~oOo~

2011-01-31

live-blogging "downton abbey" (episode no. 4)


So here we are at the last live-blog for "Downton Abbey," Season One. You can read the snark (you know you want to!) in full over at ...fly over me, evil angel....

9.16: [Sybil] A: Someone's got something up her sleeve! M: Someone's not going to a charity. [Lady and Maggie Smith] M: This is that scene! A: The voice cracks... [as Maggie Smith rationalizes house geography] H: It's the delivery... M: It's fantastic... A: I could watch that scene over and over for hours. M: She's all about practicalities. A: Well, it's about image, right? Whatever you do is okay so long as society doesn't find out. M: I wonder if Grandma's going to back Mary so much now.

9.18: [Anna and Bates, 'I'm not sure the world is listening.'] A: Good point. [William and Daisy] A: That's...a stunned look. M: I'm surprised people can't read Daisy like a book!
I have to say I'm sort of ... disappointed in the series as a whole, although invite me back for the visual pleasure any time! And the acting is solid-to-stunning throughout the cast. No; my disappointment comes from what they didn't do with the script. At least in this first season. At its heart, "Downton Abbey" seems to be really invested in the Edwardian aristocrac, and portraying the intact stratified class system as ultimately a good thing. People within the story flirt with challenging it, but they're always won over in the end to this way of life: the lord, the estate, the upstairs/downstairs social organization. None of the women seem to see how to break free of the life-paths they've been set. Very few servants are asking if that's the life they want ... and when they do, they're inevitably brought back into the fold.

It's not that I expected this film to be about socialist revolutionaries. But given that there were radicals in England at the time -- often asking very trenchant questions about the "common sense" assumptions concerning class and gender -- it rings a little false to have those social critiques all but absent in the world of DA. Particularly since it's a show that keeps hammering home in the introductions that it's all about "change."

I'll be interested to see what they do with Season 2.

2011-01-30

harpy week: of labor, tears, and joy

This week saw three new posts up at The Pursuit of Harpyness, all of which in some way connected to others whom I blog with and know on a personal level.
  • On Monday, I put up a post about work and identity that drew heavily on the reflections of my friend The Archivist who blogs over at Oh My Sainted Aunt. I asked folks to discuss in comments how their work fits into their identity, and how they feel about that relationship between who they are and what they do. Some really interesting themes emerged related to professionalization, career changes, and unemployment.
  • On Wednesday, thanks to a YouTube video Hanna found on Tumblr, I put up a post about movies and television shows that make us weep. My picks? "The West Wing," Iron Jawed Angels, and A Single Man (even though I haven't actually worked up the courage to see it). There was an overwhelming response in comments from people who shared their own top tear-jerkers, for reasons both happy and sad.
  • And on Friday, I contributed my first "Friday Fun Thread" to the blog with a post about the joys of fan-authored fiction (or "fanfic"), which friend Minerva has hooked Hanna and I back into after a bit of an hiatus by sifting through the burgeoning Sherlock fic out there on the internets and sending us the cream of the crop. Go forth and read the post for lots of linky goodness.
There were some fantastic offerings this week from other bloggers at Harpyness, including a guest post by regular reader Endora about the problem of gender essentialist thinking, a post by Marie Anelle on "martyr mom syndrome," instructions for how to be a bitch on JDate by BeckySharper, and thoughts from foureleven about the questions she most often gets (and has come to dread) as a newlywed. Click on through to enjoy them all!

2011-01-27

booknotes: the sixties

Jenny Diski's slim contribution to the series BIG IDEAS // small books (Macmillan Press) is a historically-minded memoir of The Sixties, that period of social foment between, as she dates it, the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. Between "the rise of popular culture" and "all the open-ended possibilities ... began to narrow" (3). Diski is English, so her Sixties were the British Sixties, kicking off with the Beatles and the fashions of Swinging Sixties London (picture Emma Peel in the Avengers) and ending with the rise of Tory, Thatcher-ite politics. In six brief chapters, she surveys consumer culture, drug culture, sexual liberation, and movements for social change: principally the feminist movement and the free school movement.

I'm not particularly sure what Diski was going for in this book. Granted I read it very quickly in a single sitting one night when I couldn't fall asleep. But still. On the one hand, it attempts to survey cultural trends in an overview sort of fashion, to speak for more than just herself -- she uses "we" throughout to speak of her cohort of youthful enthusiasts. Yet at the same time, Diski's experience is a very personal one. An unhappy adolescent, she was kicked out of school for using ether in her early teens and soon thereafter left her parents' care for good. She was heavily involved in the drug scene in London, checked herself in and out of mental health institutions throughout the 60s and 70s, had a lot of very unhappy sex, was involved in starting an alternative school, went back to rehab ... despite the way her words cue nostalgia and a continued commitement to the values of her youth, the book manages to convey very little sense constructive joy.

Diski seems to have settled on wistful nostalgia lost opportunity -- though opportunity for what exactly remains fairly nebulous -- woven together a rather pessimistic interpretation of these countercultures as ultimately paving the way for the conservative revolution. Rather than interpreting the rise of neoliberal conservatism (Reagan on this side of the pond, Thatcher on that) as a backlash against the chaos of the Sixties, Diski sees it as a natural outgrowth: hard-right concepts of privitization and individualism dovetailing neatly with left-wing desires for decentralization and exploration of the self. "I'd resist the claim that the Sixties generation were responsible for the Tatcher years, as I would resist the notion that the Jewish community in Germany were responsible for the advent of the Nazis," she writes (should her argument automatically lose according to Godwin's law?). "But sometimes I can't help but see how unwittingly we might have been sweeping the path in readiness for the radical Right, preparing, with the best of good intentions, the road to hell for paving" (110).

While as an historian of this period I am inclined to agree that the argument has merit -- the radical Right employed and benefited from the theoretical frameworks developed on the radical Left much more than either side likely wants to admit -- I am unsure what Diski wants us to do with this observation. She implies, though never develops the argument fully, that the desire for democratization, decentralization, diversity, and exploration of the self-in-relation-to-others somehow fits in with the far Right agenda. And that therefore the very foundations of the Sixties counterculture are suspect, tainted.

I'd argue this is a confusion of external appearances with deeper values. It is akin, in my book, to arguing that because the Religious Right has utilized Christian scriptures for power-hungry, poisonous ends, that the Bible is worthless as a spiritual text, and all Christians are somehow in (perhaps unwitting, yet still substantive) collusion with those forces inimical to life. I realize there are a lot of folks -- particularly on the secular left these days -- who do indeed argue the very perspective. Perhaps Diski is one of them, although I know nothing about her personal religious values. I find such wholesale dismissal of complex philosophies and traditions to be disheartening; imaginative "third way" options are often sacrificed as a result.

