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Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

This misses a couple of big points, maternal feminism for one, and probably misses the mark in taking on a target like Beyonce, however lovingly. Plus, as my friend, Helen pointed out, feminism holds itself to account in a way few other movements do. This means we can focus on criticism without recalling that it is also ok for feminists to specialise at times, or to just not have time and that doesn’t necessarily equate to a disinterest in structural issues.

But certainly, Sarah Jaffe’s “Feminism for Sale” in the New Republic describes the overlap of some areas of feminism with neoliberalism very well. This may be an especially useful read if you found Eleanor Robertson’s piece on liberal feminism too much, too soon.

I picked a side in this fight a while back, and so I have been waiting rather excitedly for Andi Zeisler’s new book, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. (This is where I disclose that Zeisler has edited me in the past for Bitch magazine, where she remains creative director.) In a political moment that has seen thrilling, radical new movements spring up around racial justice and economic inequality, the fact that mainstream feminism still seems so enthralled with neoliberalism has been a source of deep frustration to many. And yet when we attempt to argue about issues, we get bogged down in battles over personality; pointing out that the liberation of a CEO does little for her nanny is likened to “trashing.” The personality trap is itself a function of the problem that Zeisler has put a name to in her book: marketplace feminism.

In the world of marketplace feminism, she writes, “the fight for gender equality has transmogrified from a collective goal to a consumer brand.” It is a world where “purchasing itself [is] a feminist act,” where status is confused with liberation, where freedom is measured in what we consume or who we control, where what we wear, watch, and wax is more important than what we organize and fight for. Under marketplace feminism, feminism is a commodity to be purchased, an identity to proclaim and print on a T-shirt, a litmus test to be applied to other commodities, rather than a collective social movement that aims to change the structures of a sexist society. The problem with marketplace feminism is simple: marketplace feminism is good for capitalism, but what is good for capitalism is not necessarily good for women.

Zeisler avoids entering the war of personalities. Indeed, up front, she includes herself in her critique, noting that we are inundated with feminist critiques of pop culture, many of which owe their lineage to her work at Bitch, which has been publishing “a feminist response to pop culture” since 1996, with articles ranging from “Amazon Women on the Moon: Images of Femininity in the Video Age” (by Zeisler, from the magazine’s very early days) to updates on the battle of pop star Kesha to extricate herself from her record contract, which ties her to the man she says abused her. Meanwhile, abortion restriction bills and “bathroom bills” aimed at institutionalizing discrimination against transgender people proliferate, the gender wage gap continues, and women are the fastest-growing part of the prison population. These are problems, she notes, that will not be solved by marketplace feminism. They will require collective political action.

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I just can’t believe it. That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pfffft! Gone. It’s the nearest thing to magic I have yet found.

But I am being hard on my husband, who I loved, and who is now fighting with me about money, never mind broken dreams. In fact everyone is fighting with me about money: my sister, too. Who would have thought love could be so expensive? I should sit down and calculate it out at so much per kiss. The price of this house plus the price of that house, divided by two, plus the price of the house we are in. Thousands. Every time I touch him. Hundreds of thousands. Because we took it too far. We should have stuck to car parks and hotel bedrooms (no, really, we should really have stuck to car parks and hotel bedrooms_. If we keep going the price will come down – per event, as it were. Twenty years of love can be consummated for tuppence. After a lifetime it is almost free.

Anne Enright in The Forgotten Waltz. I adore Enright’s books and this one was a terrific recent read.

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Quotes/evidence from Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. My favourite novel in a long while.

But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.

The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.

What did you do today, you’d say when you got home from work, and I’d try my best to craft an anecdote for you out of nothing.

But my agent has a theory. She says every marriage is jerry-rigged. Even the ones that look reasonable from the outside are held together inside with chewing gum and wire and string.

Is she a good baby? People would ask me. Well, no, I’d say.
Also because I’m always saying he could quit his job if he wanted and we’ll go somewhere cheap and live on rice and beans with our kid. My husband doesn’t believe me about that last bit. And why should he? Once I spent $13 on a piece of cheese.
..get a job writing fortune cookies instead. I could try to write really American ones. Already, I’ve jotted down a few of them. Objects create happiness. The animals are pleased to be of use. Your cities will shine forever. Death will not touch you.
At night, they lie in bed holding hands. It is possible if she is stealthy enough that the wife can do this while secretly giving the husband the finger.

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I was very flattered to be a guest writer for Meanjin this week for their series on writers reading. I was told to be very reflective on my year and.. I was that. Eek.

There’s a small child in the bed with us. I hold the sheet over me and reach down blindly to find clothes on the floor. Under the sheet I slip my underwear and t-shirt back on. So, this is dating now.

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Wonderful short story writing in The New York Post from George Saunders with “Jon”.

