The “little white man deep inside of all of us”
November 23, 2015 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I have built a working miniature replica of the patriarchy in my mind. I would like very much to bust it up or burn it down. But I am afraid I don’t know how. Though I do have some ideas.
Claire Vaye Watkins On Pandering. [cached version]
posted by palegirl (142 comments total) 171 users marked this as a favorite
 
Liberal arts school in Lewisburg? That's my alma mater, and yes, an excellent place to figure out how you feel about patriarchy and racism. I can't wait to dig into this.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:45 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:00 PM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


As a young woman I had one and only one intense and ceaseless pastime, though that’s not the right word, though neither is hobby or passion. I have practiced this activity with religious devotion and for longer than I can remember. I have been trying to give it up recently, since moving away from Bedford Falls, since around the time my daughter was born. But nearly all of my life has been arranged around this activity. I’ve filled my days doing this, spent all my free time and a great amount of time that was not free doing it. That hobby, that interest, that passion was this: watching boys do stuff.
I... wow. Yes. That just clicked my brain into new places that I need some time to ponder.
posted by jaguar at 4:01 PM on November 23, 2015 [40 favorites]


I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. I'm so glad you posted it. <3 <3 <3
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:02 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is way good.
posted by Oyéah at 4:05 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Watching boys do stuff is very important. Also important: the boys who can't do stuff must discuss the many details about watching the boys who do stuff. With authority. Boys boys boyszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:10 PM on November 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think what hit me with that is that boys must therefore grow up with the assumption that their every move is audience-worthy.
posted by jaguar at 4:12 PM on November 23, 2015 [68 favorites]


Humans are wide, open vessels, capable of almost anything—if you read you know this—but you cannot beat the mother of your children, or rape your childhood friend while she’s unconscious, or walk up to a sorority outside Santa Barbara and start shooting without first convincing yourself and allowing our culture to convince you that those women are less than human.

QFT. Wow.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:13 PM on November 23, 2015 [25 favorites]


I think what hit me with that is that boys must therefore grow up with the assumption that their every move is audience-worthy.

Which brings us back to this FPP - "As in hockey, it appears, so in lols: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take... men make more attempts at humor, so they are successful more of the time."

If you assume you have a captive audience, you aim higher. If you assume you have a hostile audience, or no one cares what you say or do, on the other hand... sigh.
posted by Mchelly at 4:23 PM on November 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


Not wanting to watch boys do stuff can be perceived as being unsupportive. Taken as a personal slight.

This could be me projecting, but I swear the bookstore dude who wrung up my purchases (Bluets by Maggie Nelson, Citizen by Claudia Rankine and Eve's Hollywood by Eve Babitz) the other day did not approve.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:27 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


My husband, half Cuban but made much more so on a job interview, is told by a white male scholar specializing in African American literature that his inventing and imagining aspects of Cuba in his novel was “problematic” and that according to this white professor, he got things about Cuba “wrong.”

White people do like to explain things to POC.

And it was only two years ago that, over on Wikipedia, American authors whom editors suspected of being in possession of a pussy were removed from the category “American novelists” and relocated to “American women novelists.”

From what I understand, Wikipedia has problems with women in general.
posted by qcubed at 4:28 PM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


Not wanting to watch boys do stuff can be perceived as being unsupportive. Taken as a personal slight.

Yeah, it was a gigantic issue in a past relationship. Sitting in the room doing my own thing while he did his thing was not supportive enough. I was supposed to be enthralled with the thing he was doing.
posted by jaguar at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


Now that I've finished reading it:

Let us burn this motherfucking system to the ground and build something better.

I love matches.

And now she's on my ever-lengthening Kindle reading list.
posted by qcubed at 4:33 PM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


It has been linked before, and it will be linked again, but a nice companion piece to the author's talk of motherhood and not participating in what the patriarchy considers art is Ursula K. Le Guin's The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.
posted by TypographicalError at 4:43 PM on November 23, 2015 [19 favorites]


holy shit holy shit. 1/2 way through and blown wide open.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:03 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am saying a sexist negation, a refusal to acknowledge a female writer as a writer, as a peer, as a person, is of a piece with sexual entitlement. No, more than of a piece, it is practically a prerequisite. Humans are wide, open vessels, capable of almost anything—if you read you know this—but you cannot beat the mother of your children, or rape your childhood friend while she’s unconscious, or walk up to a sorority outside Santa Barbara and start shooting without first convincing yourself and allowing our culture to convince you that those women are less than human.
This is why every time an Important Person in the Field asks a male grad student about his research project, and offers me a complement on my necklace or my scarf or the nice design on my poster hurts. This is why addressing the soft sexism of low expectations, and the prickly sexism of being called pretty instead of asked about your work is as worthy of being addressed as the explicit sexism of being asked about your bra size or your interest in having children or how your boyfriend feels about letting you do something. Because - as she says - it's a nesting doll of sexism and you can't get to the big ones without having those little ones at the core.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:07 PM on November 23, 2015 [61 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. four panels, please just leave this thread alone.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:23 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


That was an incredible essay.

I have to be careful reading on this particular topic. It makes me angry so easily, and I don't like feeling angry these days. But this one didn't make me feel angry so much as it simply made me think, and see. Sometimes I think the sexism we internalize is as bad if not worse than that we experience from those around us
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:28 PM on November 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


“Trend. It’s not a trend. We are here now. We’re not going anywhere. We are here now.”
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:28 PM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


jaguar: "I think what hit me with that is that boys must therefore grow up with the assumption that their every move is audience-worthy."

Some woman writer -- I cannot remember who or get close enough to the exact quote to turn it up on google -- wrote a piece about a date she was on with a male writer, and how they were talking about how a similar thing happened to them, and he just went on to totally dominate the conversation with the total conviction that The Thing was much more interesting and important when it happened to him (even though her Thing -- acceptance? rejection? I forget -- was objectively the bigger deal). She wrote something like, "I was fascinated and I thought, who on earth ever told you that your ideas were so important?" Like in the moment it became clear to her that men in general must receive such different messages than women do to come to the conclusion that their ideas are so important and interesting.

Now when I hear a man holding forth, monopolizing the conversation and ignoring the women, I ask myself the same thing (it's kind-of a yenta voice inside my head): "Who told you that you were so important?"

It's a little mind-boggling. How do these guys get that message that they're so much more important than everybody else?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:42 PM on November 23, 2015 [45 favorites]


This essay clicked so much into place for me. How much of my life have I wasted doing the equivalent of listening to a dude at a party play Wonderwall?

Reminds me a little of Women Listening to Men in Art History.
posted by sonmi at 5:49 PM on November 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


This essay is joining forces in my mind with this NYT Women of Hollywood Speak Out story (which was an exhausting shoulder-sagging read for me), which is very much about watching boys do things.

I'm trying to turn these things into rocket fuel instead of a reason to give up. It's hard.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:54 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Reminds me a little of Women Listening to Men in Art History.

This weekend was the EAST Studio Tour in Austin. I was in one studio, listening to this dude talk to an artist in HER STUDIO surrounded by HER AWESOME ART about *HIS* approach to art. Like, SHE IS THE SHOW DUDE, NOT YOU. He was going ON AND ON AND ON. And she was trying to get a word in and couldn't. I was getting SO PISSED. This dude, just bloviating on and on about sketching. And the worst part is how she just had to play along with his ego.

Yeah, I'm sure there's ten thousand stories a minute like that in every square kilometer on earth and I can't cry for every stray kitten and instance of misogyny I run across but jesus damn hell once you start to see it can't be unseen.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:11 PM on November 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


Yeah, it was a gigantic issue in a past relationship. Sitting in the room doing my own thing while he did his thing was not supportive enough. I was supposed to be enthralled with the thing he was doing.

I found it to be a wonderful filter for boys who were worth my time vs. boys who were not.

My first high school boyfriend holds a special place in my heart for his total and utter willingness to let me sit alone in his room and read through his massive comics collection while he and his friends did their boy things downstairs. He'd come up every hour or so to smooch me, then go back to what he was doing.

I do fully connect with a lot of this essay. I'm in the process of assembling a SF/fantasy podcast centered around the writers I found formative as a teen and I was surprised to hear my own internal critic cautioning that I had better include "enough men" because ... it's an echo of the idea that the voices we are supposed to internalize and admit as influences "should be" men.
posted by sobell at 6:27 PM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I remember once sitting through an incredibly boring band rehearsal, made worse by being in the guitarist's house, which was a real shithole (he lived like a hoarding animal, it smelled of dog piss) and then realizing "hey I don't have to be here, why am I here?" So I stopped going. No one got angry at me. It was a revelation. But it was also a little scary; what would I do with myself while my boyfriend was busy? What did *I* have to do that was nearly as important? I had no idea who I was outside the relationship, or only a rudimentary idea. I was worried that if I had things to do, I couldn't be there for him. So I was hesitant to do my own things or start my own projects that could not be interrupted or might make me unavailable when he needed me.

Pretty fucked up, when you think about it. Nobody ever told me that; I just absorbed it by being female. I'm not that person anymore. I regret that I ever was. She makes me sad.
posted by emjaybee at 6:30 PM on November 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


I definitely spent some time in high school watching my boyfriend play Magic: The Gathering, but at least my boyfriend did try to teach it to me and include me. It's funny that I have zero recollection of him coming to the mall with my friends, though.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:31 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is fabulous.
posted by sallybrown at 6:39 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow. What an amazing essay. So many thoughts flying around my brain right now.

But one of the things that struck me when reading the paragraph about how much time women/girls spend watching boys/men do things is that it reminds me of adults who were severely abused as children (or grew up in violent households) and how they survived by intensely observing everything around them. That their very survival depended upon it. And that it reminds me of this power imbalance at the heart of sexism, at the heart of racism, at the heart of heterosexism, at the heart of discriminations that we don't yet have neat tidy "-isms" to describe and prettify the ugliness at their core. Women, people of colour, queer people, trans people, intersectional people, all spend so much time watching their privileged counterparts do things. Monitoring them constantly so that we can try to avoid the bad attention as much as we can hope to attract the good. And even then. Even then.
"Let us use our words and our gazes to make the invisible visible. Let us tell the truth.

