Uh, first of all: I have a WisCon 36 Schedule? Whose life is this, and why am I living it?
WisCon, for the uninitiated, is the world’s foremost feminist science fiction convention. It’s taken place every year in Madison, Wisconsin, for the past 36 years. It’s home to the James Tiptree Jr. Award: an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.* It’s got incredible, political, in-depth programming about feminism, race, gender, class, genre, fanfiction, sexuality and writing (among others). It’s got hilarious and fun events like the annual James Tiptree Jr. auction, and the parties (the parties are amazing). It’s now an international convention, with people coming in from all around the world to celebrate being part of the feminist science fiction community.
This year the guests of honor are Andrea Hairston and Debbie Notkin. Andrea Hairston is also this year’s Tiptree Award winner (a first!) for her novel Redwood and Wildfire. If you live in Madison, or in the Madison area: drop everything and go. It is that awesome. Trust me.
Now, here’s the thing about WisCon .I am a feminist. I am also a huge science fiction fan. So you would think that WisCon would be the perfect place for me, right?
So why didn’t I know about it until last year?
And even worst – I live in Madison! It’s my hometown!
Oh, situational irony.
But it does not matter. For I came to WisCon 35; I saw WisCon 35; I, er…well, I’m not sure I conquered WisCon 35, but… let’s just say it was a life-changing experience. My first night, I was having dinner with a group of lovely people when someone mentioned I was sitting next to Geoff Ryman, a Tiptree Award (and now Nebula Award) winning author. I nearly choked on my soup. (by the way, Geoff Ryman, in addition to being an incredible writer, is also a very funny and kind human being). I discovered writers like James Tiptree Jr., Karen Joy Fowler, Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okorafor and Nalo Hopkinson. I spent the entire weekend feeling awed and overwhelmed and overjoyed to have finally found people who were as wonderfully obsessed as I was with feminism and with science fiction.
So yes. I’m going back. And this time… I’m on the programming.
Okay, one programming item. But still. I’m terrified.
Saturday from 4:00 to 5:15, I will be giving a paper about Catherynne Valente’s duology The Orphan’s Tales. I have in every way finished writing said paper, and thus have nothing to worry about.
(and that was a tangled web of lies)
This is my first paper I’m presenting outside of my University setting, so, you know. No pressure. Also, I’m an undergrad. So why am I giving a paper?
I AM IN NO WAY HYPERVENTILATING ABOUT THIS. I feel fine, why do you ask?
THIS WAS A TERRIBLE IDEA. I have nothing to talk about! I shall be laughed out of the room. GAAAAH. WHY?
I’m starting to think I have an evil twin that just submits abstracts to things without my permission. There’s no other explanation for why I keep finding myself in this situation.
And it’s only Sunday, people! You can come here every day to witness more of my freakouts. Because they will be legion.
I may as well throw myself off a bridge now…
Ahem. If I manage to survive the paper, however, I intend to spend the rest of the convention running around to all the cool panels (this will involve breaking the space/time continuum because all the cool panels happen at the same time. I’ll figure something out) and avoiding the legions of famous authors who always show up at WisCon. As everyone knows, famous people scare me. Last year, I threw myself in a stairwell to avoid meeting Catherynne Valente at WisCon. I also ducked in a bathroom once when Nisi Shawl came my way (they both seem like lovely people. Trust me: I’m the problem). I’ll also run around to the cool parties. And the other cool things.
I’ll be there all day, every day, from Thursday evening to Monday morning, grinning like an idiot. It will be awesome (except for the paper. WHAT WAS I THINKING?)
I will also be blogging from WisCon, so my apologies, but there will be many posts next weekend, and they will all be along the lines of “OH MY GOD, BEST PANEL EVER *FREAKING OUT*”
And my brother’s coming with me (at least for part of the time) this year. Because he heard about the awesomeness of the feminist science fiction convention, and now he wants to be there too. Can you blame him? He’s threatened to drag me to the genderfloompf party (where there is gender bending), which I find patently unfair, because he can just steal one of our stepsister’s dresses, but I have to come up with an entire male-outfit ensemble from scratch. Anyone have a tux I can borrow?
Anyways! If you are planning on going to WisCon, and you want to meet up (or say hi), drop me a line. Well, not literally, because I’m not sure what that would entail. But you know what I mean. Or if you just want to say hi, I’ll be the girl grinning like an idiot (I realize that’s not too specific. Okay, how’s this: I also wear glasses!)
*(the inside joke about the James Tiptree Jr award is that it’s founders wanted to have an award named after a woman (since all sci-fi awards were named for men) – so they named it after James Tiptree Jr. Because James Tiptree Jr. is the pseudonym of Alice B. Sheldon)
[Much thanks to feministe, which pointed me in the direction of Roger Ebert's original blog post, and helped clarify why I found it so problematic. Frankly, they say what I'm about to say better and in fewer words. So go there! Much thanks also to my wonderful friend JYP, who studies science, literature and scientific discourse, for reading the post and helping me understand why the science was wrong]
[My apologies if this post is not as organized or coherent as usual. I'm currently battling the flu, a headache and a bad fever. Hopefully I haven't said something particularly stupid; if I have, let me know]
[Trigger Warning for gendered insults, and discussions of sexual harassment and violence]
Dear Mr. Ebert,
A couple days ago (for mother’s day) you posted a blog post entitled “Women are Better than Men.” Interesting title. Provocative title. I have a few thoughts about the ensuing article (I won’t even get into the mess in the comments), if you’ll allow me to express them? Yes? Thank you. Much appreciated.
Now, before I get into the specifics, I should say a few things. First: I’m a huge fan of your work. HUGE fan. You’re one of the people who got me to appreciate movies as an art form. I think your reviews are wonderful, and your blog posts are usually well-thought, intelligent, provocative pieces. So I’m usually inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt, even when you don’t like movies I like, or you write posts that I don’t agree with.
Second: I’m a woman. I’m also a feminist. I’m a pretty active feminist, insofar as one can be: I read a lot about gender issues, I write a lot about gender issues (both on my blog and in academic settings), I think a lot about gender issues. And as a feminist and a woman, I think women are pretty damn awesome. I love talking about awesome women. I love thinking of examples of why women are awesome. I would therefore usually be inclined to agree with an article about how women are awesome. Because they are (so are men, but that’s not the point under debate at this time).
So when I tell you that I thought your article was a pretty big piece of, well, not to put it too harshly – crap – I hope you’ll understand that it’s really not personal. I really, really wanted to like your article. It was just very, very bad, and filled with the kind of problematic assumptions about gender roles I would expect from Mitt Romney rather than someone like you, who I usually think of as rather thoughtful and liberal.
You are not being the great women’s ally you think you are. I know you think you’re being flattering. You aren’t. I am not flattered. I know you think you’re being helpful. You aren’t. You’re reinforcing damaging gender norms and making them seem “natural” as opposed to socially constructed. I know that the commentators on your website think you’re being a feminist (I have no idea whether or not you personally identify as a feminist/womanist or a feminist/womanist ally). You aren’t.
Now, I’ll be clear about what I find problematic in your article. I don’t actually disagree with your idea that aggressiveness and competitiveness are over-valued in current society, and that we might be better off if we valued compassion, nurturing, diplomacy a little more etc. It’s an idea I think has some value, even if it’s a bit simplistic. I just disagree with your idea that compassion and nurturing are inherently female traits – and thus that women are better.
Let me start by saying (as a woman and a feminist) that NO, women are not better than men. Nor are men better than women. Individual women are certainly better than individual men, and there are individual men who are better than individual women. But as a monolith: NO, WOMEN ARE NOT BETTER THAN MEN.
Let me quickly summarize your argument for those unfamiliar with it: Women are nurturers and diplomats. They are “nice.” They care about others. Even though we have historically valued “competitive” and “aggressive” men, women’s nurturing niceness is actually better, particularly in modern society. Hurrah! Women are better than men!
