cause!
The groups that elected Barack Obama are poised to cash in on their investment...
... because they, like, BOUGHT HIM. Get it? They BOUGHT HIM? Because he is A BLACK MAN and they are like SLAVE BUYERS who BUY PEOPLE? HUH?
...and the feminists are muscling to be first in line.
... MUSCLING, get it? Because they are MUSCULAR, like MEN? So they are basically NOT REAL WOMEN? Do you SMELL WHAT THE SCHLAFLY IS COOKING, I guess, is what I am asking?

Read on, friends, to discover the terrifying nightmare world we will enter if the feminists get their way! They will:
-- Pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to repeal the statute of limitations and allow women to sue employers for alleged wage discrimination long after bosses are dead and unable to defend their actions.
Suing dead employers for discrimination long after they are unable to come up with stupid rationalizations for said discrimination barring the use of a Ouija board ("T-H-E-Y-M-I-G-H-T-G-E-T-P-R-E-G-S"), and also there is a slight possibility that people will sue discriminatory employers while they are actually alive, and their rationalizations will not matter, because it will be totally illegal! SHRIEK!
-- Direct Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to compare pay scales in job categories held mostly by women or mostly by men, and then enforce wage control to equalize wages according to the feminists' subjective definition of what they call comparable worth.
Eliminating the Pink Collar Ghetto, and making it no longer true that, as more women enter a profession, the wages for said profession tend to get lower, as if by magic! GASP!
-- Appropriate $10 billion annually for daycare, early childhood programs, and grants for infant and toddler care so that mothers can be liberated from caring for their own babies.
Making it possible for women to earn incomes for their families by, for example, publishing columns and books or organizing around the ratification of a constitutional amendment, or even, horror of horrors, becoming attorneys, instead of staying at home taking care of their, oh, let's say, six children! NOOOO!
-- Require insurance companies to cover birth control, require pharmacists to fill contraceptive prescriptions, and remove the age restriction on over-the-counter so-called emergency contraception.
Requiring insurance to cover a recurring health cost for many women, then requiring pharmacists to actually make the medication in question available to people with prescriptions, in spite of the fact that this will totally allow women to avoid getting pregnant and having six children which they would, of course, be morally obliged to stay at home with instead of working! AIEEEEE!
-- Ratify the long-dead Equal Rights Amendment with no time limitation on the process. Ratify the United Nations Treaty on Women (CEDAW), which would make our laws, customs and textbooks subject to supervision and control by a U.N. committee of feminists designated as "experts."
"Ahhhh, my old nemesis, we meet again," you can imagine Schlafly whisper-growling to herself as she types this paragraph. Legislating non-discriminatory treatment of women: it's back, and this time, it's not content with destroying America... it wants THE WORLD.
-- Enact Hate Crimes legislation to cover acts of violence based on the victim's real or perceived gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Fully fund, expand and aggressively enforce the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and enact the International VAWA (IVAWA).
So, Phyllis Schlafly has a gay son. Did you know that? Es verdad. Don't be expecting any Heathers-style declarations of love for him in the near future, however. Not even when legislation to punish hate crimes against him (and her daughters, and her!) is passed into law, oh my God, LAWS AGAINST GAY BASHING BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA.
-- Appoint feminists to key positions in all the federal departments and strive for gender balance (i.e., 50 percent feminists) throughout the government. Establish a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender liaison position in the White House.
Oh, calm down, Phyllis. They've only got to be feminists. Nobody said they had to be girls.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Media Criticism Is My Hot Hot Sex

Once, in a far-away land known only as 9:30 a.m. this morning, I opened my e-mail inbox to find a message which read as follows:

I haven't yet read this...

... but I suspect it might be a topic of conversation on the lady blogs tomorrow, if it isn't already:

Or not. But I wished, when I glanced at the magazine today, that I'd noticed it yesterday to give you a headstart.
Ha ha, good call, dude!

Yet, as we all cover the article, we often forget to ask the vital question: WHO WILL COVER THE COVERAGE OF THE ARTICLE? The answer is "me!" Because I am "bored!"

Yes, this article raises a lot of questions, such as: what difference, if any, exists between physical arousal and conscious desire? Can research subjects be relied upon to even report said conscious desire if it conflicts with cultural norms? Are women turned on by images of other women because our culture sexualizes female bodies more than male bodies? What about those dudes who experienced physical arousal at the sight of female children - what level of conscious desire did they report, and why didn't reporter Daniel Bergner, who obviously knew about those studies well before he wrote this article because they are in his book, include data about their potential mind/body conflict? (Would it have messed up his thesis about women having this totally weird sexuality totally unlike the straightforward and understandable sexuality of dudes, for example?) What, precisely, is the role of socialization in any or all of these scenarios? These are questions: questions that matter!

