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Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Ladies First: Five Fairly Recent Books by Women, About Women

In books, Uncategorized on November 29, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Sarah T.

Although the subjects of the novels below range from coming of age to coming to America, all five have two things in common: They’re written by women, and they center on female characters. What books by women and/or about women have you been perusing?

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore

Moore’s coming-of-age novel is set in a post-9/11 Midwestern college town. I read it on a Metro North train and I was really into it. So into it, in fact, that I got off one station before my transfer in a haze of which-world-am-I-in confusion. Then, as the doors shut, I realized that I was still an hour away from my final destination. As the train pulled away, I had two additional revelations: I had left my phone on the seat, and this was the last train of the night. I was fully marooned.

“I guess I live here now,” I thought. I trudged down to the taxi stand to start a new life for myself. Now here I am, a happy resident of Brewster, NY. No, $90 later I got home. But the point of this story is: Moore is very absorbing, especially if you like puns. People in her books are always verbally jousting with each other, no matter how unhappy or confused they are. Even when two characters don’t like each other very much, they can usually cease hostilities long enough to bond over a good homophone. It’s Moore’s way of telling us how lonely her characters are. In her universe, puns are the way that people grasp for connection.

The novel’s narrator, Tassie, is a smart college student cut off even from the people she loves most. One of the novel’s key plot points hinges on an email from her beloved brother, who writes asking for advice on a major life decision. Not only doesn’t Tassie write back, she never even reads the email. She doesn’t understand why herself. But the isolation that courses through the book provides the explanation: The vulnerability of her brother’s email, and the prospect of taking responsibility for another person, was too much for Tassie to bear. People turn away from intimacy throughout the book. The decision seems almost sensible, given that nobody is who they say they are–not  Tassie’s Brazilian boyfriend, nor the white couple who hire her as a nanny for their adorable, bi-racial adoptive daughter Mary-Emma. Self-deception runs deep too. Their liberal college town, which prides itself on being the kind of enlightened place where you can protest wars and buy organic kohlrabi all in one go, reveals a racist underbelly.

Needless to say, this is a sad book. You kind of hear “Eleanor Rigby” playing on repeat as you read it. But Moore makes sure you don’t drown in melancholy: there are still bowls of fresh strawberries with balsamic vinaigrette, the joy of discovering Simone de Beauvoir, art etched into the foam of cappuccinos. The book recognizes the balancing power of ordinary consolations, even as it suggests–steely-eyed–that they’re not enough.  Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-Up

In Weekly Round-Up on November 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm

After a long weekend and some time away from the internet, here are just few reads from the last couple weeks.

Sarah McCarry on watching violence against women at the movies.

A Racialicious Thanksgiving Special: The Native American Vote in New Mexico and Beyond.

Lastly: a cool conversation in the NYT on narrative in contemporary films.

 

The End of Men: And the Rise of Intense Conversation

In books, class, feminism, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 6:18 am

Sarah S.

Men are over. O-V-E-R. Or so says Hanna Rosin—journalist, author, founder of Slate’s woman-centric blog “Double X,” and mother to a son she worries about and a daughter that thrives. In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Rosin claims that patriarchy is deader than J.R. Women have won, men are in decline, and the only reason we (women, men, Americans, global citizens, etc.) don’t recognize this fact is because the reality is far from the egalitarian utopia our second-wave foremothers promised.

Rosin’s premise incited quite the conversation among feminists, including Stephanie Coontz, who takes umbrage at the notion that women’s successes equal men’s decline, and Emily Blazelon and Liz Schwartz, who defend Rosin’s premise and methodology. Regardless of where one falls on this issue (or one’s gender), it’s an important conversation to have for several reasons.

One, it makes feminists quite uncomfortable; if women have actually “won,” and the world is still a cultural cesspool riddled with inequality, then are women just replacing their male overlords? Is a matriarchy doomed to be just as distasteful as a patriarchy?