[Spoiler alert: No they aren't]
Sadly, I don’t have time to deconstruct all of your arguments point per point. So I’ll just focus on the basics:
1. How your science is wrong
2. Why women are really “nice”
3. Why your post is a giant problem
Let’s get into the details, shall we?
1. How the Evolutionary and Scientific Data is incorrect
Your basic premise, Mr. Ebert, is that women are nurturers and diplomats, while men are competitive and aggressive. You use evolution to back this up: women started off as child-rearers and men started off as hunters, therefore women are nurturers and men are competitive.
It’s always fun when people – and here, I’m including you, Mr. Ebert – use science to explain gender roles. Particularly evolutionary science. Now, I’m not a scientist, and my scientific knowledge is pretty limited, but I do have resources: my wonderful, brilliant friend JYP, who studied science for a long time (and still studies it) and now works with scientific discourse. Most of the trenchant analysis in this section is either inspired by, or directly lifted, from a conversation we had about your blog post.
Let us begin at the beginning.
Yes, in prehistoric societies, women tended to be gatherers, and men tended to be hunters. Now, crucially, the science that tells us this is NOT a rigorous science. We’re working off of the fossil record, not video recordings. So any “men were hunters then, so it explains why men are hunters now” arguments are built on shaky ground.
But, let us assume for a minute that the basic idea (men: hunters, women: gatherers) is correct. So (for now) I’m with you for your argument that:”Men are better are hunting, and women are better at gathering.” Then you go “Men are taller, heavier, stronger. They’re not in the child-rearing business.” And that’s when you really slip off the rails.
Here’s how JYP explains it:
“He [Ebert] cited some “facts”: women gathered and men hunted. From those facts he’s suggesting that this was because women were better at raising children and men were better at hunting. DING! DING! DING! Clear moment in which his bias appears here. He’s talking about HUNTER-GATHERER societies, but somehow it hasn’t turned into skilled hunting and skilled gathering. No, it’s now about skilled hunting and skilled child-rearing. He’s assuming that women gathered because they had to take care of children and that’s [gathering] all they could manage.”
Least you missed it: You, Mr. Ebert, went from “women were better gatherers” to “women were better child-rearers.” These are not the same things. If women were innately gatherers, then maybe they had better attention to detail. Maybe they were better at finding things. We don’t know. But you immediately jump to the assumption that women were gatherers because they were child-rearers, and block out all other possibilities.
For the record, my friend’s anthropology textbook suggests that women took care of children because it was easier to watch children while gathering than to watch children while hunting. Which would contradict the “women were gatherers because they had to rear children because they were inherently child-rearers” idea. But let’s move on.
Another interesting argument of yours about prehistoric societies:”men are taller, heavier, stronger. They’re not in the child-rearing business.”
So, by that assumption, being tall, strong and heavy is inherently opposed to child-rearing activities. Thus women who are taller are not in the child-rearing business either, I would assume? And men who are short and skinny are in the child-rearing business, correct?
And child-rearing doesn’t require strength? I beg to differ, Mr. Ebert. I built more muscle babysitting than I did in five years of Tae-Kwon-Doe. Or, to put it in prehistoric terms: Have you ever tried carrying two kids while running away from a rival band of hunter/gatherers?
That might require some strength, right?
There are also many species of animals where the female is, in fact, bigger and stronger than the male. Scientists hypothesis that this increases the female’s fecundity, since she can better feed the child in the womb, and protect it outside of the womb. I quote: “The fecundity advantage hypothesis states, that a big mother is able to produce more offspring and give those offspring more favorable conditions to ensure their survival [...] Another reason why females are believed to be larger is due to the fact that they provide parental care for a substantial amount of time while the offspring matures.”
My point here isn’t that human men make better child-rearers because they are bigger and stronger. It’s that strength and size is not inherently opposed to child-rearing activities (as you seem to believe). To presume otherwise is a fallacy.
In other words: we don’t know why the prehistorics organized themselves the way they did. For one thing, to presume that it was because the “weaker” “smaller” women were inherently better at child-rearing is a fallacy. For another, they were hunter-gatherers, not hunter-nurturers. There is a difference.
Let’s keep moving along, shall we?
2. The “eugenics fallacy”
The biggest problem with your scientific argument, Mr. Ebert, is that you assume that our prehistoric selves are a blueprint for our modern-day selves. Prehistoric biology is destiny.
First, as I’ve discussed above, we don’t actually know why the prehistorics organized themselves the way they did. We’re only guessing.
Second, you assume that our societies (including our prehistoric ones) grew to accommodate our inherent biological traits. Men = hunters, women = nurturers. Our societies have thus always organized around men being hunters (and leaders) and women staying in the kitchen and nurturing the babies.
But! Biology itself is constantly evolving. Even if prehistoric women are inherently child-rearers, we are not our prehistoric selves.
To quote, once again, my friend JYP: “Ebert assumes that women’s and men’s ‘natures’ are fixed, and that social structures emerged to best accommodate their natures (…) The problem is that he’s suggesting that biology is the reason ‘women are better’, because women evolved this way, when he`s actually treating biology essentially. Biology itself is actually always evolving.”
Gasp! Biology itself is evolving? Do you have proof for this, JYP? Would you (even better) have proof that sexual differences (the very things that you, Mr. Ebert, cite as the reason women are better at nurturing) are evolving?
Continued quote: “[Ebert] He never bothers to consider, for instance, that there has been a significant decrease in [humanity's] sexual dimorphism. Yes, as I always complain, on average men are still stronger and taller (…) But biological differences between men and women are diminishing. This is probably in response to the changes he’s talking about – men don’t need to hunt anymore. So they don’t have to be as big anymore. But then, also, men don’t hunt anymore – it`s no longer more dangerous for children to be cared for by men than by women. So why are women still biologically more fit to be mothers? Breasts? Dude clearly never heard that men can lactate too. What we know of evolution tells us that there is nothing essential about biology – it’s always fluid.”
I’m going to paraphrase this again by saying: We are not our prehistoric selves. Our biology – our “inherent” natures (note that I don’t believe biology is destiny in any case, but I’m playing your game for a bit, Mr. Ebert) – is always, always changing. And, most importantly, the biological differences between men and women have greatly diminished since the prehistoric times.
One of your arguments is that breasts signal a woman’s ability to “feed” her young. But apparently, men can lactate too. So…
Now, Mr. Ebert, I can hear your argument. If we aren’t simply carbon-copy blue-prints of our prehistoric selves, then why are women more likely to be nurturers and men more likely to be competitive?
Well, there’s a pretty simple answer to that, Mr. Ebert:
3. Social Roles and Reinforcement
Here’s the thing: yes, as a rule, women (in western societies) tend to be nicer than men.
You know why that is?
Because women are expected to be nicer than men. Women are expected to be nurturers. Women are expected to be “sweet.” Women are, yes, expected to be beautiful. Women are expected to give way to others, and to be social, and to be diplomatic and compassionate.
And women who aren’t those things – who don’t conform to a narrow range of behavioral expectations – are punished.
We live in a society where gender roles are rigidly policed. Where to be a “feminine” man or a “masculine” woman is a dangerous and difficult thing. There’s nothing “inherent” about gender roles: they are learned behavior.
From childhood, girls are taught to be nice. When boys push each other and fight, we say “well, boys will be boys.” When girls push each other and fight, we tell them they’re “mean” and “inappropriate.” I’ve even seen this happen in my family – where when the boy did something inappropriate, it allowed to pass with a shrug, while when the girl did the exact same thing, she was given an instant time out.
Most girl want to be a “nice” girl. Not every boy wants to be a nice boy.
You want to know why more girls go to college than boys? Same story:
In high school, boys who goof off and get bad grades are, more often than not, let off with a shrug. Boys will be boys. They’ll sow their wild oats (seriously, WTF does that even mean?) and get serious later on in life. On the other hand, girls who goof off and get bad grades are troublemakers and (pardon my language) bitches. Girls are expected to sit down and do well. Boys… not so much
This keeps going throughout adulthood.