Let us, each of us, write things that are uncategorizable, rather than something that panders to and condones and codifies those categories.

Let us burn this motherfucking system to the ground and build something better."
posted by Athanassiel at 6:43 PM on November 23, 2015 [49 favorites]


holy crap i have spent so much of my life watching boys do things that are boring as fuck to watch

ohhhh boy i'm gonna be journaling my tits off about this for a while
posted by palomar at 6:51 PM on November 23, 2015 [16 favorites]


This is a great essay, and a perfect companion to the Solnit piece she cites.

I think what hit me with that is that boys must therefore grow up with the assumption that their every move is audience-worthy.

Largely, we do. It's how we are raised, how school classrooms are run, and how life continues through college and the working world. It's the reverse of what ChuraChura describes so well above:
This is why every time an Important Person in the Field asks a male grad student about his research project, and offers me a complement on my necklace or my scarf or the nice design on my poster hurts. This is why addressing the soft sexism of low expectations, and the prickly sexism of being called pretty instead of asked about your work is as worthy of being addressed as the explicit sexism of being asked about your bra size or your interest in having children or how your boyfriend feels about letting you do something.
It's never having those things happen, ever, at all, even partially. It's always having your ideas taken seriously by the vising scholar rather than having your appearance commented on. It's being met with high expectations (but flexible standards, of course), and with questions about children and girlfriends almost never coming up.

It's a little mind-boggling. How do these guys get that message that they're so much more important than everybody else?

Watch parents with kids and how they talk to the little boys, and I think you will see the germination of this. (Obviously NotAllParents, etc, but it is an easy pattern to see and sadly common.)
posted by Dip Flash at 7:09 PM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


Holy shit what a piece. I went to a school that was not Bucknell and lived in a college town that was not Lewisburg but this is otherwise so deeply familiar it was eerie.
posted by rtha at 7:11 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you like my book I’m grateful. But I remind you that people at the periphery will travel to accept and even love things not made for or toward them: we have been trained to do so our entire lives.

thisthisthisthisthis
posted by rtha at 7:17 PM on November 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Y'all are making me grateful that my mother would have shut that shit down and made me go clean bathrooms if I was "that bored" that I had considered engaging in "watching boys do things."

(It would have pissed her off in so many ways! The useless waste of productive time! The standing around watching when you could be doing! The money she has spent on your extracurriculars, young lady, was not money she spent so you could stand around not doing things! The loss of time that could be devoted to studying or chores! The sexism! The danger of getting overinvolved with boys and doing poorly in school! The failure to achieve everything you could be achieving because you're taking second place on purpose! And the useless waste of productive time!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:21 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


holy crap i have spent so much of my life watching boys do things that are boring as fuck to watch

You know people, it's okay to not watch Football on Superbowl Weekend. Or baseball, ever.
posted by pwnguin at 7:25 PM on November 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Questions about moderation don't belong in the thread, just ask directly at the contact form.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:26 PM on November 23, 2015


I'm really curious where we should draw the line between watching boys do things and watching boys do things professional sports-like.
posted by jeather at 7:26 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]



You know people, it's okay to not watch Football on Superbowl Weekend. Or baseball, ever.


yeah, no, that's not what anyone is talking about here.
posted by palomar at 7:37 PM on November 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


An amazing essay. Holy shit.

Is the speech itself available, I wonder? I'd like to see her deliver it.
posted by maxwelton at 7:37 PM on November 23, 2015


Haven't you ever stayed in on any given Sunday because a guy would rather watch football? And you didn't want to be an uncool girl who kept him from watching football?
posted by casarkos at 7:38 PM on November 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


Well if you go to a Bruce Springsteen concert because you love the Boss, that seems on the right side of the line. If you are hanging out in your boyfriend's garage watching his shitty band practice every Saturday when you'd rather be doing anything else (but it would hurt his feelings and/or your relationship), that seems like the wrong side.

I personally like spectator sports and don't mind watching friends' rec-league softball games or whatever (in addition to the NFL), but if I felt like skipping one of their games to do my own thing would end our friendship, that'd probably be the rapid end of our friendship. I'm not the extra in the movie of their life. I've got my own call-sheet, you know?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:38 PM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think one difference is that men don't expect other men to sit and watch their band practice, nor are men willing to sit around and watch other men's bands practice. But men do sit around and watch sports. So maybe the line is "watching boys do things that boys aren't expected to watch other boys do."
posted by escabeche at 7:40 PM on November 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


I mean... "watching boys do things" is covered in TFA, in the section headed "Watching Boys Do Things":
I’ve watched boys play the drums, guitar, sing, watched them play football, baseball, soccer, pool, Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. I’ve watched them golf. Just the other day I watched them play a kind of sweaty, book-nerd version of basketball. I’ve watched them work on their trucks and work on their master’s theses. I’ve watched boys build things: half-pipes, bookshelves, screenplays, careers. I’ve watched boys skateboard, snowboard, act, bike, box, paint, fight, and drink. I could probably write my own series of six virtuosic autobiographical novels based solely on the years I spent watching boys play Resident Evil and Tony Hawk’s ProSkater. I watched boys in my leisure time, I watched boys in my love life, and I watched boys in my education. I watched Melville, I watched Salinger, watched Ford, Flaubert, Díaz, Dickens, watched even when I didn’t particularly like what I saw—especially then, because it proved there was something wrong with me, something I wanted to fix. So I watched Nabokov, watched Thomas Hardy, watched Raymond Carver. I read women (some, but not enough) but I didn’t watch them. I didn’t give them megaphones in my mind. The writers with megaphones in my mind were not Mary Austin, or Louise Erdrich, or Joan Didion, or Joy Williams, or Toni Morrison, though all have been as important to me as any of the male writers I mentioned, or more. Still, I watched the boys, watched to learn. I wanted to write something Cormac McCarthy would like, something Thomas Pynchon would come out of hiding to endorse, something David Foster Wallace would blurb from beyond the grave.

I have been reenacting in my artmaking the undying pastime of my girlhood: watching boys, emulating them, trying to catch the attention of the ones who have no idea I exist.
It's not about watching sports, ffs. It's about never being the goddamn protagonist, even in our own lives.
posted by palomar at 7:46 PM on November 23, 2015 [66 favorites]


I'm really curious where we should draw the line between watching boys do things and watching boys do things professional sports-like.

Wherever we like?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:55 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Gently, gonna suggest we let the sports focus subside?]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:59 PM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm really curious where we should draw the line between watching boys do things and watching boys do things professional sports-like.

Wherever we like?


I wish so much that women were permitted any space to stop focusing on men, to stop making everything about men, to have even the spaces that exist for ourselves constantly reframed as being about men and for men.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:02 PM on November 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I didn't mean it to be snarky; I truly think that there is a continuum between watching professional sports and watching your boyfriend play ultimate frisbee. I don't disagree with the article in any significant way, I am trying to tease out where I feel the distinctions lie.
posted by jeather at 8:06 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Watch parents with kids and how they talk to the little boys, and I think you will see the germination of this. (Obviously NotAllParents, etc, but it is an easy pattern to see and sadly common.)

I got so frustrated at my extended family when I was visiting my aunts and cousins and cousins' children recently-ish. The cousins' children who were present were a brother (17, I think) and sister (14, I think), and all the adults stopped talking and listened when the boy talked and everyone just talked over her when the girl talked. I made a point of making sure I was listening to her, and of not responding to any of the other adults who tried talking to me while she was talking, which I think did help switch things a bit. And it was hard, because she was mostly talking about some anime thing that I had never seen and didn't care about, but the main problem seemed to be that she talked as if she expected everyone to dismiss her, which I'm assuming happened because everyone always dismissed her. And I know that at least 80%, if not 100%, of the adult women in that room identify as feminist, and one of the adult men (the girl's uncle, not her father) proudly wears a "Smash the Patriarchy" t-shirt, so it's not like any of them were consciously enforcing traditional gender roles. But they were certainly unconsciously doing so.
posted by jaguar at 8:14 PM on November 23, 2015 [33 favorites]


Honestly I think the distinction is, pro sports you don't have a personal relationship with. Frisbee boyfriend you do. So, does Frisbee boyfriend happily attend your dance recitals, or traipse along on your rock hunting trips, or come watch your roller derby? If so, that's normal support of your partner's hobbies and interests. If not, that's "watching boys" in that what you're putting into the relationship isn't reciprocated and you are intended to be always on the sidelines admiring, never on the field being admired.

Pro sports, there's a societal-level "watching boys" issue in that women's sports don't get as much air because women aren't considered very interesting to watch by the sports media titans, but for an individual it's not a personal interaction. It's distant, and largely based on extreme skill rather than on boys being considered inherently interesting to watch (many boys playing football in minor leagues or college teams don't ever get watched! They're not interesting because they're not freakishly good at this random set of skills.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:19 PM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the "Watching Boys do Things" is not even necessarily about the phenomenon of being a captive audience to some idiot trying to seduce you by playing Wonderwall. (although that is a phenomenon worth talking about and deriding.)

Nor is it about the "You have to go to your brother's Little League game" phenomenon. It's about how these priorities shape our sense of the world and effectively colonize the insides of our heads.

It's about how the author fitted herself to the mold of the white male literary canon, not because she liked their works (she doesn't), but because ... why?

I read women (some, but not enough) but I didn’t watch them. I didn’t give them megaphones in my mind. The writers with megaphones in my mind were not Mary Austin, or Louise Erdrich, or Joan Didion, or Joy Williams, or Toni Morrison, though all have been as important to me as any of the male writers I mentioned, or more.

