“I guess you go too far when pianos try to be guitars” — it’s a classic Tori Amos quote, and far be it from me to decipher any Tori Amos lyrics (oh don’t get me wrong; I love me some Tori.) but I find this quote to be particularly interesting and evocative. I looked up her own comments on the song, which added an interesting dimension to the lyric:

The line, I guess you go too far/when pianos try to be guitars is just about never being enough. I felt that with my instrument sometimes, wanting to be Jimmy Page. You can only be you. A lot of times it’s never enough for people.”

And I started thinking about gender. Now there’s nothing inherently gendered about playing guitar or piano: Joni Mitchell, Joan Jett, and Ani DiFranco all rock(ed) the guitar scene. Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, and Billy Joel are piano men. Nevertheless, I think these instruments get gendered. For some reason I cannot fathom, all the indie rocker guys singing with intentionally rough/scratchy/stylized voices are  don’t usually get dismissed as trying to be Dylan or a 60’s music throwback (or if they are, it’s considered a positive thing), and yet, you can’t be a woman with a piano without the Tori Amos/Sarah McLaughlin/your music is so 90’s comparison. I realize that there are exceptions to this (Regina Spektor seems to be doing pretty well for herself, thank god!), and so I’m going to full-out admit that I understand that there’s some generalizing involved. But that’s not the point…

Vienna Teng's <i>Inland Territory</i> is an intimate and sophisticated album.

Vienna Teng's Inland Territory is an intimate and sophisticated album.

Now, I love me some guys with guitars, but I also love some women with pianos. So I’m going to talk about two women with pianos who deserve your respect and your ears: Vienna Teng and Terami Hirsch. Are they trying to be “guitars”–make those kind of musical waves? I don’t know, but they do rock.

Vienna Teng is a Taiwanese-American singer-songwriter from the SF Bay Area (yay!). After graduating from Stanford, she went into computer engineering, only to give it all up to pursue her music. But before I get going on her music, let me get to the instance that inspired this post in the first place. Back in May, Vienna Teng launched her fourth album “Inland Territory.” I started searching for reviews of the album and came across this piece from Paste Magazine, which struck me as incredibly lazy. Not only did the author not bother to make sure he wrote down the track titles correctly (He called “White Light” “White Lie,”) but he also introduced the article with this rather telling statement:

With her nimble piano arpeggios and Lilith Fair balladry, Vienna Teng casts a backward glance during Inland Territory, a retro-minded release anchored in the legacy of Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and other mainstays of the mid-‘90s female-songwriter boom.

It honestly felt to me as if Mr. Leahey heard the piano, thought “Lilith Fair,” assumed he knew what “Lilith Fair” meant,  and shut his brain off. To be fair, Teng, in general, makes deceptively simple music. Upon first hearing it, you’ll probably think, “Well, this is pretty.” And it is. She creates lovely, stirring piano melodies. But just because something sounds pretty and has a woman singing it, does that mean we can assume what the content is and shut our brains off? Have we really reached the point where melody translates to shallow except when Sufjan Stevens sings “Chicago”*?

If he had bothered listening to the album, Leahey would have heard songs exploring people’s willingness to ignore world events, mistakenly believing that what happens in “3rd world countries”  has nothing to do with them (“Radio”.) He would have heard a vignette from the point of view of a teenager in a hypothetical future in which Americans are sneaking over the border to Mexico, hunting for work (“No Gringo.”) He would have heard a song from the perspective of her Taiwanese grandmother, an attempt for her to understand her grandmother’s harsh criticism of her musical career while still portraying her grandmother as a brave, sympathetic individual who had to flee oppression in her homeland (“Grandmother Song.”) Throughout her songs, she puts on a variety of masks and personae to talk about contemporary issues, identity issues, and, yes, love. When she addresses political issues such as immigration (or gay marriage, as she did in her song “City Hall” off of “Dreaming Through the Noise,”) she focuses on the people these issues effects, forcing herself and others into the shoes of someone they may or may not find easy to relate to. I fail to see what’s so “retro-minded” about this kind of approach.