..and I will turn to her and say, Honey, uh, honey, there is a certain feeling but I cannot name it and cannot cite a precedent-type feeling, but trust me, dearest, wow, do I ever feel it for you, right now. And what will that be like, that stupid standing there, just a man and a woman and the wind, and nobody knowing what nobody is meaning?

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If sex is dangerous territory for memoir writing then it is surpassed only by motherhood. Mothering is so wrapped up in notions of sacrifice that it can scarcely sustain even the mildest critical eye without some controversy. Rachel Cusk, one of my favourites in this field, is completely vilified for her memoir writing. In fact, a scathing review of her latest memoir, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation won Hatchet Job of the Year. Sometimes the criticism of her motherhood writing is about her taking domestic life too seriously; something that is notably considered “brave” when done by a male author.

But more often it is about Cusk being insufficiently cheerful about domestic life. In depicting herself as a mother in Aftermath, Cusk is devoted to her children but you are still invited to consider her selfish. Cusk describes an argument around shared parenting revealing her own monster. For Cusk to pursue her writing career, her ex-husband had given up his job and become a stay-at-home father. Now that they’re divorcing, Cusk is horrified to discover her rights as a mother aren’t enough to allow her primary care of the children. Cusk was roundly criticised for this moment in the book – oblivious, nasty and domineering.

But you only know this information because Cusk gave it to you. She realises her sense of injustice is perverse. She is exploring a wider point about how ill-equipped early attempts at feminist living are for the emotional bonds of motherhood. She is thinking not just about what the moment means for her but what it means for everyone else, too. If you think she’s selfish because of this anecdote I have to wonder how well you’ve received the gift of confession. Because personal writing, more than anything else is a favour of empathy.

From here.

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Raising modern, indulged children for their own sake can be challenging. In the end, Senior writes, “Mothering and fathering aren’t just things we do. Being a mother or being a father is who we are.” Her most striking observations reveal this existential complexity. “How it feels to be a parent and how it feels to do the quotidian and often arduous task of parenting are two very separate things. ‘Being a parent’ is much more difficult for social science to anatomize.” Social science is especially inadequate to describe the nature of this particular joy, but Senior deploys a novelist’s sensibility in giving evidence of that privileged euphoria, insisting that it is not merely coincident with all the tedious things parents must do, but actually an outgrowth of them. “Freedom in our culture has evolved to mean freedom from obligations,” she observes. “But what on earth does that freedom even mean if we don’t have something to give it up for?”

Senior draws on the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s distinction between the “experiencing self” that exists in the present moment and the “remembering self” that constructs a life’s narrative. “Our experiencing selves tell researchers that we prefer doing the dishes — or napping, or shopping, or answering emails — to spending time with our kids. . . . But our remembering selves tell researchers that no one — and nothing — provides us with so much joy as our children. It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.” She talks about parents’ pride in their children, not only in their accomplishments but even in their basic development as human beings, their growth into kindness and generosity. “Kids may complicate our lives,” she writes. “But they also make them simpler. Children’s needs are so overwhelming, and their dependence on us so absolute, that it’s impossible to misread our moral obligation to them. . . . We bind ourselves to those who need us most, and through caring for them, grow to love them, grow to delight in them, grow to marvel at who they are.”

“Under Pressure: a review of All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior” in The New York Times by Andrew Soloman.

Complicating matters, mothers assume a disproportionate number of time-sensitive domestic tasks, whether it’s getting their toddlers dressed for school or their 12-year-olds off to swim practice. Their daily routine is speckled with what sociologists Annette Lareau and Elliot Weininger call “pressure points,” or nonnegotiable demands that make their lives, as the authors put it, “more frenetic.”
These deadlines have unintended consequences. They force women to search for wormholes in the time-space continuum simply to accomplish all the things that they need to do. In 2011, the sociologists Shira Offer and Barbara Schneider found that mothers spend, on average, 10 extra hours a week multitasking than do fathers “and that these additional hours are mainly related to time spent on housework and child care.”
When fathers spend time at home, on the other hand, it reduces their odds of multitasking by over 30%. Which may explain why, a few years ago, researchers from UCLA found that a father in a room by himself was the “person-space configuration observed most frequently” in their close study of 32 families at home. It may also explain why many fathers manage to finish the Sunday paper while their wives do not—they’re not constantly getting up to refill bowls of Cheerios.
Being compelled to divide and subdivide your time doesn’t just compromise your productivity and lead to garden-variety discombobulation. It also creates a feeling of urgency—a sense that no matter how tranquil the moment, no matter how unpressured the circumstances, there’s always a pot somewhere that’s about to boil over.

From “Why Mom’s Time is Different to Dad’s Time” by Jennifer Senior in The Wall Street Journal.

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