Why do the men get megaphones even in the privacy of her own head? Why does she buy into that set of values that centers men? She doesn't consciously buy into it; now that she sees it, she's trying to reject it. It's received, like the received canon of Exceptional White Men.

I think a lot about how ideas spread from person to person, like spores traveling through the air, breeding in our psyches. There's probably an academic theory I could cite. I don't know. Anyway, she's set a fire in my head.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:28 PM on November 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


That visiting writer seemed to me such a complete asshole that I had trouble seeing him as an exemplar of any larger scale societal issues, but I guess that is my own lack of being in a position to be exposed to this stuff. If it really is the case (and I have no reason to doubt it) that in writing / academia that there are still privileged old white men calling the shots and seeing women the way he does, well that sucks. From what I hear in a very broad sense - here on MF, from younger people, from the zietgiest - it seems the trend is for these guys to be dying out without them being replaced, and more progressive views gradually taking hold.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:11 PM on November 23, 2015


Yeah, no, the "They're dying out" narrative is a way of pretending it's not a problem. (See also, "post-racial.") They're not dying out. Younger guys are doing the same shit. It's still a problem.
posted by jaguar at 9:16 PM on November 23, 2015 [51 favorites]


Stephen Elliot is 43 today, he would have been around 37 during the visit referenced in the essay.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:20 PM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


it seems the trend is for these guys to be dying out without them being replaced

I wish but dude this world will never run out of dudes playing Wonderwall.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 9:21 PM on November 23, 2015 [22 favorites]


Thank you for this. I went to AMZ to see what she's got available, and lo, Gold Fame Citrus is already in my wishlist. Fantastic essay.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:23 PM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, @guyinyourmfa is funny because it's true. There's plenty of Franzen-worshipping white guys under 27 doin' their thing at this very moment.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:24 PM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


jaguar, like I said I don't have the exposure and I take your word for it, but how is it possible that given that email he sent out, and this blog post, he is not soon to be completely discredited in his peer group?
posted by Meatbomb at 9:25 PM on November 23, 2015


Probably because he is a serious writer and she is just some girl.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:29 PM on November 23, 2015 [30 favorites]


Because "har har women overreact amirite?" is considered a normal thing.

A man who raped a woman got the Heisman trophy last year and was the number-one NFL draft pick this year, with a $23-million contract and at $16-million signing bonus. If you get $40 million for raping women, I'm not sure I can believe there's a huge career downside to sending a "har har" email about us.
posted by jaguar at 9:30 PM on November 23, 2015 [31 favorites]


Donald Trump claimed that a woman's menstrual cycle affected her professional abilities, and he's still the fucking frontrunner for the GOP nomination for president. As far as I remember (which may be wrong), he got higher poll numbers after making that statement. Insulting and belittling women has no professional downside for most men.
posted by jaguar at 9:32 PM on November 23, 2015 [23 favorites]


That visiting writer seemed to me such a complete asshole that I had trouble seeing him as an exemplar of any larger scale societal issues

jaguar, like I said I don't have the exposure and I take your word for it, but how is it possible that given that email he sent out, and this blog post, he is not soon to be completely discredited in his peer group?


The behavior she described him engaging in with her is really common, in my experience (both the "come on, just let me sleep here, nothing will happen" and the trivialization of her in his write-up). What's unusual is that he had a platform to broadcast the story to an audience beyond his friends. It's fairly typical to hear a story like that when I'm out with friends on a Sunday (watching my guy friends watch football) and we're talking about our weekends.
posted by sallybrown at 9:36 PM on November 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the "men can't say a peep about women these days or they're railroaded out of their jobs and ostracized forever!" narrative* is yet another way of pretending this stuff doesn't go on, constantly, all the time.

*please note that nobody here has said this!
posted by wintersweet at 9:37 PM on November 23, 2015 [16 favorites]


I've been reading the first TPB of the comic Bitch Planet and the best part of it is the pages of "in-universe" ads including
What's Wrong With You?
Be the you HE likes. Good to be around, any time, any day. Agreenex (TM) helps. It doesn't change your circumstances, but it keeps you from caring. Because without thoughts, feeling, or inconvenient opinions, you're more fun to be around. So use Agreenex (TM). Isn't he worth it? (And if he kicks you out, where will you live? Do you really think someone would give you a job? Look at you.
Agreenex (TM)
because he's sick of your shit!
which is really only a little bit away from the Young-Women's magazines* at the checkout aisle... the endless headlines about "Men" or "Him" and "What They Want" or "What He Wants". The "He" is bad enough; at least that presupposes there is a specific man you are interested in and the Power of Cosmopolitan can, y'know, Drive Him Wild!!! The "Guys!" is even worse. You can't even buy a pack of frickin' gum without being reminded that You, Yes You!!! ought to care about What Men Think!

Yes, Bitch Planet is satire but here it's specifically satirizing and literalizing the internal compliance demanded of women in today's society.

*Middle-Aged-Women's magazines are about Have More Energy! Cut Costs! LOSE TEN POUNDS! Here on the cover is a luscious dessert with recipe inside. Unless they are upmarket and then they are about Have More Energy! Cut Clutter! Live your dreams! Here on the cover is a luxurious closet with organization tips inside.
posted by Hypatia at 9:41 PM on November 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


Asked: but how is it possible that given that email he sent out, and this blog post, he is not soon to be completely discredited in his peer group?

Answered: Insulting and belittling women has no professional downside for most men.
posted by Thella at 9:59 PM on November 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


The part of this that had the most resonance for me was the part about motherhood, because no experience has made me less interesting in the lives of men--and more interested in the lives of other women--than spawning. I just want to sit around and talk to other ladies all the time now. How do you do it, ladies? And why? What do you feel? If you haven't had children, how are our lives different? What have I lost, and gained, by the experience? What does it mean to be an artist with children or a woman without? What are these feelings for? Today I picked up a blanket that I once swaddled my daughter in when she was only days old and smelled it and even though it has been washed, when I pressed that nubby flannel to my cheek, I began leaking. What can literary white men tell me about that? What am I building? What am I losing? Why do I have more ideas than I've ever had and less time to write them? What will I become at the end of all this? Why do I feel like these experiences are important when society tells me they're drab and quotidian, Just Mom Stuff? Tell me I'm not alone, other women. Speak to me. Not to them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:21 PM on November 23, 2015 [77 favorites]


After watching Girls for the first time my friend Annie McGreevy says, “That was my experience, too, but I didn’t know it was okay to make art about it.” And maybe it’s still not okay. After doing an event with Miranda July, Lena Dunham tweets this quote from Lorrie Moore, writing on July in the New York Review of Books, “When one googles ‘Wes Anderson’ and ‘fey’ one gets a lot of pictures of him and Tina Fey.”
Does anyone have an idea what this means? I'm guessing it refers to how Anderson's movies are pretty fey (a sort of combination of unworldly and unearthly) but I'm lost beyond that.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:21 PM on November 23, 2015


Fey is a term that seems to be used a lot to belittle Miranda July's work ("Artist-turned-film-maker Miranda July, renowned for her fey and quirky style" for example, is one google hit), but not Wes Anderson's, despite the fact that his is pretty damned fey. That's what that means.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:24 PM on November 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


Women's work is assumed to be "fey." Men's is not.

PhoBWanKenobi, I love that. I don't have kids, I don't want kids, but I still find the process fascinating. I don't understand why "children" is considered a negligible subject. I mean, I get that "Patriarchy" is the reason, but it's so completely anti-life.
posted by jaguar at 11:24 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Who told you that you were so important?"
In my experience? Pretty much everybody. I know they are wrong, but as fictions go it's just too damn captivating.

As the ultimate mansplaining cliche of Daughter-born-OMG-Patriarchy! I've wondered how you get from there here to there. The limitations of my understanding thanks to 40 odd years of me time is heartbreaking. A life half lived. All I know is we're not going to give this up so I hope you take it from us before I die.
posted by fullerine at 12:08 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now when I hear a man holding forth, monopolizing the conversation and ignoring the women, I ask myself the same thing [...] How do these guys get that message that they're so much more important than everybody else?

Well, speaking personally, I ...

Hang on, this is one of those trick questions, isn't it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:50 AM on November 24, 2015 [21 favorites]


I took a women's studies course (literature) in 1989. I was one of three males in a class of around two dozen. I'm proud to say we realized, after the first class, the hardest part of our participation was just shutting the hell up. Because when the professor solicited comment, there might be a duration of silence we discerned as bloated, but it was only that-- a sensibility and acculturation. As young men, we had always been encouraged, and exptected, to present confidence. But if we'd just wait a few seconds, others would participate. And I know women are acculturated to defer to the presented, deep voice of men. Another aspect of our participation was to refrain from "arguing" as much as accepting perspectives. It was good practice for sympathetic listening I'd study later. And affirmed opinions from women about all girls' schools, where having to defer wasn't a variable.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 2:15 AM on November 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


This was a great essay, but wow was the repeated genital essentialism disappointing.
posted by Dysk at 4:27 AM on November 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


holy crap i have spent so much of my life watching boys do things that are boring as fuck to watch

ohhhh boy i'm gonna be journaling my tits off about this for a while
posted by palomar at 9:51 PM on November 23 [5 favorites −]


You and me both. The article made me realize that privileging men's interests and comfort over mine is a major theme in my relationships, romantic and platonic. The nadir was when, after a brief period of post-coital cuddling, I wrapped myself in a sheet to sit next to the naked boy at his desk while he played video games. And listened seemingly intently about... strategy? I dunno, it was 3am and I'm not a gamer.

And that it reminds me of this power imbalance at the heart of sexism, at the heart of racism, at the heart of heterosexism, at the heart of discriminations that we don't yet have neat tidy "-isms" to describe and prettify the ugliness at their core. Women, people of colour, queer people, trans people, intersectional people, all spend so much time watching their privileged counterparts do things. Monitoring them constantly so that we can try to avoid the bad attention as much as we can hope to attract the good. And even then. Even then."

posted by Athanassiel at 9:43 PM on November 23 [23 favorites +] [!]