I’ll start with some examples from the internet, since both you and I are working in that forum.
Sometimes people wonder why women don’t participate in internet activities more. The internet, after all, is the next technological frontier; anyone who has any ambition whatsoever should have an online presence of some kind. One can only conclude that women aren’t as “ambitious” as men. Or one could remember that chat room participants with female usernames receive 25 times more threatening and/or sexually explicit private messages than those with male or ambiguous usernames.
Do you think examples like these could explain why women are less “ambitious” on the internet? Why women, perhaps, don’t feel as comfortable there?
I’ll give some more examples. I know a lot about online harassment (mostly not from personal experience, fortunately). But I know that when women act “aggressively” – when they argue with men, when they state their opinion, when they take on “controversial” (and even not-so-controversial) positions – they are often subject to harassment. Women on the web receive hate mail. They are called bitches, cunts and whores. They are cyber-harassed in the most vicious way possible. Some of them are cyberstalked. Some of them are actually stalked.
This does not happen to men (or at least, not nearly as often).
Mr. Ebert, if you were more likely to be attacked, dismissed and even stalked for posting your opinion online, I think you would make a big effort to be “nicer” too. I know that I, as a woman who has experienced a small measure of sexual harassment online, am always extraordinarily careful about what I write and how I write it. I once posted a joke on a friend’s webpage about President Bush. His friend misinterpreted the joke, and spent the next three weeks sending me angry instant messages calling me a “cunt” and wishing I would die. Men can get away with rants. I have to be logical and measured. If I post an angry rant, I am much more likely to be told that I’m being “hysterical” and a “bitch” rather than “passionate” or “logical.”
The internet, of course, is not the only place this happens. It’s a more-or-less commonly accepted fact that women who act competitively in the workplace are seen as bitches, while men who act competitively in the workplace are just seen as ambitious. As Andy Sachs says of her mean-but-effective boss, Miranda Priestly, in the movie The Devil Wears Prada, “if she were a man, all anyone would talk about is how good she is at her job.”
I would write more about the double standards women are subjected to in the workplace, but frankly, there’s a wealth of research out there that I don’t feel like repeating. Here’s my point: of course women are more likely to act diplomatically and compassionately in the workplace. They know they aren’t going to get anywhere if they’re considered harpies.
We live in a society where gender roles are very carefully policed. Men must act like men (I am in no way unawares that men too, must deal with a great deal of social pressure to act stereotypically masculine… I just don’t have the room to write about it). Women must act like women. If they don’t, there will be consequences. You think men don’t wear dresses because all men hate dresses? Or because they know they would be mocked and bullied for doing so? The latter is probably more accurate.
Under these circumstances, it’s basically impossible to tell whether or not women are really “nicer” than men – or if they’re just conforming to our highly-policed gender roles.
We have no idea what women are “really” “inherently’ like without these imposed gender roles. We don’t even know what men are “really” “inherently” like without these imposed gender roles.
As the great Catharine MacKinnon once said: “Take your foot off our necks. Then we will hear in what tongue women speak.”
4. Why your post actually causes problems:
I wouldn’t write you this long, somewhat angry letter, Mr. Ebert, if I didn’t think that your post was actually contributing to the problem of sexism in western society. So let’s move onto the problems, shall we?
When I first read your post my reaction was: “Oh, not this Victorian Angel-in-the-House Bullshit again.” Pardon my language. I was distraught. Let me explain, for readers who are not, as I am, obsessive literature students.
The Angel-in-the-house is a concept that arose in England and English-Speaking nations (like the USA) during the Victorian period (although it has long historical roots). It’s rather complicated and there are a lot of permutations, but here’s a basic rundown: women are better than men. Women are pure, and docile and submissive. Women are truly moral creatures. Women are the saviors of society, their guiding light, their moral paramours. Women keep society pure by: nurturing good children, by creating “pure” “uncorrupted” households, and by taking care of their husbands.
The Angel-in-the-House paradigm was used to justify keeping women out of the public sphere. Women couldn’t be in business! Women couldn’t vote! Those activities would corrupt them! And then how would society function?
(fortunately, suffragettes were like “screw this “innocent” BS” and went out and demonstrated, chained themselves to fences, went on hunger strikes and used everything from politics to violence to get their rights)
I am not kidding you, Roger Ebert. One of the main justifications for denying women the vote was saying “women are better than men” or “women are nurturers” and then adding a “so they cannot be corrupted or society will fall!”
Funny how similar that argument is to yours, isn’t it? Yes, you think that women’s “better” qualities are a justification for them to become more, not less, involved with business and politics. But you’re still playing into a long-standing and sexist tradition that calls women “better” in order to justify keeping them in their place.
I would go further than that and say that you are perpetuating sexist and harmful stereotypes.
First, your argument that women are “better” because the are “nicer” make swomen who don’t fit this paradigm seem useless (or worse). If women are better because they are “nurturers” and “nice” and “diplomatic” then what about the women who aren’t? What about women who are ambitious and ruthless and blunt? Men who fit your “competitive” mold are just “being men” and following their biological destinies (at least, according to you). Men who are nurturers are acting like the “better” sex. But women who don’t act like stereotypical women? What are they? Monsters?
I have news for you, Mr. Ebert. The gender police is in this room, and you’re their captain. Careful with the gun, I don’t like violence (and no, not because I’m a lady).
Unconsciously, you’re reinforcing the idea that women must be nice. It’s not just, for you, that women must be nice because that’s the gender norm we’ve assigned to them. No, women must be nice because that makes them better. It’s a particularly insidious form of gender policing, but it’s still gender policing.
Least you think this is a rather benign failing, I will assure you, it has a real effect. Many of the women I know have gone through periods where they either pretended to be boys, or desperately wanted to be boys because they had “masculine” qualities like competitiveness and aggression. Young girls who display stereotypically masculine traits, or who want to participate in “masculine” activities are often mocked and bullied. The entire world jumped on Angelina Jolie when they saw that her daughter’s hair was cut “like a boy’s.” I once babysat a seven year old girl who thought she was screwed up because she like science and kickball rather than barbies and cupcakes. I know lots of women who have thought of themselves as failures because they don’t live up to stereotypical norms of femininity. Women often feel horrible if they don’t care “enough” about their children, or if they fail as mothers in the smallest ways – possibly because their taught that the most valuable thing they can do is rear children.
Women have enough pressure to act “like women.” You really don’t need to add to it, Mr. Ebert.
Here’s another example. You say: ” When women give birth and spend months suckling an infant, they understand better that we all depend on each other. They’re programmed to nurture the defenseless, plan for the future, value others for their qualities rather than for their externals.”
Again, this makes women who aren’t mothers seem worthless. Many women don’t have children. Many nurturing, compassionate women don’t have children. I am not a mother. I do not plan on having children. Does this mean that I am less of a woman? Am I not part of the “better” sex? Am I a man? (I just checked, by the way, and I’m pretty sure I’m still a biological woman, despite the lack of babies).
What about women who don’t breastfeed their babies? Do they not gain that special understanding “that we all depend on each other”? Heck, I learned that we all depend on each other in Kindergarden, when my friends Sarah and Mary helped me get my crayons back from the girl who’d stolen them. But maybe that’s just me.
What about transgendered women who (usually) can’t have biological children? Are they not real women? (please don’t answer that). What about women who adopt?
There’s a whole section where you talk about how men value women for beauty and women value men for their success (by the way, there’s a social explanation for that, and it’s called “the beauty myth” and “the success myth.” Look it up). I hate to tell you this, but there’s an entire class of women out there known as “lesbians.” I know. And there are even women who are attracted to men who are also attracted to women (where I’m from, we call them “bisexuals”). There are quite a lot of them, actually, so you can’t dismiss them as some kind of statistical anomaly. They were around in prehistoric times too. How do they fit into your evolutionary ideas? Are they also nurturers? Do they value their female partners for their success or their beauty?
