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Weekly Round Up: Interwebs Reading List

5 Sep

This week I read some spectacular articles on the interwebs and so I’m summing up my favs for you. If you have free time, read these. If you have no free time, make some– this business is important!

1. The Walter White Sliding Scale of Sympathetic Villainy and the Tony Soprano Litmus Test for Morally Dubious Main Characters

What: A no-frills, two question test to discover whether or not you need to examine your gender bullshit.

Why: Affirmation that what I’ve been saying about Cersei Lannister has been right all along (refresher: public reception to her character is colored by her gender).

Best Quote: “If you find yourself unable to sympathize with or relate to the humanity of a female character despite her wrongdoing and she’s not making crystal meth, you need to examine your gender bullshit.”

2. All LinkedIn With Nowhere to Go

What: Self-marketing truisms articulated (and then deconstructed) by the high-minded folks at the Baffler.

Why: Do you really need an excuse to read The Baffler? Fine. Because sometimes it feels nice to read an article written above an 8th grade reading level. Also because Anne Friedman invented the word preachments.

Best Quote: “To understand the appeal of the site, it’s necessary to reach back to the beginnings of the modern American gospel of success. The roots of the LinkedIn vision of prosperity-through-connectivity lie in the circular preachments of the positive-thinking industry, a singularly American gloss on the sunny doctrine of achieving personal success through inoffensive sociability.”

3. The Intern Ceiling

What: A straight up take down of Lean In and start up/non profit vagueries.

Why: Because Facebook feminism is a thing, and theorizing feminists need to start paying attention to it. Also, please note the hopefully-intentional-play-on-the-company-name in the quote below.

Best Quote: “The Lean In foundation, a nonprofit, is leaning on and exploiting these potential interns, ignoring the fact that, historically, “women’s work” has rarely been paid. . . . But errand running is better than ironing, right?”

4. “Star Trek Into Darkness”: Too Many D*cks on the Dance Floor

What: A neat analysis of gender representation in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Why: The Star Trek writer’s recent screw up led me on a breadcrumb trail to this articulate article written in May about why sexism is so. darn. irritating. Plus, comes complete with an exciting techno video. What’s not to love?

Best Quote: “I actually understand a lack of interest in adding women to the core crew of the Enterprise. Those roles are already filled: by Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest. But when it comes to side characters and antagonists, almost every single one is male, for no discernible reason. At one point, we see one of the main villains in the captain’s chair of a ship that seems to be crewed entirely by men. Earlier, Kirk, Spock and Uhura are confronted by a platoon of Klingons—all apparently male as well. Are we expected to believe that a mysterious plague has wiped out 75% of the women in the galaxy? Throw me a bone, here.”

BONUS: Extra Googling after the article leads you to this PR gem of a slip up: Jon Stewart Interviews J.J Abrams

Curious about the Ariel Castro Case? Read Room by Emma Donoghue

4 Sep

This morning both NPR and the NYT announced that Ariel Castro, convicted kidnapper, murderer, and rapist, hanged himself in prison.

With Castro in the news, I found myself thinking of the haunting novel, Room, by Emma Donoghue. The book details the capture, imprisonment, and escape of a young woman–and here’s the twist– narrated from the perspective of her five year old son who is fathered by her rapist and born in imprisonment.

Room is eerily like the Castro case even though the novel was written in 2012, before the women Castro imprisoned were discovered. Unfortunately, kidnapping and imprisonment cases are all too common. So common, in fact, that Donoghue was able to piece together this fictionalized account by researching statements and files about previous kidnapping victims, most notably the Australian Fritzl case. That this tragedy happened again only makes the novel more relevant.

Room is a gruesome and realistic account of the conditions of life imprisonment, Without a reliable food source, “Ma” has to scrimp and save everything her captor, Old Nick, brings to make nutritious meals for her son. She asks for “Sunday gifts” of pens or paper to do arts and crafts with Jack, trying to keep the five year old entertained and stimulated in the tiny room, Without proper dental care, Ma’s teeth are all mush, her arms wasted from years of atrophy.

