What is it with dude sci fi writers and scenarios where women are organised to fuck you on a roster? Everybody since Zamyatin is in on it. Anyway, thi...moreWhat is it with dude sci fi writers and scenarios where women are organised to fuck you on a roster? Everybody since Zamyatin is in on it. Anyway, this went from an irritating tic to deeply repulsive in a scene that's described as an orgy but reads like a mass rape to me. I looked up the rest of the plot on the off-chance that there was some kind of critique embedded in this but apparently the later parts of the novel are a dystopia where everybody is gay except the protagonist. I almost want to finish it to see what this paranoid homophobic fantasy is like but I don't hate myself enough to subject myself to it. Lesbian separatism does seem like a very reasonable response to the world as presented in the bit that I actually struggled through.(less)
This is a collection of essays, which generally means you're getting a mixed bag. I didn't go in expecting the most super radical thing ever but I was...moreThis is a collection of essays, which generally means you're getting a mixed bag. I didn't go in expecting the most super radical thing ever but I was hoping for a bit more.
I guess what I found most disappointing was the focus on white, Western, professional-class women's perspectives — in particular, how they can be nice employers of Third World women. Who gives a shit? Arlie Russell Hochschild's "Love and Gold" begins as an incisive analysis of how caring labour, like natural resources, is extracted from the Third World to the First. Third World mothers often migrate to be nannies, leaving their own children in the care of local nannies, a process that obviously causes a lot of grief on both ends. Migrant nannies with children at home will often openly admit that they give their bosses' children the love they can't give their own. This love is often attributed by employers and agencies to romanticised cultures with more family values and less materialism, rather than what it in fact is — an expression of the need to love of women who have had to prioritise money over their own family life.
But then Hochschild goes into some weird liberal argument about how we just need to make sure the whole thing is better regulated. Most of these women would not be leaving their families and communities if they weren't pushed into it by the impoverishment of centuries of imperialism. What is needed is a reversal of that imperial relationship, but Hochschild's not daring enough to imagine that.
Susan Cheever's "The Nanny Dilemma" was even worse — she's an employer of domestic workers who interviews a formy nanny of hers, concluding that nannies often have it tough. Her closing argument is that Western women employing nannies and the nannies they employ are more similar than we might think — they're both working women who've chosen to put their energy away from their own kids and into building a career. One of these women gets to see her own kid at the end of a working day, one doesn't, it's not comparable, fuck you.
Similarly, Ehrenreich really really wants us to focus on how all women are oppressed by men's unwillingness to contribute to caring labour. This is fine as far as it goes, I agree with her, her essay ("Maid to Measure") isn't bad exactly. But again, it centres the experience of white Western professional women who employ nannies and domestic workers to do the housework they eschew.
There were some high points. "Filipina Workers in Hong Kong Homes: Household Rules and Regulations", by Nicole Constable, was very good, and made me wanna read her book on the same topic. Her ethnographic methods meant that she prioritised the voices and analysis of the Filipina migrant workers she interviewed. The focus of her piece was on the workers' rage, humiliation, and resistance around their employers' micromanagement of their work, their personal habits, and even the length of their hair. Hardly the stuff of lurid tabloids, it's an everyday power conflict that's reflective of the day to day lives and struggles of a disempowered migrant group. (It made me think a lot of Andrea's checklists for her nannies in Real Housewives of Melbourne, and her assertion that her nanny-wrangling skills make her a model for "working women". D:) "Clashing Dreams: Highly Educated Overseas Bridges and Low-Wage US Husbands" by Hung Cam Thai, "Among Women: Migrant Domestics and their Taiwanese Employers Across Generations" by Pei-Chia Lan, and "Selling Sex for Visas: Sex Tourism as a Stepping-Stone to International Migration", by Denise Brennan, are also well worth reading.