The term for this phenomenon in social psychology is hypervigilance. I once interviewed an older African American woman who spoke of "putting on armor" every day to face the world, neatly describing the extra effort expended in monitoring the world for threats. Imagine what more she (and I, and all of us) could have accomplished if that energy could have been directed towards our own purposes?
posted by Neneh at 5:20 AM on November 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


"turn these things into rocket fuel"
This website helps me do that because of the fact that it is a rare place where you can watch women do things. Like LobsterMitten's deftitude is as good to watch as, I dunno, Derek Jeter or whoever. And PhoBWanKenobi. I want to talk about that stuff, too. I'll never "leak" in the way you mean, and sometimes that fact makes me leak another way. So I hope it's not weird, but anybody who makes me cry gets added as a contact automatically.

Wes Anderson defines fey. He is an insufferable brooklynbookofwonder reachoutandtouchsomeone Cheerios-ad tearjerking pandering factory for kawaii-induced nausea. Miranda July has fangs and will tear out your heart. Tina Fey is what I said she was in the fanfare thread about the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It was something like an angelcake with an axe blade in it. Women: good to watch.
posted by Don Pepino at 5:26 AM on November 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


“Trend. It’s not a trend. We are here now. We’re not going anywhere. We are here now.”

I wish that were true. (With an addendum.)

The heartbreaking discovery of my thirties has been discovering -- over and over again -- that the breakthroughs I'd thought women had been making can be easily erased, even as well-intended articles point to women who are making breakthroughs today.

Growing up in the 1990s, at least among the books my friends and I read and talked about, fantasy was a female-dominated genre. Boys may have read and written about rocket shops, but dragons were totally feminine. And today we're greeted with essay after essay about women breaking into a genre dominated by white men (this, for example, though the most irritating part is the subheader), because fantasy is the genre of Tolkien and Martin and not of Norton or Bradley or McCaffrey.

So it'd be nice to pretend that we're here now. It would be really, really nice to end these essays on an upbeat note. But, without a constant battle to rewrite history, we're going to be greeted with another set of uplifting essays in another decade about how we're around today in ways we totally weren't here before.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:53 AM on November 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


Just wanted to comment on the men trying to pressure you into sleeping in the same bed thing... It is real, and as far as i can tell it has no consequences. My junior year of college another undergrad friend and I were asked by our male advisor to share a hotel with his grad student, a married man from Kenya who'd moved to the US alone to do his PhD. We arranged it so Ellie and i shared the bed one night, and slept on the floor the next, with John switching with us. Ellie went out to hang out with a friend, and John was getting ready for bed. "You can share the bed with my if you want," he told me. "Don't be afraid, I wouldn't be like a snake in the night." "Oh, no, that's OK." "Don't worry, even though I've been away from my wife for 5 months, I can still control myself."

At which point I decided to go do work in the hotel lobby. Later, our professor asked how it had gone. When I said it made me a little uncomfortable to have him pressure me into sleeping in the same bed as him, he said I was overreacting; he was just being a nice guy by trying to keep me from sleeping on the floor. That guy? Tenured faculty now. No repercussions ever! Me? Way less likely to defend my experience of sexism or harassment with male authority figures.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:54 AM on November 24, 2015 [25 favorites]


jaguar, like I said I don't have the exposure and I take your word for it, but how is it possible that given that email he sent out, and this blog post, he is not soon to be completely discredited in his peer group?

Partly because he has accreted a lot of power and authority by running a well-regarded literary website that doesn't pay anyone?
posted by listen, lady at 6:26 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


and more interested in the lives of other women--than spawning. I just want to sit around and talk to other ladies all the time now. How do you do it, ladies? And why?

Which is GREAT. That is great. And my very gentle queer push is, I've been interested in yours (the generic yours!) for some time, but you were doing other things and often implied that my interests were wrong.

(Again, I'm not talking about you, just probing heterosociality/sexuality some.)

Today I picked up a blanket that I once swaddled my daughter in when she was only days old and smelled it and even though it has been washed, when I pressed that nubby flannel to my cheek, I began leaking. What can literary white men tell me about that?

I can't tell you anything about it, either. I think it's worth considering what that means.
posted by listen, lady at 6:30 AM on November 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I can't tell you anything about it, either. I think it's worth considering what that means.

As I said, I'm also interested in the lives of women who have not reproduced, because as much as reproducing is a transformative and distinctive experience, choosing to not do so in the framework of our society is also transformative and distinctive--the life of a woman who does not have these experiences is not disinteresting to me, because, as I said, our society assumes having children is essential for femalehood, and it's not. And I want to talk about what this means, what it feels like, and what you gain by opting out or having those aspects of life closed to you.

You have more to say about this than you think you do. And yeah, as a bisexual, but heterosexually partnered woman since I was 18, I wish I'd been listening and talking to other women in a meaningful way for much longer.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:52 AM on November 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's also possible that women who choose not to have children don't want to talk about that choice at all, because it's largely irrelevant to our lives.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:54 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


As I said, I'm also interested in the lives of women who have not reproduced, because as much as reproducing is a transformative and distinctive experience, choosing to not do so in the framework of our society is also transformative and distinctive--the life of a woman who does not have these experiences is not disinteresting to me, because, as I said, our society assumes having children is essential for femalehood, and it's not.

Right! I just also notice that part of the way we make points like that is by suggesting that men wouldn't understand a given experience—even though some women don't —& some women uncoupled from heterosexuality do.
posted by listen, lady at 6:55 AM on November 24, 2015


I am having a bit of a hard time grasping professors saying "ok female students, let this dude sleep in your room/apartment," I mean, it's not about being a Puritan, that's just something I would be deeply uncomfortable with. Let him sleep in your room, Dr. So and So, I ain't a hotel and I'm not going to feel comfortable with some random dude in my space all night.

(I believe it happened, it just flabbergasts me.)
posted by emjaybee at 7:00 AM on November 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


This article is fascinating, and in a lot of places it rang true for me.

However, I had a hard time identifying with a lot of the examples she used, and in some ways that lack of identification made for another, unwritten essay inside the essay she wrote. As a child I gravitated towards books written by and about girls (Harriet the Spy, The Secret Garden, The World of Henry Orient, Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, the American Girls Collection, the ---- Shoes series by Noel Streatfield, etc). While I identified with some of the experiences in those stories (being a fangirl; writing and having your classmates discover your diary; being a sour little girl), there was a huge filter between the protagonists and me because of their socioeconomic status. My family wasn't quite dirt poor, but we didn't have the money for me to go to fancy schools or attend concerts or take dance lessons. As a creative child I hungered for those experiences, and reading books like these only stoked my hunger. When I saw something resembling my background depicted in books, it was either secondhand (the parts of Samantha Parkington's books that dealt with Nelly, her next-door neighbor's maid) or couched in history (the All Of A Kind Family books).

As an adult, this pattern has kind of repeated itself on a larger level. The writers who depict class in a way that I recognize are male (Lehane, Auster, Stephen King to an extent), where the women who capture the public's imagination and who are flatteringly described as feminist come from affluent backgrounds (Fey, Miranda July, Taylor Swift). When I write or sit down to make something, the writers who have a voice in my head are almost always rich white women. I know this article specifically focused on issues of women being taken seriously and the things women experience that prevent them from that, but I would love to see an essay that explores the intersectional issues related to which women get taken seriously and how race and socioeconomic status figures into that.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:13 AM on November 24, 2015 [20 favorites]


Right! I just also notice that part of the way we make points like that is by suggesting that men wouldn't understand a given experience—even though some women don't —& some women uncoupled from heterosexuality do.

Oh, of course some non-het women do. Some of the most fascinating feminist moms of my acquaintance are raising children without men in the picture. I don't think the fact that their children have two mothers or one mother and no father or in an adoptive framework makes what they have to say about motherhood or femaleness less interesting. More interesting, actually.

I get that you're talking about this as a general critique of people who want to talk about mothers and not me specifically, but I was really not saying anything about heterosexual female experience in particular. I'm just really interested in the female lived experience and care fuck-all about the male right now. I've spent my entire life immersed in our culture of masculinity. Time to talk about something else.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:43 AM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


From what I hear in a very broad sense - here on MF, from younger people, from the zietgiest - it seems the trend is for these guys to be dying out without them being replaced, and more progressive views gradually taking hold.

Others have already demolished this claim, but for specific examples you might want to Google Stephen Tully Dierks, who used his cachet at Pop Serial to abuse multiple women in ways very similar to the visiting scholar that Watkins describes, and who had reached the ripe old age of 29 when he was finally outed. Or Tao Lin, who is incomprehensibly still super-famous after it came out that he abused his 16-year-old girlfriend (and then wrote a novel about the abuse) when he was 22. I note bitterly that when I googled Tao Lin's name for this comment just now, nothing about the rape scandal even appeared on the first page of hits; I needed to add the words "rape accusation" to the search for it to even register. But don't worry, his new work is breathlessly described by Gawker as "deeply self-aware, heavy on dialogue, and fun."

Rest assured, young male authors who feel an entitlement to women's bodies, let alone their attention, are bubbling up just as fast as the old ones are dying off. And because of comments like Meatbomb's, writers can keep telling themselves that it's "getting better" and that the only problem is a generation gap.
posted by Amberlyza at 7:46 AM on November 24, 2015 [15 favorites]


I've spent my entire life immersed in our culture of masculinity. Time to talk about something else.

[high five emoji]
posted by listen, lady at 7:47 AM on November 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Loved and appreciated the article a lot. It's interesting how often stories of respected members of the academic or creative communities abusing their privilege come to light now. This kind of stuff is so widespread and routine in the professional world outside of writing and academia, it's really tempting to think of the writing and academic worlds as somehow removed or distinct from the culture more broadly (and as somehow more enlightened), but obviously not.