Which is kind of what I felt when I read Diski's chapter on free schools. She focuses specifically -- aside from recounting her own experience helping to found and run an experimental community school -- on the pedagogical writings of Ivan Illich. Illich is known best for his influential critique of institutional schools, Deschooling Society (1971), which argued that institutional schools -- designed to support the modern corporate and state interests -- are antithetical to authentic learning. Illich argued that a much more human-centered, constructive approach to teaching and learning would be to establish community-based learning centers that would serve as a general clearing house for those with skills willing to teach and those with the desire to learn. As the title of his book indicates, Illich was interested in a whole-sale revisioning of society, as a re-tooling of learning would entail a re-tooling of the rest of the economic and socio-political culture in order to accommodate peoples' freedom as individuals to learn according to their own design. Diski classifies him as a libertarian, which is perhaps fair, but also suggests that he would have found a home in Margaret Thatcher's government, as one of her "theoretical advisors" (110).  While I don't know enough about Illich's overall political views to argue what he would or would not have done if given the chance.  However, as a radical Catholic priest who -- as far as I've been given to understand -- was deeply suspicious of institutions across the board -- it is difficult to see him participating at such a high level in government. Let alone a government that was so heavily invested in maintaining the power of big business, the military, and so forth.

As Diski herself writes, the point was "to dispense completely with structure, to undercut the authority of hierarchy and the hierarchy of authority" (110). This, for some reason, appears to have surprised Diski when she revisited Illich in preparation for writing this book. She is appalled at the idea that no centralized system would be in place to advocate for certain bodies of knowledge, and sees in such a centralized, non-authoritarian vision the spectre of violent anarchy and increasing inequality. Of privatized interests and a voracious economic dominance. In short, Diski is conflating a vision of human liberation from cultural conformity, institutional tyranny, and systems of oppression, with a right-wing political liberatarianism that ignores (of, often, actively supports) the way in which power is used and abused by human beings to marginalize and control the vulnerable. She does not acknowledge the sister-discourse within the educational alternatives movement concerning common responsibility, reciprocity, social justice, and peace.

Which is, in the end, where I feel her analysis of "the Sixties" as a period of cultural and political foment falters. To say that the upheaval of the postwar era lay the foundations for the rise of conservatism in the late 1970s is a valid argument, but her failure to explore fully the way in which left-leaning calls for personal liberation were twinned (in both philosophy and practice) with collective responsibility for the well-being of humanity and the planet as an ecological whole. It is also to ignore the individuals and groups that have continued to advocate this vision, even as the conservative agenda has come do dominate mainstream discourse. Perhaps in a lengthier work Diski could have convinced me, but given that she offered her thesis with such brevity, I found myself still unconvinced.

2011-01-25

how to evaluate our elders: some preliminary thoughts as an historian

Gloria Steinem and two other editors of Ms. Magazine
ca. 1970s
As an historian, I spend a not-inconsiderable amount of time thinking about how we (in the present) evaulate the actions and words of our elders. Whether the person in question is still alive, or whether they have been dead for generations, individual words and actions are inescapably bound by the historic time and place in which they happened. We are creatures of history, not outside of it. Which is not to say that human beings of the past should not be held accountable for the damage they have often -- so very often -- wrought. Acknowledging, for example, that the majority of citizens in the Colonies did not believe women should have the vote, or that slaves were entitled to be counted as citizens (or even, radical idea, freed from bondage) does not preclude us from judging disenfranchisement and slavery as morally wrong. Understanding that a certain belief was simply "common sense" at the time does not exculpate those who accepted that "common sense" understanding from the responsibility of answering for the pain said belief caused others.

But given that, how, exactly, are we to judge the beliefs and actions of the past? By what criteria do we evaluate historically-situated words and deeds?

These questions often come up in my fields of historical interest, since I focus on the history of feminist activism, the history of countercultures, and the history of sexual identities and sexual practice. All of these areas of human activity regularly challenge us to define "right" and "wrong," think about issues of human rights and social justice, and to understand the personal consequences of bigotry and prejudice.

I was thinking about these questions last week because Cara of The Curvature wrote a post over at her Tumblr blog about Gloria Steinem and transphobia. Cara recently picked up a copy Steinem's anthology of writings, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1995) and in her post is specifically responding to an essay on "transsexualism" (originally written in 1977) in which Steinem writes in extremely negative terms about transsexual identity in general and gender confirmation surgery in particular. She portrays trans women as men masquarading falsely as women, and supports policies -- popular at the time -- excluding trans women from "women only" spaces. In her post, Cara called the Steinem out for her bigotry.

When I left a comment querying about the historical context of the original piece and saying that I hoped Steinem had since changed her views on the subject (feminist and even mainstream understanding of trans* issues has altered significantly since 1977 and even 1995), Cara wrote in response:
Of course, 15-16 years have passed since [the anthology], so it is possible that her views have changed since then, and one would hope that they have. But at the same time, I really don’t think that her views changing really count for much? I mean, admittedly as a cis person my thoughts on the matter don’t really count for all that much, either, but. I’d say she not only owes an apology, but a lot of work to address the harm that those views have done to the trans community over the decades, including the harm that the feminist movement has specifically done to trans people, especially trans women. Like, you know, this. Which has resulted in deaths. Or cis feminists keeping trans women out of domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, which has caused deaths. Etc. Clearly, she was not only complicit in that, but an active promoter of it.
I should admit up-front that I haven't read this particular essay of Steinem's in years -- if, indeed, I've read it at all.  As a teenager, I know I owned a copy of Outrageous Acts and read much of its contents. If I did read "Transsexualism" as a sixteen-year-old, I likely would have passively accepted Steinem's characterization of gender confirmation surgery as "mutiliation." It took me into my mid-twenties (helped by lots of reading and some trans-identified friends) for me to revisit my adolescent judgement that surgical body alterations were inherently physically and psychologically damaging. And I'm sure the fact that the 1970s-era feminist writings I read as a teenager (and throughout much of college) did little to challenge my prejudice and encourage me to critically examine my judgmental views. The transphobia within the feminist movement then and now is not okay and absolutely should be called out at every opportunity.

Yet while I agree with the fact that Steinem's past views did, indeed, contribute to a hostile climate for trans* folks that continues to this day, I'm troubled by the idea that someone's ability to change over time into a less bigoted person doesn't "really count for much."  Since I don't know the specifics in this particular case, I won't venture to comment on Steinem's current beliefs concerning trans identities. Perhaps she continues to believe what she wrote in 1977 and it is for precisely this reason that she included the piece in her 1995 anthology. The thing is, this post isn't really about Steinem's transphobia, past or present, anyway. Instead, I am using it as a single example of the kind of dilemma that confronts those of us in social justice activism daily: How to make sense of, and judge, the quality and importance of change over time.

