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Posts Tagged ‘sexism’

Dear Rita,

Many years ago I read your book Rubyfruit Jungle with great pleasure. It’s not every writer that can make a lesbian Bildungsroman a light-hearted and fun read. Also, if you had never written anything except the title of your first book of poetry, you would have earned my respect, because The Hand that Cradles the Rock is an awesome title for a book of feminist poems.

True, I haven’t followed your later books, largely because most of them were co-authored by your cat, and I am allergic to books which feature animals as either authors or protagonists (or both). So whenever I saw “Murder, She Meowed” or “Claws and Effect” at the library I did nothing except wish you and Sneaky Pie well and move on.

All that changed the other day. I went to the library to pick up R. Crumb’s bizarre rendition of Genesis, which I had put on hold, and happened to see one of your books: The Hounds and the Fury. A quick glance told me it was a murder mystery involving foxhounds and foxhunting, which is exactly the sort of book I always think I’ll like, so I got it.

Well.

Ms. Brown, as someone who has written (according to Wikipedia), some 38 full-length novels, I would have assumed that you had mastered that whole “show, don’t tell thing”. I seem to have been wrong. Not only does this book begin with a detailed description of each character – and why are there so many of them, anyway? – including the foxhounds, the horses, and a variety of wildlife – but peppered through the book are explainy explainy boring statements like this:

Freddie wanted to be like Sister, but she was too concerned with her effect on others. Beautiful as she was, this made her vulnerable. She needed praise to feel feminine, to feel good. Sister woke up in he morning feeling good.

How ’bout something like this instead?

Freddie turned to Jason. “Oh Doctor,” she said, “tell me more about your work.”

Jason smiled down at Freddie, making her heart race with anticipation. Funny, she didn’t even like him much, but his smile made her feel warm. “Well, Freddie, how much do you know about medicine?”

“Oh, not much,” said Freddie, a smile blazing across her perfect face. “I mean, my father was a doctor – but I never took much interest.” Freddie kept her eyes locked on the doctor’s, and her two years of pre-med to herself.

I wrote that last bit, by the way. Yes, it’s horribly cliched and stupid, but at least it gets across the idea that “Freddie is insecure and gets male attention by belittling herself” without a boring descriptive paragraph.

Even when you do actually show a character doing something, you immediately follow up by telling us what that shows about the character. Like this:

“Are you alright?”
“Fine. Tired. […] Sam was in the hospital.” He held back he small detail that Sam had been shot. He was tired and didn’t feel like indulging in speculation with people who weren’t close.

Yes, thank you for pointing out the Gray didn’t tell Iffy that Sam was in the hospital. I would never, ever have noticed that in a million years if you hadn’t pointed it out. No, actually I would have, and I would have thought “Huh, that’s odd. Maybe Gray doesn’t trust Iffy. Maybe he suspects Iffy. Hmm…” and it may have added a modicum of interest to the plot.

There are a lot of other unlikeable things about this book – the constant defense of riches and privilege, the ham-handed and unrealistic race relations, the way you keep sticking references to saints’ days in the middle of things, the fact that you not only anthropomorphized all the animals but made them capable of conversing with each other. (OK, if they could talk, I can see how foxes and dogs would communicate, being closely related species, but why the fuck would an owl be able to talk to a horse? They’re wildly different animals with very different lifeways – horses are domesticated pack mammals, and owls are pair-bonding predatory birds – not to mention cognitive abilities. Both horses and owls are pretty dumb, true, but dumb in different ways: prey dumb and predator dumb, bird dumb and mammal dumb, big dumb and small dumb.)

Also the gender essentialism is pretty disturbing, considering your involvement in the feminist movement. I’m talking about statements like this:

“Once a man takes a position publicly, he rarely backs down or seeks a comprimise. It’s a particular failing of the gender…with great effort, especially from friends, most women can be brought around to seek a comprimise.”

Or like this:

Sybil appreciated Shaker’s thoughtfulness. Her marriage, a disaster, had left her a single mother. She liked her sons to be around real men, and Shaker was about as real as it got.