I'm starting to wonder, though, if the meaning of the term 'gaslighting' is going to expand so much over time it eventually swallows the sun. The reason I personally care is that the term isn't only relevant in the context of feminism, sexism, and gender issues, and when used precisely, it's a powerful tool for describing a particular form of psychological/emotional abuse that can be really agonizing to suffer through. As someone once diagnosed with a trauma and depression-related schizoaffective disorder, who knows what it's like to seriously question one's own sanity--and as someone who's also observed various forms of gaslighting played casually as "pranks" on people with and without mental disorders--I hope the original sense of the term, for describing a pattern of psychological abuse in which the abuser deliberately contrives a situation or falsifies evidence in the environment to trick a victim into doubting their own memory and grasp of reality (as in the original idea of an abusive husband sneakily turning down the gaslights around the house to mess with his wife's confidence in her own sanity) doesn't get lost.

That's my two cent contribution as someone worried about abuse victims who may be more prone to psychological and emotional abuse due to mental health vulnerabilities. It's one thing to dismiss what someone's saying as crazy (and that may be wrong and abusive in its own way). But it's another thing to actually plant fake evidence around or take other, more deliberate steps to make the targeted victims themselves actually feel like they're going crazy and see faked evidence of that for themselves. The example of "gaslighting" in the email seemed to me to be more like an example of dog-whistling for female incompetence or unreliability--sort of like claiming she was "hysterical"--than like actual gaslighting, though it's possible I'm missing some subtlety in the context that makes it worse than I'm grasping.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:22 AM on November 24, 2015


What a terrific essay! Just to feature a passage I don't think has gotten a shoutout yet:
My best friend, a Basque American, publishes a book set in the Spanish Basque country and Publishers Weekly lauds it “just exotic enough.” My iBooks library categorizes Joshua Cohen as “Literary” and Toni Morrison as “African American.” Think about that for a second: it’s either/or. Meaning, according to iBooks, you cannot be African American and Literary. And it was only two years ago that, over on Wikipedia, American authors whom editors suspected of being in possession of a pussy were removed from the category “American novelists” and relocated to “American women novelists.” These categories—writer or student, writer or girl, woman novelist, Eskimo, Latino, Literary or African American—matter. As Sontag told Mailer, “Words matter, Norman.” They affect the way we live—whether we can smoke a joint beside a hotel pool in New Mexico without fear of being arrested; whether someone will hear no when we say it—and they affect the way we write.

The “little white man deep inside of all of us”
She is bringing together so much—so much of her own experiences and thoughts, and so much of the epiphenomena of the (white) patriarchy that it's hard to notice even when you think you're on the alert (like the ignored sister in jaguar's comment). Thanks very much for this post.

Speaking of ignoring, it might be a good thing to do with the doubtless well-meaning but clueless comments by males in this thread that have the potential to derail it.
posted by languagehat at 8:31 AM on November 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think the gaslighting idea was that he just flat-out lied in the email about how the interaction had gone, especially that her refusal was only because of the "boy" she was seeing.
posted by jaguar at 8:32 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


The bit she highlights as gaslighting I think fits the definition. He reports telling her that nothing would happen between them, "but she wasn't so sure. she had been drinking" - implying that SHE was worried SHE wouldn't keep her hands off HIM - which was literally the opposite of what transpired.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:34 AM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


But was he trying to torture her or effectively torturing her by making her doubt her own sanity? If you've ever had that done to you, you know it's a hell of a lot worse than having somebody just accuse you of being crazy. That's my only point.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:31 AM on November 24, 2015


And it's not important enough that it's worth derailing, so I'll gladly back off the point if it's not valuable.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:33 AM on November 24, 2015


The "we are here now" comment in may case resonated more for me about being an out and unapologetic trans woman than anything else.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:34 AM on November 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's needlessly nitpicky, dismissive of the importance of what she is trying to communicate, and not valuable.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:37 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the term gaslighting works, if only because wrestling control of the narrative in advance of a victim/potential victim is something abusers absolutely do as a form of gaslighting. The example that immediately comes to mind is Jian Gomeshi putting up that facebook post about how there was a vast conspiracy of women who were going to accuse him of stuff he definitely didn't do, as a way to pre-emptively control the narrative of his abuse.
posted by SassHat at 9:47 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm really sorry this is derailing. My point is intersectional: lots of people our culture identifies as weak or vulnerable or effeminate are abused through the more direct gaslighting types of behaviors. Didn't mean to deny or discount the author's experience, only augment it with the perspective of someone who's been mentally ill and had it done to them by abusive males.

Please don't waste any more energy on my flub.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:55 AM on November 24, 2015


I just want to add my appreciation for this fantastic piece of writing - I read it almost immediately when it was posted but it's taken me this long to digest enough of it to have anything of my own to say, not least because there's SO much there and what I latched on to and took from it was not at all what other people here have seemed to. (Which is great! It's so incredibly rich with stuff to take apart and think about.)

I just finished reading Her Wild American Self*, which is a collection of short stories about quiet things in a woman's life. A woman grieves after a miscarriage. A painter resists marriage. A banker goes to stay with her cousin, a dancer; feels keenly what's lacking in her own life; instead of dealing with that, gets defensive and angry with her cousin for being "too carefree" and avoiding responsibility. And my reaction was like her friend's reaction to Girls: I have had that experience, I just didn't know I could write about it. Now that I think about it, a lot of it is specifically about a modern, urban, late-twenties-early-thirties kind of woman's life: dating, work, wanting a baby, deciding whether to marry. There is a significant amount of class privilege to these things but they're also treated with a distinct lack of seriousness in our culture (rom-coms, chick lit).

On the other hand, and kind of contradictory to that, my reading life has been rich with the stories of women of color. I don't feel that I'm missing out on any kind of diversity in literature. What is missing, and what I think this article really hits on, is women and people of color as tastemakers and cultural gatekeepers, as viewers and reviewers and critics of the culture and of artistry in general, equal to what an Updike or a Nabokov has to say about Literature and Writing. If we do say something about the state of representation in the literary world, as Claire Vaye Watkins has here, our statement is Feminist, it's for Diversity, it's still viewed through that lens. We're angry. We're protesting inequality. It's never the final word.

*Speaking of which, WTF is up with the Publishers Weekly review on that page? The story about sexual harassment "ends with a whimper" because that is how these things end in real life when you need the money and you can't just walk off the job and everyone will blame you for being weak and not the harasser for harassing anyway. That is the whole point. Taking the words that are hurled at us and transmuting them into quiet poetry is a "head-on rant on stereotypes"? Fuck youuuuuuu
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:44 AM on November 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Anyone else getting a 404?

This account has been suspended.

Archived version
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 10:47 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


...Going down my own rabbit hole of links here, but I just read the second review at that link, the School Library Journal one:

the cultural richness retained from her ancestral country...value and importance of family, community, and religion ...the role of ethnic foods, clothing, and living style...especially appealing to readers who are interested in other cultures or their assimilation in American society...subtly contrasts life in America with that of life in the Philippines...an Asian minority in America that is rarely depicted in literature.

Just... speaking of marginalization. Like I've read diverse books and Diverse Books and this one was quite definitely a collection of stories about American women doing American woman things and occasionally running up against the different cultural mores of older relatives. I feel quite sure that most white women I know would relate to it personally, but from reading that review you'd only pick it up if you wanted to learn about an Exotic Foreign Culture. I know both reviews are from 1996 but my God.

I'm going to have a good hard think about what this means in terms of diversity in publishing. This is opening all kinds of avenues of thought for me.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:53 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thank you so much for posting this essay. I feel immensely tired and immensely powerful at the same time after reading that.

I think that's what giving less and less of a fuck feels like. I like it.
posted by erratic meatsack at 10:53 AM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't really understand why this is so different from my experience as a woman. I just haven't ever done it. I never watched my boyfriend/husband or my male friends do things that I wasn't also into myself. My relationships and friendships with men have looked pretty much exactly like those with woman and other-gendered folks. I read both women in men.

I am **absolutely** not trying to deny or diminish anyone's experience. I would just like to understand better why mine has been so different. (I'm 40, bi leaning gay, feminist, and middle/upper class if any of that matters.)
posted by mkuhnell at 11:49 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have been turning over this essay in my head all night and I have a few more thoughts about it now.

The part that resonated with me the most was the one about watching boys. But my experience was not what someone said above, about your mom dragging you to watch your brother play Little League. Rather, my experiences of watching boys do things--play video games, play sports, play music--has always been inextricably tied up with desire, and even more explicitly, lust.

It is rarely acceptable for women to stare lustfully at men as men. We are most free to look directly at them when they are doing something. And I know that for me that's what drew me as a kid to lounge around basements watching boys play videogames, or hang out in parks watching dudes skateboard badly. If you'd given me the choice, when I was thirteen, of skateboarding or making out with the skateboarder; or in college, of being in a band or sleeping with the guy in the band, I would have chosen the guy every time. I was easily as sex-obsessed as your average thirteen year old boy, but it played out so, so differently.

Looking back, I think that I wanted to skateboard and be in bands more than I realized, but that also those two things are inextricable - desire, for me, is always tied up with what the desired person does. I live vicariously through the men I want to fuck; I am most attracted to men when they are doing something I admire. Without generalizing too much, I think it's very rare for men to relate to women in the same way. Men are completely capable of lusting after a woman who's sitting still, who's doing nothing. I don't see men often trying to fuck the women that they want to grow up someday to be.