At the time Steinem wrote her 1977 essay, many (likely most) women who identified as feminists were not welcoming of trans women. Trans identity was misunderstood, feared, vilified; trans women were judged and found wanting as women.  Many feminists as well as non-feminists in the mid-twentieth century viewed sex and gender identity as innate, as fixed, and binary (you were either female or male, with no middle ground). Folks who transitioned from their assigned sex/gender identity to the sex/gender identity which they felt comfortable with were understood to be changing their sex, rather than confirmed outwardly the identity that they had had all along. There are still people who think this way, although during the past fifty years many people have challenged the correctness and helpfulness of those ideas -- particularly for the trans* folks whose lives are most directly affected by such rigid and binary modes of thought. We now have new ways of understanding trans identities, and yet Steinem's words from 1977 remain in stasis, on the printed page. So the question becomes: what do we do with them now? In the present?

As an historian and a feminist, here are some of the questions this particular case study (if you will) raises in my mind, in no particular order:
  • What is the responsibility of an author like Steinem to annotate her earlier writings (say, in an anthology such as Outrageous Acts) to distance her present self from her past views?
  • If Steinem did choose to annotate her earlier writings, what sort of annotation would be effective? Should she refuse to republish the piece? Write a critical introduction? Place it in historical context?
  • What would it mean to place the piece in historical context ... do we need to understand it in the context of feminist writing? medical theories? queer activism? mainstream understandings of sex and gender identity? Steinem's other work? What, in other words, are the relevent bodies of literature that contextualize this piece?
  • Does context matter from an ethical standpoint and if so, how?
  • Who is responsible for making that judgment call -- feminists? trans folks? human rights activists? historians?
  • If Steinem's views were not atypical for the time, at the time, what sort of responsibility does she bear today as an individual for holding them? (Clearly she does -- we all have choices -- but what sort of responsibility?) How do we understand a single voice in relation to a larger, collective, discourse?
  • Is it responsible for us, as critics, to take her work and judge it in isolation from her contemporaries?
  • If Steinem does bear individual responsibility, what would it look like for her to own up to that responsibility? (Cara suggests some avenues in her response above; there are likely many other approaches)
  • Does her position as a high-profile feminist activist alter the level of her responsibility for holding even typical views concerning gender identity?
This is just the list I put together on my commute home last week; I'm sure there are other questions to be asked.

This is the sort of challenge that ensures historians (as well as activists) will never be without work to do!

2011-01-24

live-blogging "downton abbey" (episode no. 3)


It's a busy day at work today, folks, and I don't have time for an elaborate introduction / cross-post. Though I will say two things: 1) every line out of Maggie Smith's mouth continues to be pure gold and 2) if Bates the valet and Anna the housemaid fail to have some sexytimes -- or at least implied sexytimes -- by the end of the series, there will be serious dedespondency in our household. You can read our third live-blog of "Downton Abbey" over at ...fly over me, evil angel... and catch up with installments one and two there as well. Spoilers after the jump. You have been warned.

2011-01-23

harpy week: sex, love and politics

Bulfinch's The Age of Fable
This week over at The Pursuit of Harpyness we had some exciting times with SQL queries (they apparently don't mix with feminist blogging very well!), but despite some site down-time still managed to post some awesome things and provoke some good discussions.
  • On Monday, I posted a review of a new anthology of essays by women who had fallen in love with other women after a history of identifying as straight (and living heterosexual lives): Dear John, I Love Jane.
  • On Wednesday, I wrote a post about the attempts on the Religious Right to spin recent gains in LGBT civil and human rights as a loss of rights for Christians. Folks in comments shared personal anecdotes about people who had tried to argue this position. I'm eternally baffled by the way in which conservatives view the democratizing of rights as an infringement on their way of life. Newsflash: not everyone in the world is the same as you, get the fuck over it!
  • On Thursday, I indulged my ranty impulses in response to a recent op-ed column over at The Guardian in which columnist Maura Kelly dredged up the bullshit argument that women who have sex too freely will end up sad and sorry spinsters. (Watch for a Harpy Seminar on this topic next week!)
In addition, Marie Anelle wrote a great post on the negativity some feminists will express toward children and women who parent and PhDork wrote a post on the gendering of infants.

2011-01-21

blog for choice: on the privilege of having real choices

Today is Blog for Choice Day 2011 in which folks around the blogosphere take a moment to write about abortion access and reproductive justice. You can read my previous contributions for 2008 (the radical idea that I am a person) and 2010 (the radical act of trusting others) by clicking through. This year's prompt was: "Given the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress, are you concerned about choice in 2011?"

It's a tricky word: "choice."

I believe that human beings always have choices, and thus we must always make choices. Most of the time, we make those choices, decisions, based on complex internal and external equations of risk vs. benefit, right vs. wrong -- equations we often aren't fully aware of laying out and solving before we say: "this. this is my choice."

Yet we move through the world making choices. Some small (what to wear to work today; what to have for breakfast) and some large (whether to speak up when a colleague bullies you; whether or not to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term).

Philosophically and ethically speaking, I'm a big supporter of the concept of "choice" and the recognition that people are moral agents constantly making moral choices. Even in situations where there seem to be few or no options -- or no good options -- left. As I wrote last year, one of the most radical acts we can choose to perform on this earth is the act of trusting other human beings (even those we do not know and have no control or influence over) to make decisions about what is right (and moral) for them.

Yet the language of "choice" can also be used as a weapon, as a judgment. "Whatever; that's their choice"; "They've made their bed, let them lie in it." With increasing frequency, I hear the language and concept of "choice" being used in ways that punish those with the least agency, the fewest options, and those who are facing the highest cost for exercising their decision-making abilities. I see people being punished for brazenly acting as though they had moral agency, as if they expected the people around them to trust them to make moral choices for themselves and their families.

You see, while everyone has the ability to exercise their freedom of choice, only some people are considered worthy enough to actually exercise that ability without being judged. Rich, white, straight folks to be exact. People with enough material autonomy to act independently (and thus privately), without needing to rely on extensive formal and informal support networks to actually access the resources they need to follow through on the moral decisions they have made.

You need help and support to follow through on your choices? You need some public assistance to raise the child you decided to give birth to? You need your health insurance to cover that abortion you decided was best for your family? You need affordable daycare? A job with flexibility in order to balance the demands of care-giving and career?

Fuck you: Having kids was just a "lifestyle choice" ... why should we as a society help you out?

Fuck you: You "chose" to have sex when you know the only completely reliable method of birth control is abstinence. If you can't afford to pay out of pocket for an abortion? Tough.

As I said, it's a tricky word: "choice."

The pro-choice movement has been advocating for decades now that we recognize women as moral decision-makers when it comes to their reproductive health and choices. This is all well and good, but I think it's important to realize that those who are anti-choice, anti-abortion, anti-reproductive justice are perfectly willing to recognize that women can make choicesAnti-choice politicians and activists just want to make sure that we lack the ability to follow through on those choices in a meaningful way.