Now, here are the questions raised by Slate's "Human Nature" blogger, William Saletan, in his sensitively titled post, "Rape, Fantasies, and Female Arousal."
Do some women fantasize about rape? Do some become aroused during rape? If so, what does it mean?

...If [some of the sources interviewed in the article are correct about] what these fantasies are—one person drawing her will from the will of another—what does it say about us? If derivativeness of will is, as some of these researchers posit, a fundamental difference between male and female arousal, what does it say about equality between the sexes? Are women, in this sense, inherently less autonomous?



Hey, did you ever read that totally weird and kind of clueless article in the New York Times about female sexuality, and think to yourself, "gee, I wish someone would pay Daniel Bergner to write - weirdly and somewhat cluelessly - about the difficult intersection of cultural representations of sex and human sexual response at even greater length?" Did you furthermore add, while thinking to yourself, "I hope that, once Daniel Bergner has been paid to write at great length about these issues, his resulting book is assigned to an apparently terrifying reviewer who manages to simultaneously glorify male sexuality and imply that it is perfectly natural for men to have sexual fantasies about female children?" Well, that is because you are a woman, and your desires are necessarily receptive and formed in reaction to the desires of others, namely those of Daniel Bergner and Slate contributor Steven D. Kramer. For behold! So it has come to pass:

[In his book about "paraphilias," which includes a lengthy profile of a pedophile named "Roy," oh goody] Bergner does not ignore the contrast between pedophilia and perversions that lead to consensual sex; he sees molested children as victims. But in the context Bergner offers, the quality of Roy's obsession cannot seem especially strange. Judging by measures of penile engorgement, Bergner reports, normal heterosexual men are significantly "aroused by female pubescents and, less so but markedly, female children." Though Roy's actions are heinous where [an amputee fetishist named] Ron's are harmless, Roy's desires are more mainstream than Ron's.

So, let's do a quick charting of the logic here.

(1) We live in a culture wherein youth is fetishized and being attracted to women over, say, thirty-five, is considered so weird and unseemly that it is itself relegated to the realm of fetish (see "MILF" and/or "cougar").

(2) We therefore attach signifiers of youth, or even childhood, to the construct "hot woman" by, say, fetishizing schoolgirl outfits or virginity or sexual inexperience or hairless vaginas (because, let's get real: you say it looks "clean" and you say it looks "more explicit," but what it really looks like is a body that hasn't hit puberty yet but somehow, miraculously, grew breasts).

(3) We extend this by directing sexual attention to actual minors, fetishizing bodies that are childlike (see the small breasts, narrow hips, and - OBVS - hairless genitals of "Barely Legal" porn stars, and the similarly small breasts and narrow hips of most models, many of whom start their careers while below the age of consent), and sexualizing little girls themselves by, for example, giving them toy stripper poles for Christmas.

(3a) Because little girls are helpless. Because little girls are easily dominated by people who are bigger and stronger than they are. Because little girls are taught to be obedient to their elders. Because in a society which hates and fears women, and is founded on male domination of women, female sexuality - a drive which, when accessed and expressed, leads women to pursue their own pleasure, to want things and ask for them, to provide men with constant proof that they are autonomous beings and that their needs may not, in fact, correspond with what men want from them in every single point or at all - will of course be hated and feared. And little girls are not sexual. Little girls do not experience this scary, threatening, adult desire. In a misogynist society, of course, of course, we will fetishize young women and find older women unattractive. Because little girls are helpless.

(4) So, it is totally "mainstream" for "normal" straight men to get turned on by pictures of extremely young women and even little girls, and the reason for that is... biology? Give me a fucking break.
So, what keeps men from being pedophiles, which Kramer (via Bergner, and how do I know, honestly, what Bergner thinks? This is just a review) would like to stress is totally a bad thing even though it is so very normal? Well, let's check in with Kramer:
Men's desires are more focused. Male homosexuality has a strong genetic component. (Less is known about female homosexuality, but the genetic contribution may be weaker.) ...In general, the penis and the mind are in reasonable agreement; men recognize when they've been turned on. Part of what saves men from pedophilia is the very vigor of their sexuality; most men are strongly drawn to adult women, albeit in a promiscuous way. When asked what they visualize when they climax, few men say it's the partner they're with.
Yes, what keeps men from being pedophiles is their manly masculine manful desire to fuck every adult woman in existence, and they have that desire not due to the fact that they constantly receive messages that men who don't want to fuck every adult woman in existence are pussies and homos, but due to NATURE and SCIENCE. So, men don't refrain from raping helpless children because they recognize that to be a monstrous act. Men don't refrain because they can differentiate sex from rape. Men don't refrain because they view sex as an act that should always be founded on reciprocal pleasure and respect, whether that sex takes place within a twenty-year marriage or the bathroom at a sleazy bar. Men don't refrain for any reason but that they are built not to because their sexual desire is somehow more real and powerful than women's, and they are amoral, unthinking beings whose behavior is due solely to the dictates of that desire.

