Found a lot to relate to in this lyrical and poignant collection of stories by Daisy Hernandez. Hernandez weaves multiple narrative strands together:Found a lot to relate to in this lyrical and poignant collection of stories by Daisy Hernandez. Hernandez weaves multiple narrative strands together: stories of her parents' and their siblings emigration from Colombia and Cuba; of the ravages of colonialism on language, culture, and community; of compromise, negotiation, and syncretism between the faith and culture of the colonizers and the beliefs and traditions slaves brought with them to the Americas and transformed (often by necessity); of being caught between Spanish and English, between her native cultures and "American" culture, between ethnic pride and shame and pressure to assimilate to mainstream American culture; of loving a family and a culture that do not always love queer women like her back, or unconditionally; and tying all these together, of the importance of telling her and her family's stories on her own terms and in her own words. The only weakness is occasionally florid prose; otherwise, a moving and contemplative read....more
For a host of reasons, which I am debating whether or not to get into, I did not like this collection. I really, really, did not like it. Unpopular opFor a host of reasons, which I am debating whether or not to get into, I did not like this collection. I really, really, did not like it. Unpopular opinion, it seems, but I thought the collection failed on multiple levels.
ETA: Okay, to be more specific about the issues I had with the book:
The writing: I've read Roxane Gay's nonfiction essays in the past, including a few that were included in this book. I have generally found her writing to be artful. So it was a surprise to find so much of Bad Feminist is, from a craft perspective, quite poorly written. Several essays border on incoherent, with nonexistent transitions between one paragraph and the next, one thought and the next. If these were attempts at a stream of consciousness style, they didn’t work. The less rambly essays often read as unpolished or incomplete, again surprising given Gay’s ability. As a writer I’m always reading with an eye for unexpected or felicitous turns of phrase as I read—to learn from the creativity and craft of other writers. There were a few instances of this in Bad Feminist, but on the whole it felt like it fell far short of what Gay is otherwise routinely capable of as a writer.
The editing: Oh, lord, the editing. It is, no exaggeration, atrocious. From top to bottom. The collection is plagued by incoherence at multiple levels that it's an editor's job to weed out. The parts of an essay should, by its conclusion, come together to make a clear and coherent sum. Essays, arguments, and opinions shouldn't contradict another, or if they do, such contradictions should be at the very least acknowledged and ideally confronted head on. The connections between essays that are grouped together shouldn't be overbroad or tenuous. There's should be more of a throughline bringing a book of essays together than the mere fact that the same person wrote them. None of this is true in Bad Feminist. Worse still, there are some really basic and glaring lapses in editing that are just...frankly incomprehensible. One essay has clearly been updated to reflect more current events, but now-outdated information from a previous version has been left in (many of these essays—I think most—where published elsewhere first). The more current information and the older information are literally on pages facing each other—there's no excuse for the failure in editing there. In another essay Gay critiques a film through the lens of a trope that doesn't actually apply to the film. This despite the fact that the essay includes a definition of the trope that makes obvious that Gay is misapplying it. She doesn't mention the trope that actually applies until the end of the essay, and then only as an aside. It's an editor's job to fact check to make sure such basic errors don't make it into a final proof. Similarly, the problems with the writing mentioned above are an editor's job to identify and suggest ways to fix.
Too much recapping other people’s work: There is a large middle swath of Bad Feminist that consists of quippy summaries of books Gay has read and shows or movies she's watched, with a bit commentary or analysis. It's a strange choice, to have so much of the writing be descriptions of other people’s creative output—including several books that many readers would be (or at least this reader was) unfamiliar with. It's intended as pop criticism, but it’s mostly tedious recounting of things Gay likes, or doesn’t, for reasons that remain unclear. She doesn’t engage much with the stories she paraphrases, or remix themes or motifs she identifies in them (when she does, it’s unconvincing—like her elaboration on Kate Zambarro’s “Green Girl”). As it amounts to not much more than a list of things Gay has read or watched, there’s a big “So what” looming over these essays. I would have liked to have seen her make more of an intervention in these essays—again, either making something new out of the works she’s analyzing, or trying to say something new herself.
Originality: Unfortunately the above issue is characteristic of the entire book. To be fair, not every book has to be original. But one hopes it is at least interesting and compelling. I found Bad Feminist to be neither: The points and observations Gay does make herself (rather than assessments of other work) are expected, even outdated. I went in expecting something more than well worn laments about pay gaps, skewed gender ratios, or how Twilight and 50 Shades romanticize abusive relationships. These are all important topics, but they have been thoroughly discussed, and in more depth and detail than Gay ever gets into. Gay's feminism also feels very second wave, and still kind of rudimentary—just a, women should be able to have and do and feel and write the things men should. Great. True! But not very interesting.