The whole thing reminds me of a conversation I had with my grandfather. He said he had no problem with gays or lesbians (yay) and then went on to pontificate that gay men were gay because they had an imbalance of feminine qualities. When you are gay (or lesbian) my grandfather argued, it’s because you have too many “qualities” from the other sex (not so yay).
My grandfather, like you, Mr. Ebert, assumes that qualities (like nurturing) are gendered and inherent, rather than social and changing. A woman is one thing. A man is another. If they are not, it’s because something’s gone wrong.
Again and again, you make “womanhood’ into a singular mold. Women are better because they are mothers. Women are better because they have children. Women are better because they are nurturers. You ignore the diversity of experiences that make up the female sex.
The last thing you wrote that I found deeply problematic is this:”Women were not well-adapted for leadership roles in primitive and early historical times. But our emerging world economy is becoming less based on physical strength and more dependent on intelligence and emotional balance”
First, way to be historically inaccurate, Mr. Ebert. Many hunter-gatherer societies had female leaders. There were also many, many, many successful female leaders in the “early historical” period – whatever the hell that means.
Second: great job in justifying thousands of years of women’s repression. This is, in fact, possibly the best excuse for women’s inequality I’ve ever read, since it’s entirely impersonal. “Yes, ladies, sorry we treated you like second class citizens! Sorry about the rapes and repression and the witch-burnings and the poverty and the harassment and the lack of legal rights! It was necessary, you know, for as long as we needed physical strength to survive! But now that we’re a modern society and we don’t need physical strength, you can totally join the table. You won’t take it personally, right?”
I’m sure it wasn’t your intent to justify the fact that women were oppressed historically. But you just did. And your argument could be extended to explain why women continue to be oppressed: “we still need physical strength, therefore women can’t be leaders. Sorry, ladies! But we’ll totally be ready for you in another thousand years!”
5. In conclusion
The last thing you write, Mr. Ebert, is “Yes, these are generalizations. I am more right than wrong.”
Let’s pretend that I guessed there are only forks in the silverware drawer. As it turns out, there are 35 forks and 34 knives. I’m more right than wrong.
But I’m still wrong.
And so are you.
Women are not naturally “nurturers.” Women are not naturally “nice.” Women are not naturally “compassionate.” Men are not naturally “aggressive.” Men are not naturally “competitive.” Biology is not destiny.
Women are not better than men. And men are not better than women. We’re all humans. Our “goodness” or “badness’ is no more determined by whether we identify as male or female than whether we’ve got more or less melanin in our skin.
I as a woman do not want to be put up on a pedestal. I don’t want to be told that I’m going to make the world better because of my inherent “nurturing” qualities. I don’t want to be special because I’m a woman. I don’t want to be told that I’m super-attuned to the earth because I have a period. I just want to be treated like a human being. But apparently, in today’s society, that’s too much to ask.
Mr. Ebert, I understand that you probably don’t agree with this post. I understand that you probably think I’m overreacting. I understand that you’re probably thinking ” I said they were generalizations! What else does she want from me?”
So I’ll ask you for a small favor. Just stop talking about gender issues. We can pretend this whole thing never happened. I’ll keep reading your blog and your reviews. You’ll keep writing them. But if you keep writing silly, offensive, sexist posts like these, I’ll have to stop reading your work, and that would make me sad, because I really like you, Mr. Ebert. So please stop talking about gender issues.
Alternatively, you can go on the internet and learn gender issues 101 through gender issues 501. Once you get through all of those phases (and spend a couple weeks on some major feminist websites), you can talk about gender issues again. Maybe.
[Content note: I have put Cat Pictures at the end of this post in a shameless attempt to get people to read the whole thing. Then again, you could just scroll to the bottom. My super-evil plans would then be FOILED]
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t buy a lot of books.
Oh, sure, I read a lot. But I don’t buy that much. Most of what I read comes from libraries. I do feel quite guilty about that (although NK Jemisin argues I shouldn’t) – I know authors need book sales, and it’s important to me to contribute to the book publishing industry.
At the same time, I read a lot of books. Like, over 150 books a year. And if I bought over 150 books a year? Yeah, I wouldn’t…eat. I’m a college student; I don’t have that kind of disposable income. And I like eating. It keeps me alive.
So yes. In the interest of eating, I don’t buy that many books.
You can thus imagine my shock when I was packing to go home for the summer, and realized that there were books on every single wall of my college-home room.
Apparently I do buy a lot of books.
I blame the major. You can’t be a literature major without buying a lot of books. Five books per class minimum, multiply that by four to five classes a semester… mucho books. And I do resell a lot of mine, because I’m callous and I need the money, but I keep ones that I think will be useful.
Just so you know? I think all the books will be useful at some point.
In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so surprised. I’ve always accumulated books one way or another, mostly because I’m terrified that I’m going to run out of things to read. When I visited my family in France as a kid, I developed a super-secret (and effective) method of lining my suitcases with books (as I recall, I mostly took Tamora Pierce novels. You can’t travel without Keladry of Mindelan. You just can’t). I usually take three to four books with me on plane trips, even if the trip itself only lasts three hours. I never go anywhere without a book or two in my backpack. I start freaking out whenever my to-read pile dips lower than four books. And when it was time to move to college, I insisted on sending two huge boxes of books across the US border so I could fill the bookshelves of my dorm library.
Small, portable, giant, unwieldy, literate, speculative, diverse or juvenile, I’ve always had some kind of library with me. If only because my greatest terror in life is running out of reading material.
Then again, at this point in my college home (not a dorm anymore, thank the Lords of Kobol), I’m starting to worry that we could just take out the walls of my room and replace them with my books.
Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?
Exhibit A: the printer
I used to have a printer. Now access to it is completely blocked off by these two piles of books. Can you see my printer? No.
My point exactly. Trust me, it’s there.
At a glance, I’m pretty sure they’re all books from last semester. A book of Chinese history, two collections by H.D., a film textbook and Ovid’s Metamorphoses… yep, definitely the fall semester. I’ll give a quick shoutout to the one book that wasn’t from the fall semester for my Hardy-obsessed friend, JYP – Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, hanging around the far left with price-tag still attached. This section isn’t even that bad – it used to be triple the size, but I had to bring all my research books back to the school library. Which is good, because now I can open my closet without tripping over Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature.
Speaking of my closet…
Exhibit B: The Closet
WHY ARE THERE BOOKS IN MY CLOSET?
And why is my window-spray container leaning on top of them?
Yeah, that I have no good answer for.
Returning to the original question: WHY ARE THERE BOOKS IN MY CLOSET?
Oh, wait, I know why. There isn’t room anywhere else. Especially not for my giant textbooks.
Yes, I’ve become the kind of person who hides books in her closet. I’m not proud. I’m even less proud of the fact that there might be an entire suitcase filled with old books hidden in the back of this closet. Might. Might. I didn’t check. I had… other things to do.
Like feel shame.
The bad news is that I’ll probably have to put even books in my closet, since I’m running out of other places to put them. That’s going to be a problem because, you know, my closet actually serves a purpose: keeping my clothes off the floor. I feel like “book stashing” and “clothes stashing” are eventually going to clash. There’s only enough real estate for so much.
Now this! This is a good use of real-estate.
Exhibit C: The Wall
This is the wall space between my bed and my closet. Correction: this used to be the wall space between my bed and my closet. Now it’s a miniature library. Hurrah!
I’m actually mildly impressed with how organized my books are (famous last words). I know exactly what’s in this book-section: 18th century British novels, post-war British novels and (American) civil war textbooks. The pile on the far right is made up of my giant cookbooks (it’s not a super-practical arrangement, because I keep needing to use said cookbooks and thus disturbing the entire stack). It also contains two European women’s history textbooks and a History of the Book Reader (which is a great textbook, by the way. Highly recommended. Very interesting). When you think about it, there’s some sort of meta-ironic-commentary being made by the fact that I shelved the women’s history textbooks and the cookbooks in the same place (because obviously all that women did during the medieval era was cook! Am I right, ladies? /sarcasm/).