So you bet I'm "concerned about choice" this year, as I am every year. I'm concerned at the way our culture and our political system seem unable (or more likely, I suspect, unwilling) to take a long, hard look at the way in which we collectively constrain access to meaningful choices for the majority of the population. Particularly the way we target already-vulnerable populations and strip away their ability to be moral decision-makers who can actually act on their decisions in ways that promote well-being. Children and adolescents, people of color, people living below the poverty line or on severely limited incomes, immigrants, people without health insurance, folks without job security, folks in non-hetero-normative families. As a nation, we should be making it possible for all of these folks to make -- and follow through on -- moral choices for themselves and their families.

Instead, we seem hell-bent on stripping those abilities away even further. And I see the rhetoric of "choice" in some ways aiding and abetting that evisceration. Because, after all, if someone is "free" to "choose" ... then what do they need from us?

It's the responsibility of those of us who are pro-choice on abortion and reproductive health to articulate what people do need to follow through on their choices. Because if we don't, we might have a "choice" ... but not much of a chance to act on it.

2011-01-20

booknotes: the perfect summer

The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm, by Juliet Nicolson (New York: Grove, 2006) reads like a cross between a gossip column and a cache of family letters -- with a dash of historical analysis thrown in here and there. Nicolson has chosen as her subject the Season (May to September) of 1911, the summer before the Titanic would sink and three years before the conflagration that came to be known as The Great War ("the storm" of the title) would engulf Europe. Drawing on memoirs from multiple social strata (a butler's tell-all narratives; a d├ębutante's diaries) Nicolson manages to piece together a remarkably non-hagiographic portrait of a summer, despite the fact that Perfect Summer reads like one long anecdote pieced together out of a series of little gem-like stories.

For example, we learn that Lady Diana Manners, who "came out" into society in the summer of 1911, was not as alarmed as her peers about the prospect of mixed-sex socializing, since she had an older brother and also because "her elder sister Marjorie had held hair-brushing sessions during her first season to which Diana and the young men who admired Marjorie were invited."

Hair-brushing sessions? Does anyone else's mind go to places you have the feeling it should not go with that phrase?

Okay. Just checking.

But we also get stories about the heat-wave and drought that enveloped England during much of the late summer, causing so many heat-related deaths that the newspapers stopped reporting them (they ceased being "news") and crops failed. Industrial workers and schoolchildren went on strike (for better wages and better meals, respectively) and nation-wide people hotly debated the merits of a proposed National Insurance Act. In other words, the "perfect summer" may not have been so perfect after all.

On the one hand, there are certainly more comprehensive scholarly analyses of the era available, as well as texts that focus more specifically on particular aspects (the suffrage movement barely gets a look-in!). Still, the book is a quick read and a nice companion history to Masterpiece Theater's current costume drama "Downton Abbey" -- which opens with the sinking of the Titanic and will (I anticipate) close with the outbreak of the war. And Nicolson has followed the book up with a history of Britain between the wars, The Great Silence (2009) that I'm looking forward to picking up.

2011-01-18

from the neighborhood: shark attack!

Following the recent snow day here in Boston, Hanna and I noticed this snowman along our usual walk to work (outside an apartment building near Audubon Circle for those who know the area). Thought y'all would enjoy the creativity at work here!

Why is the snowman worried?
Snowsharks!

2011-01-17

live-blogging "downton abbey" (episode no. 2)

Lady Mary prepares to be unwise in her flirtations.

Following up last week's live-blog of the first episode of Masterpiece Theater's "Downton Abbey,"
Hanna and I, along with our friend Minerva, gave a repeat performance last night for the second episode (we're halfway through the series, people! can you stand the drama?!)  You can read the whole blog post over at ...fly over me, evil angel....

Obviously Spoiler Warning: Downton Abbey, Episodes One and Two. Return after you've seen it if you don't want any plot points to be given away.

A few tantalizing tidbits ...
9.23: [as Bates and Anna giggle] M: Kiss. Each. Other. Please, honey! Make him drop the cane! I'm sorry; I need some smexy times! A: Yeah, he needs to grab her ass... M: There's a table right behind you!

9.24: [Harriet shows up] H: Go, Harriet! M: Oh, I like you!

9.25: [as Maggie shows up] M: Oh, Maggie -- I don't like you now! M: [as wife defends procedure] Oh, good for you! A: She [Maggie Smith] is so good at that "What? People are contradicting me?"-look.

9.26: [as procedure continues] M: Whoa -- that so ain't right! H&A: Hush!
And predictions for the second half ...
Halfway through the show! Guesses all 'round...

A: So the little redhaired girl is going to go off to be a secretary.

M: Bates and whatsherface need to come to some kind of agreement. Understanding.

A: Yeah.

H: Thomas needs...a shagging or a comeuppance...

M: Thomas is going to blackmail his way out of that house.

A: He's going to use that information to get himself leverage somewhere, somehow.

M: I do think it will backfire.

A: Yeah, he's going to try. I don't know what O'Brien wants...but she's going to be there with him.

M: Her motivation, other than being spiteful, is...

A: If she was acting as if the family was under threat...but she hates everyone!

M: I think she just wants to see people ruined.

A: It's a very malicious sort of...youngest daughter needs to find some sort of voice.

M: She's gettin' close. Middle daughter -- all middle daughter is going to end up a little shafted in this story.

A: Which is sad. But yeah. I want to see Maggie Smith and Harriet Jones...

H: Go at it. Oh, god, yes.

M: ...preferably in that little cottage parlor. Epic.

[General agreement and headnodding]
Head on over to Hanna's blog for the full post.

2011-01-16

harpy week: hurtful words, healing words, and sexy words

Greek Harpy.
650 B.C.
This past week saw another two posts authored for The Pursuit of Harpyness in addition to participation in my first ever "harpy seminar," or conversational group post, in which a number of us contribute thoughts on a given topic. This week's seminar was on the topic of talk therapy and what it's "for." Is it a waste of time and money or a cure like no other? Is it an elitist indulgence or mental health necessity? What's worked or not worked for you? We took a stab at it and then opened the floor for comments from our readers.

On my own, I wrote two language-related posts this week.
  • The first was on the new expurgated edition of Huckleberry Finn that has been making waves in the mainstream media (as well as in the blogosphere) the past couple of weeks. I shared a couple of my favorite commentaries on the topic, a few preliminary thoughts about censorship, racism, and the writing -- or in this case re-writing -- of history, and then asked readers for their thoughts and personal experiences studying Huck Finn in classroom settings.
  • My second post of the week was on sexual fluidity, and our culture's struggle to understand the way in which human sexuality is sometimes dynamic, changing over time in response to our environment (both ecological and social). I meditate on the anxiety this fluidity causes people, and some of the possible causes of that anxiety. I also describe how the cultural narrative of an innate, fixed sexual orientation was a personal stumbling block as I grew into my adult sexual identity. Commenters shared some wonderful (and wonderfully varied) personal stories in the comment thread.
In addition to my work, obviously, other Harpies were equally busy!  SarahMC wrote a post about a recent "driveway moment" with NPR, listening the Delusions of Gender author Cordelia Fine discuss the (junk) science of sex-difference. Marie Anelle shared her struggle to balance her political values of fat acceptence with her personal anxieties over her health and appearance. foureleven revealed that she is a future librarian and discussed some of the common responses she gets when discussing her chosen field; the comments in this thread are particularly interesting as folks swap stories about translating their professional selves in mixed company.

