Review: Wifework

maushartwifework

Wifework
by Susan Maushart

★★★½☆

2003 (originally published 2002) • 270 pages • Bloomsbury

One of the most amazing things that happened on the Internet in 2015 was the epic conversation about gender and emotional labor on Metafilter in July. And when I say epic, I don’t say that carelessly—it boasts over two thousand comments, ran for a month, and took me nearly three whole days to get through. (Touchingly, several of the last comments are commenters essentially raising a glass to how much the thread meant to them). It really changed the way I think about emotional labor and helped me identify my own problems with identifying and articulating my emotional needs.

Naturally, a lot of the discussion in the thread is about different-sex marriage by married women, and several of them mentioned Susan Maushart’s 2001 book, Wifework, as a text they’d read and found useful in the context of this discussion. Eager to continue the discussion after the thread closed, I sought it out.

I myself have a very medieval view of marriage—marriage is about pooling resources or, to put it slightly more romantically, heaving together in this strange thing we call life. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to escape internalizing a lot of the social narratives of marriage flying about Western culture, but I imagine it has plenty to do with being queer and being an introvert who doesn’t like to share. (I’d need to get to a point where I’m willing to share my pizza before considering a lady wife.)

Wifework does end up reading a lot like a less sweary Cliff Notes version of that Metafilter thread. (Alas that Maushart had no concept of Crone Island at the time!) Baffled by the inequity in her marriages despite being a card-carrying feminist, American expat Maushart explores the theory of wifework—the vast, interconnected list of things that a wife is expected to do for her husband. This ranges from everything to putting a hearty dinner on the table when he comes home from work (regardless of her schedule or the kids) to heavy emotional labor (like being the one to remember the important dates of his family members) to putting his needs first at all times almost instinctively. Maushart lays it all down in her accessible but workmanlike prose, occasionally interjecting personal stories when they’re relevant. None of this is new territory if you’ve done any reading on emotional labor, but if you haven’t? This can be world-changing.

Continue reading

Review: Black Space

namablackspace

Black Space
by Adilifu Nama

★★★★½

2008 • 200 pages • University of Texas Press

As happy as I am that Star Wars: The Force Awakens seems to be committed to a diverse universe (there’s nary a white dude in the main trio!), I am still infuriated that the production cast Lupita Nyong’o, widely considered an astonishing force of style and beauty (as well as the baby Dazzler of my heart), and covered her up with CGI. And not to play a truly inhuman character who could only be executed with CGI (you can literally do anything; I was campaigning for a sentient black hole), but to play… a humanoid character whose most alien features are a lack of a nose and a long neck.

Ughck.

Covering up actors of color with prosthetics and CGI is, sadly, a trend in speculative fiction films, despite the fact that speculative fiction is an inherently progressive genre. Even my beloved The Lord of the Rings features nearly all of its Maori actors as orcs and Witch Kings. Thor: The Dark World cast Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Algrim the Strong, a dark elf who then goes on to be transformed into Kurse. Even Zoe Saldana, the inheritor of Uhura, one of the most groundbreaking roles in sf television, gets painted green in Guardians of the Galaxy. There is progress—we will soon see Luke Cage and Black Panther join Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—but the conflation of aliens and people of color remains a troubling trend in sf cinema.

Individually, of course, there are always reasons for these choices. I imagine Nyong’o accepted the role because doing motion capture is an exciting and very different way of acting, on top of getting to be in Star Wars. As a white woman who benefits from racial privilege,it’s not my place to speak to that. But I can highlight the larger pattern of seeing, time after time, actors of color asked to play outrageous and othered creatures and ask: why?

Continue reading

Review: Bad Feminist

gaybadfeminist

Bad Feminist
by Roxane Gay

★★★★½

2014 • 336 pages • Harper Perennial

In Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, you will find three versions of the eponymous essay. The final product opens the collection and two of its preceding drafts close it. They’re different enough that it doesn’t feel repetitive, but bookending the entire collection with them makes perfect sense. It shows how rocky the terrain of our current culture is, humanizes the writing process (which can feel sterilized in the seemingly permanent spaces of either the Internet or print), and drives home Gay’s point: that she “would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all” (318). For Gay (and, I would hope, for us all) being a feminist is an active process.

To be a feminist in the digital age is to be easily able to find both your community and those who would stand against you—even (and perhaps especially) those who also consider themselves feminists but are not committed to the cause as to a version of it that benefits them. There’s always that moment when a new acquaintance brings up Caitlin Moran and I tense up, wondering if they, too, subscribe to the same kind of cissexist feminism that doesn’t believe in intersectionality. To quote Flavia Dzodan, “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” I have, in my long time on the Internet, sought out, found, stumbled across, and otherwise just looked up to find myself in complex feminist (and if not explicitly feminist, feminist-minded) spaces that have much more to teach me than I have to teach them. Reading Bad Feminist, I was reminded of nothing more than that online feminist universe that I haunt, to the point that discovering where versions of the collected essays had been previously published in the acknowledgements read quite a bit like my Feedly.