Without being melodramatic about it, I think this is a genuine engine of the patriarchy: the more men do, the more they are desired, the more women gather around to watch. They can play music, play sports, buy things, run for office, become a CEO, direct a movie, tell jokes, make a billion dollars, with the confidence that the more they do, the more likely they are to be considered attractive. They have the ability to convert accomplishments into sex. Women, for the most part, lack that privilege - or at least, our culture tells them that they do. The two things we're told are most sexually valuable for a woman - youth and beauty - are static. I can't look at a man I desire, who's way out of my league, and think: I know what I'll do. I'll be massively successful in my career. He won't be able to resist me then! I mean, I could - and lately, I have been - I think these categories are actually way more flexible than we think. But in the dominant account of how men and women relate to each other it's basically inconceivable.

God, I love this essay.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 12:21 PM on November 24, 2015 [41 favorites]


sunset in snow country: thank you for that book recommendation!

While I was certainly exposed to Great Dudely Writers in my education, I think I will always and forever remain thankful to my 11th grade English teacher who taught an entire semester of modern short stories. I almost want to look her up and ask her how intentional she was in her syllabus of not just heterosexual white dudes. Because it exposed to me to a shitload of authors I hadn't heard of in my previous courses. And helped me create my own canon of authors that mattered to me. I still tried to read people like Roth and Updike, largely because people I respected spoke so highly of them, but reading those books felt like the literary equivalent of the emperor's new clothes.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:25 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I live vicariously through the men I want to fuck; I am most attracted to men when they are doing something I admire.

Was it Gloria Steinem who said "Be the man you want to marry"? Which sounds kind of cute and facile, but it was actually a huge paradigm shift for me, for all the reasons you mention.

I still tried to read people like Roth and Updike, largely because people I respected spoke so highly of them, but reading those books felt like the literary equivalent of the emperor's new clothes.

God, yes, this.
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:41 PM on November 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I write or sit down to make something, the writers who have a voice in my head are almost always rich white women. I know this article specifically focused on issues of women being taken seriously and the things women experience that prevent them from that, but I would love to see an essay that explores the intersectional issues related to which women get taken seriously and how race and socioeconomic status figures into that.

I loved this article. I love this follow up point. I picked up a book by Didion expecting to feel the relief of reading something for me, and it was jarringly not.

pxe2000 - this means you have to keep writing, i think!
posted by skrozidile at 1:37 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


To go back -

As I said, I'm also interested in the lives of women who have not reproduced, because as much as reproducing is a transformative and distinctive experience, choosing to not do so in the framework of our society is also transformative and distinctive--the life of a woman who does not have these experiences is not disinteresting to me, because, as I said, our society assumes having children is essential for femalehood, and it's not. And I want to talk about what this means, what it feels like, and what you gain by opting out or having those aspects of life closed to you.

It means being slapped once for being a woman, and then again for being bad at being a woman.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:38 PM on November 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


Amazing essay. Thought of it (and this thread) at meetings today, watching how we as a company treat the women who are our colleagues.

I had written a lot more about Stephen Elliot's untoward behavior but I'll shorten it to this: mentally, I chalked it up to him being a dirty old man. And then I looked him up on Wikipedia and found he is approximately the same age I am. Just shy of three years younger, in fact. Fuuuuuuuuuuuu....

WRT Wes Anderson, the word I hear most often applied to his work is "twee." Not "fey." Googling "Wes Anderson twee" gets plenty of hits about how twee he is. (Miranda July, similarly.)
posted by kindall at 5:13 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Two or three years ago there was an article going round, written by a woman, about a dickhead in some oddly-named postmodern literary scene who treated acted nastily towards women and treated them as sex objects. Does anyone remember what I'm talking about? Was the man Stephen Elliot, the character in this story, or was it a different asshole?
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 5:36 PM on November 24, 2015


might have been ed champion.
posted by listen, lady at 7:06 PM on November 24, 2015


Harvey Kilobit: or maybe Stephen Tully Dierks? World's full of them, unfortunately.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:39 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


It looks like that whole website is effed up, unfortunately. Even the archived link above doesn't work.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:51 PM on November 24, 2015


Darn, I knew I should have opened that tab.
posted by Standard Orange at 9:46 PM on November 24, 2015


I have a pdf copy if anyone wants one. Email addy in my profile.
posted by Thella at 9:52 PM on November 24, 2015


Yeah, it was Stephen Dierks. I had him confused with Stephen Elliot. Because how many small-pond writers with big-fish cases of sexual entitlement can there be! *snort*
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:31 PM on November 24, 2015


Also you can still get a text-only version of the article from the cached version.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:51 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Athanassiel, I've added your link to the post.
posted by taz at 11:10 PM on November 24, 2015


I want to thank palegirl for posting this and thank everyone else who has contributed to this thread. This has given me so, so much food for thought. pretentious illiterate's comment particularly hit home with me.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:20 AM on November 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Continuing the general theme of the FPP: a man writes to Captain Awkward about "casting a female lead."
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:08 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's great:
I know this advice is coming with a whopping helping of “Jeez, get OVER yourself already, Fitzwilliam” but please know that there is love, here, too, for you, and for my younger self, and for my ex, President Earnest B. Forthcoming of The Republic of Sincerity, and for your coworker who was classy about waiting until the last day before she boldly asked you out. She will be just fine without you, and you both are most likely going to go on a lot more first and second dates with people who don’t quite fit with you. When that happens, say, “Thanks, but no!” and don’t try to sell them on your reasons.
Excellent advice and excellent writing.
posted by languagehat at 8:50 AM on November 25, 2015


I just keep coming back to this with more thoughts. Right now I'm thinking about Michelle Tea, who is a writer and San Francisco literary personality with a working-class background who has kind of managed to climb up into the realm of culture-makers. She's still known primarily as a Queer Writer and (to a lesser extent) a Working-Class Writer but she has her own imprint at City Lights Publishers, she hosts a monthly reading series at the San Francisco Public Library, people seem to care about what she has to say about Literature (at least the little corner of it where she totally dominates). And she writes about motherhood and fertility treatments and Botox and fashion. God, I love her. Maybe I'll read How to Grow Up again this weekend.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:48 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi: the life of a woman who does not have these experiences is not disinteresting to me, because, as I said, our society assumes having children is essential for femalehood, and it's not. And I want to talk about what this means, what it feels like, and what you gain by opting out or having those aspects of life closed to you.

Without meaning to pick on you, PhoBWanKenobi, this is a good example of how the dominant narrative about female life can subtly punish those who don't fit it. You assume yours is the default state, and we are 'opting out' or having aspects of life 'closed to' us.

Whereas from my position, you are the one departing from the default human state of 'existing without children' and closing the door on it. I am not choosing to become some Other, i'm just continuing as I always have.

(I know you know this, but this was surprisingly painful to read. I think the essay has made me a little more vulnerable than usual, usually I just sigh and brush it off.)
posted by pseudonymph at 4:41 PM on November 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


Yeah, all women (cis and trans) have been or still are childless. Only some women have children. I personally would like to see more expressions and explorations of women's lives, women's narratives, women's stories that do not include having children as a central theme - childless women not as some kind of stunted, frustrated, disappointed and/or monstrous creatures who are unnatural and whose childless state is the core, defining characteristic of their personalities and lives. I mean, I honestly don't understand why some women want to subsume themselves in motherhood. I accept that they do, and that some argue it's not losing themselves, etc, but it is hard for me to understand. And, to be honest, I find the preponderance of "women's narratives" that revolve around child-bearing, child-rearing, child-wrangling etc to be, well, so ubiquitous as to be much less interesting, just as I find heterosexual, monogamous romances in fiction to be much less interesting.

(I have always had a particular fondness for stories where girls/women dress up and live as boys/men and do things and have adventures and people pay attention to them and am perpetually disappointed when they end with the disguise being revealed and the girl/woman getting romantically paired off with a boy/man and relegated to a life of being an obvious woman, frequently popping out sprogs to further limit her activities or curtail them to the realm of the domestic. And yes, I realise that in an ideal world, women wouldn't have to pretend to be men to be able to do things and yet we still seem so very far away from that ideal.)
posted by Athanassiel at 8:25 PM on November 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


Sorry, pseudonymph. I wasn't trying to imply motherhood is the default state but rather trying to avoid language that implies childlessness is always a choice, as I know that language can be sometimes painful for some people. I may have put my foot in my mouth in that, but I agree with you.

And yes, I realise that in an ideal world, women wouldn't have to pretend to be men to be able to do things

Orrr women are doing things! The lives of women, even when they're traditionally domestic, their thoughts and desires, deserve to be spoken and written about--and they're really, really not, the literary canon both modern and traditional reflects this--and they certainly aren't given acclaim or esteem when they are. Maybe it's not a nice way to talk about parenthood, "frequently popping out sprogs," and maybe motherhood can be an adventure, too. Maybe fiction is a good way to explore why some women would want to choose that, except many mothers are too damned exhausted to write, and others are self-editing their narratives so as not to bore people with the dull ol' mombie stuff, and our society says that the only people interested in motherhood are other mothers, not women who haven't experienced that, and definitely not men, who are busy doing the really important things.

It's depressing, really. I had to stop writing this comment twice, first to clean poop off a small child's butt, and then to nurse her to sleep. Then I very nearly fell asleep myself. This is grueling work, being a primary caretaker, and I know it's seen as boring from the outside because people tell me that all the time. I've had family tell me, for example, that my friendships with other parents don't actually mean anything because we "just" talk about our kids and nothing of substance, as if the 24/7 daily grind of our lives is not actually substantial. For all the lipservice our society gives about family values and exalting mothers, it does very little to actually emotionally support them. The lived experience is actually very difficult and isolating but at the same time triumphant and heartbreaking. And it touches everything you do during the years you're engaged in it, in a million little difficult logistical ways I never thought possible. But I shouldn't talk about it. It's obvious. I guess.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:01 PM on November 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


I wasn't trying to imply motherhood is the default state but rather trying to avoid language that implies childlessness is always a choice, as I know that language can be sometimes painful for some people. I may have put my foot in my mouth in that, but I agree with you.

