Archive for September, 2010


Trigger Warnings, plastered across content that Might Be Offensive to some people, are intrinsically problematic: one person’s trigger might be another’s uncontrollable, unabashed peals of laughter or another person’s shrug.

A Softer World uses trigger warnings. I love A Softer World. I get that some people would might be shaken up by its occasional references to child-molesting clowns; I get that Joey and Emily (I’m not friends with them or anything, I just refer to them on a first-name basis in my basis in my head because of the creepy intimacy the Internet confers) would like to be sensitive to those folks. But the strips that destroy me, FOR REASONS WE HAVE BEEN OVER, are the ones like this one.

It should also should be of NO SURPRISE TO ANYBODY that I don’t generally object to hyperbole; I favor it 10 times out of nine.

BUT. I have some rules. I think a lot of other people share these rules.

FOR INSTANCE. People who are way more into something than I can relate to, and are sort of judgmental about it, are pretty annoying! But IN MY OWN EXPERIENCE, they are generally not about to imprison millions of people, then torture and ritually execute them for no good reason. Therefore, obsessive cyclists are not to be called “bike Nazis.” Similarly, requiring citizens to purchase health insurance isn’t great policy, in my opinion! But I can see the difference between it and genocide, and you should be able to do this also.

SIMILARLY. Having to pay a little more for your goddamn carnitas than you would like to is not “rape.” Your wallet is also not being “anally raped without a reacharound.”

For one thing, unless there’s something about your wallet you’re not telling me (and if there is, for the love of God, keep it under your hat!), your wallet doesn’t even have an anus! Let alone some sort of thing that could be…reached around…seriously, just quit this shit. It doesn’t offend me As A Feminist, it offends me as someone who tries not to sound like an idiot every goddamn time she opens her yap to the Internet. By my own estimation I succeed one time out of four. By sheer coincidence, that is roughly the portion of blog posts I actually proofread and spellcheck before hitting Publish. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence!

Maybe you also should consider saying to yourself, Sweet jesus, is this not only a grotesque and ludicrous exaggeration but the most hackneyed analogy for (whatever inconvenience my privileged self has suffered today) to ever be employed in this great swinging frat party known as the Internet? I so, stop. Then go fuck yourself.

LOOPHOLES: I am still totally OK with saying you “got fucked” or “got fucked over” by your burrito vendor. Why is this OK, you ask? Isn’t it basically the same analogy, the same degree of indignation? Why are you all up my ass about this one thing, but not up my ass about using the expression “up my ass”? The answer is this: because I’m a goddamn Nazi, that’s why.

Additional loophole: saying trivial decisions are “like Sophie’s Choice” is always, always, always comedy gold. Please do it. It will make your day better.

Until the new issue of Harper’s hit the stands (and more specifically, until the ladies of the Internet started talking about it), that was pretty much the whole of my list of verboten hyperbole: no calling people Nazis unless they are actual Nazis, and no calling things rape that aren’t actually rape.

I thought that was a pretty good set of rules, but Susan Faludi — whose writing I’ve long adored — has compelled a third:

Don’t call things matricide that aren’t actually matricide. Like, say, intergenerational feminist disagreement!

NOW, if you have never disagreed with a feminist of another generation, but have (intentionally, accidentally, whatever) killed your own mother, you might be thinking, I don’t know, Christen. For all I know, they’re exactly the same thing! Now, others of you might be feeling similarly charitable, but have the reverse experience — wherein you’ve had differences with a feminist who is not of your generation, but have little to no experience in the killing-your-own-mother department.

Well! I’m here to tell you that I actually think the two things are really pretty different! IN MY OPINION.

Now, I realize that not everyone visibly shivers coming across the word “matricide” in her RSS reader. It’s basically just a handful of other people who’ve made end-of-life decisions about their moms (sup y’all), some people who accidentally murdered their mothers in car accidents, and I don’t know, probably an actual murderer or two who’ve begun to feel remorse.