I also had some serious objections to some of Gay's arguments and framings in Bad Feminist from a political/social justice perspective. There's more Black respectability politics in her writing than she seems to be aware of, and she borders on the self-righteous in her commentary on reality TV stars and other women who are habitually objectified by the media. Intersectionality is invoked in the beginning of the book, but there's not much in what follows about feminist liberation means for women of color, as opposed to “women” as an undifferentiated category.
Splitting the difference. As a scholarly product in the abstract - quite impressive, in the tradition of and remixing from Foucault, Butler, Haraway,Splitting the difference. As a scholarly product in the abstract - quite impressive, in the tradition of and remixing from Foucault, Butler, Haraway, Wittig, and many other (primarily French) philosophers. But not quite satisfying in the end.
The "pharmaco" bit of Preciado's argument is engagingly and convincingly presented; the "p*rnographic" bit, for all the words expended on it, never quite comes together. I'd say it's hampered by a level of introspection and self-centering that is extremely indulgent - no doubt deliberately so, but nevertheless to the detriment of the argument. Preciado's conclusion is that "gender hacking" - conscious, micromanipulations of the body from without and within to resist gender binaries and produce new possibilities of gender - is "revolution" against the fictions of gender produced and circumscribed by a pharmaceutical regime (bodies disciplined by The Pill, Viagra, synthetic hormones, etc) and globalized p*rnified audio-visual media. But it's ultimately unclear what connection, if any, there is between such "revolution" (creating "open biocode[s]" of gender) and actual benefit to the groups Preciado rightly identifies as most exploited, oppressed, and dehumanized by these regimes (people of color/working classes/trans* and queer people).
Relatedly, Preciado's discussion of these oppressions reduces those who experience them to an undifferentiated mass. When race and class come up - not nearly often enough - she seems to say the right things, for most of the book. But it's all very abstract. The increasingly nagging feeling I had as I read the book that Preciado's "gender revolution" involves more than a little bit of white feminist identification with hegemonic male power and privilege is unfortunately confirmed near the end of the book - she reduces Jimi Hendrix to an organ/sexual potency in a way that disturbingly resembles so many other examples of white women fetishizing Black men. She then dismisses the only Black feminist thinker that (as far as I noticed) she engages with at all in the entire book - expressing annoyance at the "prohibitions" of "dominant feminist politics," including the "prohibitions about destroying the house of the master with the tools of the master." This is a reference to a well-known Audre Lorde quote and essay (though Preciado doesn't bother to even name Lorde).
That would be disturbing enough on its own, especially the identification of Lorde as a representative of the very "dominant feminist politics" that she wrote searingly about being excluded from and harmed by. Preciado's meaning is in part that the "tools of the master" in producing modern fictions of gender - in her case, testosterone - can in fact be used to destroy those same fictions. But she continues to say that she wants to "[fulfill her] sexual and political desire to be the master...without apolog[y]...the way a biomale would." [By "biomale" she seems to mean cisgender man.] Later she restates this desire to "To acquire a certain political immunity of gender, to get roaring drunk on masculinity, to know that it is possible to look like the hegemonic gender.” There's been lots of ink spilled on why white women wanting to be more like men/enjoy the privileges of hegemonic masculinity is anything but gender liberation or revolution, so it was rather disappointing to see that this is where Preciado ends up.
The first, last, and intercalary chapters are all personal memoir centered on Preciado's self-administration of testosterone (turning herself into an "Auto guinea pig), her love and sex life during this time, mostly with French author Virginie Despentes, and her reminiscences about and engagement with the memory of a close friend and fellow author who died a few months into her experiment with testosterone. It's self-indulgent and exhibitionist by design - this works a lot better on an individual level, as an individual account of gender, than as a manifesto for collective gender revolution. These chapters are pretty engaging reading when they avoid getting too abstract (much of it is outright erotica) and they tie in to the more historical/theoretical sections in interesting ways.
A perhaps minor point: Preciado's chronology is partially wrong - she takes as fact Thomas Laqueur's argument about the premodern "one sex body," which Katharine Park and other medieval/early modern scholars have persuasively debunked. It doesn't change much in terms of the validity of Foucault's concepts of biopower and biopolics, or Preciado's concept of pharmacopornopolitics (*sigh*), but it does have some implications for her argument about understandings of the body that it would have been nice to see her explore. Unfortunately Laqueur's argument has quite a bit of traction in this field despite not being supported by the historical record.