That was totally planned, by the way. It wasn’t just that the women’s history books and the cookbooks were vaguely the same size. *cough*
On top of the deeply ironic women’s history/cookbook section, I’ve got my small but awesome collection of 19th century British Science Fiction, from one of my favorite literature courses. It’s telling that I haven’t resold any of the books from that class, despite the fact that I had to buy them all new (and with Canadian prices, even the paperbacks cost $15-$20). Well – that’s a lie. I managed to get a great used copy of M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud. It’s from the 1950s; it’s got a buxom lady on the cover and a cigarette advertisement inside. I love it.
Now – here’s what’s interesting about the last three photos. All the books I’ve shown – excluding the cookbooks – were bought for class. Which, er, says something about the classes I’m taking, huh?
Oh, but you say. That’s not that many books (for school)! Only about fifty or so. And you’ve been in school three years now…
Fair point! Then let me show you…
Exhibit D: This Semester’s Books
These are (almost) all the books I bought for this semester of college. ONE semester. My rough calculations say that I bought 28 books and checked out an additional five from the library (they were on the syllabus, but I was too cheap to buy them. Can you blame me?).
And yes, this is a pretty precarious bookshelf. In it’s defense, it’s not actually tilted – I was taking these photos with my computer’s photobooth (I don’t own a camera), and I couldn’t shoot an untilted photo without hanging upside down from teh ceiling. But I keep fearing that the poor shelf is going to collapse and send all of my school books crashing onto my desk. Which is why I never keep my computer at my desk.
Paranoia saves lives, people! (okay, it saves computer lives. Still)
A few times the books on the right have come unbalanced… and then they slide right into the trash can (I’m not even joking). It’s pretty hilarious. And sad.
Also, note the photo of Shakespeare right under the bookshelf. Hey, I’m a literature student. I have to have a photo of Shakespeare somewhere.
So yes. This is what one semester’s worth of class books looks like in my world (and yes, I did read all of them). My conclusion? Maybe I’m not a book-buying addict. Maybe my classes are trying to turn me into a book-buying addict.
And they say school is good for you.
The worst part is: what the hell am I going to do with these giant piles of books when I need this space for next semester’s books? There’s no more room in my room! GAAAH.
And I can’t sell all of them… they might come in handy at some point.
Maybe I should invest in another bookcase.
No! That’s just the crazy talking. Think of how many books I could buy with the money I would spend on a bookcase (even one of those cheap $30 IKEA bookcases). LOTS of books.
And I do, in fact, sometimes buy books that aren’t related to school. Case in point:
Exhibit E: The To-Read Pile (with an appearance by Mr. Calvin and Mr. Hobbes)
This is my to-read bookshelf (located right above my bed). Usually it’s a lot fuller, but since I was on the point of leaving my college home when I took these pictures, I returned all my library to-read books. Because stealing library books = not okay.
Anyways. The central pile? Those are the “Thank Maud I finished another semester of college without jumping off a building, now let’s go buy some science fiction and fantasy and pretend we never heard of “literature,” shall we?” books. All those books I’ve been eyeing for months, but couldn’t read because I had to finish Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park? Yeah, I… went a little crazy and bought most of them.
THERE WAS A SALE! It’s not my fault. Also, I’d just finished my last final, and I was in a really bizarre state. Nothing I did in those hours can be held against me.
Okay, I have no defense. I’m a horrible person. But look! Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads! Seanan McGuire’s Discount Armageddon! More Seanan McGuire (A Local Habitation)! N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon! Sooo many good booookssssssssssss…..
I admit it. I’m a horrible, no-good, bad book-buyer. I’m an addict. Something must be done.
I actually read all of the books in the central pile between the time the photo was taken and the time I wrote this blog post (about two weeks). Well, almost all of them. I still haven’t gotten around to A Clash of Kings. My friends keep assuring me it’s great; I enjoyed the first book in the ASoFAI series. Besides, I have to read it so that I can get to the rest of the series and vote appropriately for A Dance with Dragons in the Hugos. But for some reason, I really don’t want to read it. I blame the yellow cover.
This shelf also contains my knitting books and my collection of Calvin and Hobbes comics. And my Firefly DVDs. And a bouquet of dried flowers my Marat/Sade cast gave me for being a decent Assistant Stage Manager (because they are awesome). There’s clearly a link between all of these things. Who says my library isn’t organized? *cough*
There’s also another picture of Shakespeare somewhere, if you can spot it. Literature student!
(oh, and yes, I did blur one of the photos under the bookshelf. PARANOIA SAVES LIVES, people. Especially on the internet).
Ahem. Moving on.
(yes, there’s more. Told you I had a problem).
Finally! FINALLY, after showing you all of my “secondary” libraries and book-storage areas, I will get to the central culprit. The true locus of readership and literature.
My actual bookshelf.
Exhibit F: THE ACTUAL BOOKSHELF
I love my actual bookshelf. It’s wonderful. It also contains no class books whatsoever – all the books here are ones I shipped from my regular home back in Freshman year. They are my very favorite books in the universe (or at least, my very favorite books back when I was in high school). My entire collection of Tamora Pierce books. My entire collection of Tudor history books (most of which are by Allison Weir). The Abhorsen Trilogy. All my Libba Bray novels. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Karen Joy Fowler. The Sparrow. Jane Eyre, The Professor, Wuthering Heights and the Austen novels. Also, all the Young Adult novels that kept me floating throughout my horrid high school years – Born Confused, The Truth about Forever etc. And a bunch of books about US politics like The Nine and The Dark Side, because apparently, I find those fun.
I sent all of these books to my college because back when I was in high school, I didn’t read a lot of new books. I mostly re-read old favorites – and I expected I would continue this pattern when I arrived in college. So having 100 books I already liked that I could re-read was quite important to me.
I still do re-read now, occasionally. Mostly when the world is exploding all around me and I need some comfort. But I love having my old books around, even if I’m not reading them constantly like I used to.
The giant pile right by the bookshelf is yet another “book storage” area. These are my “read” books – the books I’ve finished. Every few weeks I do a purge and bring a bunch of those books back to the library, then freak out over where to put the other, non-library books. There’s no room left on my “for fun” bookshelf. No, seriously, I’m not kidding. Look.
Like I said. No room. I’m now stacking books on top of rows of other books, and I’ve still got tons of books in my “read” pile to store.
…I really have a problem, don’t I?
From this not-so-brief survey of my college room, I have concluded a few things:
1. I buy a lot more books than I think I do
2. WOW, I buy a lot of books for class
3. I am quickly running out of real-estate, and am going to need to find some kind of radical solution next year. Like selling books (NO) or buying a bookcase (maybe). Or getting rid of my bed to make room for more books (yes!)
And since you have made it to the end of the post, I shall reward you with some obligatory cat pictures.
The Cat has been sick, and as a result, she has been spending a lot of time in my room. I think it’s because I keep the temperature pretty high. The Cat is also a very, very black cat, so it’s hard to get a picture of her where she doesn’t look like a big black blob. She’s absolutely gorgeous in real life, and does not resemble a Big Black Blob. That’s the Photobooth’s fault.
The Cat was in no way amused by me frantically running around my room, taking pictures with my computer. She was particularly put out when I decided to step on the bed – the bed where she was sleeping, thank you very much – to take a photo of my to-read bookshelf.
The Cat thinks this blog is a complete waste of time, particularly since it involves disturbing her bed (the fact that it’s also my bed is lost on her). She thinks I should spend more time in worthwhile pursuits. Like petting her. Or acting as her pillow.
But for the record, The Cat also thinks I need a new bookshelf.
(those things are EXPENSIVE, The Cat. Even the cheap IKEA ones)
The Cat does not like me taking photos of her, because that takes time away from Petting. But she does think this is a satisfactory photo.
*sigh* I miss The Cat.
