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Archive for the ‘raising daughters’ Category

My latest article is here.

Speaking of personal stories, Latham has an interesting story, too. He’s a stay-at-home father with a wife working outside the home. Having made the transition from political leadership to primary caring he might offer an insightful perspective, instead, he seems clouded by a kind of defensive masculinity. And his hostility towards feminist parenting is curious when you consider Latham’s own role reversal is exactly the kind of freedom feminists are seeking as an option to be available for more parents. But critiquing parenting has long been an underhand route for simply censuring women.

Women well know that when male commentators talk about women’s lives they are prone to holding unexamined views that run contrary to one another. So, being the primary parent has allowed Latham to see the hoax that fathers can’t be nurturing, but somehow mothering is still essentialist enough for inner-city feminists to be capable of running a secret campaign to “free themselves from nature’s way”. And further, mothers who take their experiences seriously enough to write about them are “self-absorbed”, but to not take them seriously is to be “breeding a generation of shirtless, tone-deaf, overweight, pizza-eating dummies”. Although Macdonald, apparently, manages to do both.

 

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Eminem’s descent into pill addiction is a depressing fulfillment of the Elvis comparison that he’d always played with. While Elvis’s drug problems led to his death at 42, Eminem’s current age, Mathers was able to pull back from the brink of a drug problem that involved consuming between 40 and 60 Valiums a day. A 2007 methadone overdose that almost killed him got him to go to rehab, and an early checkout led to a series of relapses before he got sober for good in 2008. His album cycle about his addiction and relapse allowed him to explore and discuss the darkest period in his life and his fears that he had turned into his addict mother. But what this represented wasn’t really maturation. The levity that had always characterized his work was gone, but in its place was something else: Rather than the toxic ambition of a young man determined to get his, he has the poisoned, defensive entitlement of a man who feels like he has earned his keep and is terrified that someone is going to take it away from him.

Eminem had always been angry, but he had also been funny, and because he was funny, we’d forgiven him time and again for making jokes whose punch lines always involved violence against women and gay people. When Eminem first came onto the scene, he was remarkable for his dexterity and virtuosity and his exceptionalism as the first white solo rap star to be anointed as truly great. As he celebrates 15 years of Shady Records with the release of the compilation Shady XV, which includes the demo version of notable career peak “Lose Yourself,” Eminem is asking us to take stock of his career. And when we do, it feels willfully ignorant to ignore that Eminem is still largely taking on women and gay people as the victims of his fictional crimes. What is offensive is not only the violent, specific lyrics and the revenge fantasies about doling out humiliations; it’s that he attacks people who have done nothing to provoke it. How can someone so intelligent also be so stupid? Or is he just a forever-troll?

Rap is not only still a youth culture, it’s still a predominantly male culture. It feeds off of the need some men have to assert their dominance and masculinity by targeting vulnerable people. The very existence of women is a threat. Anyone who challenges traditional conventions of sexuality is a threat. Poverty is emasculating, and Eminem’s obsession with asserting his masculinity feels like a possible reaction to his upbringing in a run-down section of Detroit. Bullied in school, he honed his verbal put-down skills to a blade. In his early career, it didn’t feel like he was a bully. The pokes at public figures, the jokes about ripping Pamela Lee’s tits off and smacking her around in his debut single, didn’t feel done to death at first, which is why they were written off as irreverent. He didn’t invent the idolization of pimps or the glamorization of violence against women. Like most people do, he was just participating in a system that already existed, without questioning it. As a white rapper in a traditionally black musical culture, he aligned himself against the systemic oppression of black men in America. But he failed to make the parallel connection to the systemic oppression of women of all races. Maybe this was because his deepest fear was that, like horrorcore icon Norman Bates, he would turn into his mother: dependent on drugs, neglected by the state, aging, invisible, and feminized. Oddly, Eminem reserved little of his overflowing ire for Marshall Bruce Mathers Jr., his father, who absconded to California when his son was an infant and never responded to numerous letters that the younger Marshall wrote him as a teen. Eminem chose to mostly project his rage onto those who remained around him, particularly women, including his mother, Debbie, and his on-and-off girlfriend/wife, Kim.

From Molly Lambert’s “Shady XLII: Eminem in 2014″ in Grantland.