This is why I’m not offended that Harper’s didn’t think to put a label on the magazine cover: “TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIRD-WAVE FEMINISTS WITH UNRESOLVED GUILT ISSUES SURROUNDING SOME OF THE SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THEIR MOTHERS’ DEATHS.” Or for that matter, “TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIRD-WAVE FEMINISTS WHO OBJECT TO HAVING THE TENETS OF THEIR MOVEMENT COMPARED TO GREEK MYTH. I MEAN I ADMIT I HAVEN’T READ IT YET BUT ISN’T THAT A LITTLE PATRONIZING? AND ALSO IS IT JUST ME OR IS IT A LITTLE WEIRD FOR A FEMINIST WRITER TO USE SUCH A FREUDIAN FRAMEWORK TO CRITICIZE YOUNGER FEMINISTS? I MEAN SERIOUSLY.”

NOW: I get the analogy (I have a college degree in Getting Analogies, after all, as did MY MOM, who became an English teacher after I left home). I know Faludi knows the difference between disagreement and matricide, the same way your average Twitter jackass knows the difference between a forced sexual encounter and having to pay an extra buck for guacomole. I happen to also rankle at what the analogy implies: that younger feminists don’t know or don’t care what prior generations of women went through or fought for, that they lack a critical context for their opinions and actions. (That, and we all dress like whores!) It’s insulting as well as injurious to those of us who care deeply about ordinary women’s lives, including the lives of our own mothers.

I won’t get into the content of the piece yet, mostly because 1) I’ve gone on long enough already and 2) it’s not online unless you’re a subscriber, and I’m not, and I don’t feel like walking to 7-11 to buy the new issue of Harper’s today.

Ahem.

IN THE MEANTIME. My understanding (and I’m not surprised, as this is a frequent critique of the third wave) is that Faludi argues that a lot of us younger ladies spend way too much time focusing on stupid pop-culture stuff.

So!

In that spirit! WHAT IS UP WITH CATHY COMICS COMING TO AN END LADIES.


No seriously. It’s funny that the Electra myth has come up in feminist discourse this week, BECAUSE, a few weeks ago I was just thinking that Electra is a pretty weird thing for a single lady (for most of the run of the strip, anyway) to name her fussed over, child-proxy little yip dog! Like, the signifier bears so little relationship to its referent that it’s startlingly postmodern! AND HERE YOU THOUGHT CATHY GUISEWITE AND THOMAS PYNCHON HAD NOTHING IN COMMON.

In conclusion, if the strip ends with Cathy having Irving killed for some reason and the dog tearing her up to shreds and then wearing her entrails like a bathing suit, I won’t ask for any Christmas presents this year. I won’t ask for anything ever again.

Book review: The Girls Who Went Away

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade
by Ann Fessler
Paperback, Published May 4th 2006 by Penguin Press HC, The

Before I read this book I had a vague sense of the way unplanned pregnancy was handled before abortion became legal: a young woman either married the father of the child or quietly bore it, usually in a home for unwed mothers in another community, and gave it up for adoption.

Abortion was not an option; neither was raising the child on one’s own. This book examines the experiences of birth mothers who surrendered their children during the years between World War II and the passage of Roe v. Wade. Fessler briefly notes a change (nearly) concurrent with Roe, which dramatically altered the experiences of –and options available to — women who became pregnant after 1972: Title IX made it illegal for any school receiving federal funds to expel a woman who became pregnant. This made it possible for high school and college students to continue their educations while pregnant, without having to disappear from their schools and communities and then return. This is worth noting because many of the women interviewed stressed that they wanted to have and raise their children, but in the cases where the father would not marry them, or simply where one or both sets of parents didn’t approve of the union, they were not given the option of raising the child — even if they were adults.

Surrendering mothers had no rights at all — or rather, were not informed of, or permitted to exercise, the rights they had. Even women who became pregnant as adults were not given the opportunity to consult with legal counsel, and generally were not told they had any option but to surrender their children. They were simply badgered by parents and social workers into signing the relinquishment paperwork. One interviewee — married to a man whose parents disapproved of her — was anesthetized during birth and told on awakening that the baby she’d expected to take home was going into foster care, that she had no choice but to sign the relinquishment papers.

Fessler’s done her research; she does an excellent job explaining the socioeconomic contexts in which these women lived. For instance, most of the women she spoke to were from newly middle-class families; upper-class women had easier access to safe abortions, and in poor and minority communities the taboo against unwed motherhood was evidently not as strong. She also discusses the history of social work leading up to the period of her focus, noting an abrupt change in the default attitudes toward, and options available to, young women who became pregnant out of wedlock in the 1930s and ’40s, versus the period immediately after the war.