In contrast, "Because she looks like a child" by Kevin Bales is a highly vague and sensationalised take on sex trafficking. It opens with a really awful, tragic case study of the debt bondage of a fifteen-year-old girl working in a brothel. After that shocking image, we're given nothing from sex workers or trafficked women themselves — nothing in their own words. It's all the perspective of Kevin and the organisations he chooses to cite — and very little is actually cited. A lot of big numbers are thrown around with nothing to back them up. There's no distinction made between women who choose to enter the sex industry who had a lot of options, women who didn't have many options, and women who were tricked and forced into the industry. (Plus, Bales completely ignores the existence of sex workers who are not cis women, even though they're a large and visible proportion of sex workers in Thailand.) And I mean, very few of us are fortunate enough to have total freedom to choose the industry we work in and the conditions of our work, it's not black-and-white. But there's a difference, all the same, and it's extremely disingenous to pretend that there's not. Saskia Sassen's essay later in the book is also guilty of collapsing these distinctions. If you seek out actual sex workers' voices, you'll find that often even women who are hyper-exploited have strong criticisms of the anti-trafficking movement, in particular its focus on state intervention. I have criticisms of the work of Laura Agustin (admit it, she's a bit of a liberal) but I think Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry is a strong and necessary critique of many anti-trafficking initiatives, exposing them as frequently violent, coercive, dishonest, and unconcerned with the most desperately underpaid and demeaning employment as long as it's not sex-related.
But very few of the pieces in this collection engage with state violence, the materiality of the border, the bureaucracy of visa classes, the precarity induced by the border, capitalism itself. Most of the essays are like "hmm, migrant women are especially vulnerable to abuse because they're frightened of arrest and deportation, seems like that's just a fact of life, maybe we need more regulation of industries with lots of migrant workers". It's clear that a major factor in the vulnerability of migrant women workers is the border itself, and the colonial relationships that drew those borders and militarised them. I'm not asking for some kind of anarchist manifesto here, but I wish there was a little bit of questioning of the structural conditions causing this vulnerability, a little bit less of a focus on the moral questions plaguing the soul of the white Western bourgeoisie. (less)
I find kate bornstein's authorial voice really...umbridge-esque? kind of frighteningly sweet and jolly and twee. it's really off-putting. having said...moreI find kate bornstein's authorial voice really...umbridge-esque? kind of frighteningly sweet and jolly and twee. it's really off-putting. having said that, it's unusual to find a book that takes its non-judgemental harm reduction approach so seriously. Anorexia or drug abuse are better for you than suicide, because you can hope to recover someday, but you won't find many self-help books admitting that. that bumps it up to three stars for me.
but honestly, you would probably be better off writing your own list. (less)
this is so good. I was always a bit "eh" on Emma Goldman because I read her essays and didn't find them earth-shattering. Plus I don't always agree wi...morethis is so good. I was always a bit "eh" on Emma Goldman because I read her essays and didn't find them earth-shattering. Plus I don't always agree with her political analysis -- her race-blind attitude was particularly unfortunate. You could say it was par for the times, but she was so far ahead on so much else that I expected more -- and anyway that's rubbish, lots of people critiqued her race politics at the time. That said, it turns out that Goldman's strength was not as a theorist but as an activist and generally fascinating human being. Her autobiography is an incredibly interesting depiction of radical politics in the USA and Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Goldman knew a lot of interesting people, and it's very strange and humanising to read about her trying and failing to make friends with one famous anarchist, or having a bitter breakup with another. Plus she avoids the common tendency of autobiography to obscure the actual process of development. Everything is told in the present tense, with virtually no indication of what's later to come. She'll talk about this great guy she met, or what she thinks about an issue, and you'll be like "Emma! He's kind of a fuckwit!" or "no! that's silly!" and you have to read the next fifty pages to know if she ends up thinking that too. Totally engaging and heartwrenching. (less)
a pretty good, very readable book with a lot of interesting stuff in it, especially about agriculture and disease. Its main contribution is to popular...morea pretty good, very readable book with a lot of interesting stuff in it, especially about agriculture and disease. Its main contribution is to popularise the knowledge that Indigenous American cultures were populous, diverse, and did a lot of cool shit, including radically changing the natural environment such that the term "wilderness" shouldn't really be applied to anywhere in the Americas. This is really important for people to know. But it's not "new revelations" by any stretch of the imagination -- Indigenous histories will tell you that, to begin with, and other writers have been shouting it from the rooftops for decades. You should already know that ideas of "wilderness" or of pre-colonial peoples living in a "state of nature" are racist and also shitty history. Is it Mann's fault that many don't? I guess not. But I expected something a lot more earth-shattering than I got.