Never mind that feminists have been trying since the seventies to deconstruct the stifling confines of gender roles, to free us all from the idea that there are sets of behaviours and actions that you must adopt if you want to be a “real man” or a “real woman”. You want your gameskeeper character to be a Real Man, so you make Pathetic Single Mom use him to heteronormatize her sons.

(To be clear, if these two characters – Sister and Sybil, respectively – had said/thought these things as a demonstration of their subtle sexism and hidebound gender essentialism, that would have been fine. If a non-feminist writer had written that, it would have merited an eye-roll or two. But coming from the mouths/brains of the two most sympathetic/lionized characters in a book by an ostensibly feminist writer it makes me think, “What the fuck?”)

Speaking of characters, why, again, are there so many of them? By page 200 I was still flipping back to the list at the beginning to check who Betty was again, and what her relationship to Crawford was. And you do realize that the three private school girls could have been rolled into one? That what they’re there for – to show that Sister is a hip old lady who loves young people – could have been distilled down to a couple of sentences in the middle of the hunt.

But I digress. I read all sorts of awful books, and I could have forgiven all this – it still might have been an enjoyalble read – if it hadn’t been for the egregious Mary Sue that you put at the centre of your book.

I’m sure you intended Sister (Jane Arnold) to be an earthy, fierce, inspiring older woman, full of life and vigour and still sexy in her seventies. You certainly make a point of telling us how fantastic she is on every other page. Sister is perfect. Sister can do no wrong. Sister has a primeval instinct for horses and hounds. She knows everything and can both turn a young man’s head AND beat him up.

Unfortunately, as you have written her, Sister is unbelievable and annoying. I’d like to see her actually interacting with someone without them flattering her. I’d like to see her make a mistake or have a weakness or do something to hurt someone. Because then she’d seem like a human being instead of a slightly older and heterosexual embodiment of Rita Mae Brown’s superego.

I have two possible theories for how this horrible excuse for a book came to be:

1)You have complete and utter contempt for your audience. I’m guessing your publisher’s demographic research has revealed your audience to be privileged but unintelligent women aged 50-75, so you tailored your book perfectly to them, being careful to explain everything clearly so they wouldn’t miss out.
2)You have lost your touch and now write self-absorbed bilge.

I lean towards 2) but the facts could support either case. By the way, the denouement comes totally out of nowhere and there really are NO clues (other than Iffy’s hair not falling out) pointing to who the murderer ends up being. Lazy plotting.

On the plus side, you do say lots of nice things about hounds, which I appreciated, being the owner of two Beagle/Bassets. If my dog Madeline could read I’m sure she would have enjoyed it.

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In this episode:

– I was chatting with this nice older lady who was there with an extremely ancient German Short-Haired Pointer and a middle-aged Labradoodle.
– I was thinking, are there people like that? And am I one of them?
– Happy Valentine’s Day! If you’re single, I hope you’re sticking it to the man and having a good time anyway.
– I will even send it in the MAIL. Maybe in an envelope.
– I should warn you that I haven’t actually done any research about this.
– Thomas Jefferson: Rapist.
– Is my life perfect? No, but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy.
– I guess happiness depends on that tricky combination between your capacity for contentment and the lot one finds oneself in.

45

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After reading about George Sodini (the man who shot up a gym full of women because he couldn’t get a date) and his involvement with various”Pick-Up Artist” gurus, I decided to repost my reaction to my one encounter with someone who plays The Game.

The Game, if you don’t know what it is, is a collection of creepy pseudo-scientific “techniques” – popular with so-called “pick-up artists” – that are supposed to magically make hot young women want to sleep with angry middle-aged loners. They range from the innocuous “Approach every woman you meet and ask for her phone number” – can’t hurt, right? – to the obviously misogynist like “negging” (giving a backhanded compliment that’s really an insult to knock down her self-esteem and throw her off guard – “Wow, that dress is really flattering. It’s great that you’re so good at finding clothes that minimize your butt”) and the downright creepy and technically illegal – “Put your hand on her thigh even if you’ve just met her and she tells you to stop”.