If I were a guy, I'd be insulted; yet, I guess, I would have no reason to be. After all, it's science.

I Want You to Want Me. Oh, No, Wait, I Want Crispin Glover!

Hey, ladies! It's ten in the morning on a Monday! This means that, as you are all drinking your coffees and checking your e-mails and cursing the Lord God Almighty for the eight-hour work day and its wicked helpmeet, the five-day work week, it's time to talk about... YOUR VAGINA!

Yes, I know, this is totally appetizing, and exactly what you wanted to be thinking about right now. You can thank me later. Did you know, ladies, that your vaginas are all turned on by pornography? All types of pornography can do this to your vagina, says certified vagina scientist Meredith Chivers in the New York Times: straight people pornography, lesbian lady pornography, gay man pornography, even bonobo pornography! She knows this because there is some kind of terrifying vagina monitor that she stuck up a bunch of lady research subjects ("But I was here for the Xanax trials!") and observed that the vaginas in question got all lubed up after exposure to said porns. Yet the ladies, in clear defiance of the dictates imposed by their vaginas, only reported arousal when watching the pornography that corresponded to their preferred form of humping. This means that either (a) lubrication and feeling turned on are two different things, or (b) your brain is LYING because it doesn't want anyone to know your vagina is such a perv.

Now, there is a perfectly sensical explanation for this finding, and it is as follows: rape (or "unwanted vaginal penetration," as the Times and/or certified vagina scientist Meredith Chivers cheerfully call it) is a violent act that causes physical injury; if your vagina automatically lubes up in the presence of sexual signifiers, your chances for severe internal injury are somewhat diminished. (Though not in a huge way! And this should in no way be interpreted as a signal from your body not to fight back! The body, it has defense mechanisms; this is maybe one. That is all.) This theory has already been put forth, most notably by Natalie Angier in her (TEN-YEAR-OLD) book Woman: An Intimate Geography, so there's no chance the Times would devote this much space to such an interesting and relatively non-newsy finding unless they could find some way to attach a ridonkulous, out-of-date, totally sexist generalization to it, so the whole time you are reading this article you are just waiting for it to land and... oh, here it is!
When she peers into the giant forest [that is your vagina - ED.], Chivers told me, she considers the possibility that along with what she called a “rudderless” system of reflexive physiological arousal, women’s system of desire, the cognitive domain of lust, is more receptive than aggressive. “One of the things I think about,” she said, “is the dyad formed by men and women. Certainly women are very sexual and have the capacity to be even more sexual than men, but one possibility is that instead of it being a go-out-there-and-get-it kind of sexuality, it’s more of a reactive process. If you have this dyad, and one part is pumped full of testosterone, is more interested in risk taking, is probably more aggressive, you’ve got a very strong motivational force. It wouldn’t make sense to have another similar force. You need something complementary. And I’ve often thought that there is something really powerful for women’s sexuality about being desired. That receptivity element. At some point I’d love to do a study that would look at that.”
Oh, yes! Women are all turned on by being wanted, having a sexuality that is essentially passive, reflexive, and performative, rather than a biological drive which causes us to pursue sex like The Dudes (but not The Dude; he was too laid-back)! Oh, and this in no way makes sense when applied to lesbian ladies, because basically no girls would ever have sex with any other girls if this were true, because they would all sort of sit around and stare at each other and wait for someone to get turned on so they could reciprocate, and it would never happen! Oh, and women didn't actually report being consciously turned on by all types of pornography, so this makes less sense than ever! Oh, and porn-watching is not sex and fantasy is not reality so it makes no sense to use someone's response to a fantasy scenario to explain their behavior or desires in the real live world! Awesome! Thank you, Science!