Check out these stories and others over at The Pursuit of Harpyness. Hope you all had a restful weekend (and enjoy your holiday tomorrow, those of you who get an extra day off for MLK day)!

2011-01-13

booknotes: same difference

Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs, by Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers (New York: Basic Books, 2004) is the latest in a series of books I've read in the past year on the science of quantifying and categorizing sex and gender difference. (For links to the other titles, see the end of the post). Written earlier than most of the others I've reviewed so far, Same Difference was also the least satisfying of all the books to date. While some of that may have to do with "subject fatigue" (that is, they're going over ground that is now very familiar to me), I also felt that in their attempt to make a persuasive and readable argument concerning the mis-use of science to support the theory of innate sex and gender difference, they missed some key nuances and distinctions between what certain researchers claim and what the public hears.

For example, they open with a chapter on the work of Carol Gilligan, an extremely well-known and prolific research psychologist who, in the 1970s, was a pioneer in the field of women's psychology. As a bit of historical background, it's important to know that Gilligan began her academic career at a time when the majority of studies involving humans took men and male bodies as the starting point -- the norm. Then, when female bodies failed to conform to predictions (made based on a pool of male research subjects), women would be classified as abnormal. It was also a period during which the influence of American Freudian psychology was only just starting to be challenged by alternative ways of understanding human behavior. Gilligan, in a break from the faculy supervisors with whom she worked as a graduate student, insisted that in order to make claims about women's behavior and psychological health, actual women would need to be studied. Which is what she went on to do. She also argued that those aspects of humanity traditionally thought of as "feminine" (and often pathologized or otherwise denigrated) actually played an important role in society. Caring and empathy, for example, should not be seen as a sign of weakness -- but a quality of human interaction that is as important as making rational judgments or prioritizing actions.  To us this sounds simplistic, but at the time Gilligan offered a psychological framework encouraged people to value behaviors that are disproportionately found among women, or associated with women.

Now, I should make it clear that I have only ever read excerpts of Gilligan's most influential work, In a Different Voice (1982). But I have read her more recent The Birth of Pleasure (2002), and I have certainly read about her research. The distinction Barnett and Rivers fail to make in their assessment of Gilligan is between observations concerning human behavior or socialization and conclusions drawn from that behavior concerning innate preferences or abilities. In The Birth of Pleasure, Gilligan makes value judgments about certain types of behavior, and suggests that women have learned to be better care-takers then men (on average).  However, the whole point of the book -- as I remember it -- is to encourage men to value and learn from women these care-taking, empathic skills. Gilligan is therefore making an argument about socialization (nuture) rather than innate "hard-wiring" (nature). Yes Barnett and Rivers fail to distinguish the popularization of Gilligans work (which used it to support "hard-wiring" arguments) from Gilligan's actual thesis.

Similarly, in the chapter on Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia (1994), the authors blur the boundaries between Pipher's own arguments and the public reaction to the book. Barnett and Rivers suggest that the evidence does not bear out Pipher's "anecdotal" assessment of adolescent girls' crisis in self-confidence. Now, I read the book when it first came out, as an adolescent girl myself - as well as two counter-publications, Ophelia Speaks and Sense of Self, both of which were "holla-back" type responses to Pipher's characterization of young women under seige from a toxic, misogynist culture. (She doesn't explicitly use feminist language in Reviving Ophelia, but her assessment of American culture is an essentially feminist one; I count RO as one of the texts that introduced me to feminist cultural analysis.)

So as a reader who at the time was a member of the very group Pipher was supposedly describing, I think Barnett and Rivers are ignoring or down-playing the key aspect of Pipher's argument: i.e. that it was the toxic culture not the girls' sex or gender identity that precipitated the crisis.  Whereas previous theories about teenage girls' psycho-sexual development (Freud anyone?) might have characterized adolescent girls as problematic or vulnerable because of their inherent nature qua female, Pipher was saying: "Look at the toxic cultural messages these young women are getting about what it means to be female!"

I should be clear here that I certainly didn't see myself in the "Ophelias" Pipher described -- though I knew plenty of friends who were struggling with issues similar to Pipher's troubled patients. And I identified with certain aspects of the young women whom she idenfied as having successfully distanced themselves from many of those toxic messages, and had found a way to thrive.  Once again, Barnett and Rivers are confusing the cultural reception of an author's work -- which really did verge on the hysterical and essentialist ("omg girls can't handle the realities of the adult world! they must be sheltered!") -- from what the author is actually arguing. And what she argued was much less essentialist than it was a critique of misogyny in our culture, which (for obvious reasons) often comes down like a shit-ton of bricks on the backs of young women when they hit puberty and start moving through the world as more obviously female-bodied persons.

In addition to this skewed glossing-to-make-a-point reading of authors I am familiar with, it was frustrating to have sex and gender difference discussed so consistently in heteronormative terms. Assumptions of sex difference permeate our beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity. It is beliefs about the innate and oppositional differences between "men" and "women" that feed the resistence to accepting trans* peoples' self-definitions. Our cultural stereotypes of lesbian women as inherently more masculine and gay men as inherently more feminine derive from assumptions about how straight men and women behave (and the belief that if you're attracted to men, for example, you must therefore resemble the profile of the prototype group that is attracted to men: straight women). Barnett and Rivers fail to address these issues entirely.

Which isn't to say I did not enjoy the roasting Same Difference gave to many authors whose work is patently essentialist at its very core: John Gray (Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), for example, and Deborah Tannen (You Just Don't Understand), both of whom take the idea of "difference" to such an extreme that they assume men and women cannot and never will be able to successfully communicate and have meaningful relationships. And people such as Lionel Tiger and David Blankenhorn who believe that the blending of gender roles (fathers taking a more active role in parenting their children, for example) will damage men and ultimately be the downfall of civilization. 

I also appreciated the fact that each chapter wraps up by talking in concrete terms about how these ideas about difference are influencing the way Americans live their lives, and often causing us real material harm. Often, analysis of scholarship can come across as squabbles between academics. By contrast, Barnett and Rivers take pains to point out that ideas have real-life consequences. For example, if a woman believes that she -- and only she -- is qualified to care for the children she gives birth to, it may cause her to give up a successfull and enjoyable career over the protests of her husband (who is willing to be the primary stay-at-home parent), making them both miserable and causing financial and emotional strain for the entire family. Powerful ideas -- especially when they're supposedly backed up by the cultural authority of "science" -- can constrain peoples' willingness to experiment with non-normative family arrangements that may suit individual couples better than a cookie-cutter approach.