But the emphasis is on the women’s stories; a good half or more of the pages of the book are narratives adapted from interviews. Each story is, in its own way, heartbreaking; the cumulative effect, far more so. While Fessler only briefly touches on the rights and experiences of birth mothers in the 21st century, the book was enough to cast my own interest in adopting children one day into a very different light. My position — shared by a notable contingent of my friends — is that there are too many hungry children in the world to justify having my own, something that I am, to the best of my knowledge, capable of doing. While I’m no closer to relating to the specific desire that my children be genetically bonded to me, I’m no longer convinced that my desire to adopt — motivated largely by a desire for a clean conscience — is any less self-absorbed when it may or may not come at the expense of another woman’s enormous grief.

The women interviewed, while not coming from an enormous diversity of backgrounds (again, it was largely white, middle-class women who were coerced into giving up children at this time), are notably diverse in terms of their personalities, world views and careers; all are thoughtful and articulate, and give lie to the stereotype of young, unmarried pregnant women as psychically broken or desperately in need of love.

While the Western world at least has pushed toward greater transparency with adoption records, toward open adoptions, and other options that would seem to lessen the psychic pain experienced by birth mothers, and while birth mothers for the most part have more rights than before, it’s still hard for me resolve that adopting children is automatically a more ethically sound choice than giving birth to them. This isn’t to say that I consider it an unethical choice, simply that it’s a far, far more complicated ethical issue than anyone might imagine.

For instance, I’ve heard discussions of a natural maternal urge, or the attachment feelings women form during pregnancy and birth, dismissed by some of my peers as something that has a minimal basis in biology and more likely the result of conditioning by a society that (wrongly) expects women to automatically want and love babies. Caveat? These women experienced those feelings, coupled with feelings of major grief, for children they were conditioned and coerced explicitly not to want, not to think about, not to talk about. And while the psychological effects of surrendering children for adoption have been studied widely (and seem, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be far more devastating than the effects of abortion, contrary to the claims of the anti-choice right), there is currently no widely accepted therapeutic model for treating women who have had this experience. None. And in general, progress around improving the transparency and lessening the wounds of adoption has been very slow.

Of course, I read this book thinking of environmentalists and other future-minded folks for whom “Just ADOPT!” is often the reflexive response to anyone considering becoming a parent. But adoption is also often prescribed by those opposed to abortion as a more ethically sound alternative. It’s been pointed out elsewhere (on an amazing Feministing post that is apparently no longer online) that it’s awfully disingenuous of right-wing groups to give so much press to the psychological pain experienced by women who’ve had abortions, and so little attention to the women who’ve given up children for adoption (even as those women have worked with conservative, religious, pro-life agencies during the surrender process). But the anti-abortion right — or which I am emphatically not a member — is not alone in committing this disservice against birth mothers. We’re all doing it. I can’t recommend this book highly enough to anyone who cares about women, families and parenting options.

(adapted from a review already posted to Goodreads)

It’s rare, very rare, for me to buy a print magazine of any kind these days, but I totally got suckered into buying GQ last month because, uh, Zach Galifianakis was on the cover. Actually, it was worse than that: they were doing this collect-all-three-covers thing to trick me into buying three copies, and it almost worked except I never have impure thoughts about Tracy Morgan, and I couldn’t really justify buying two of the same thing just because Paul Rudd’s face was also available. I’m not calling this nonsense nonsense by way of claiming that I’m somehow above it; to the contrary, I’m letting you know that I considered it very strongly, because I’d really prefer it if all of you lost all respect for me right this second.