In her six years of imprisonment, Ma has attempted escape several times. However, she begins to sense that she no longer has any time to wait. Her captor has lost his job, has trouble paying the electricity bills, and has started to complain about the cost of feeding her and her son. Ma knows that there is nothing to stop Old Nick from being evicted and leaving his two dependents in the room under the shed to starve or freeze to death.

Ma’s description of Old Nick’s financial instability mirrors that of Castro. Castro lost his job as a bus driver in 2012 and his home was under foreclosure for unpaid real estate taxes at the time of his arrest. Like Ma, perhaps the decision by Castro’s victims to attempt escape was partially determined because of the financial crisis.

While Donoghue’s decision to write from the perspective of Jack seems to have dominated her understanding of the novel’s function (as more of a linguistic and psychological character study challenge), readers remain captivated by the character of Ma, who is both deeply depressed and deeply determined to care for her son.

Readers are confronted by Ma’s limitations as a mother, a woman, and a survivor. The novel forces readers to accept the brutality of public judgement on mothers, even ones who have suffered through untenable circumstances. Ma’s character is what sticks with readers after the book, challenging them to examine society’s role in her suffering and their own beliefs about “perfect motherhood.”

Title: Room

Author: Emma Donoghue

Also Wrote: Lots o’ Awesome Lesbian Books (some of which are historical, none of which are YA)

Kind of Like: A Child Called It

Verdict: Four Stars

Read this if: You’re looking for a quick read that narrates from the perspective of a kidnapping victim


Tanning and Standards for Female Beauty

29 May

Rachael Levy’s recent post in Slate, “Why Do Young White Women Risk Cancer to Be Tan,” hits on an issue that’s always puzzled and/or fascinated me about American culture. In part, it’s that being tan is about changing your skin color, even if the trend isn’t explicitly connected to race. And changing your skin color is a controversial topic: take Michael Jackson, the skin-dying products marketed in India, or even the lady-parts whitener that caused such a stir last month.

Yet tanning hasn’t received quite the same outcry that skin whitening has, and Indian skin whitening companies often compare their products (and the people who buy them) to Americans obsessed with tanning. Perhaps tanning is less controversial in terms of race because white people see wanting to be a brown as a compliment, as though this doesn’t completely disregard the historical and institutionalized problems people of color have to face every day.

Of course, skin whitening products are used for slightly different reasons in India, ones more closely connected to British imperialism, class structures, and race. Still, conversations about American tanning have carefully avoided discussions about race or wealth to focus entirely on “standards of beauty” for women.

I have a theory that stems from my obsession with nineteenth century novels that has more to do with wealth than race but still makes tanning a sociopolitical issue. Are you interested? It used to be that paler women were considered more attractive, thus the famous poems extolling a woman’s white skin and milky complexion. This explains the use of parasols in period novels and Downton Abby— nineteenth century women were protecting their complexions from the sun.

My theory about this phenominon is that paleness was a sign of health and wealth. And no, I don’t mean that women in the 1800s were more concerned with skin cancer than modern women. If you were wealthy, you could afford to stay inside instead of working in the fields all day– making the tan that comes from laboring in the sun all day a sign of the working class. Moreover, hard labor (and being poor) often resulted in health problems and an early death. Weight and complexion were two ways to determine how wealthy and healthy a woman was.

However, our standards of weight changed over time. Rather than shapely women being considered ideal (they could afford food and had better chances of not dying during childbirth), we now value skinny women. Gilbert and Gubar and Susan Bordo argue that this is part of our culture’s making womanhood an illness, and keeping women sick and childlike. This may be true. But (I think, at least) it also has to do with economics– wealthy people have access to the most healthy food: fruits and veggies are way more expensive than junk food.

Could our current tanning obsession have similar roots? In our mostly sedentary culture, having the leisure or privilege to be outside in the sun could be considered a sign of wealth. A tan shows someone who’s outside a lot, and probably active and fit. Maybe in the modern world, a good tan is a sign of wealth and health?

And yet, as so often happens, rather than actually being healthy by spending more time near nature, women in America are pressured to buy unhealthy products and services to make themselves look more healthy (the irony!). Though, I guess that supports my theory: wealthy people can afford unlimited tanning products, reinforcing the idea that being tan is just another status symbol for American women.

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