It’s creepy and sexist and just really sad, in my opinion. Anyway. Around a year ago I was in a bar with another girl having a meeting about something business-related. We ran into a guy who we both know slightly. He invited himself and his friend to sit with us, took control of and derailed our conversation, tried some extremely amateur mentalism on both of us (failing miserably in my case at least), spouted a lot of “battle of the sexes” nonsense and generally was a complete douchebag. After I heard more about “TEH GAME!!!1!!!!!!111!!!1” (Editor’s note: I’m going to write it that way from now on. Just try and stop me) I realized that he was one of these pick-up artist types and, for whatever reason, had decided to practice on us. Even though I’m married and the other girl has a boyfriend. Whatever.

And so I wrote this post.

To the men who hate women

You know who you are. You’re the guys who post on Craigslist about how North American women want too much and don’t know how to please a man. You’re the batshit insane dude who comments on Globe and Mail articles about how rape victims deserved what they got. You’re the guy who’s lonely and thinks all women are against him because they don’t respond to your pick-up lines.

You’re the guy that thinks men and women are locked into this never-ending manipulative game, where she’s trying to “tame” you and make you into a non-man, so you have to keep her at a distance to protect yourself. You think that approaching a woman in a bar and saying, “I find you extremely desirable” is a reasonable way to begin a relationship. Let me tell you something:

Nobody, but NOBODY, in the entire world is actually playing the game you think they are. I do not know a single woman, married, single, or promiscuous, who is looking to take a man down and make him into a pussy. Women want the same things as everyone else – friendship, love, sex, a chance at a connection.

Also, when you try a creepy line on a woman and she turns you down, it isn’t necessarily because she’s a cold-hearted bitch. First of all, any woman who’s ever spent time alone in a bar knows how uncomfortable and vulnerable it feels. Your instinct is to keep strange men away, not engage with them. Second, there are lots of reasons why she might not be interested that have nothing to do with you. She might be in a relationship already. She might be a lesbian. She might be a Mormon fundamentalist just escaped from a plural marriage. She might be an amputee fetishist and you still have both legs. Hell, she might have eaten some bad nachos and feel like throwing up. It’s not all about you.

Moving on, think about it how relationships actually form. How did everyone you know who’s in a relationship get into it? They got to know each other somehow in their normal life. They worked together. They were in a class together. They were both fans of the same band. They were hypnotized together at a mentalist show. He rear-ended her car and they clicked. She sold him a motorcycle. They both commented on Pharyngula. Did your dad pick your mother up in bar? I bet he didn’t.

All I’m saying is this: Women are people, not arrogant robots. Treat us like we have feelings and needs, think about things from our perspective every now and then, and step back from the adversarial battle-of-the-sexes bullshit. And don’t be a douche. You’ll be a happier man.

Note: There’s some excellent commentary on Sodini and the pick-up artists here and here.

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No, not ME.  This podcast is about those I think need to be saved from THEMselves.  Including:
– the SpokesDouche in the Douchemobile
– Lars Larsen, minor American conservative pundit
– A very sad-looking man in a car at Bloor and Bathurst

…Plus me musing about rival goods and diversity.

Link.

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Perhaps because I am a raving narcissist and a naturally judgemental person, I am very conscious of how I appear to others.  Not to my friends and acquaintances, particularly – to random strangers.  I had two odd experiences related to this yesterday:
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My birthday is in the beginning of September.  As a matter of fact, I was born on Labour Day.  So my birthday has always fallen somewhere between one and four days before the first day of school.  

I’ve been out of school for – what – four or five years now, but my work is still closely tied to the school year.  The music season is September to June, you know, and lots of my students take the summer off.  So my life still follows that rhythm, and I’ve gotten into the habit of, on my birthday, reflecting on the past year and making plans for the new one.  

They’re my own new year’s resolutions.  And last year, this is what I resolved:

Get serious.  Stop fucking around.  Do some real work.  

And you know, that’s what I did.  I got serious and worked really bloody hard.  I practiced three hours a day and quit drinking for two months – and I won a major competition.  In the process I broke through to a whole new technical level and found my ideal repertoire.  Also, the band got orders of magnitude better, released a CD, and started to get some recognition.  

My resolution this year:

Get a clue.  