I think what I was trying to say earlier is that you are using that language in spite of yourself, because that is how heavily embedded it is as a preferential social position. Of course you weren't trying to imply that, and also you did. What you said earlier was "I began leaking. What can literary white men tell me about that?" which implies that women will necessarily know about it. And lots will. But lots, just like "literary white men," won't. So why phrase it that way, especially with a tone of disdain? You and I aren't systers just because my breasts can and may someday leak milk.

I am absolutely happy to talk to my friends about their experiences of parenthood & of course know it's taxing. And I have great respect for what you're articulating about having your own experience blown open by it.

But surely you MUST see how this turns into a default narrative that minimizes or erases lots of other experiences, outside of whether your particular interest is not driven by a social construct. Because THAT is part of the experiences of lots of women—and if the latter is the thing you're so interested in, you surely have to see it.
posted by listen, lady at 3:21 AM on November 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


That said, some stuff you might like: Beth Ann Fennelly's poetry collection Tender Hooks or her nonfiction essay collection Great With Child (I try to send one or the other as a gift to all of my friends when they get pregnant) & the great great podcast "The Longest Shortest Time." Michelle Tea's also writing a lot of great stuff about parenting.
posted by listen, lady at 3:36 AM on November 26, 2015


Also, and I'm sorry, I'm not trying to pick on you: You have more to say about this than you think you do.

You are presuming to know what I think I have to say about it. Which makes me want to say nothing at all.
posted by listen, lady at 3:40 AM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


So why phrase it that way, especially with a tone of disdain? You and I aren't systers just because my breasts can and may someday leak milk.

Not to speak for PhoB here, but I read her earlier comments as responding specifically to the part of the article where Claire Vaye Watkins was talking about motherhood:
About a year ago I had a baby, and while my life was suddenly more intense, more frightening, more beautiful, more difficult, and more profound than it had ever been, I found myself with nothing to write about.

“Nothing’s happening to me,” I bemoan to Annie. “I need to go shoot an elephant.”

Annie replies, in her late-night Lebowskian cadence, “Dude, you’re a mother. You’ve had a child. You’re struggling to make your marriage work, man. You are trying, against your nature and circumstance, to be decent. That’s your elephant!” Yet when I write some version of this down it seems quaint or worse.
I mean, I agree that we shouldn't centralise motherhood as the defining point of the female experience, and that there is a lot more to our lives than just this whether we're mothers or not. But this particular divide the author describes experiencing in relation to her own motherhood - why does this thing that seems so important and so lifechanging to me not count, in my own head or outside it, as Worthwhile Literary Inspiration? Why does it feel so profound but come down as quaint or worse when you try to write it? - remains a worthwhile point. And there is surely a way to discuss this, without either marginalising the experience of women who aren't mothers or dismissing the experiences of women who are.

I mean, Athanassiel's point above:

(I have always had a particular fondness for stories where girls/women dress up and live as boys/men and do things and have adventures and people pay attention to them and am perpetually disappointed when they end with the disguise being revealed and the girl/woman getting romantically paired off with a boy/man and relegated to a life of being an obvious woman, frequently popping out sprogs to further limit her activities or curtail them to the realm of the domestic.

I think many of us share the frustration with narratives that say only boys and men can do things, but phrasing it this way is just reiterating the point that motherhood isn't compatible with and doesn't itself count as doing things, because, well, everybody knows it's just domestic and boring and limiting. Shoot an elephant instead, women - that'll give you something worthwhile to talk about!
posted by Catseye at 4:00 AM on November 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


Right, and I get what Watkins was saying, and I agree with both women! And I am genuinely moved by how they and other women have testified that their lives break open with pregnancy and motherhood. Eula Biss has written beautifully about this, too. (I also love Ayun Halliday. I've been reading about pregnancy and motherhood for years.) Of course it's a thing. Of COURSE it matters. Everyone has a mother even if they'll never be one.

But I do not and will not accept that it's truly a privileged womanhood. I read PhoBe's comment in the context of wanting to talk to other women about her and their experiences of womanhood. Why do I feel like these experiences are important when society tells me they're drab and quotidian, Just Mom Stuff? Tell me I'm not alone, other women. Speak to me. Not to them. What is implied here is that "other women" can talk in a particular commiserating or insightful way about the challenges of motherhood. And I can't speak to her in the way she wants to be spoken to. That doesn't mean I can't hear her the way she wants to be heard.

If every dimension you name and question you raise is related to childbearing, just say you want to talk about motherhood. It's fine to say that! It's fine to want that! Positing it as a conversation "about" something we call "womanhood" strikes me as misleading and, clearly, alienating.
posted by listen, lady at 4:14 AM on November 26, 2015


Popping back in with this residency fellowship for parents.
posted by listen, lady at 4:53 AM on November 26, 2015


What is implied here is that "other women" can talk in a particular commiserating or insightful way about the challenges of motherhood. And I can't speak to her in the way she wants to be spoken to. That doesn't mean I can't hear her the way she wants to be heard.

I get you on this. I was hearing it more as "the people who can speak to me about these things are women", rather than "women can speak to me about these things."
posted by Catseye at 5:02 AM on November 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why do I feel like these experiences are important when society tells me they're drab and quotidian, Just Mom Stuff? Tell me I'm not alone, other women.

s/women/mothers

(It doesn't read to me much like the former of Catseye's interpretations, though I can see how it might be intended that way.)
posted by Dysk at 5:46 AM on November 26, 2015


Also, and I'm sorry, I'm not trying to pick on you:

I'm sorry, but I'm feeling pretty picked on. I get that childless women face a pretty unfair heap of stereotyping and are demeaned in pretty abhorrent ways. These pressures are one of the things I love to hear about, read about, and talk about. But I also want to talk about childbearing and childrearing and how those forces shape some women's lives. It's taboo to say that, though. Even here.

I already apologized if my word choice was hurtful. I'm not sure what more you want from me? I never used the phrase "womanhood" and I didn't say I think childbearing is intrinsic to womanhood, either. I just said that women are the ones who are talking about things I want to read about.

I get you on this. I was hearing it more as "the people who can speak to me about these things are women", rather than "women can speak to me about these things."

Catseye's got it. I was saying that Claire Vaye Watkins's experiences--which are demeaned by the literary establishment and by readers like Athanessial as worthless because they're not adventurous in the traditionally male mode--are worth reading about, that I think they would enrich my understanding and my life, and I wish her (and writers like her) would explore these experiences. They would have helped me and been meaningful and important to me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:08 AM on November 26, 2015 [12 favorites]


> Was it Gloria Steinem who said "Be the man you want to marry"

I don't know, but Jennifer Blowdryer said "Be who you want to be, don't date who you want to be." (Maybe not the exact wording -- it's been decades since I last read Maximumrocknroll -- but close enough.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:28 AM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but I'm feeling pretty picked on. I get that childless women face a pretty unfair heap of stereotyping and are demeaned in pretty abhorrent ways. These pressures are one of the things I love to hear about, read about, and talk about. But I also want to talk about childbearing and childrearing and how those forces shape some women's lives. It's taboo to say that, though. Even here.

No, it's not. That is not what I said. In fact, I also offered a number of resources I think are great for thinking and feeling through this stuff! Minus the fact that you and I have nothing to talk about, obviously, I am interested in those things! However, it is the only thing you described wanting to talk about: everything in the context of that. How you feel about being a mom. How I might feel about not being a mom. And "I'm sorry," but that doesn't sound like interest in women, it sounds like interest in motherhood, and that's fine! But don't conflate them.

I'm sorry you're feeling picked on. But you're not a victim.

. I'm not sure what more you want from me?

Think about the language you use? You're a writer? Think about the dominant space you occupy? Consider that "I really understand myself as a woman in a new way since giving birth" is true and also part of a cultural narrative that is by no means penalized.
posted by listen, lady at 12:12 PM on November 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


by readers like Athanessial as worthless

This is the least charitable reading possible, since they seemed to be describing their mindset in childhood.
posted by listen, lady at 12:13 PM on November 26, 2015


You keep saying you want to talk to women, and other women have said that the way you seem to want do it is a little alienating. So . . .
posted by listen, lady at 12:23 PM on November 26, 2015


> Was it Gloria Steinem who said "Be the man you want to marry"


You know, I actually think I've come fairly close to internalizing that advice. I guess what I'm wishing for is slightly less noble. Like, I wish a bunch of young hot college dudes were deeply aroused and attracted to me because of how well I've achieved their career goals, and because they dream of being me in fifteen years. Not that because I want to sleep with college-aged men, but because I wish that female accomplishment genuinely translated into sex appeal.

I've always thought that the intense focus on female youthfulness in our culture is another way of saying, over and over again: who you are is meaningless. Whenever I consider dyeing my hair or getting anti-wrinkle cream or whatever, I think: that would be me trying to rewind myself to a point in time when I was less interesting, when I'd done less, accomplished less, knew less, was less. If I compare myself to my college-aged self, there is not a single metric by which I don't blow the younger version of me out of the water. I've read hundreds more books, I have dozens more stories, I'm kinder, I'm more insightful, I'm funnier, I dress better, I'm better at sex, I did the Peace Corps, I have a PhD, I'm living my dreams, I know how to perform basic adult functions like using a coffee maker and chasing my sheets more than once every six months. I mean, come on!

And yet the dominant cultural narrative is that it's supposed to be so much harder for me to date at 34 than it would be at 21. Which, honestly, who knows? I've been in a relationship for a while, and I don't really feel like that's the message I'm getting in the real world, day to day. But still, that's the story, that a woman "loses worth" in other people's eyes as she ages. People repeat it, even here on Metafilter, every day, like it's this inarguable fact of existence; it gets met with a kind of shrug: what can you do? To be a little melodramatic, there is something almost...nihilistic about it; the reputed valuelessness of female accomplishment, of female selfhood, when it comes to sex appeal.