Second, if newly dominant women dislike the world we see, what do we do about it? How can we take this newfound power out for a spin and see what it can do for universal equality and global improvement? If nothing else, how can we avoid turning the men that we love—husbands, sons, partners, brothers, gay boyfriends—into a new underclass?

Third, are Rosin and her ilk dead wrong? Does Rosin selectively order information in such a way as to make her case while not accounting for real and ongoing gender inequality? Further, does she account enough for race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality in her assessment?

These and other questions are so important that I was excited to have a conversation with members of Girls Like Giants about the book. Alas, most of our crew were too busy dominating the world to read and respond to the book in a timely manner. So the weighty task of leading this discussion fell to me—your humble narrator and hopeful guide.

I would have liked to have had that conversation in order to get into the nuances of Rosin’s argument. Are her uses of individual stories distractingly manipulative or competent ways to humanize the discussion? How about examples from her own biography—honest or smug? And why oh why did she allow a desire to provoke controversy overcrow arguments against such an inflammatory, ultimately lousy title? But beyond these rhetorical choices, Rosin’s main point matters to any thinking person as she articulates a profound, unshakeable shift in the makeup of our world.

However, I don’t want to just review the book or to give a rundown of my thoughts on it. If nothing else, I’m too conflicted by the argument, and frustrated by Rosin’s way of making it, to venture an objective opinion. I thought that, instead, I would briefly summarize each chapter of the book and then open it up for discussion. I’ve also included a series of links at the bottom that highlight some of the conversation that’s gone on surrounding Rosin’s work. After reading the following, what say you? Have we really reached “the end of men”?

Read the rest of this entry »

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”: There Are Quite a Few

In Film on November 14, 2012 at 8:15 am

Sarah T.

My love for The Perks of Being a Wallflower was inevitable as mason jars at a hipster wedding. Blend adolescent longing with puppy love, transformations, wild nights, and the passionate loyalty particular to friendships forged on the battlegrounds of high school, and you bet I will drink that milkshake. I’LL DRINK IT UP. Ten years out of my own teenage wasteland, I remain a sucker for coming-of-age stories because at bottom they’re about change–which means they tend to resonate with anyone who’s still in the (apparently endless?) process of Figuring Stuff Out.

But even given my predisposition to adore any film that features SATs and Sadie Hawkins dances, Perks is a winner, at times a little corny but brimming with heart. The movie tracks the freshman year of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a shy, eager-to-please innocent with a troubled past. After a few lonely weeks at school, Charlie befriends a pair of senior step-siblings, each radiating life-force. Patrick (Ezra Miller) is a warm, charismatic joker who’s forced to hide his relationship with a popular football player from their closed-minded community. Sam (Emma Watson) is an equally compassionate former party girl who’s gotten her act together–but she’s worried that college admissions boards won’t be able to see past her sub-par GPA. They take young Charlie under their wing, and before he knows it the three of them are flying through a tunnel in Patrick’s pickup truck, Sam clambering out the cab to ride in the open air while David Bowie’s “Heroes” flares. They  don’t know who’s singing; they’re still young enough to be discovering classics for the first time. “I feel infinite,” Charlie tells Patrick, quietly, like a confession. It’s a hopelessly cheesy line, but it’s also exactly the right way to describe the way you feel when, for the first time, you stumble upon people who crack your life open.

[spoilers after the jump] Read the rest of this entry »

To Make Fit Again: C.K. Mak’s “The World’s Most Fashionable Prison”

In Documentary, Film on November 13, 2012 at 7:22 am

Guest Contributor Paul B.

Given the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival’s historic penchant for extreme sport videos, the screening of Singaporean C. K. Mak’s recent documentary The World’s Most Fashionable Prison was a pleasant surprise. Even more surprising was that a queer prison-film should turn up in Arizona, a state infamous for its privatized, for-profit prisons and merciless lawmen such as Maricopa County Sheriff Arapaio, whose treatment of inmates has been roundly criticized.