Where was I? Yeah, so I bought an issue of GQ. Now, I should explain that I used to really love GQ. For a couple of years in my early 20s, it was the only print magazine I subscribed to. It would be more accurate, actually, to say I was moderately obsessed with the gentleman’s !Quarterly. It started out innocently enough: I was on break during my last week of work at a bowling alley in a resort, had finished my book and as the alley was absolutely dead, decided I needed additional reading material. The gift shop upstairs lacked for any of the sorts of magazines preferred by upper-middle-class, latte-drinking, Saab-driving liberals (and also, people who work in bowling alleys but read the exact same magazines as those people). In the absence of Harper‘s, or the New Yorker, or even Vanity Fair or Vogue, I was growing a tad desperate. Then I noticed that the new issue of GQ — a special, fat anniversary issue — boasted pieces by James Ellroy, Michael Paterniti, and Jeffrey Euginedes. Of course, the cover also featured a photo of Heidi Klum wearing a whip cream bikini. It was sort of mortifying to haul the thing around, but these are the sacrifices we make in this life.

Of course, while there were almost always at least two or three unrepentantly gorgeously-written and -researched articles about, uh, Issues or whatever, I was also obsessed with the way the magazine presented the World of Men. It turned out I could read about bespoke suits and brush and soap shaves and how to win at craps all day long. I’m not sure why this is, really. I have a similar fascination with good sportswriting — the rhythm and voice of it rivets me even when I have no idea what the writer is going on about, or if I just don’t care. Granted, shaving and tailoring are actually things I do know a thing or two about, as a shaver of my own legs and a sewer of some of my own jackets. Still, these topics are never presented to women in the same way. Women’s magazines talk to you about bikini waxes or new blazers in a way that tries to make them sound exciting or just presents a new variation that’s cheaper or more convenient (or, you know, deconstructs that we have to bother with these things at all). Men’s magazines talk about these things as if they’re initiating the reader into a newer, classier, sexier way to live. They spoke to my own struggling, middle-class aspirations in a way that, oh, say, Vogue or Cosmo never could. And a brush and soap shave is just flat out sexy.

But like a lot of people my age, and maybe a lot of people in general, I sort of stopped buying print magazines years ago; I haven’t subcribed to a newspaper since I last wrote for one (in mid-2005). I’ve never been a “print is dead” person, since it’s my general observation that declaring things dead, or declaring other things The Future, is a great way to look like an idiot in two years. (People said “the future of content is online” a lot in 2000, and then look what happened to the Internet. I mean, right after that. Not in the long term. Shut up. You know what I mean. Also I had a friend in high school who was fond of saying that Apple was doing ti disappear within a year, and 10 bucks says that guy is seething through a Genius Bar appointment as I write these very words.) Still, I was a little surprised by the information presented in a, um, two-page advertorial spread extolling the virtues of Magazines, saying that Contrary to What You May Have Heard, magazine circulations are going up! Especially among 18-to-34-year-olds! They had a point! I’m 18-to-34 years old, and I was reading a magazine right that minute. However, the fact that this magazine felt the need to call my attention to the fact that I was doing this, and presumably also the reassure advertisers who might be thumbing through the magazine that, definitely, people like me were doing this…it felt a little sad and uncomfortable for everybody, really.

And that wasn’t the only thing that felt sad and uncomfortable about that experience. I really ennjoyed a lot of the magazine, really. The piece about Garry Shandling (who I’ve adored since I was about six) was both fascinating and off-putting; I enjoyed learning that Bill Murray is just as brilliant and just as much of a dick as I always imagined (and also a little bit of a dirty old man!), and because I’ve always been a sucker for the Interview magazine, circle-jerk style of article where a pair or group of famous people talk to each other about stuff I may or may not care about, I enjoyed the article where the three cover boys talked about the future of comedy. I just realized that I sound like I’m being sarcastic here. No. I really do like Bill Murray being a jerk, and celebrities being gross with each other. I told you. I’m an idiot.

Still. This goddamn magazine. As I said, I always got and liked that GQ was about the world of men, and that that world seemed so exotic and strange compared to the world I lived in! I loved it! And either I’ve outgrown my fascination with brush and soap shaves, or GQ — and other men’s magazines, I’m surmising — haven’t really caught up to the world around them. I’d say something snotty about the three-month lead time, except that really isn’t it. Even Vanity Fair, after running that stupid piece wherein Christopher Hitchens ripped off something John Belushi said 30 goddamn years ago , decided that actually, quite a few women these days are pretty funny! And ran a cover story about them. There were valid criticisms to be made of that; first, that some really fascinating high-profile comedy ladies were omitted; second, the way all the cover ladies were sexualized (and I get that, because comedy ladies used to be so desexualized based only on their funniness, even if they were actually pretty good-looking); third, that, OK, you get it. It was all still way better than the stupid Hitchens piece or the time VF decided Maureen Dowd should get to write 10,000 words about how Tina Fey used to be fat. (And hairy! And also fat! But men found her attractive. Even though she was fat! And hairy! And also fat! There, I just saved you the chore of actually Googling and reading this thing.) It all felt a little like 1992 being the year of the woman or whenever the hell that was. A little token.