Continue reading

Review: Who Cooked The Last Supper?

mileswhocookedthelastsupper

Who Cooked the Last Supper?

★★★★½

2001 (originally 1988) • 352 pages • Broadway Books

Who Cooked the Last Supper? is not the original title of Rosalind Mile’s formative women’s history text; that would be the American subtitle, The Women’s History of the World. For some reason, her publisher thought that American audiences would rather a slightly less dry title, even if the women who provided the Last Supper are not discussed in specifics (although they’re certainly covered in the abstract.) For some, this might be a turn-off, but I am of the opinion that whatever gets it into as many hands as possible is perfectly fine. (Nobody gets shamed for reading in this house.)

What that title also does is get across Miles’ quietly furious and deeply arch tone, with increasingly clever and occasionally vulgar punning as she digs deep into the last two hundred years of women’s history. I’m tempted to compare it to Bill Bryson’s affable and cozy work, but I find his humor frustratingly heteronormative, and he completely lacks Miles’ righteous and incandescent anger that boils over from time to time, especially in the later chapters. Miles knows her stuff so well that she’s able to find the humanity, humor, and outrage in all of these facts.

Continue reading

Review: Under the Banner of Heaven

krakauerunderthebannerofheaven

Under the Banner of Heaven
by John Krakauer

★★★★☆

2013 • 372 pages • Doubleday

To celebrate the Fourth of July this year, my local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema screened two films—Top Gun, which we’ve already been over, and a Quote-Along for Team America: World Police. Specifically, a Quote-Along for Team America: World Police’s tenth anniversary. I’ve never seen that movie, but watching the brief advertisement for the upcoming Quote-Along, I was instantly taken back to the political climate of the United States in the early aughts.

While the nostalgia wheel has turned to the nineties (which explains the amount of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess I’ve been consuming) per its traditional twenty year delay, the aughts are finally far enough behind us to take a certain narrative shape. There’s even a new VH1 series, I Love the 2000s, to prove it. This is nothing new for history and nostalgia, but it is something new for me.

Continue reading

Review: The Good Girls Revolt

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

reviewstarreviewstarreviewstarreviewstarreviewstar

povichgoodgirlsrevolt

Consciousness raising, that beloved tool of second wave feminism, has been making a comeback on Twitter in the last week. In the wake of the horrific Santa Barbara shootings, #YesAllWomen collected (and still collects—bless the perpetual present tense of the Internet!) stories of what women have to put up with in the patriarchal rape culture that birthed the attack. During the second wave, consciousness raising was a way for women to identify what they previously thought were personal problems as, instead, systemic ones; last week, several men admitted to never realizing what it was like for women. And to make good on the fact that feminism will be intersectional or it will be bull, #YesAllWhiteWomen and #CisGaze soon followed.

Given the nature of Twitter, there are plenty of morons trying to hijack the hashtags, but they can’t keep a good conversation down. Consciousness raising was first started to combat how isolated women were from each other at the time, but the demise of the monoculture and the nichification of everything, including politics, can occasionally have the same effect. Seeing a wide rainbow of feminists taking to Twitter to speak up for each other without talking over one another—that’s feminism.

Against this particular backdrop, reading The Good Girls Revolt is an interesting experience. In 1970, on the same day that Newsweek ran a story about the burgeoning second wave of feminism, forty-six female Newsweek staffers announced that they were suing their employer for gender discrimination. Frustrated by being trapped in the research department despite having credentials identical to their male coworkers, this committee banded together to protest the casual sexual harrassment and dismissal they faced every day. It’s fleetly written by Lynn Povich, one of the staffers who ended up becoming Newsweek’s first female senior editor. Her journalistic style stretches a little thin to accommodate the book. She breezes through decades in just a little over two hundred pages, never delving too deeply into the emotional turmoil caused by the harrasment or the demise of her marriage.

Largely, The Good Girls Revolt is a feel-good piece about second wave feminism, complete with a heartwarming coda of three new Newsweek staffers discovering the story, writing a piece about feminism inspired by their lawsuit, and feeling a kinship to their foremothers. But, tellingly, these staffers express disappointment when Jezebel calls them out for not touching on the voices of the women of color, bemoaning that Internet feminism is so cliquish. (They took the ensuing debate to the Internet.) The kind of feminism that The Good Girls Revolt champions and wants to pass down is mainstream white second wave feminism—complete with blinders.