I also think this book suffered from being read after The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, which contains an extended critique of anthropology and archeology that can only see and think in terms of states. With that in mind, Mann's reliance on monuments and texts -- that is, on the artefacts of empires -- was really apparent. He continually talked about history in terms of clashes between empires, paying lip service at best to other histories. This was part of a larger tendency in 1491 to extol pro-Columbian American societies on the basis of how they measured up to the achievements of European societies, in European terms. It was pretty hilarious how grumpy this made the researchers he talked to -- I could relate.
Plus I don't think the world needs an extended musing concluding that devastating infectious diseases were not the "fault" per se of Europeans. I just don't see the point of it.
Worth reading, but basically I'm not convinced of the value of popular anthropology/history texts by journalists. These are fields with their own traditions of equally accessible, scholastically tighter works. (less)
oh geez. I was a big defender of dave eggers before I actually read any of his books, purely on the basis that I like the McSweeney's online content....moreoh geez. I was a big defender of dave eggers before I actually read any of his books, purely on the basis that I like the McSweeney's online content. but this is pretty crap, b-grade david foster wallace ripoff stuff. eggers is a self-referential asshole. there are some good bits but overall it's not worth it. (less)
the bits about actual anthropology were good but I wanted more of an answer to my question of how to build counterpower that's not a bunch of cliquey...morethe bits about actual anthropology were good but I wanted more of an answer to my question of how to build counterpower that's not a bunch of cliquey punks. still worth a squiz, though(less)
uneven, but the first two stories ("axolotl" and "house taken over") blew me away. "secret weapons" was a really upsetting read, but I'm not actually...moreuneven, but the first two stories ("axolotl" and "house taken over") blew me away. "secret weapons" was a really upsetting read, but I'm not actually sure what I think of it yet. (less)
I kind of hate this book but maybe more because of what it represents to me than because of qualities inherent in it. it spends a lot of time attempti...moreI kind of hate this book but maybe more because of what it represents to me than because of qualities inherent in it. it spends a lot of time attempting to persuade you that polamory can work. only sort of helpful if you are interested in actual advice for your polyamorous relationship(s). besides, just because I don't practice monogamy doesn't mean I think polyamory is right for everyone. most of the book's advice seems to boil down to "how to persuade your monogamously inclined lover into accepting your poly ways", which I find creepy and borderline coercive. more sex doesn't necessarily mean more liberation and I'm sick of people talking like it does.
on the plus side: they are unashamedly sexual. a lot of polyamory rhetoric is all like "we are all about LOVE and RELATIONSHIPS, we're not just sleeping around!" which is obnoxious; what's wrong with sleeping around? the ethical slut avoids this, as you'd probably expect from the title.
butler often writes unsympathetic protagonists, or tries to make us see the perspective of characters that ordinarily wouldn't be sympathetic. narciss...morebutler often writes unsympathetic protagonists, or tries to make us see the perspective of characters that ordinarily wouldn't be sympathetic. narcissists, sociopaths, murderers, people doing what they feel they have to to survive. it's brave and complex but it doesn't always totally work. this is one of the times when it doesn't really get off the ground. it feels a bit empty and squicky. but it's still really interesting and challenging and stylish. (less)