Yes, there are many legitimate criticisms to be made of this theory. However, I am choosing to believe it with the full strength of my conviction. This is because, prior to reading this article, I was convinced (through sad experience) that it was possible to get turned on by a dude who did not only not desire me, but actually wanted nothing to do with me. Now I know this is untrue! They were simply hiding their overwhelming passion and/or boners, due to society's harsh constraints. Since I am not a creep, I will not press the issue: however, it's good to know they were all so totally into me all along. Here, I present a photo gallery of Men Who Have Wanted Me through the years.

RAHM EMANUEL: Seems psychotically intense in a way that makes him kind of sexy; wants me.

CRISPIN GLOVER: Seems just plain psychotic in a way that would make dating him a wonderland of Quirks and Issues; wants me.

RIVERS CUOMO: Delicate man-flower (Quirks! Issues!) who makes crappy music; would probably not perform said crappy music while we were making out; therefore, wants me.

PAUL RUDD: Wants me and every single woman I have ever spoken to; posed for this picture.

SPECIAL AGENT FOX MULDER: Fictional; has wanted me since I hit puberty. Perv.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama: Saves World, Gets People to Fucking Chill

So: done and... well, almost-but-not-quite-but-nearly-as-good-as-done. Yay! Good job! Keep it up! And so on and so forth!

Now. Why, pray tell, did Obama sign the executive order lifting the global gag rule today, rather than yesterday, a date that would have had far more weight and resonance, and which was also the date he initially planned the signing? Well, the Wall Street Journal has a theory that will piss you off: he did this precisely to deny it that weight and resonance, and to make all our Abortioning Day parties a little less awesome. This is consistent with his (weirdly pander-y and undermining and gross) statements about abortion being so sensitive and divisive and sad and bad and undesirable, and the fact that he has always been a little nebulous and unwilling to fully, openly commit to a progressive stance on issues related to gender and sexuality. It is also consistent with his history of "[supporting] liberal policies he believes in while trying to defuse emotional political debates."

Which, to be honest, does make me cynical and cranky. Barack Obama respects my rights! Barack Obama respects the people who seek to deny me my rights! Which is inconsistent with respecting my rights! So what in heck does he believe? I DON'T KNOW! I automatically distrust people-pleasers, since I figure that you cannot smile at every single one of the people you meet each day without faking it at least some of the time: in the absence of concrete proof as to where your loyalties lie, I will be forced to assume they don't lie with me, because that's a lot safer than misplacing my trust. Give me honest assholes over insincere charmers any day of the week, say I. So, though Obama is most certainly a charmer, I insist (and will continue to insist) on good, solid, action-based proof of his sincerity.

Yet rescinding the global gag rule is... exactly that. It is awesome. It is great. It will save lives and do a substantial amount to ensure the autonomy, freedom, health, and economic security of women. It is a praiseworthy, feminist act. Regardless of these facts, however, crazy people who hate women don't seem to be losing 100% their shit! Witness this quote, from anti-abortion advocate Reverend Joel Hunter!
"I really do appreciate their sensitivity to this day and this issue," he said. "To do it [the policy change] on a day that pro-life people see as a day of grief, and a day of a really hurtful decision, would be, I think, very insensitive. And that's not who I think President Obama is or would mean to be."

President Barack Obama, surrounded by the souls of his unborn victims. Oh, no, wait, those are bling graphics.

I know, right? We won! He lost! Yet he is expressing... respect? Gratitude? Gracious acceptance? Never in my life have I heard these things from anti-choice people in response to a pro-choice victory. This seems to mean that, whatever Obama is doing, it is working - and that, to be honest, is blowing my mind.

Progressives are Obama's base. Our commitment to him has been crucial to his success. We helped him to rise above a well-established Democratic frontrunner, then supported him during a dirty campaign from his Republican opponents, and eventually helped to make him the leader of our country. We owe it to him and to ourselves to keep him (and every one of our representatives) accountable. When he screws up, we are obliged, as citizens who believe in our government enough to care about it, to criticize his actions openly and seriously. Yet these moves of his, slick and occasionally infuriating as they are, are nothing to fuck with. The man knows what he's doing. Within two days of taking office, he's made that abundantly clear.

So, yeah, Barack. Listen to those folks. Listen to them all you like. Listen to them for as long as it takes. Just don't, you know, listen to them. That's gross.

John DeVore Is Not the Best You Can Do

And the Almighty Gods of Getting Laid Because You're a Sensitive Cool Dude, Right, Ladies looked upon John DeVore of The Frisky, and they saw that he had written upon that blog an essay about gender relations in this modern day and age, and they read what he had presented unto them, and they pronounced upon him: FAAAAAAILLLLLLL.

