When feminism is hijacked to the wrong causes and how to protect complexity.

During the invasion of Afghanistan in 1990, Laura Bush tried to drum up support by proclaiming, The Taliban are not nice to women. The purpose of the war was not to rethink gender imbalance in the East or the West. The atrocities meted out to women within Islamic fundamentalist religions and regimes were well known and documented. It is a GOOD THING for whatever reasons that attention was paid in even the most cautious form to the terrible misogyny and sexism in Afghan culture. Should that same attention have been directed at all religions and sexist societies? Yes. Did it happen? No. It would have been great if that had happened. Instead the press and opponents of feminism and lots of women who considered themselves feminists focused their attention on how feminism was co-opted by the Bush administration and the oil-hungry corporations financing the government. It surely would have been possible to name Laura Bush’s ploy and also seize the opportunity, as some women did in this period, to go head to head with the Taliban on the issues of mutilating, murdering, raping and forcing into marriage girls and older females. That the emphasis was on the co-optation of feminism and not on the insights and activism of feminists is part of sexist culture. That is how sexism works. Always make something more important than the insights feminists bring to gender inequality, and always find a way to tar feminism as a movement because of the ways it can be cynically invoked.

Here we are again with the “Me-too” movement. The “Me-too” movement is A GOOD THING. It is an outpouring from hundreds of thousands of women desperately frustrated by the cultural turn in our moment, where sexual predators and Nazis and white supremacists have seized power in the US and other parts of the world, regimes that mock and jail as in the case of Putin and Pussy Riot opponents of even the most blatant forms of male supremacy. The “Me-too” movement is not looking at the roots of sexism and male privilege in a systematic way. It can’t. It’s a spontaneous uprising, and the focus is on sexual harassment and sexual predation and sexual misconduct because women have been deeply injured by these practices, because they do not want to collaborate any longer, and because sex will sell any public conversation.

In five minutes the dumbest and least subtle factions of women who consider themselves feminists are making no distinctions between rapists and clodish losers who have power and cop feels. They are advancing sexual shittiness as the most important shittiness in the culture when there are so many other really bad shittiness attached to male supremacy that do not directly involve sex. They are re-inscribing the image of feminism as sex panicky. They are making it easy, as it has always been easy, to turn people off feminism by saying it will take away your orgasms. And they have, alas and surely unwittingly, made the “Me-too” movement a tool of the most reactionary and sexist forces in Congress.

HERE IS WHERE WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT COMPLEXITY. The revelations emerging from women about how the world treats women are good, important, necessary, and a great legacy of the work of the women’s movement for the past 50 or so years. Right on, sisters! It’s not an accident that dumb feminism has attracted the most attention. It is the way sexism works. Find a way to tar feminism as a movement because of the ways it is being cynically invoked. We need to allow ethics reviews to take place. We need to allow due process in situations where laws have been broken. We need to strengthen the legal system in regard to sexual harassment and sexual violence to make sure these crimes are tried seriously and fairly and not as has often been the case dismissed because of, wait for it, sexism.

So, in review, all public outing of sexism, misogyny, and the religious and cultural practices that engender and re-enforce sexual and other forms of violence against women IS A GOOD THING. Victimy, girly forms of feminism are popular with men and mainstream media because they are So what else is new. They don’t rock the traditional gender boat. They are manifestations of yes, sexism. The work remains as it has always been to insert a more radical understanding of feminism into the public conversation. To keep sex sexy. To oppose violence in all of its forms and name their gendered component. To remake the world so female humans and male humans are happier, freer, and not fighting all the time for the right to food, health care, housing, sovereignty over what their bodies wear, and fearless movement in public space.

Number of times

Number of times I have said, “I’m sorry.” Number of times I have felt sorry. Number of times I have made people feel angry and uncomfortable at dinner parties for directly expressing my views about women. Number of times I have been called “strident” and “aggressive.” Number of times a male person using my tone and language would be termed “strident” and “aggressive” to his face. Number of times I have thought my life was defined by anger. Number of times I have thought I should become softer, kinder, more open to contrasting views. Number of times I really thought this. Number of times friends have recommended Buddhism and meditation to me. Number of times I have thought no one can live an easy life with so much dissent and refusal in them. Number of times I have wondered if I would wind up entirely alone. Number of times I wondered if my outlook would destroy my writing. Number of times I have thought it was funny being stuck in my temperament and also in a world fighting hard against my desire for change. Number of times I have marveled at Rebecca Solnit for her ferocity and seeming nicer-than-me-ness. Number of times I have wondered if some people have more love in them. Number of times I have rewritten conversations in my head all night. Number of times I have felt it does not matter if your views are popular as long as they are yours. Number of times I have wanted to be loved with all my shit. Number of times I have had dreams about this.

How to be butch, for small, slender girls and boys

After watching a doc about Bob Dylan some years ago.