I realize this review is a bit opaque, but believe me, the book is even more so. Writing a completely lucid review of the book would require far more words and time than I have the luxury or inclination to spend on this. In any case - if virtuosity were the only measure, I'd give it 5 stars; for not quite being coherent and for extremely individualistic political ends that are ultimately troubling, I'd give it quite a few less. 3 stars seems about right....more
This was deeply uncomfortable to read. Not just because it's basically an extended psychoanalytic therapy session with Alison Bechdel - and thus an exThis was deeply uncomfortable to read. Not just because it's basically an extended psychoanalytic therapy session with Alison Bechdel - and thus an excruciatingly detailed and intimate metanarrative of her life - but also because a lot of it was just way close to home for me. I found myself honestly repulsed by Bechdel's extreme self-consciousness/performance of self, which comes across as indulgent and self-absorbed (it's crystal clear what she means by the recurring motif of the "false self"). At the same time I identify personally with issues similar or identical to much of what she relates about her family and inner life...which is a bit terrifying. The main thought that kept coming to mind as I read the second half of the book was that I really hope I'm not treading this same psychic ground - infantilizing territory in a very real sense - when I'm Bechdel's age :/ (50+). On the third hand, heh, it's clear that Bechdel's dysfunctional family history and her own OCD play a large part in her hangups, and it seems a bit unfair to hold that against her. Bechdel would probably say I'm projecting my aggression against myself on her and the book, and I don't think she'd be wrong in that respect. Long story short, after reading Are You My Mother?, I feel like I sat in on an intense and painful therapy session myself; It's a masterful piece of work, and there's lots of food for thought - it requires at least a second read to get the most out of it - but I can't really say it was at all an enjoyable read.
Less thoughtful review: Oh my GAWD but Bechdel records every last tedious detail of her life. And are her dreams *really* that vivid, so faithfully remembered, so neatly fit into psychoanalytic frameworks? I guess I don't have any trouble believing that she records all of her dreams and pores over every details. The rest, though...0_0...more
Smith's account of the many, many ways state and societal violence have been and continue to be perpetrated against indigenous people (focusing mostlySmith's account of the many, many ways state and societal violence have been and continue to be perpetrated against indigenous people (focusing mostly on the Americas) is a difficult but necessary read. Seriously, all non-indigenous Americans should read this book. Longer thoughts coming.
eta:Conquest starts with the observation that sexual and reproductive violence against Native women are forms of racial and colonial violence, unpacking the various ways in which sexual violence "serves the goals of colonialism," an examination that Smith argues "forces us to reconsider how we define sexual violence, as well as the strategies we employ to eradicate gender violence." In her analysis, environmental racism and exploitation, forced assimilation/cultural genocide, spiritual appropriation, medical discrimination, and colonialism/empire are all connected to sexual and reprodutive violence against Native people.
Examples: - Conquest pushes the definition of sexual violence to include reproductive violence and injustice. White/Western medicine has a long history of nonconsensual sterilization of and experimentation on Native bodies. Native women have been disproportionately exposed to more dangerous or experimental forms of birth control, often without their informed consent. Medical discrimination and systemic, racialized poverty mean that Native women and communities have less access to birth control, abortion, and maternal/family health services. - Smith also explores the impact of environmental racism and exploitation on reproductive and family health in Native communities (“women of color are suffering not only from environmental racism but environmental sexism” - p. 69). The burden of environmental pollution from toxic wastes, weapons testing, workplace exposure, and other sources disproportionately fall on people of color - e.g., reservations and other Native lands are frequent sites of waste dumps, mining for radioactive materials, and nuclear testing. These environmental injustices lead to higher rates of conditions like ovarian cancer, miscarriages and stillbirths, and birth anomalies in Native communities. - The long history of forced assimilation and cultural genocide through the boarding school system (Native children were taken from their communities to be “educated” into conforming to Christian/Western culture) meant Native youth were subjected to rampant abuses, including a high incidence of sexual abuse. The boarding school system also undermined the stability of Native families and communities, introduced patterns of gendered violence into these communities, and worked to displace traditions that provided Native women with positions of leadership with Western patriarchal norms. - Smith connects systemic appropriation of Native religious practices to the idea that Native bodies are inherently “rapable.” Appropriation of Native spiritualities is part of white/Western “taking [from Native people] without asking” that assumes the “needs of the taker are paramount and the needs of others are irrelevant, [mirroring] the rape culture of the dominant society” (126).