Maybe I should go to a neurologist and find out what part of my brain is missing, because there has to be something.  I simply do not get this world.  I do not understand what people really mean when they say things – I take things at face value, even with known manipulators and liers.  I do not understand how to get people to do things that I need them to do, other than just ask.  And that doesn’t seem to be working. 

Now, I can stay at home and practice until I drop – hey, did you know I can sing a trill now?  I figured it out!  – but unless I figure out how to navigate this shark-filled lagoon called the “music business” I might as well not bother.  Seriously.  For my solo stuff, I need an agent and some actual operatic experience.  (At least I have new headshots now.)  For the band, we need a record label, booker, manager, distributor, and financial support.   Because we’re that good.  No, seriously, we are.  If you don’t believe me, go to the website and listen and judge for yourself.  We could be huge.  But how do you do it?  How do you even start doing it?

So that’s my resolution.  Figure it out and learn how to read people.  Maybe I should read some books about psychology or something.

Speaking of “psychology or something”, do you remember the lame cold reading I got a while ago?  The white cube, the horse, the dahlias?  I found out that this is part of a practice known as “The Game”.  I won’t go into the details because it makes me nauseous to think about it for too long, but it’s basically a way for insecure men to feel like they have control over their relationships with women.  You use little mentalist tricks and control the frame of the interactions, and then you get to feel like a big man.  Anyway.  I actually do vaguely remember reading about this in Maxim about twelve years ago, but it never occured to me that I was getting the treatment myself.  I got fully that the guy was a douche, and his repeated assertion that men and women were locked in some bizarre headgame should have given his strategy away, but did I get it?  No.  I even tried to give him some advice – basically, “don’t be a douche” – but I’m sure he thought it was all part of “The Game” and ignored it altogether.  

Oh, and I gave the same cold reading to a friend of mine (she told me about “The Game” afterwards) and she said EXACTLY THE SAME THING I DID about horses.  That they all have brown eyes and are dumb and scary.  Take that, insecure dudes with poor mentalism skills!

Hey, another resolution: Stop listening to douchebags.  Canadian politeness be damned!

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You know who you are. You’re the guys who post on Craigslist about how North American women want too much and don’t know how to please a man. You’re the batshit insane dude who comments on Globe and Mail articles about how rape victims deserved what they got. You’re the guy who’s lonely and thinks all women are against him because they don’t respond to your pick-up lines.

You’re the guy that thinks men and women are locked into this never-ending manipulative game, where she’s trying to “tame” you and make you into a non-man, so you have to keep her at a distance to protect yourself. You think that approaching a woman in a bar and saying, “I find you extremely desirable” is a reasonable way to begin a relationship. Let me tell you something:

Nobody, but NOBODY, in the entire world is actually playing the game you think they are. I do not know a single woman, married, single, or promiscuous, who is looking to take a man down and make him into a pussy. Women want the same things as everyone else – friendship, love, sex, a chance at a connection.

Also, when you try a creepy line on a woman and she turns you down, it isn’t necessarily because she’s a cold-hearted bitch. First of all, any woman who’s ever spent time alone in a bar knows how uncomfortable and vulnerable it feels. Your instinct is to keep strange men away, not engage with them. Second, there are lots of reasons why she might not be interested that have nothing to do with you. She might be in a relationship already. She might be a lesbian. She might be a Mormon fundamentalist just escaped from a plural marriage. She might be an amputee fetishist and you still have both legs. Hell, she might have eaten some bad nachos and feel like throwing up. It’s not all about you.

Moving on, think about it how relationships actually form. How did everyone you know who’s in a relationship get into it? They got to know each other somehow in their normal life. They worked together. They were in a class together. They were both fans of the same band. They were hypnotized together at a mentalist show. He rear-ended her car and they clicked. She sold him a motorcycle. They both commented on Pharyngula. Did your dad pick your mother up in bar? I bet he didn’t.

All I’m saying is this: Women are people, not arrogant robots. Treat us like we have feelings and needs, think about things from our perspective every now and then, and step back from the adversarial battle-of-the-sexes bullshit. And don’t be a douche. You’ll be a happier man.

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