How to be butch, for small, slender girls and boys. Develop a dead thing in your eyes that people will exhaust themselves trying to light up. Do not smile or articulate your joints. Develop a habit, whatever works for you, don’t give it away easily. Become a place no one wants to go if they are hungry. Feel born to the wrong parents. Love your own irritability. Stare blankly at questions about who you are and what you mean. Smoke. In response to the remark, “No fear, no envy, no meanness,” respond, “No childhood, no memories, no stitches.”

A note on how male critics see or do not see male artists:

This is a description of the films of Hong Sang-soo, summarized by Phillip Lopate in the New York Review of Books, Dec. 7 2017: “The men tend to be loners, doggy-lustful yet timid seducers, alternating between commitment-aversion and needy clinging. Often they are film directors teaching in the academy and hitting on attractive female students. The women, ambitious to become actresses or filmmakers themselves, are typically looking for a mentor, a letter of recommendation, or a way to gain entry into the industry. So the power games begin.” Later in the essay, Lopate writes: “Hong has been called ‘The Korean Woody Allen’, as much to associate him with a more familiar brand–comedies about rationalizing males who receive a comeuppance–as for any real resemblance.”

I have not seen the films of Hong Sang-soo. I cannot compare my impression of his plots to Lopate’s. I’m struck by the fact that Lopate does not comment on this set of preoccupations in the work of this male artist at this time, socially and historically. I’m struck by the affectionate term “doggy-lustful.” What is that? A man who, given that he would typically find himself in the category of a loser, touches Lopate’s heart for still wanting to score with younger, beautiful females? I’m struck by the word “ambitious” to describe the younger females who want a place in the world and a way to be artists and have few options but to get with male losers who have power. Get with them and pretend interest in them beyond their capacity to help the women. I’m struck by the phrase, “So the power games begin.” What is the power the females have in this constellation? The ability to say yes or no? Yes can lead to professional advancement. No leads nowhere. I’m struck by Lopate’s summary of Woody Allen’s films as comedies where males receive comeuppance. When does this happen? It does not happen. Even if an Allen male hero doesn’t get the girl, his feelings and soulfulness are always the focus. Allen’s films are not investigations of male self-centeredness, they are expressions of it. They have also not been funny or sensitive to contemporary cultural shifts in decades. I don’t know what I would make of Sang-soo’s work. I might have a very different understanding from Lopate’s of the film director’s value as an artist and as a commentator on contemporary sexual mores. I am highlighting the kind of discourse this writing represents, where a male critic who is a mirror of the values and sensibilities of the male artist under discussion, sees nothing odd or jarring about the topics, sees only his reflection mirrored everywhere he looks, in the metal toaster, in the bathroom mirror, in the eyes of his fellow traveler.

From Sharon Thompson on Animal

Speaking of extraordinary stylists, one of the books Pup & I read on our day without electricity was by an acquaintance of many NYC years: Laurie Stone’s “My Life As an Animal.” it’s a book filled with magic tricks & sleights of the writing hand. Slants in from every direction, yet manages to tell not all, definitely not all (that’s one aspect of the brilliance of it) but definitely all you need to understand where it comes from while also understanding that you will never really know: That the narrator, who is possibly Laurie Stone, sort of Laurie Stone but not Laurie Stone and possibly trustworthy but never reliably trustworthy is the best kind of womanfriend: there but not there. A bit of a chimera, to call up an animal. Sage but not controlling. So nimble she tricks you into getting it: how life works, how her mind works. If this sounds way too Triquarterly clever, don’t worry. It is Triquarterly clever, but that’s not how it reads unless that’s what you want. If you want the story of a mother and daughter, if you want the story of a fresh relationship that starts up well after reason suggests it should & is held in Hepburn-Tracy-like suspense, if you want to know how to bargain, if you want to know about a lost friendship, that’s what you’ll get. And I don’t know about you but that’s what I always want.

Ellen Alive 4

Ellen says, “I was determined to make money. What about you?” I say, “What do you think?” She says, “But you like money.” I say, “People don’t pay much for what I do. A handful of good writers sell enough books to support them. Most writers I know teach at universities.” She says, “As soon as I got married, I wanted a baby. I can’t imagine anything more interesting than watching a brand new being develop, watch them discover their hands, play with their penis, watch their fingers become dextrous enough to pick up a Cherio and put it in their mouth, see them understand that, ‘Lay keppie’ means the same thing as, ‘Lay your head on me’. I really don’t know about your life. When you say, ‘I don’t like babies’, it feels like hitting me with a wet noodle.” I say, “I can see having an interest in their development, but I have no interest in the things you have to do for these tiny humans.” She says, “Does that mean you’re selfish?” I don’t answer. It’s okay she doesn’t understand my life. Who understand their life? My life looks like one of the long walks I take through the city every morning, arriving at a corner and deciding which way to turn, just to see what will happen along the route. Ellen says, “I have lived according to two things Daddy said: ‘Money is only good for one thing: To make your life easier’. And, ‘If money can fix it, it’s not that important’.”