Smith shows how both colonizing cultures and mainstream social justice movements rely on historical and cultural narrative that requires Native people to "play dead." That is, we systematically pretend that Native Americans are long gone, absent, or vanishing. Indigenous people are either living relics or imagined symbols of a mythical past, which we can then ignore or appropriate the “memory” of as convenient ("Kate Shanley notes that Native peoples are a permanent “present absence” in the U.S. colonial imagination, an “absence” that reinforces at every turn the conviction that Native peoples are indeed vanishing and that the conquest of Native lands is justified.")
This tendency to treat Native communities as "dead" is evident in modern social justice movements, for example, in how mainstream environmentalism doesn’t center Native communities or even form pro-environment alliances with them, instead allying with groups that often have racist, classist, and anti-immigrant agendas (dedicated to “reducing population growth of all peoples in theory and of people of color in reality” - 78). Alarmist rhetoric about overpopulation is often a thin veil for implicit or overt prejudice against communities of color and a desire to restrict their reproduction, growth, and even movements. At the time of the book's writing, e.g., prominent members of the Sierra Club were also members of the anti-immigrant group FAIR; Smith also documents attempts to pressure the Sierra Club into advocating anti-immigrant positions. Meanwhile, mostly white/non-indigenous environmentalist groups often push for land “protection” policies that are harmful to Native people actually living on/off the land in question.
The major example Smith gives of how mainstream activism expects Native women in particular to “play dead” is the failure of both anti-racists/indigenous activists and advocates against domestic violence to center Native women in their work. Conquest calls on activists in both communities to adopt intersectional and community-based approaches to combating racism and gender violence together.
Approaches to gendered violence that rely heavily on state/police intervention and the prison system only address violence after the fact and have limited use in preventing domestic violence or protecting survivors in general. For Native women, Smith argues, these approaches are actively harmful in a culture where Native women, other women of color, and people of color in general are disproportionately and often unjustly incarcerated, and in a culture where state violence (police brutality, racism and sexism in the prison system, etc) are a major cause of and contributor to gender violence in Native communities.
Instead, Smith calls for domestic violence prevention and survivor support strategies that are based in community accountability and redressing economic injustices that make women of color more vulnerable to abuse and less able to leave abusive homes or partners. This model means creating communities that are educated about domestic violence, intervene in abusive situations, hold abusers accountable, and materially support survivors. The long-term goal of such a model would be to build “communities where violence becomes unthinkable” by fostering real communal consequences for and responses to abuse.
One thing I really appreciated about Smith’s take on community-based responses to violence is that she acknowledges the the serious obstacles that exist to putting it into practice effectively:
Sometimes it is easy to underestimate the amount of intervention that is required before a perpetrator can really change his behavior. Often a perpetrator will subject her/himself to community accountability measures but eventuality will tire of them. If community members are not vigilant about holding the perpetrator accountable _for years_ and instead assume he or she is 'cured,' the perpetrator can turn a community of accountability into a community that enables abuse. (164)
In addition to this, so much of what allows abusers to get away with violence is community investment in preserving the group. Or rather, a particular understanding of group “safety” that often means that the safety of vulnerable members of the group - often women and children - is treated as less of a priority. What Smith argues for is a reversal of this mindset, to one where the wellbeing and safety of women and youth (rather than the protection of abusers) are seen as central to the health of the community. But this requires a pretty radical cultural shift for many communities. For this reason I have a lot of concerns about the effectiveness of community-based approaches in keeping survivors and vulnerable populations safe and keeping abusers to account (of course, the current system isn’t terribly effective, either).