The verdict? Worth skimming if this is an area of interest to you, but for an in-depth analysis of the actual research involved (and why it's shite), I'd recommend any of the other books I've read so far. You can find all the links in my post about Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender.

2011-01-12

frabjous (snow) day!

Thanks to a lovely winter storm, Hanna and I both have the day off from our respective places of work today. I'm working at home on the laptop in my pajamas (reading Juliet Nicholson's The Perfect Summer and Judith Warner's Perfect Madness while we wait for the power to come back on) ... makes me feel so grown-up! And even better, Hanna made us carob chip muffins :). Here are some of her photographs of the Grand Weather Event.

Our power went out for several hours last night;
luckily our stove is gas-powered so we could make
supper anyway! (And enjoy pre-dinner wine.)

Our street, with falling snow taken by Hanna just before the power went
out for about six hours.

2011-01-11

reading the (lesbian) classics: beebo brinker

As explained in the first installment of this series, "reading the (lesbian) classics" is a series of posts in which Danika Ellis of The Lesbrary and I read our way in a very haphazard manner through queer literature. Our method is basically picking out the books that sound like a fun time and taking it from there!) and chat about it, and then post our conversations on the interwebs. For this third installment, we read the lesbian pulp classic Beebo Brinker by Anne Bannon.

Danika and I exchanged our thoughts via email and I've color-coded our contributions in hope that it makes the reading a little easier for y'all.

Also, I don't hide the plot spoilers on my post, so consider yourself warned if you care about that sort of thing. Danika posts our conversation with the plot spoilers obscured (unless you highlight them), so head on over to The Lesbrary if you want the "safe" version.


Anna: As a starter question, I'd be interested to know what you thought about the way Bannon portrays her character's discovery of her same-sex desires (especially the way it is mediated to some extent by her mentor/roommate). It was an interesting contrast to the way the girls in our YA novels came to terms with their sexual orientation -- primarily through their interaction with other girls and their own internal self-reflections.

Danika: You're right, Beebo Brinker does explore a different way of coming to terms with her sexuality. It reminds me of the Well of Loneliness-style inversion theory of lesbianism, because she seems to really see her own (masculine) body as almost dictating her sexuality, and femme lesbians in this book, too, seem to be at least a little bit doubted, or seen as less queer. Beebo seems to discover her sexuality because of her appearance, not so much in relation to other people, which is interesting from a modern perspective, because we've really been trying to separate sexuality from gender identity. These earlier novels don't do that, and it's hard to separate a character's gender identity from their sexuality, especially since they don't even have the vocabulary for it.

The roommate is interesting, too, because it offers another instance of queer community, which has had different portrayals in the joint reviews I've done. Beebo Brinker has a primarily positive portrayal of community, with Beebo's roommate as a mentor and guide, but it may also be because her roommate was a gay man, and therefore wasn't directly competition...?
Anna: I think you're right about Beebo (the character) being written in a way that signals her sexual orientation through her gender identity. That is, she's a tomboy therefore she's going to be gay and like girls sexually. There's a fancy term for that concept of gender and sexual identity that I'm completely blanking on right now, but basically it's a way of mapping sexual orientation onto the binary system of gender so that lesbian women = masculine (male-identified) and gay men = feminine (female-identified). This even turns up in science -- like actual scientific theories -- about brain chemistry. The assumption is that the brains of lesbian women will be organized more like the brains of straight men than they will straight women. That was an assumption that was pretty popular in the mid-twentieth century (and still is today). I imagine Anne Bannon didn't even notice she was making those assumptions when she wrote the character. Whereas to us they're glaringly obviously and seem clunky and stereotypical.

The other thing that's stirred into the mix, although Bannon doesn't come out and use these terms (at least not that I remember) is the butch/femme subculture of the pre-Stonewall era. We still have butch/femme as a subculture today, but it's only part of the much larger queer community. From what I understand, the lesbian subculture of mid-century America was pretty saturated with butch/femme identities and role-playing. Even if you didn't necessarily feel comfortable with either of those roles, you sort of had to pick one in order to situate yourself within the lesbian subculture. I'm probably overgeneralizing ... but as I was reading Beebo I did think of that, and about the way in which Beebo is set up from the beginning as a masculine-identified lesbian, whereas her lovers are all female-identified.

And at least two of them (as you point out) are bi- or fluid (in today's terminology) ... the femme fatale whose name I'm temporarily forgetting and Venus, the film actress. Paula, from what I remember, is pretty confirmed in her interest exclusively in women, and seems interested in both femme women and butch women. So there aren't necessarily any hard and fast rules in Bannon's literary world about butch women only dating femme women, or vice versa. But there does seem to be a fairly firm ... shall we call it a "typology" of lesbians being outlined in the novel? It sort of reads as an identification guide in places. For young lesbians in New York: here are your options!

Placing so much emphasis on Beebo's appearance and on other people reading her as a dyke even before she herself is consciously aware of her same-sex desires is in some ways distinctly at odds with our present-day understanding of sexual orientation -- that it is something which we know from within ourselves, and that we each have the right to self-identify our orientation and gender. On the other hand, the willingness of outsiders to identify Beebo as queer is certainly a phenomenon that's alive and well in our culture -- both among the queer subculture and within the mainstream population. We still very much read gender as a mark of sexual orientation even if we distance ourselves from that sort of conflation of sex and gender. As much as we like to say we're beyond assuming that queer people fit certain stereotypes, we still enjoy (as a culture) crowing "we knew it all along!" when someone who's gender-nonconforming turns out to be queer, and, conversely, expressing our disbelief when someone who is very gender-conforming comes out as a person with same-sex inclinations.

While gay men didn't figure so heavily in the novel, what did you think of the way Jack and his boyfriends were portrayed? Do you see similarities and/or differences between the portrayal of lesbian identity and gay male identity in the novel?

Danika: Yes, it's funny how that theory seems to carry through that seriously flawed theory from the '20s to the '60s. And you're right, we're still seeing traces of that. Gender identity and sexuality continue to be tangled together, and that's with our attempts to separate the two. Beebo Brinker was also still in the early days of lesbian literature/pulp, when you couldn't really have cliches, because there wasn't enough to compare to. In those days, that assumption didn't need to be explained: it seemed like common sense. It definitely doesn't look that way from 2011, though.