And that’s the thing about Vienna Teng: she seems so easy to dismiss, and this makes it all the more important that we don’t. Honestly, I think it’s because her music is irresistibly pretty that we allow it to succumb to our worst prejudices; at first even I was inclined to assumed that there was nothing behind the lovely, swirling piano. But pretty doesn’t have to mean hollow, and in Teng’s case, it certainly doesn’t. She’s a fantastic artist and performer, with remarkable empathy and sensitivity. I absolutely adore “Inland Territory,” but really, you can’t go wrong with any of her albums. I linked to her site above, which has some streaming music, and you can also check out her myspace.

As little-known as Vienna Teng is, singer-songwriter Terami Hirsch is one of the most obscure artists I listen to. That’s a fact, not

<i>A Broke Machine</i> is a dark, fascinating soundscape.

A Broke Machine is a dark, fascinating soundscape.

a bragging right–in fact, I wish she weren’t so obscure. Terami is a little difficult to classify. Though she’s piano-focused, she works with synths and keyboards to make highly textured, layered songs with mysterious lyrics. Her albums sometimes feel dark and heavy, but part of the heaviness simply comes from the digital layering.

I first fell in love with the song “Little Light,” off of Entropy 29. It felt like the theme song for an as-of-yet unwritten heroine of a dystopian tale. I know that is a terribly vague description; this is why I don’t describe music often on this blog–I simply don’t have the technical vocabulary to explain it. However, the rest of the album had such a specific mood to it that I found I could only listen to it when I had the energy to give it its deserved attention. A Broke Machine, her latest album, is no lighter, but perhaps more sophisticated and beautiful. Then again, I might be biased because it contains my favorite song of hers, “The Collector” (I’ll go back to that in a moment.)

I’m going to talk about “The Collector” in specific because I think it’s the closest I can come to encapsulating exactly why Terami fascinates me, despite it being more accoustic than her other songs. From the swirling piano intro, to the verse-chorus structure, there’s something instantly familiar about the song; it reminds you of a love ballad. And yet, something’s wrong. Maybe it’s the tone, the frightening lyrics, the sheer… obsessiveness of it.

Why can’t I let it go?
I’m tired of impossibilities
Chasing down a ghost
To pin it like a butterfly
And hang it on my wall for beauty
I was running through the noise
Playground photographs of me
Chasing down the boys
And tripping over shoelaces
I’ll hold them down to touch their beauty
Oh, I collect what I cannot hold
I collect what I ache for
I collect what I can’t let go…
I collect all I can!

It’s utterly creepy (and I do not condone unwanted touching of anyone, even if it’s children playing with each other,) but, ultimately, that’s what makes this song so interesting. It’s a broken love ballad, trying to contain beauty. And yet, there’s something so relate-able about this character, wanting to be closer to, to encompass what she finds beautiful/sexual. It’s disturbing, but thought-provoking, and utterly addictive to listen to. Some of her songs, of course, have a more of a sense of renewal: “A Hundred Flowers” has a sense of renewal; “There’s a Garden” is about remembering the happy person trapped within you during a bout of depression. But all of them twist your expectations. They are meticulously crafted little gems.

Unlike Teng, I think Terami is probably overlooked because she’s simply not commercial, despite the obvious care she takes in designing every aspect of her albums (down to the cover art!). And, you know, that’s not a criticism; plenty of people make music that’s difficult to get into. You can listen to Entropy 29 on her main site (linked above,) or check out her Myspace page for songs from A Broke Machine (yes, including “The Collector”.)

Sorry for the less-than-analytic post, but I’m tired and brain dead; I just wanted to post this before moss started growing on the mirror. I’m here, and I’m thinking, but I am but one woman, and occasionally susceptible to writer’s block. Hope everyone out there and reading is well!

*Disclaimer: I love Sufjan Stevens too.

Hey everyone!

Sorry for the silence; I’ve been largely occupied this month with some freelance jobs, and so I haven’t been able to get any posts past the mental brainstorm stage. Stay tuned for some thoughts about Emma Peel and gendered spaces, a look at what I mean when I talk about subtext, and possibly some thoughts over some female artists who get overlooked like Vienna Teng or Terami Hirsch.