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It took her an hour to write “Mississippi Goddam.” A freewheeling cri de coeur based on the place names of oppression, the song has a jaunty tune that makes an ironic contrast with words—“Alabama’s got me so upset, Tennessee made me lose my rest”—that arose from injustices so familiar they hardly needed to be stated: “And everybody knows about Mississippi, goddam!” Still, Simone spelled them out. She mocked stereotypical insults (“Too damn lazy!”), government promises (“Desegregation / Mass participation”), and, above all, the continuing admonition of public leaders to “Go slow,” a line that prompted her backup musicians to call out repeatedly, as punctuation, “Too slow!” It wasn’t “We Shall Overcome” or “Blowin’ in the Wind”: Simone had little feeling for the Biblically inflected uplift that defined the anthems of the era. It’s a song about a movement nearly out of patience by a woman who never had very much to begin with, and who had little hope for the American future: “Oh but this whole country is full of lies,” she sang. “You’re all gonna die and die like flies.”

From “A Raised Voice: How Nina Simone turned the movement into music” by Claudia Roth Pierpont in The New Yorker.

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I won’t lie; I miss you. Well, since we only met seven or eight times, I miss the fantasies of you I used to create. You were a career Air Force officer, so I used to make up all kinds of missions for you. When asked, I’d say you were over in some devastated pocket of global real estate, fighting bad guys. I mean, why else wouldn’t you be around? I’m smart, funny… I am a good son.

Once the fantasies stopped, the pain and the hurt crept in.

Hell, it didn’t just creep in, it moved in—it took up residence in my heart. During certain moments it was nearly impossible to breathe because of the amount of hatred I felt for you. There were times I scared myself because of the sheer awfulness of the things I wished upon you. I felt so cheated. You weren’t around physically and Mom was ill equipped to be a parent; not to mention that every dude she dated knocked us around.

I didn’t really begin to date until college, because I was afraid I’d become one of the monsters Mom decided to invite into our home. Whether it was Brooklyn or Minneapolis, she seemed to have a nose for hooking up with pugilist man-children.

And I blamed you for this.

If you were there, she would have felt worthy of being loved, and we both would have been safe. I write these things not to pile on you, but to get them out and keep them out. I no longer want to hold onto my negative feelings and memories of you. I’ve come to understand that my holding onto all these adverse emotions has severely limited my ability to parent like I want. That is changing.

From Shawn Taylor in Ebony.

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Eminem’s anger with his mother has always been so incredibly public and so incredibly visceral. I always wondered how that fury towards women, including his ex-wife, would be resolved in him given he is primary carer for his daughter. Creating a woman while hating them would surely eventually be an unsustainable dissonance.

So I was fascinated to see that Eminem has just released a new track, Headlights with a video clip depicting an apology from him and an imagined reunion with his mother. The lyrics for this song are every bit as broken-hearted about mothering and trauma as the vengeful Cleanin’ Out My Closet was, but this time with the generous acceptance that comes from been-around-the-block parenting maturity.

You’re kicking me out? It’s 15 degrees and it’s Christmas Eve (little prick just leave)
Ma, let me grab my fucking coat, anything to have each other’s goats
Why we always at each other’s throats?
Especially when dad, he fucked us both
We’re in the same fucking boat, you’d think that it’d make us close (nope)
Further away it drove us, but together headlights shine, a car full of belongings
Still got a ways to go, back to grandma’s house it’s straight up the road
And I was the man of the house, the oldest, so my shoulders carried the weight of the load
Then Nate got taken away by the state at eight years old,
And that’s when I realized you were sick and it wasn’t fixable or changeable
And to this day we remained estranged and I hate it though, but

‘Cause to this day we remain estranged and I hate it though
‘Cause you ain’t even get to witness your grand babies grow
But I’m sorry, Mama, for “Cleaning Out My Closet”, at the time I was angry
Rightfully maybe so, never meant that far to take it though,
’cause now I know it’s not your fault, and I’m not making jokes
That song I no longer play at shows and I cringe every time it’s on the radio
And I think of Nathan being placed in a home
And all the medicine you fed us
And how I just wanted you to taste your own,
But now the medications taken over
And your mental state’s deteriorating slow
And I’m way too old to cry, the shit is painful though
But, Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo
All you did, all you said, you did your best to raise us both
Foster care, that cross you bear, few may be as heavy as yours
But I love you, Debbie Mathers, oh, what a tangled web we have,

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My latest column for Fairfax newspapers is here:

Go ahead and brainwash your baby. There are few enough privileges as a parent, you might as well seize this one. If you want to change the world and make it a less sexist place then this little human sponge of yours is the best chance you’ve got. Because truth is, the world is going to try to brainwash your baby right back. I’m wary of anyone being too prescriptive about either parenting or feminism these days, I’ve made my share of compromises with both, and I’m not much interested in perfectionism. But in case you’re after a starting point with anti-sexist parenting then here’s three general tips from my own experience.

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I have a co-written article with the very clever Lori Day in the Huffington Post today about the four reasons why parents buy into the culture of gender stereotyping.

 

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