I definitely saw some underlying butch/femme dynamics in Beebo Brinker. Again, it just seemed like common sense at that point, I think. Beebo was really aligned more with straight men, so of course she'd want a feminine woman. That was the standard for lesbian pulp, from what I remember. They tended to put two very feminine women on the covers, but the stories inside would be strictly butch/femme. It sort of suggests that they found it difficult to really wrap their heads around same-gender relationships, and would therefore try to slot it into heterosexual frameworks. Of course, butch/femme relationships in reality are rarely mere imitation of heterosexual relationships (they have great potential to challenge and subvert heterosexual norms), but the fact that they didn't seem to be able to imagine a same-sex relationship that wasn't butch/femme seems to suggest that lesbian pulp tried to imitate.

Hmmm, you're right that there were some bi/fluid/pansexual/who-can-really-assign-a-sexuality-to-a-fictional-character characters, but weren't those characters portrayed fairly badly? The femme fatale (I'm blanking, too) is clearly a villain and Venus seems to be trying to get the best of both worlds: to hold onto a husband for security but still go out looking for women. It doesn't seem to be a very positive portrayal of bisexuality.

I think femme/femme relationships are touched on, but I don't think we saw any butch/butch ones. I think in that era butches were more common, but femmes were more desirable in the bar world? So a femme dating a femme would be fine, but according to that ranking system, a butch wouldn't want to be with a butch? Maybe I'm reading in terrible messages that aren't really there at this point.

There's definitely a "The Lesbian Guide to Lesbians in NY" aspect to it. In fact, apparently lesbian pulp pushed that a lot: Greenwich Village was painted as this almost mythical, utopian place for queer people, where you could find your community and a partner and be accepted. It supposedly encouraged a lot of women (like Beebo) to leave their hometown and go on this pilgrimage to Greenwich.

I think it's the that order is reversed in our current conception of gender/sexual identity versus appearance. For Beebo, her appearance determined and shaped her gender and sexual identity, whereas now we think of people are expressing their gender/sexual identity through their appearance. I say gender and sexual identity because there are many ways to be read as lesbian (or gay or queer) through appearance: shaving one side of your head, or having short hair, or wearing rainbow accessories, etc. Gender expression through appearance is pretty obvious.

"As much as we like to say we're beyond assuming that queer people fit certain stereotypes, we still enjoy (as a culture) crowing "we knew it all along!" when someone who's gender-nonconforming turns out to be queer, and, conversely, expressing our disbelief when someone who is very gender-conforming comes out as a person with same-sex inclinations."

I agree completely. I'm not particularly femme (more a T-shirt/hoodie and jeans sort of person), but I'm far from butch, so I get a lot of disbelief when I come out, even to fellow queers. It gets old fast.

Jack as a character is positive: he's sympathetic and seems real. As a representation of gay men, though, I'm not sure. He likes younger men, he takes in vulnerable people (which is kind, but also puts that person in a difficult spot, if he's attracted to them), and he doesn't seem to be able to have a long-term relationship. It's odd, because he's neither the stereotype of the white picket fence gay guy who's been in a relationship for decades and had a kid, etc, or the stereotype of the complete sleeping around gay guy. He falls in love and he takes his relationships seriously, but they're short. And they're usually with younger, vulnerable men. I'm really not sure how I feel about it. What did you think?

Anna: Whew! Lots of good thoughts. I'll try to take them in order.

On the subject of the prevelence of butch/femme dynamics in lesbian pulp specfically, I was thinking as I read about the tension between writing sexually-explicit lesbian stories for a lesbian audience, and writing novels that would get passed the censors ... and which might possibly have a cross-over audience? I have no idea if lesbian-themed novels had any non-lesbian readers (i.e. straight men), the way girl-on-girl porn has today. But that might be one reason why constructing lesbian sex in a basically hetero fashion might be a selling point. And the same thing for the covers which show feminine women, regardless of the narratives inside them.

Reading Beebo has definitely made me interested in learning more about the history of lesbian pulps and the role they had in both queer and straight culture during the mid-twentieth century.

I agree with you that the bisexual (or similar; the labels were different back then) characters were depicted pretty shabbily in the narrative. This seems to me like an ongoing tension within lesbian subculture ... that is, who "counts" as lesbian or whose sexual desires for women are legitimate (and why). We saw this to a lesser extent in the two previous books we've reviewed -- both of which were coming out / coming-of-age narratives dealing with adolescents. Although Beebo is (I think?) a teenager, age eighteen or nineteen, she's on her own with a job and everything -- not a highschoolers, the way the girls in Annie on My Mind and Hello, Groin! are.

I felt like the character of Jack was even more of a charicature than the women in the story -- he's there as Beebo's guide/mentor but his personality sort of melds with Greenwich Village. He's a stereotype: "Gay Man of the 1950s" rather than a fleshed out character, I thought. Almost a metaphor for gay life in New York as it's portrayed in popular culture? Less of a person than a literary trope.

I'm curious what you thought of the sex scenes in Beebo? I was particularly charmed by the first scene between Beebo and Paula, which actually read like it was written by someone who has had and enjoys lesbian sex! It was one of the scenes in which the butch/femme dynamic seems the least present, actually. Thoughts?

Danika: Yes, lesbian pulp was definitely aimed at a straight male audience in much the same way as girl-on-girl porn is now. Most lesbian pulp was written by straight men. And as for censors, lesbian pulp fiction (and gay pulp fiction and other queer pulp fiction) had to, by the end of the book, be read as condemning this behaviour in order to slip past the censors. Hence the usual story of one or both of the lesbian dying or going crazy or straight. I guess Beebo Brinker was a later pulp, and that's how it got away with a fairly happy ending? The Price of Salt was the first pulp with a happy ending (though I didn't find it particularly happy, since I wasn't a big fan of the relationship), and it was written in 1952, so I guess by the time Beebo Brinker was written it was more acceptable. I do find pulp fascinating, not to mention entertaining in a totally over-the-top ridiculous way. I guess I can laugh at it now because I personally never had to deal with it being the main portrayal of lesbians, which would make it less funny.

That's true, there does seem to be a sort of policing of the boundary around the label "lesbian" and who counts as a real lesbian. It reminds me of the inversion theory view of lesbians in Well of Loneliness and others, which looked down on feminine lesbians as not being as legitimate as butch lesbians in a similar way that bisexual/fluid characters don't seem to be seen as legitimate in Beebo Brinker. I wonder if this has shifted in a different way in modern times, with the greater acknowledgement of trans* identities. I wonder if this policing takes place in the opposite way now, in which masculine lesbians may be seen as trans*, and therefore not "real" "legitimate" lesbians? I really am just wondering, because I have no idea if that is true, or if the same standards of femmes = not lesbian enough hold today. Or if maybe the label has gotten even narrower. I'm not sure. I think it probably depends on the community. Well, that was a bit of a tangent.

Beebo is supposed to be a teenager/young adult, yes, but I think we see a very different view of youth in Beebo Brinker than in Annie On My Mind or Hello, Groin. These more recent teen lesbian books seem to view being a young adult as a continuation of childhood. AOMM, especially, seemed to conceptualize the characters as being quite young and childish. In Beebo Brinker, and I think it's probably a reflection of the time period, Beebo is really a young adult. She is an independent adult, though she is new to the situation. Of course, that might also be because she has struck out on her own and is not living with her parent. I'm not sure which direction causation is there.