But the title of this post is “Big News,” and so I’ll move on to that: I’ve been invited to be a summer guest blogger at Feministe! I haven’t decided what I’ll be blogging about yet (ideas and requests are more than welcomed,) but, as you can imagine, I’m incredibly honored and excited. I’ll be posting the week of July 27th, and so be sure to tune in!

In the mean time, even if Feministe isn’t in your daily reads, take a gander at the other awesome guest bloggers they’ve got lined up this summer.

A professor once suggested that Keats's letters to Fanny Brawne would make excellent material for valentines. Yet what good does it do to use Keats as your Cyrano?

A professor once suggested that Keats's letters to Fanny Brawne would make excellent material for valentines. Yet what good does it do to use Keats as your Cyrano?

Of all the things in the heavily gendered world of self-help and advice that make me cringe, few things set me off more than a man who sets to explain to heterosexual women how to change themselves to suit them, and vice-versa. The suggestions tend to rely on the kinds of stereotypes that people tend to claim we know aren’t true but are free to use in “satire” anyhow, are based on the idea that one size fits all, tend to offer advice like “be more self-confident” that one should do for one’s own benefit and not to get into a relationship, and are rather hetero and cis-centric. I admittedly cannot write from a queer perspective, but I’m pretty sure people are just confusing in general and, regardless of gender, have confusing wants and needs.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised that when Marie Claire (the women’s magazine) ran this blog post,  I wanted to tear my hair out. This is about where my friend Rachel would ask me what else I would expect from them—and she’s right, you know, but I end up subjecting myself to these things anyhow.  The article is called “8 Ways to Use Books to Flirt (Even if You Don’t Read Much).” The parentheses kill any hope that I may have had for the article; if you don’t like reading, why use it as a flirtation tactic? Alas, this could have been the green light for women who are too afraid to flirt with their intelligence. Instead, it underestimates both our emotional and our intellectual maturity.

The article consists of an interview with academic and author Jack Murnighan, author of Beowulf on the Beach, a book which attempts to bring sexy back to the Canon of western literature by teaching people what was fun and wonderful about these books in the first place–a noble goal. Marie Claire blogger Maura Kelly decided that his spirit of librosexualty (my friend’s and my term for bibliophilic) gave him the credentials to teach women to pretend they’ve read more than they actual have to get men. I suppose as far as these things go, the article is by no means the worst offender: it at least encourages reading and concludes that a woman talking about something she’s passionate about is the most sexy thing of all, which of course is something I can really get behind. But it made me furiously angry—I think I may have said, “Bite me,” out loud, which is not something I usually say (though I do occasionally say random things aloud when I read something particularly, erm, stirring.)

What made me so angry about it is that for all of Murnighan’s attempts to make literature accessable and Maura Kelly’s fawning over him (“If you have a crush on Jack after reading this, I understand,” she writes,) the article, whether intentionally or not, operates under the assumption that women don’t read the more “difficult” classics of literature. In fact, the very premise assumes that women do not read as often as men. I don’t want to blame Murnighan entirely for the condescending message of this article; though he agreed to the interview and played along with the premise, Kelly’s questions underestimate either her own potential or, perhaps worse, the potential of other women to be intellectual (or, for that matter, assume that a knowledge of the Western Canon is the only way to be smart, intellectual, or well-read, which is rather ridiculous in its own right.). But the worst part about this article is that it does not actually encourage women to read these books because they’re sexy books, which seems to be one of Murnighan’s goals as a writer, but instead he encourages us to use the sexiness inherent in these books as a veneer. Or, as Woolf would have it: “Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man [or, in this case, “male literature,” whatever that means] at twice its natural size” (A Room of One’s Own, II).

Isn't there something a little creepy about reading Lolita just to attract a mate?

Isn't there something a little creepy about reading Lolita just to attract a mate?