But GQ’s comedy issue, on the other hand? You want tokenism? Try a half-page feature on five up-and-coming female comics, with about ten sentences devoted to each. While it’s I guess a little annoying that Olivia Munn is described as a “bro with breasts” (even though I’ve been described in similar terms by many a man-friend) and Rashida Jones is so pretty-yet-nonthreatening that “your girlfriend wants to make out with her” (zzzzZZZZzzz), I’m not even quite irritated at the reductiveness and the oh-yeah-guess-we-should-talk-about-female-comicsness of the feature. For the same reason that when I stumbled upon a one-page, front-of-the-book feature from a woman explaining that it’s actually totally OK to make dirty jokes in front of us, and in fact some of us get really peeved if you don’t. Not because I disagreed; it’s just that, in a world where everyone who can afford a GQ subscription can also afford an Internet connection, torrent all the Sarah Silverman routines they like and read countless potty-mouthed blogs by potty-mouthed ladybloggers, the idea that women can, in fact, actually deal with dick jokes is…um, not front-page news.

Might this be the reason that expressions like “front-page news” are merely metaphor? I mean, it’s entirely possible that I’ve become so cool that these magazines have nothing to teach me anymore. Or that I’m not really as much of a bro as I might have imagined. Granted, Judd Apatow himself has yet to figure out that there’s no legal injunction against assigning more than five funny lines per movie to a female character — nor does he realize that while there are plenty of men and boys like the ones his movies portray out in the real world, a lot of those men and boys have women friends, not all of whom they’re trying to sleep with, who can be just as weird and irresponsible and insecure as their male counterparts.

I mean, maybe I’m too deep in my own self-selected Internet universe here, with all its feministy blogs and Garfunkel & Oates videos, but it hardly seems that anyone with half a brain these days is really unaware of the fact that women can be quite funny! Oh, it’s true, many people I know who have more than half a brain are wildly dismissive of books written by ladies about lady stuff, or of music made by ladies, but I really thought we had this whole funny-ladies business thing down. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe GQ‘s not wildly out of touch. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m not, I guess there’s something I can clip out and hand to the next gentleman who stops himself from making a fart joke just because I’m in the room.

Though it would be so much easier to send him a link…

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a month since I’ve bothered to share any of my multitude of useless opinions and meandering, worthless anecdotes with the universe!

And I have a very good excuse for not wanting to do any such thing right now.My computer is technically functional, yet, it is also, technically Done Busted:

Therefore, it is possible for me to use the Internet and to write stuff on my computer, but it is also a process that is sort of really annoying. And while I boundless and nearly-baseless irritation often makes the best blog fodder, the other thing is, it’s really nice out and I might just want to drink beer on my porch and enjoy the last of Portland summer while it lasts. I’ve ordered a new screen though, finally, and so unless in the process of installing it I manage to blow up my computer and finally retreat to a bunker in eastern Oregon as I’ve long been planning to do, I should be back in no time with an incessant stream of 3,500-word posts about how George Michael changed my life and “Check it out gang, here’s my top 5 favorite viral videos of drunk puppies! NOT THAT I ENDORSE IN ANY WAY THE GIVING OF ALCOHOL TO YOUNG ANIMALS.”

In the meantime, I’d like to make you aware of a new project that I am also involved in! It is called “Think Again, My Friend” and it is a podcast! That is also a quiz show! That involves myself, the extraordinary Mike Sugarbaker, the ebullient Brendan Adkins, and more recently, a guy named Mark who receives no flattering adjectives because he doesn’t have anything I can link to. The most recent episode contains jokes about, among other things, bird rape. After recording, I thought this rather distressing conversational derailment was my fault, but now that I’ve listened to the thing, I’m not really sure. Anyway, you’ve been warned. Enjoy.