(I flew home – home home, as opposed to college home – last week. So I have not seen The Cat in a while).
I also miss my books. But the good news is, my home-home has libraries of its own. And I just made two trips to the city library. So I feel pretty good. I’ve got a pile of eight unread books… that should last me for a week, right? Right?
*starts to panic*
[content note for a particularly heavy dose of sarcasm]
Dear Future Russian Bride,
I have been compelled to climb out of my cave of ugly-feminist-man-hating-anger ( decorated with the blood of the patriarchs) to write you this letter of love. Yea, for I have discovered that you shall soon come into my life (for the small small fee of $19.99 a month), and that has filled me with true happiness.
Let me begin at the beginning.
For years, I would go to dubiously-legal websites to watch TV shows and movies. Those were the dark years – the college years – when I was lonely and sad, and you (my future bride) were not yet in my life.
Yes, I saw the sidebars of those webpages, with those scantily-clad young ladies peering at me, but never once did I suspect that you – oh, glorious you (my future bride) – were hidden among them. I thought all these (beautiful) scantily-clad young ladies were a dream – a myth – for yea, I did grow up in a land full of super-feminist (and therefore ugly) women.” And these super-feminists and ugly women brainwashed me so that I thought all ladies looked like ugly toads rather than beautiful, scantily-clad angels.
But then, one day, a friend of mine was surfing on one of these dubiously-legal websites, and she had the courage to click on the picture of one of these scantily-clad angels (oh, how many thanks I must give to this brave, brave friend).
And that’s when I discovered the great truth. That’s when I learned that there were hundreds – nay, thousands – of scantily-clad, loyal, and never-aging Eastern European women who desperately wished to become my bride! And you were among them, my future wife!
I shall now reprint the advertisement that alerted me to your existence:
“If you are tired of pursuing the typical MTV educated, super feminist and ugly women you see every day, we might have the solution for you if you dare to read on…
Did you know Eastern European women were raised to aggressively pursue Western Men? Also, did you know Eastern European women look like they never age? Thanks to their partially asian genes, a girl will look like she’s in her 20s for a long time to come. In addition to being beautiful and loving to please their men, they also are incredibly loyal. A Russian woman will never leave you and make sure there’s always food on the table. It’s because they grew up to do the cooking, cleaning, and simply take care of their man. As long as you treat them with respect, they will stick with you through thick and thin. Sign up for FREE (limited time only) and meet tons of hot and loyal russian women”**
What joy there is here! What truth! Oh, brave truth, that is hidden in these poorly written and appallingly-grammared sentences. How perfectly the advertisement captures the reality of all thee women in the west, who, thanks to their MTV education, have become “super-feminists” (I assume that by MTV they mean “Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth and Vixens and Virgins for Feminism***” TV, correct?)
Can’t we get the channels that teach women to aggressively pursue men and to then attach to them? Where is the wonderful eastern programming that makes women grow and blossom into a wonderfully loyal super-cook? Why are mothers and fathers not teaching young girls to grab their men and never, ever, ever let them go (much in the manner of a giant octopus)?
And thank the gods above that Easterners have discovered the magic power of the “Asian” gene. Yes, now I realize why Russian women look so hot. They have just enough Asian DNA to never, ever become old – because, as we all know, all Asians are secretly robots which explains why they never age – but they don’t have enough Asian DNA to actually look Asian. They’re still white enough to look, you know, attractive. After all, I wouldn’t want our future neighbors to think I have an Asian fetish, oh future bride. But a little bit of exotic seasoning (and oriental submission) is just the thing to spice up our relationship!
I cannot tell you, oh future bride, how happy I am to have found this beautiful advertisement. My future, which once seemed so bleak, is now so bright. I no longer need to fear that I shall have to settle for a western-style, ugly-feminist for my bride. Instead, I see myself coming home to you, my gorgeous partially-Asian (but not too-much) wife. I see the wonderful food you have prepared for me, thanks to your years of Eastern training. I see you aggressively pursuing me (to feed me with these glorious foodstuffs). I see the way you wrap yourself around me loyally.**** And I see -
But wait! What is this I see?
“Eastern women were raised to aggressively pursue Western MEN“
Oh God! Oh Horror! Oh Infamy! Oh Hellfire of Toads! Oh the Great Black Darkness that Has Settled Over My Heart!
My future bride! Can this be true? Because I do not possess a Y chromosome, you do not love me? Because I do not possess a Y chromosome, you shall not gift me with your loyalty and your wonderful cooking? Have you not heard that Our Great American President has decreed that men may marry men and women (like me) may marry other women (like you, oh my future bride)?
But yea, I know what you will say to me. Even if we may marry, you were raised to attach to a western MAN. And I am no man.*****
Well, I suppose that’s fair, oh future bride. And though I am greatly disappointment, I am sure there are other options for me. After all, the internet is the great equalizer, is it not? What is available to western men shall therefore be available to me (albeit somewhere else)? I will simply go to other dubiously-legal websites, where I am certain I will find advertisements for scantily-clad women (and men) who were raised to attach themselves to ugly western feminist women like me. After all, they must exist, correct? I will go find those advertisements immediately!
… Oh future bride! My horror increases! The darkness of my heart is unparalleled! For after surfing hundreds upon hundreds of dubiously legal TV-watching websites I have discovered… there are NO advertisements that are aimed towards me. Where are the advertisements for never-aging, hot Russian men who will do my cooking and cleaning? Or the hot Russian women who reserves all their deep loyalty for ugly western feminists?
I must tell you, my future bride, my disappointment cannot be calculated at this moment. When I was young, I was told: the internet is the great equalizer. It shall level all differences between peoples. But here I see the truth. These advertisements, which promise hot people, are not aimed equally. They are only for (straight) western men. Where are those advertisements for gay western men? Or lesbian western women? Or straight western women? Or people of non-western origin? And now that I think of it… Who are (straight) Russian Men going to marry? And who will male Pandas have sex with?
All my life, I have been told that I, a woman, am in every way equal to a man. But this is a lie! A lie! Or else the internet would bend over to deliver hotness to me, just as it bends over to deliver hotness to my fellow man. Where is my hotness? Where are the dubiously-legal advertisements to satisfy me?
I have been completely disillusioned, oh my (no longer future) bride. I have realized that, far from being “the great equalizer,” the internet is just as riddled with misogyny and racism and heterosexism and western-obsession as the rest of the world. I, who was so joyful that my existence as an ugly western feminist might be lightened by your presence, am plunged into an even greater misery than before.
In the wake of this horrifying discovery, there is only one thing that can relieve my suffering…Oh, my no longer future bride! Will you not marry me anyways? We can run away to Canada! We can run away to France! I will pay the low, low fee of $19.99 a month in order to speak to you through the internet! I am willing to overlook my straightness if you will overlook my two X chromosomes! Will you not take my torment away and make me the happiest ugly-MTV-educated-western-super-feminist on earth?******
Love (love forever),
Your Future Wife (I live in hope)
[All credit for this post must go to my dear friends J. and A. (I need to start giving my friends better pseudonyms, or I'll run out of letters...) Unlike me, J. actually had the guts (and the curiosity) to click through one of those obnoxious "Russian Women Very Attracted To Western Guys" type advertisements you find on questionable websites (yes, in fact, the block quote at the top is a direct quote. I am not making it up). J. then reported back to me and A. Hilarity ensued. Sadly this post is nowhere nears as funny and witty as they are, but I am but one (unmarried) woman, and my wits are sorely lacking]
* No offense to the toad. She/He/Zie is quite lovely.
**Yes, this is a direct quote. I did not make it up.
***Hey, coming up with a “V’ was really hard, okay? I looked through my “famous feminists” dictionary TWICE and then resorted to wikipedia before I gave up. Vixens and Virgins was the best I could come up with. Any other suggestions?
**** Seriously, this entire advertisement could be read as the premise of a horror movie. Young man brings home eastern bride who turns out to be an undying monster. She never ages, NEVER EVER LEAVES HIM (picture the woman’s teeth planted in the guy’s leg) and aggressively pursues him (with claws) when he tries to run away.