Povich demurs that the ladies of Newsweek were hardly radicals. (Their insistence on working within the system rather than dismantling it and feasting on its bones already says that in spades.) Povich and company weren’t the man-hating, bra-burning, granola-crunching feminists they so feared—oh, she insists, they were ladies. Like a nervous kid trying to convince the Sorting Hat that they don’t belong in Slytherin, she even prefers the word “drive” to “ambition.” For the most part, the book is about the rather gentle feminist awakenings of the women involved, although it still giggles at the idea that a lawyer was relieved to see them as clients because they were straight feminists! (They then go one to call Floyrence Kennedy the lunatic fringe, despite her help.)

I see this kind of feminism—narrowly focused on well-to-do, well-educated, white women to the exclusion of others—rearing its ugly head recently, especially in the form of Lean In. It’s very disappointing, albeit not totally unexpected in a book like this. There’s a way to write about the second wave and its problems without indulging in them yourself, and The Good Girls Revolt misses that mark.

Still, as with everything I read, there’s something to be learned here. Namely, that Anna Fels’ Necessary Dreams sounds awesome, if the quotes included from that book here are anything to go by. Her book is only called upon to explain ambition and the power of child care, but having someone specifically point out that our work cycle is expressly designed for the male life cycle is mind-blowing.

Bottom line: There’s a way to write about the second wave of feminism without indulging in the way it erased various groups, but The Good Girls Revolt isn’t it. Fleetly written. If you’d like.

This book was made available to me for publicity purposes.

Review: What Was Hot!

What Was Hot! by Julian Biddle

reviewstarreviewstarreviewstarreviewstarreviewstar

biddlewhatwashot

So, you think you’re an eighties fan? Okay, Sergio Valente, can you handle this? It’s I Love the 80s, and this is 1980. The flicks, the fashion, the trends, the TV, the tunes. A totally awesome year that gave us these burning questions. Why did Doc get laid so much? Could Han kick Luke’s ass? And do you believe in miracles? The answers to those questions, plus: sweet Air Supply and one smelly doll. Because you love the eighties. Because you still wear your collar up, admit it. This is 1980.

In 2002, I was still reeling from seeing The Fellowship of the Ring and realizing that there was a whole world of pop culture beyond the mix of British sitcoms, seventies music, and French comics that was, in my small, Southern town, utterly unique to my family. I’d already made my first forays into fandom (you’re my forever girl, Digimon), but this was different. It wasn’t something experienced in a vacuum; it was something experienced communally. Most importantly, The Lord of the Rings had a history in American pop culture, one that I was now a part of, and I suddenly realized that I knew absolute jack about American pop culture. I listened to Yann Tiersen, for Pete’s sake. Interrogating my parents about their own pop cultural experiences would only shed light on the landscape of seventies France; interrogating my brother was impossible, what with him being halfway across the country attending the Air Force Academy.

Continue reading

Review: The Devil Finds Work

The Devil Finds Work by James Baldwin

reviewstarreviewstarreviewstarreviewstarreviewstar

baldwindevilfindswork

I can’t decide if my reticence in calling The Devil Finds Work more than “just” film criticism lies in my astonishment and admiration for the sheer breadth of of the essay or a falsehood I’ve internalized somewhere that criticism cannot get too far afield from the text it’s critiquing. The first is, if problematic and exceptionalizing, a product of my aching love for this essay; the latter is something to work on. Late in the essay, the reader is asked to question the motives of filmmakers adapting material: “What do the filmmakers wish us to learn?” (112). And the answer, no matter the text, will necessarily engage the reader with their culture and its deepest assumptions, values, and fears. Calling The Devil Finds Work more than film criticism implies that criticism shouldn’t be striving for that truth.

Continue reading

Review: Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism by Ytasha L. Womack

reviewstarreviewstarreviewstaremptyreviewstaremptyreviewstar

womackafrofuturism

Recently, Noah screenwriter Ari Handel told The High Calling that the reason a film based on the Hebrew Bible featured an entirely white cast was that “this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people.” The concept of the white male as supposedly universal subject is disgusting enough, but such a precisely vague statement only brings to mind the various Old White Dudes screaming themselves red over people of color or women asking to be treated like people in the sf community. (I haven’t heard of anyone specifically protesting queer folk getting involved, but it’s only a matter of time.) Handel and men like Dave Truesdale are implying the same thing: marginalized communities and speculative fiction have nothing to do with each other.

Continue reading

Review: 1963 — The Year of the Revolution

1963: The Year of the Revolution by Robin Morgan and Ariel Leve

morgan1963

In the course of human history, teenagers are a fairly recent invention. Of course, humanity’s always gone through adolescence, but as a social construct, young adulthood was really developed after World War II, when post-war prosperity meant that teenagers had money—and, therefore, agency—for the first time en masse. Add to that the baby boom, and you’ve got yourself prime conditions for changing the culture.

Continue reading