Today, “rehabilitation” has shed its Latin coifs for the much hipper “rehab,” but its migration from penal discourse to addiction says less about a change in alcoholism than in prison policy. Not only are almost 1% of US citizens imprisoned (.78%, to be precise), but purgatorial sentencing, privatized prisons, and a greater than 50% recidivism rate each conspire to keep them there. With few exceptions, rehabilitation has low priority with both public and policy-maker discourse where the bottom line is prison costs.

Though The World’s Most Fashionable Prison doesn’t explicitly address US prison issues, its title invites comparison and discussion of global incarceration, of which the U.S. leads the charge. What does it mean, then, to claim that New Billibid, the largest maximum-security prison in the Phillipines, infamous for its gang wars and violence, is “fashionable”? In an obvious sense, the title refers to the plot. The film follows the flamboyant Filipino fashion designer Puey Quiñones as he teaches inmates how to sew and design clothes for their own fashion show. “Fashionable,” however, also conjures up the innovative, trendy, and unprecedented, and in this sense, the film praises Quiñones’ collaboration with the prison and prisoners as a pioneering exchange that demonstrates the potential of rehabilitation. Read the rest of this entry »

Brave New World: Skyfall

In body politics, Film, gender, spoilers, Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

Bob Mondello at NPR opens his review of Skyfall with an important point about these newest editions to the James Bond franchise. Any Jason Bourne can engage in stunningly athletic chases and fist fights. But only Bond will use a backhoe to open the roof of a train car, jump in, and…check his cufflinks before continuing the pursuit. Mondello’s key argument is that the people behind Daniel Craig’s star turn as the quintessential super spy get it, that magic that makes Bond Bond and not Bourne.

But having said that, this is not your father’s or your grandmother’s James Bond. From the “beginning,” with Casino Royale, this Bond seemed grittier, younger, able to kill a man with his bare hands and then visibly squelch his emotions. It helped that the folks behind the reboot hired quality actors and turned the focus off of gadgets and onto characters while maintaining Bond’s swagger and style. But a focus on characters forces another change, pushing our hero and those who surround him into something like actual humans in this modern world. These creators embrace a female “M,” using the talented Judy Dench as a believable figure not a politically correct giggle. Skyfall builds on this trend, proving this character-driven Bond is not a fluke. And while Skyfall does interesting things with its women, particularly M, it is in the redefinition of modern masculinity that the reboot makes it greatest contribution.

***Spoilers after the jump***

Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-Up: Hurricane Sandy

In 2012 election, class, Sandy on November 11, 2012 at 9:08 am

This week, President Obama won four more years in the White HouseDonald Trump was horrible (again), four states legalized gay marriage (woohoo!), and efforts to clean up New York after Hurricane Sandy continued. This week’s round-up is dedicated to media coverage of Hurricane Sandy. You’ll also find links with information on volunteering or donating to relief efforts below.

Check out “Everybody Gets Wet” about news coverage of Sandy, by Julia Leyda and Diane Negra, over at Antenna:

“Reporting of the disaster’s impact in places like Breezy Point in the Rockaways is colored by a strong element of mourning for obsolescent, geographically fixed communities, in contrast to the more affluent, gentrified, and relatively transient residents of the areas of lower Manhattan that were also affected.”

An interesting discussion of the role of Twitter during Sandy, via the New York Times Media Decoder Blog

“Manhattan is the epicenter of a number of big blogs, including Gawker, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, but each had to pivot to Twitter, among other platforms, as their servers succumbed to encroaching waters. (At a conference last year, Andrew Fitzgerald of Twitter wondered about the utility of the platform if the end of the world arrived in the form of an alien attack.”

The Atlantic on how Sandy laid bare income inequality in NYC:

“Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.”

Many people who live in NYC’s public housing projects still don’t have electricity or water, The New York Times reports:

“On Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg expressed the hope that private contractors would be able to restore electricity by the weekend and heat “sometime early next week” to affected buildings. This is hardly comforting news to people huddled in blankets as temperatures drop. There seems to be no clear answer for why it has taken so long to send out temporary generators and boilers to help these residents.”