*****As the great Eowyn once said…
****** Funnily enough, my parents didn’t owned cable (and I don’t either), so I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen MTV.
First, I would like to thank my mother’s computer for allowing me to put up a blog post. As some of you know, me and my computer have been forcibly separated by circumstances beyond my control (*cough* Olive oil *cough*) and until some kind of brilliant solution is worked out, I need to mooch off of other peoples’ computers to get blog-related work done. So thanks, Mom! (and Mom’s computer. I’m sorry I made fun of you for not having an alarm clock.) It’s also a minor miracle that my mother and I are in the same city, so thank you, giver of miracles.
[My mother would like to take this opportunity to note that:
1. She doesn't like my blog theme (hey, you should see the other ones. But shall work on it.)
2. She thinks it's too hard to comment on my blog (fair point. Shall work on it)
3. She thinks I should talk more about why the title of the movie Shame is an example of America's moralizing puritanism (yeah...that's probably not going to happen)
4. If I don't talk about why the title of Shame is an example of America's moralizing puritanism, she threatens to take over my blog for a day and do it herself (oy! Get your own blog!)]
Secondly, I would like to register my outrage at the fact that Skylar Laine was eliminated from American Idol this week.
Skylar should not have gone home in fifth place. Let’s just say that when I found out, I used language that I would not repeat on the internet.
Skylar was not necessarily my favorite contestant – I kept switching between her and Jessica Sanchez for the female contestants (and Joshua Ledet for the male contestants) – but she was a bloody incredible singer and performer; she was charismatic and always fun to watch; and unlike certain other contestants, she was consistently improving, consistently pushing herself, consistently staying on pitch and on key, consistently challenging the boundaries of her vocal abilities.
SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE GONE HOME FIFTH PLACE, is what I’m saying.
Heck, she made me, a non-country fan, like country music. Which is Saying Something – one of my best friends has been trying to get me on board the country bandwagon for years.
Her ouster is particularly frustrating because the one contestant who messed up both of his performances (I’m sorry, Phillip Phillips fans, but he was off-pitch for most of the night, and the melody got beaten into a bloody pulp in his first performance) was STILL nowhere near the bottom 3. At this point, I think Phillip Phillips could kill a kitten onstage, and he’d still sail through to next week.
And no, I still won’t blame teen girls. I don’t need to. Last week, after a particularly bad Phillip Phillips performance, Jennifer Lopez said: “I need you to do songs that are going to get you to that last show so you can win.”
Did she say the same thing to Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez or Skylar Laine in one of their less-spectacular performances?
Even in Phillip Phillips’ bad performances, he’s still tagged as the winner.
Bias? What bias? I don’t see bias!
(And Lopez, let’s be clear, is the judge who has explicitly said she wants a girl to win idol this year)
Bah. I shall bring this rant to a close, because, in the immortal words of Skylar Laine, the show must go on:
On with the (book-related) show!
This is, of course, my monthly act of reading-related naval-gazing, whereupon I list and discuss all the books I read in the past month. Let’s look at my reading list for April, shall we?
1. The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
2. After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
3. Libra by Don Delillo
4. The Vor Games by Lois McMaster Bujold
5. The Jew of New York by Ben Katchor
6. Cold Fire by Kate Elliot
7. Chime by Franny Billingsley
8. The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines
For those of you who have been following my monthly reading roundups since the start (ie: my brother)… have you noticed the drop? Eight books! Eight! That’s well below my monthly average of thirteen (for last year), and it’s a four book drop from March.
I would be worried, but, let’s face it: it was finals.
It’s surprisingly hard to read when you’re trying to memorize a hundred and fifty pages of lecture notes, or desperately trying to find your way out of Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle. (What is the hermeneutic circle, you ask? Don’t ask. You don’t want to know).
On the other hand, I enjoyed every single book I read, which is… rare. Very rare. It’s why I didn’t star and italicize the books I would recommend – because I would honestly recommend any of the books I read this month. Very bizarre. Very VERY bizarre, even. Maybe I’m becoming less picky in my old age? (hey, my brother thinks I’m old. And I can buy alcohol in the United States. That’s pretty old).
I even enjoyed Don DeLillo, who I was convinced I would dislike based on the reviews I’ve read of his work. I also tend to dislike contemporary American “literary” writers (*cough* Jonathan Franzen *cough*), but… I liked DeLillo. Maybe it was just the pre-finals adrenaline rush. Maybe it was just the fact that Libra is a spy novel, and I like spy novels. I’ll have to read something else of DeLillo’s, and make my mind up then.
The Jew of New York was the most painful read of the month, but it wasn’t the book’s fault (necessarily). For some reason, every time I tried to read it, I would fall asleep, which would, in turn, make me freak out that I wasn’t going to finish the book before my Graphic Novels final. Not a good reading experience. In the book’s defense, I think my falling asleep was due more to my finals-related exhaustion than to the contents of the novel – it’s not a boring read. Once I’d had a couple hundred cups of coffee, I really enjoyed it.
Of course, in a moment of supreme irony, I spent the days before my graphic novels final desperately finishing The Jew of New York… and it ended up being the only book of the entire course that I couldn’t find a place to talk about in the exam. We read 13 comics. I managed to talk about every single one except this one. GAAAH. ( I added it to my definition of graphiation, just so I could say I’d covered every book. Yes, I’m slightly obsessive, why do you ask?)
April would have been a good reading month if only because I continued my foray into Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Yes, I do now understand why everyone in Sci-Fi is obsessed. I read Shards of Honor and Barrayar during winter break, and was immediately hooked onto the series (as evidenced by the fact that I put both books in my list of great SF books for women). Sadly, Young Miles, the omnibus that contains The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game, was unavailable at my local bookstore, and checked out of the city library… so it took me a while to get my hands on it.
I was somewhat worried that I wouldn’t like Miles as much as I loved his mother, Cordelia Naismith (the hero of the first books in the Vorkosigan Saga). But although my love for Cordelia is eternal, I have managed to find a place in my heart for Miles, who is just… divine.
Miles Naismith Vorkosigan lives on Barrayar, a planet where physical strength and military ability are valued above all else. Worse yet, his father, Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, is an intergalactically reknown military hero (his mother, Cordelia, is also a military hero, but Barrayar is a highly patriarchal society, and thus prefers not to talk about a woman’s military achievements).
Unfortunately, Miles is a dwarf. A biological attack on his parents while Cordelia was pregnant with him permanently damaged Miles’ spine and bones, leaving him short and disabled. His bones break easily; he needs leg braces and canes to walk correctly. On Barrayar, someone like Miles would usually be aborted; only the courage of his parents saved his life. As someone with extreme physical disabilities, Miles has no real place in Barrayar’s militaristic society. Indeed, the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice sees him failing out of officer training when he breaks his legs on an obstacle course.
So Miles needs to find… alternatives.
Alternatives which include (among others): commandeering an ship, running guns to a besieged planet, impersonating an admiral and, somewhat accidentally, gaining the control of an entire mercenary fleet. For kicks, Miles wins a war and then goes to save the emperor of Barrayar from an evil plot.
He’s pretty resourceful, is what I’m saying.
All of Miles’s achievements should feel ridiculous, but Bujold crafts the character so well that I bought them, hook, line and sinker. I never felt like Miles was a Gary Stu. He’s real. And the stakes are sufficiently high, and the plot is sufficiently dark that the books are more than just a caper. When I started to worry that Bujold was making things too damn easy for Miles, she hit me with a great plot twist, and I was satisfied: there are consequences to Miles’ actions.