That does make sense. I can definitely see how Jack is a personification of Greenwich Village.

I would hypothesize that the sex scenes in pulp are probably the easiest way to see whether the book was written by a Real Live Lesbian who has actually had sex with another women rather than a straight man who's just imagining it. The sex scenes did seem quite sweet and without any troublesome power dynamics, from what I can remember. They just seemed to explore each other, which is refreshing. I also found it interesting that they contrasted each other's bodies (I can't remember which part of the book this was, though). Often in scenes of lesbian sex, there are descriptions of how similar the partners are, but in Beebo Brinker, Beebo's body is seen as... not exactly male, but definitely masculine. So their bodies are seen as complementary, not identical. I'm still not sure how I feel about that (inversion theory peeking through again?), but it was sort of refreshing in that scene.

I think I'll leave it to you to wrap it up, if that's okay? I think we've given it a pretty good look. I really like doing these joint reviews with you; they always make me see new things in the books. Thanks again for the great discussion!

Anna: "I would hypothesize that the sex scenes in pulp are probably the easiest way to see whether the book was written by a Real Live Lesbian who has actually had sex with another women rather than a straight man who's just imagining it." 

I like the way you put this, and couldn't agree more! Even in non-pulp fiction, I've read "lesbian" sex scenes in fiction written by people who clearly have no idea how women make love. It's embarrassing to read! And indicative of how little folks in general seen to understand about women's sexuality and women's bodies. I often wonder if gay men have the same frustration when reading about sex between men written by non-queer authors?

Yes, I think we have plenty for a post! Thanks to you, as well, for taking the time during your midwinter break to have this conversation, even though we were both a bit rusty on the details of the book.

2011-01-10

"live-blogging" downton abbey

Hanna and I, along with our friend Minerva, watched the first episode of Masterpiece Theater's "Downton Abbey" last night and live-blogged it for a post that Hanna put up this morning over at ...fly over me, evil angel....

Obviously Spoiler Warning: Downton Abbey, Episode One. Return after you've seen it if you don't want any plot points to be given away.

Because who doesn't want to see Maggie Smith
play Dowager Lady Crawley?

Rather than post the whole thing here, I'm sending the blog traffic her way. But here's a taste of the wit you have in store:
9.20: [Dowager Lady and Lady plotting to save money and estate] M: Granny is manipulative and awesome. A: Yeah, it would be a little frightening to be on her side -- but it would be frightening to be on the side that wasn't her!

9.21: [Daisy mooning over sulky footman] M: Daisy is going to end up in the family way... A: And not quite understand how it happened. H: Does she only have one dress? M: Yeah. She's so going to end up pregnant.

9.22: [lawyer and Lord discussing new heir] Oh god, not Manchester! A: The midlands! "There are worse professions." ".....Yes." M: Oh -- snap!

. . .

9.57: [Duke: "You might tell that footman I've gone up."] H: Well, you're not the game there, honey! M: God, how did women survive this time? H: Vibrators. A: I don't know if vibrators would solve their financial problems...

9.58: [Thomas kneels in front of Duke] Moment of stunned silence. A: This is like slash that gives you the 'no feeling.' M: ...this is still a little hot. This is like Upstairs, Downstairs with a gay twist! H: They're...quite sweet? M: Oh -- not sweet. H: Nope, not sweet. [as threats pass between footman, Duke] M: Oh, wait -- I feel some angry sex coming on...maybe not...maybe...awwww...no slashiness. A: Well, he was being a bit of a bastard. H: Yeah...Maurice without the nice ending. M: Wow... [as footman tries to master his emotions.] H: Yeah...kind of touching.
Read the rest over at ...fly over me, evil angel... and watch for the second installment next Monday.

2011-01-09

harpy week: introductions, parenting, and politics

This past week kicked off my tenure as a regular blogger at The Pursuit of Harpyness. I admit to some measure of anxiety going in ("will they like me?" "will my blog posts make sense and be interesting?") and want to extend a heartfelt thanks to my fellow bloggers and the readers/commenters who made the experience a positive and truly energizing one. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what next week brings!

So as not to leave all you lovely folks who follow my personal blog in the dust, I plan to provide an (ideally) weekly round-up of the posts I write over at Harpyness, as well as some highlights from fellow contributors. Look for the post to go up on Sundays.

And as a reminder, I have replaced the Sunday Smut links list with a tumblr blog that I post to all week long. The ten most recent posts from that blog can be found here at the feminist librarian at the dedicated feminist librarian reads page. Folks who prefer to get those links and posts directly through their blog reader of choice, you can pick up the RSS feed directly at the feminist librarian reads (feministlibrarian.tumblr.com).

Without further ado, here's the week at Harpyness.
  • On Monday, I put up an introductory post in which I interviewed myself about my background in blogging and my reasons for applying to be a blogger at Harpyness. Folks were so warm and welcoming, curious about my history work and eager to see more book reviews posted to the blog. I'm definitely going to take my cues from them moving forward as I pick and choose from my ever-expanding store of blog post seeds.
  • On Wednesday, I offered the first in what I hope will be a series of posts on reasons why the 1970s deserve a second (and more positive) look than the mainstream generally affords them. This post was a quasi-book review of a children's story called Baby X about a child whose parents raised hir in a gender-neutral way. Commenters drew connections between this story and a real-life family in Sweden who are currently trying to raise their child Pop without indicating the child's sex or gender.
  • Friday, I delved into the alternate world of fundamentalist history, reviewing historian Jill Lepore's recent account of how the Tea Party utilizes the history of the American Revolution in aid of its political agenda (The Whites of Their Eyes) and sharing historian Sean Wilentz's research into Cold- War-era conservatism's use of history and how it has influenced present-day pundits such as Glenn Beck.
In addition to my posts, there were other great submissions by newbies foureleven and Marie Anelle.
  • Marie wrote about the frustration of having relatives who give her children toys that reinforce stereotypical gender roles (in addition to crapping fake poop and looking like something out of a bad Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie) and also posted a much-trafficked post on the social policing of, and judgment heaped upon, women who do not breastfeed ... and those who do.
  • foureleven wrote a fascinating post about how one of her friends stopped speaking to her when ... foureleven (gasp!) dared to travel without her husband. Discussion in comments revolved around the difference between choosing to travel in ways that bring the most happiness to you and your partner, or which are most practical given your economic and other obligations (vacation time, business travel, etc.) .... and feeling compelled to always travel together because a married woman alone is on some level viewed as a shameless hussy. File this one under, "and you thought feminism was dead!"
Looking forward to an equally stimulating week two and hope that some of you will join us there.