All in all, Conquest is a great book, persuasively and clearly written. Some historians might be skeptical of how Smith works with chronology and geography, jumping back and forth between different periods and places. I think it's very effective at showing the continuities between the genocide and exploitation of indigenous peoples that we think of as being in the past and the present, global realities of state and interpersonal violence against indigenous people. Conquest raises a lot of thought-provoking questions that the mainstream feminist and anti-violence movements still haven’t started to grapple with, but really need to....more
I am torn. I enjoyed the book. Fey is clearly very smart, observant, thoughtful, and has an incisive and unexpected sense of humor. She seems very funI am torn. I enjoyed the book. Fey is clearly very smart, observant, thoughtful, and has an incisive and unexpected sense of humor. She seems very fun and endearingly normal in terms of her anxieties and preoccupations. But it's like _Bossypants_ is two books, one of which is crappy and the other of which is hilarious. Half of this book has the same problems that have made 30 Rock less and less funny with each season (we stopped watching after the live episode this past season? the season before? I can't even remember): racial humor by someone who obviously and quite wrongly thinks of herself as so tolerant and enlightened that she is incapable of writing racist jokes, and obsessive insecurity about Liz Lemon's - I mean Tina Fey's - supposed unattractiveness. I can understand being insecure about one's appearance given the business she's in, but I really don't want to read pages and pages of Tina Fey ragging on her looks. She's at her best when she's writing about her time at SNL, running a show, being a woman in the very sexist worlds of comedy and show business, and the banalities of life as a spouse and a mom (the chapters falling into that last category were probably my favorites). This is much more the focus of the second half of the book, and it's noticeably (at least to me) funnier. more enjoyable, and more thoughtful than the first half....more
Captures the sadness, loss, and dysfunction that a life of shame and repression inflicts, not only on an individual, but on everyone intimately connecCaptures the sadness, loss, and dysfunction that a life of shame and repression inflicts, not only on an individual, but on everyone intimately connected with them. Wrenching and beautiful. I'd give it five stars if not for the fact that Bechdel's attempts to make sense of her father's inner life by superimposing literary narratives on it is occasionally excessive and overindulgent....more
Hillman is a queer intersex woman with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which can lead to ambiguous genitalia and secondary sex characteristics -Hillman is a queer intersex woman with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which can lead to ambiguous genitalia and secondary sex characteristics - but not for Hillman, whose CAH was caught and medicated early on. _Intersex_ is a collection of intimate, evocative essays looking at her own and her family's struggles to come to terms with intersex, and her identity and experiences in intersecting queer, trans, and intersex communities. The most successful essays reflect on the complexities and ambiguities of sex, gender, and sexuality, e.g., exploring her confusion over the relationship between her queer sexuality and more masculine gender expression and her intersex status (over 40% of CAH women are lesbians), and her questions about whether she has the right to call herself intersex or not, given that she appears "normal" and has never been subjected to misguided "corrective" surgery as many people with ambiguous genitalia have been. Hillman frequently discusses her sexual history and experiences in quite explicit terms; in most essays this illuminates some aspect of her personality or identity. There are a few essays that read to me as pure erotica, which isn't really my thing; I found them gratuitous and not all that interesting. For the most part, though, this is a beautifully written, evocative, and thought-provoking collection. Highly recommended....more
Valenti makes a number of good arguments in _The Purity Myth_: that it's dangerous and damaging to teach young women that their morality or lack thereValenti makes a number of good arguments in _The Purity Myth_: that it's dangerous and damaging to teach young women that their morality or lack thereof hinges on whether or not they have sex, rather than whether or not they are kind people living ethical lives; that obsession with sexual purity infantilizes women; that the virgin-whore dichotomy enables the abuse and marginalization of women, and pushes a view of masculinity that is toxic to both women and men. Valenti is right on the mark in calling for an understanding of female sexuality that respects female autonomy and encourages sex-positivity.
However, the book is mostly for the converted. I doubt anyone who doesn't already have serious reservations about the abstinence-only movement would find this book convincing. There's a real need for books and other media that address young women raised in the abstinence movement where they are, with arguments that take their beliefs seriously and come from people who understand those beliefs.
Valenti's tone also veers into the casual and even flippant a bit too often for my tastes. The book at times reads like a long form blog post, which is not surprising given that Valenti is a blogger, but it would have been nice if she had taken some time to polish her prose a bit. Again, I don't think this is particularly conducive to reaching an audience that takes teachings on abstinence so seriously that they're literally a matter of life and death.
ETA: Forgot to mention that the book uses some interesting sources, and the footnotes/bibliography seem like a good place to start to compile a reading list on contemporary issues around female sexuality. I plan to go back through the footnotes to find more stuff to read....more
Argh I had most of a review written and then I lost it! Highlights: This is a bit of a choppy read. Not that a nonfiction book has to be just one thinArgh I had most of a review written and then I lost it! Highlights: This is a bit of a choppy read. Not that a nonfiction book has to be just one thing, but it tries to be a history of trans and intersex people, a history of research on transgender and intersex conditions, a discussion of the current science of gender, a work of advocacy for both trans civil rights and the need for more research into biological causes of gender identity, AND a collection of interviews with trans people. The pieces don't really gel well together. But, each piece is worth reading, particularly the parts that focus on trans and intersex personal and social histories, and the interviews, which are very illuminating and quite touching. These really drive home how marginalized trans people are and how much widespread ignorance about gender variance perpetuates staggering levels of discrimination and violence against the trans community. The more sciency parts often get bogged down with frankly uninteresting technical details and in-depth histories of the "great men" pioneers of gender science and gender reassignment surgery....more