For John DeVore has written an article in the "Mind of Man" section entitled "I Might Be a Sexist," the point of which is that he is... not? I don't know. With a title like this, however, how could I look away?

I’m not proud of the fact that I might be sexist, but it seems more honest to say so than declaring that I’m a feminist. Which I’m not. I’m having a tough enough time trying to figure out how to be a righteous dude. I suppose the best contribution I can make to the struggle for gender equality is to try and be a better man. I can’t allow myself to politicize my inner-struggles, to become, as Gandhi said, the change I want to see in the world. So, yeah, I’m not a feminist, and I might be a sexist. But better I be aware of that, than ignorant to the prejudices that make me oh-so human. And that’s the best I can do.
Yep. File under: FAAAAAAILLLLLLL, Epic. Also, under: The Best They Can Do, Dudes Claim This Is Because They're Lazy.

He is not the first entrant in this category. There is a long history of dudes half-assing their understanding of gender relations and claiming that the fact they are making an effort at all means they deserve to be rewarded, perhaps with your crotch. This is because the task of dismantling male privilege, which has been upheld historically by men (and also by women - I know there are female misogynists out there, I've heard a Katy Perry song or two in my time) who, depending upon the precise intersection of race, sexuality, class, and cis or trans status they inhabit, may actually tend to have far more institutional power than many or most women and hence an ideal position from which to effect change, is completely and entirely the responsibility of chicks. Or so dudes of this stripe seem to believe.

Yet this does not mean that they support male dominance or privilege or anything, they add! They care, they really do. It's just that they can't change it. They cannnnn't. It is toooo harrrrd, and anyway, why are you blaming them for what certain men, or men in the past, or maybe every man on the planet who is not them because they are unique and special little snowflakes who manage to benefit from their privilege every single day of their lives without in any way meaning to or being complicit with it, have done? Then they proceed to tell you that they really are sensitive to these issues, and are doing their best, which just so happens to be nothing. Hey, they're just being honest! You should thank them! (FACT: If you say something assy, then claim that you only did it because you're "being honest," this not only gets you off the hook for being an ass in the first place, it means the people you've hurt are obliged to congratulate you on your courage and integrity! Try it sometime!) Then you give them cookies since they are such good boys. That, anyway, is how they tend to envision the end of the conversation.

Which means that any attempt to actually confront them on their sexism or change the dynamic goes exactly like this:

So, what has inspired John DeVore of The Frisky to announce his sexism? Well, like everyone else in the whole entire United States of America, he heard about that plane what landed in the Hudson. Did you know that some people shouted "women and children first" on that flight? Did you know that this is totally sexist? John DeVore has the incredibly controversial and sexist (and HONEST, of course) opinion that women and children should be helped when they are in trouble! So, really, his sexism is all for your own good, you know? Because he would totally not trample you to death, if he had the chance. Also, by sheer coincidence, the Line To Give John DeVore a Beej for Saving You From Hypothetical Trampling Death is forming right now outside his bedroom, so you'd better reserve your space!

Let's read more of John DeVore's sensitive dudely prose, shall we?
Not to bring feminism back into it, seeing as the term seems misinterpreted, misunderstood, and wholly divisive,
Ha ha, "misinterpreted" and "misunderstood" by whom? I cannot think of a single person who has done this in recent memory!
but gender equality, if it’s ever to be achieved fully, seems dependent on knowing what the sexes have in common, and what makes us different. Special. Unique.
Like weiners! Or raging senses of entitlement! Or a tendency to patronize one's intended audience because, heck, they're just a bunch of girls!
That might be patriarchal, hetero-normative claptrap, but I’m being honest here.
OF COURSE YOU ARE, John. Bless your little heart.
Life isn’t theory after all, the map isn’t the territory. As a purely speculative, fantastical situation, I want to be a man who ushers those people who need help.
So, for the record, if John DeVore is ever in a plane, and it goes down, and it manages to make a safe water landing, and everyone on board survives - an event which is about as likely as a unicorn galloping through John DeVore's bedroom window on a rainbow, carrying a brand-new XBox 360 around its neck and President Obama on its back, so that John DeVore may commence fulfilling his duties as the new Chairman of Playing Guitar Hero In His Underpants - then, on that day, John DeVore will help women. The chances of John DeVore actually helping women with problems that they face in their day-to-day lives, like, say, sexism? Not so much.