To volunteer or donate to Sandy relief efforts, here are a couple links with information:

A guide for donating and volunteering, from CBS.

Check out information on relief efforts on the American Red Cross website.

Volunteer opportunities, via New York Cares.

Replay: Nicki Minaj and Cassie’s “The Boys”

In hip hop on November 9, 2012 at 10:15 am

Melissa S. 

From my first viewing of Nicki Minaj and Cassie’s new video for “The Boys,” I was in love – and I was pretty sure that this was the pop cultural artifact I had been waiting for in order to unload the thoughts about third wave feminism that have been building in my mind over the past few weeks.

In this case, when I say “third wave feminism,” I’m talking about the way that women now are wrestling to navigate femininity and masculinity, cultural power and identity, in a time when choices are greater and there are competing visions of what it means to be a fully actualized woman. We’re now at a point where (as this blog aptly demonstrates) women are interested in reclaiming conventional forms of femininity with pride, whether that’s crafting, sporting cute skirts, wearing makeup, or becoming moms. We believe and assert that we shouldn’t have to be tough, aggressive, and otherwise conventionally masculine in order to be taken seriously as smart and thoughtful people. At the same time, we recognize that patriarchal norms endure. The victories that second wave feminism won relied on strategic masculinization: breaking into male-dominated arenas of cultural power required women to prove that they could play by the rules and then start thinking about transforming institutions from within.

But now, should women act like tough men to succeed in a still-patriarchal world or attempt to change this world? Women live in a tension between conventional masculinities and femininities. The ideal empowered feminist today will be simultaneously tough and sexy; able to strut in high heels or suavely sport a suit; able to roll her sleeves up and duke it out or able to let her hair down and laugh with the girls. These contradictory imperatives also create tension in her relationships to others, both men and women. If she is heterosexual, she is supposed to simultaneously attract men and be their equal, existing in the resonant state between at-work pal and sex object, one-of-the-guys and bombshell. Her relationships with women are equally fraught: she is supposed to be their sister in solidarity and their competition. Somehow, she is supposed to attract every guy, even theirs, and yet remain best friends with everyone. Somehow, she is supposed to beat women at work and then listen to their secrets over drinks, to beat men at work but then soften herself at home. Impress the guys but don’t intimidate them. Beat the women but then befriend them. Such conflicting mandates!

What I love about “The Boys” is the way it playfully captures these tensions. I’ve talked before about how Nicki’s highly successful career has involved the exact kind of high-wire act I described above. She made a name for herself by out-rapping guys and girls alike, by stealing the show from rap’s biggest names (“Monster,” hello?) and by dissing the other ladies as unable to keep up. At the same time, she’s taken the hip-hop mandate for women to become super-sexualized “black Barbies” to such a parodic extreme that it breaks down, becoming its own mockery (Phoebe argued this once with me in regards to the “Starships” video that I hated, but now I have become convinced that she is right, even if I still hate that video, haha). But many of her early successes were big-name features on men’s songs. While she’s collaborated with other women, those aren’t the songs that define her as a serious artist, as more than a pop star. They’re not “Monster” (with Kanye and Jay-Z), “Hello Good Morning” (with Rick Ross and Diddy), “Turn Me On” (with David Guetta), “All I Do Is Win” (with every rapper ever making records right now), “Knockout” (with Lil Wayne). And while Pink Friday was a mega-hit, it a) featured a lot of collaborations with male artists, such as Eminem and Kanye; and b) seemed split between more tough, conventional raps and more poppy songs for radio play. This album wrestles with the gender dichotomies of the music industry: for her to be a serious rapper, she has to rap like a man, but for her to be a mega-star, she has to sing like a girl. Read the rest of this entry »

To the Voting Booths!

In 2012 election on November 6, 2012 at 8:34 am

Just a friendly reminder from Girls Like Giants to make sure your voice gets heard today: Get out and vote! Let’s make Leslie Knope proud.

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