Women, of all ages, have no trouble being attracted to men in their 40s, 50s, 60s - even though those men are for the most part genuinely less physically appealing than their younger counterparts. And I'd suggest that this has almost nothing to do with fertility and mate selection and all that nonsense - it results from the fact that women have been socialized to be aroused by watching men do. And men can continue to do things their whole lives, with the faith that the more they accomplish, the more sexually appealing they are.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 12:46 PM on November 26, 2015 [26 favorites]


"Consider that "I really understand myself as a woman in a new way since giving birth" is true and also part of a cultural narrative that is by no means penalized."

And yet stories about women who are mothers are trivialized, frequently absent from serious literature, considered unimportant and dull and bourgeois and patriarchal. Nothing in my life has done as much to silence my voice and make me taken less seriously by men than having children. Now I'm "just a mom" and all my ideas and personhood can be safely ignored and subsumed into that identity. One of the most profound experiences of human life, and I'm told, "Yeah, hush, it's boring and now that you've done it you're boring."

There is an incredible dearth of serious, literary writing about motherhood. There is a dearth of fictional characters who are mothers who aren't just tropes or furniture or obstacles.

It is triple extra shitty to hear other women say, in a thread about women's stories being dismissed as "girl stuff" and not serious, that not only are we boring as people because we're moms, but also now we are feministing wrong and womaning wrong for wanting to talk about women's stories of motherhood. You're being unfair to PhoB, and you're making it pretty clear that this there is only space in this discussion for women who AREN'T mothers, or who are willing to deny or subsume that part of their identity.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:08 PM on November 26, 2015 [24 favorites]


Think about the language you use? You're a writer? Think about the dominant space you occupy? Consider that "I really understand myself as a woman in a new way since giving birth" is true and also part of a cultural narrative that is by no means penalized.

With respect, you are coming across here as rather unfairly harsh on PhoBWanKenobi, particularly because you've gone from a "this isn't about you personally" approach earlier on to this seemingly being very much about her personally now. And I get that from your perspective you are just pointing out that people within the dominant cultural paradigm can't see outside it very easily and sometimes need a nudge or two to do so even when otherwise well-meaning. But in order to do that, you are fitting what she said into a mould of a different shape, and losing some of the important nuance in so doing.

Like: saying "I really understand myself as a woman in a new way since giving birth", which is how you paraphrased what she said, is not actually the same as saying "no experience has made me less interesting in the lives of men--and more interested in the lives of other women--than spawning", which is what she actually did say.

Also, I find it interesting that you would say this cultural narrative is "by no means penalized" in the light of a conversation about one very specific way in which it is penalised? I am possibly misreading you there, because otherwise I do not quite get what you are saying.
posted by Catseye at 1:13 PM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not like stories about childless/free women are all over literature EITHER, though. (And the kind who just are -- not because they are PLOT IMPORTANTLY INFERTILE or because they HATE CHILDREN or feel they would be A TERRIBLE MOTHER, just because they don't particularly want one and like them fine and live a nice interesting life that isn't defined by not having kids or by being JUST LIKE A MAN.)

There's a dearth of fictional characters who are women, and an increase in literature about women who are characters and not sexy lamps will give more room for stories about women who are mothers (necessary) and stories about women who aren't (also necessary). Instead of fighting over the sliver of the pie, we need another pie.

(Which is easy for me to say, not being part of the publishing industry.)
posted by jeather at 3:35 PM on November 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


I was saying that Claire Vaye Watkins's experiences--which are demeaned by the literary establishment and by readers like Athanessial as worthless because they're not adventurous in the traditionally male mode--are worth reading about, that I think they would enrich my understanding and my life, and I wish her (and writers like her) would explore these experiences.

Okay, hang on - I did not demean Claire Vaye Watkins's experiences. I referred to a specific type of story which I enjoyed reading very much as a girl, in which girls or women dressed up as boys. I found it disappointing then (and do now) that these passionate, independent, interesting characters frequently wound up following the same pattern of falling in love with a man, getting married and having babies. The stories themselves, if they even bothered to go on, seemed to find these once-interesting protagonists boring. I used the phrase "popping out sprogs" to indicate my contempt not for actual women who have children, but the kind of shallow literary device that has children magically appearing with little to no trouble or impact or heartache. The stories themselves seemed to be saying: you are only interesting, you are only independent, you only have the chance to do these things BEFORE you inevitably become a mother, so make the most of it girls—it's all downhill from here.

I think we actually agree more than we disagree. I focused on the fact that in reality, being a woman ≠ being a mother and you have focused on the fact that in reality, being a mother ≠ boring. Both are true statements. We need both kinds of stories. This is the thing that happens when men's stories dominate: they create literary stereotypes which do not reflect our realities. We need to be authentic to our own experiences when we write about them, and we also need to recognise that the relative dearth of alternative fictional models doesn't mean we should limit ourselves to our own experiences. Stereotypes about women's roles hurt all of us, limit all of us.

At the same time, having children is also a very common experience for women - just as heterosexual romance is a very common experience for people in general. There are an awful lot of stories about heterosexual romance. And I find there are a lot of stories about women's experiences of having children and being mothers that leave me feeling shut out as a woman, just as I feel shut out of the romances because I am not heterosexual. In other words and on preview, what jeather just said.

I will leave you with a story about both being a mother and not being a mother that moved me nearly to tears, despite reading it at work and in public.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:48 PM on November 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


Thanks for that clarification Athanassiel, and for that story, which was lovely and touched me. Honestly, it wasn't at all clear to me that you were saying you don't currently enjoy these kinds of stories (which still exist! in abundance! for grown-ups, even!) or that you were at all questioning the portrayal of motherhood contained within them--it felt like you were reiterating a dichotomy of nurturing against adventuring. While most women are mothers (something like 81 percent will have children?) it is shockingly, depressingly uncommon for that experience to be written about in a way that makes mothers less than props, usually in the lives of young men but also young childless women, which is part of what makes, say, Saga so damned great. And when those books are written, they're often buried. I saw it happen in my MFA program, books talked scornfully of as "chick lit" or "women's fiction," which was said just as derisively. Though really, most of the books about childless women written by women were treated the same way. We're on the same page, I think.

I just went to find a link to Elisa Albert's After Birth , which is lovely literary fiction about the postpartum experience, and found this on the amazon page. It feels relevant:
How did the idea for your book originate?
I reread Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novella “The Yellow Wallpaper” after having had a child, and saw for the first time that it’s about postpartum derangement. That had never occurred to me when I read it as a teenager: it wasn’t taught that way, and in the edition I have, neither the scholarly foreword nor the afterword sees fit to make any mention of the narrator’s references to her baby. It was right around my first anniversary of motherhood, and as I began to get my bearings, I went looking for answers from literature. The postpartum experience holds me very much in thrall. It’s not at all dissimilar to the time surrounding death: periods of profound change and transformation that demand our complete attention. Life is distilled in those periods, ties are tested, and we are defined by how we deal, or don’t. We ignore or minimize this stuff at our own spiritual peril.

How do you see After Birth fitting into the larger literature of childbirth or motherhood?
I hope it will continue the conversation and serve as a reminder that this conversation needs to be had, that it will be had, come hell or high water, in spite of all the forces that conspire to silence women (not least of which can be, alas, women ourselves). The very fact that we tend to see motherhood as somehow not “universal” is problematic and creepy, given that every single one of us was given birth to.

But go to your local bookstore and look in the Pregnancy/Parenthood section and you’ll likely see an embarrassingly scant shelf with a handful of how-to books. What to Expect, Potty Training for Dummies—all those exhaustive owners’ manuals. That stuff is not sufficient, it’s artless, and it grossly ignores the metaphysical. We are not “only” mothers. We are literate and hungry and perceptive. We need more and better. Why isn’t that section stuffed to the gills with Alicia Ostriker, Adrienne Rich, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Jennifer Senior, Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg, Anne Roiphe, Lionel Shriver, Alice Notley, Lucille Clifton, Brenda Shaughnessy, Paula Bomer, Sharon Olds, Lidia Yuknavitch, Jayne Anne Phillips, Elena Ferrante, John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, Ayun Haliday, and on and on and on? I want to imagine a world in which we become mothers with huge, layered webs of stories and poems supporting and encouraging and empowering us, rooting us in the certainty that we are not alone, we needn’t be afraid, and there is good work to be done.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:28 PM on November 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


A little late so I don't know if I'm leaving this comment here will be seen or not. But I had to add a story to this:

This weekend was the EAST Studio Tour in Austin. I was in one studio, listening to this dude talk to an artist in HER STUDIO surrounded by HER AWESOME ART about *HIS* approach to art. Like, SHE IS THE SHOW DUDE, NOT YOU. He was going ON AND ON AND ON. And she was trying to get a word in and couldn't. I was getting SO PISSED. This dude, just bloviating on and on about sketching. And the worst part is how she just had to play along with his ego.

I adore You Made It Weird by Pete Holmes.


Except, though I've only listed to a half dozen plus episodes, he's not so great with women. The one women I heard was Ellie Kemper, and he spent so much time talking over her. She was clearly funny, and was trying to make several jokes that he just stomped all over in favor of hearing his own voice. In a way, that's sort of his schtick on the show. But I've never heard him do it with such disregard for a guest. I'm going to have to listen to his other women guests, but have been dreading it a bit. He doesn't have many, not compared to the male guests. And when the lovely Patton Oswalt was on and spoke directly of Rape Culture and made some indirect call outs to the patriarchy, Holmes seemed surprisingly clueless.

On the other hand, I had warm fuzzier a for weeks thanks to Patton shouting out to women.

(It really is quite good, but having conflicted feelings posting that in a thread about women watching men. Not sure how much more symptomatic than listening to dudes talking shop could fall under that; besides, you know, the non-literal definition of watching.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:03 AM on December 9, 2015


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