Yet even with the darkness, Miles is just so damn fun to read. I found myself laughing at the sheer audacity of his schemes, or cheering at his ridiculous and hard-earned successes. You can’t help but enjoy him. Case in point:
“Am I reading too much into all that innuendo, or did you in fact just connive to assassinate Gregor in one breath, offer to cuckold him in the next, accuse your father of homosexuality, suggest a patricidal plot against him, and league yourself with Cavilo—what are you going to do for an encore?” (Bujold, The Vor Games)
I, for one, can’t wait to see what Miles does for an encore. Damn, I love these books.
I’ve been trying to read more short stories – they are not my genre of choice, sadly, but I’m learning to appreciate them. Since I was a big fan of Maureen McHugh’s novel China Mountain Zhang, I thought I would pick up her short story collection, After the Apocalypse.
That turned out to be a good decision – as it turns out McHugh is one of a very few writers whose short stories I enjoy every time (Octavia Butler is another of this rare breed).
All the stories in this collection are linked by the title theme – they tell stories of people surviving after some kind of major, apocalyptic change. And, just as she does in China Mountain Zhang, McHugh focuses in on the stories of individuals, and the way they live (or don’t) in the midst of these changes.
Although I admired all of the stories in the book, I was particularly impressed by four: “The Naturalist,” “Special Economics,” “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” and “After the Apocalypse.” I’m actually glad I was spoiled for the ending of “After the Apocalypse,” because I think it would have been too much of a blow if I hadn’t known it was coming – it’s a tale of mother-daughter survival that… does not go the way reader’s expect (I shall refrain from spoilers). “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” is a bit of a companion piece to “After the Apocalypse” – it too, focuses on mother-daughter relations, although in this case, the “apocalypse” is a degenerative disease.
“The Naturalist” has a fascinating premise: Zombies have been confined into a sort of natural reserve; the government drops criminals into the reserve as punishment. One of the criminals (our protagonist) becomes fascinating by the zombies, and starts using his fellow criminals as bait so he can observe the zombies’ behavior when they feed (I mean, people have to find a way to occupy themselves…).
I suppose one of McHugh’s central questions is whether or not “natural” relationships and instincts are that “natural” when people are in extreme circumstances. Do mothers and daughters remain close in the face of the apocalypse? Do we keep our link with our humanity, even when we’ve been abandoned to die? McHugh’s exploration of this theme is brutal (if fascinating) which is why I appreciated ‘Special Economics,” a somewhat more light-hearted take on two women navigating an exploitative Chinese company.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Cold Fire by Kate Elliot, but have no idea how to review it without giving spoilers for the first book in the series, Cold Magic. I’ll just say that you should check both books out: they’re pretty fantastic.
The series as a whole is:“An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.”
And if that’s not enough to send you running to the bookstore, the series also includes irritatingly handsome men who would be more attractive if they weren’t trying to kill you, cat-human shapeshifters, dragons, trolls (the intelligent descendents of troodoons), witty (and less witty) banter, and an awesome protagonist who has her priorities straight (when married off without warning, first: locate food. When sent to the spirit word, first: locate food. When exiled to an island full of zombies, first: locate food. Priorities: Cat has ‘em).
Oh yes. There are now zombies.
Seriously, why didn’t I know about Kate Elliot earlier?
(Dear Universe: When there are awesome authors I should read, please let me know about them early, okay? An intergalactic newsletter will do just fine! Thanks!)
Okay, I lied before: the worst part of my reading this month was the cover of Chime. Seriously. Worst and least accurate cover ever. Yes, it’s pretty…I suppose. But why does Briony look like a half-buried barbie? For that matter, why is she so darn pretty? The cover makes it seem like poor Briony is off to a very, very bizarre school dance (she’s not).
If you can’t already tell, I REALLY dislike this cover. Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood decapitating my barbies and burying them in the backyard (totally normal behavior!). Or maybe it’s because the book is about a girl who is convinced she’s a horrible witch who deserves to be hung, and not about a girl going to her prom (not that there’s anything wrong going to your prom).Chime is dark and edgy and tortured and the cover… is a very pretty version of that.
On the other hand I really liked the book, which is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read this year.. It’s very rare to read a young adult character quite as self-loathing as Briony, who is convinced she’s a witch, and responsible for the death of her stepmother, and the mental illness of her twin sister. Briony’s voice and her journey is fascinating. I was disappointed by the ending, which was a bit too pat for my taste – I was hoping that such a nuanced character would merit an equally nuanced ending. Or perhaps I wanted this nuance to translate to the rest of the “monsters” in the story. If Briony is redeemable, shouldn’t witches be redeemable as well? Are all (other) witches evil? Are all dark creatures evil? Did anyone else feel unsatisfied by the ending, or is that just me?
I also feel like there’s a trend in YA these days to write about protagonists who would usually be the villains – I’m thinking of Briony, of course, and also of Cassel Sharpe in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series. But maybe that’s always been a trend, and I’ve just missed it? The villain-as-hero seems particularly pertinent to the YA genre, in any case (since the genre is oriented towards teenagers).
I’ve been following Jim C. Hines’s blog for a while, and he did me a big favor a couple of days ago (he doesn’t know he did me a favor, and I don’t know him personally. He just wrote something very helpful on his blog). So I figured since I was getting so many benefits from his blog, I should probably buy one of his books (rather than just mooch off his free stuff).
The Stepsister Scheme is the very, very long epilogue to the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinderella (Danielle) and her prince (Armand) are happily married. Unfortunately, Danielle’s evil stepsisters haven’t given up on marrying Armand themselves, and kidnap him (they’re persistent, you have to give them that). Danielle goes off to save Armand; she’s joined by two of the Queen’s employees, Snow and Talia.
It took me a while to get into the plot of The Stepsister Scheme – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. Since the story begins in medias res, it was harder to attach to the characters – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. I know, I just said I wanted more info-dump. I’m sure the universe will punish me for this horrific statement somehow…
Once I was hooked, however, the book was very good. What’s fascinating about the story is that it’s not just the epilogue of one fairy tale – Snow turns out to be “Snow White,” and Talia turns out to be “Sleeping Beauty” The interactions between the three princesses – Danielle, Talia and Snow – are also quite interesting. They’re all deeply traumatized by their “fairy tale” experiences, and who can blame them?
I’m intrigued to see what else Hines does with the series – the characters are great, and it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to evolve in the rest of the series. Plus, I’m hoping for the appearance of Little Red Riding Hood. Apparently, she’s an assassin now.
Random Other Stuff
Apparently, when I’m super -stressed out for finals, I find awesome things on youtube. Yes, those two things seem… incompatible. I am a woman of many skills.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: a video-blog (re)telling of Pride and Prejudice. I loves it very much. It is my precious. And it is helping me get over the end of my Austen course.
America’s Next Top Doll
It is a truth universally acknowledged that I, to my great shame, have watched every single episode of America’s Next Top Model. More than once. Yes, I pretended it was some kind of deep sociological problem, but really? I was hooked. Hooked on the weaves and the photoshoots and the drama. And hooked on the weirdness of Tyra Banks.
(For the record, my favorite cycles are 3, 6, 7 and 13).
I have since gotten over my obsession, but the scars of those months run deep. Very deep. And this youtube parody has helped me heal. With the gift of laughter.
(Oh, Michael Slezak, where would I be without you?)
Sadly, the season is not complete (and probably never will be…) , but my money is on Zombie-girl to win it all.
And that’s all for now! Hopefully my computer will be fixed soon, and I can return to some kind of normal blogging schedule… but until then, I remain, as ever, trapped in Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle.
(p.s: in my next post, there may be a cat. No promises, but I figured I’d give advanced warning just in case for those allergic to cat hair. And cuteness)
This is just a quick note to warn everyone that I am currently separated from my one true love (ie: my computer) for reasons that are beyond my control. ARGH! ARGH, I say!
So blog posting is off-line until further notice (as is email communication and… all of those lovely computer related things)
Least you ask: I am not writing this on my computer. Sadly.
ARGH, I continue to say.
Hopefully the situation will be rectified forthwith.
(anyone have advice for solving keyboard problems for macs caused by a close encounter with olive oil? Cleaning has not helped. Computer otherwise fine…)