This became abundantly clear to me when Kelly asked the unforgivable question: “Are there books that are more likely than others to make a guy start talking to a woman in the coffee shop? ” Of course, Murnighan’s first suggestion is Lolita, which he considers to be the literary equivalent of a short skirt (his phrasing, not mine) because women only wear short skirts for the male gaze and not because it’s hot outside, or they just happened to like the skirt.  I have to admit that I’m not so sure I’d be comfortable dating someone who was attracted to the fact that I was reading Lolita because he thought it was a suggestive, edgy book. It is, after all, about child rape. It’s written in some of the most incredible prose, yes, but, nevertheless, it’s about child rape.

Frankly, the whole notion of picking my reading material with the goal of attracting sexual attention is completely bizarre to me. I would never have considered it. It feels like an intrusion into a world where literature exists as a pleasure I can enjoy by myself, for the benefit of myself, and if it turns out that a friend, crush, or lover happens to enjoy it too, they may join me in my delight, but their entrance is natural and incidental. It is not a world set up for voyeurism, if that makes sense. So when Kelly and Murnighan add books to the list of things that I’m “supposed” to check for what signals they send to the male population, it feels like an unforgivable intrusion. It took long enough for me to train myself to dress for myself. But, alas, just as we are not supposed to drag men to chick flicks, expect them to drink cosmos, or watch “Sex in the City” (because ALL women do all of those things, and we do it because we don’t realize how torturous they are for men), we must monitor our taste in literature if we want to be intellectually sexy:

…if a woman is reading a book by an author who is considered a “guy’s writer”–like Cormac McCarthy–that’s likely to get her a lot more attention than if she were deep into Pride and Prejudice. Similarly, a woman reading James Joyce’s Ulysses or Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past on the train would probably turn a few heads.

Firstly, I’d just like to note that I once attracted male attention in a coffee shop for discussing Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Granted, I don’t think that book actually gets heavily gendered in terms of its marketing, but it’s got a unicorn in the title, so I’m counting it anyhow. Reading Murakami on the MAX has gotten me none. This is fine, actually, because, well, I’m reading.

But okay, in all seriousness, the comparison here is so off the mark I don’t know where to begin. Jane Austen is an artist of plots. Some people wonder what’s so literary about her because she doesn’t use dense, heavy symbolism, but it’s important to keep in mind that that’s not what she was trying to do. At a time when so many of the novels out there were clumsily constructed, Austen had her plots so perfected that in Emma, every single twist in the novel is hinted at on the first page, and yet they still surprise you. That takes skill, control and craft–she definitely deserves her spot in the Canon.

In the context of this article, what Austen does is so different from Joyce that it comes off as making a woman reading Pride and Prejudice seem shallow and laughable. A person reading Joyce probably has a reference book or at least a notebook to mark stuff down nearby because Joyce is intentionally trying to confuse you. He doesn’t want his readers to have an easy time. Austen’s insistence on clarity does not make her fluff. Also, P&P has gotten the chick flick treatment in our cultural imagination, from TV shows like “Lost in Austen,” to the book Me and Mr. Darcy, from the recent film starring Kiera Knightley, and, my personal “favorite,” a chick-lit. edition complete with a “Why you should read this book” introduction by Meg Cabot. As much as I feel Austen deserves more respect than that, choosing P&P (Not even Persuasion or Mansfield Park,) to represent “women’s literature” (a distinction I dislike anyhow) as opposed to something by Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, Isabelle Allende or George Eliot—to rattle a few examples off the top of my head—he’s making us look shallow, lost in our little Georgian world and waiting for our Mr. Darcys to come.

I’m just glad he didn’t include Hemingway. That would have been insufferably cliché.

The gross insult in this article is that he’s trying to invite women to the table of flirty, sexy intellectuals, to the fold of people who enjoy using the word “swyve” instead of “fuck,” who talk about Milton’s portrayal of angel sex, who would rather proclaim their love with Donne than use stock quotes from Romeo and Juliet (not that Shakespeare isn’t wonderful), but he’s ignoring that there are plenty of women already there. It’s a gendered invitation, not a call for more readers (of the Western Canon.) He’s encouraging us to read more “masculine” authors if we want to turn heads (Which I actually find bizarre because in his book he does give women authors their due.) instead of reading what we like, or (and this is a criticism I have of Beowulf on the Beach as well) encouraging people to go out and read what they like. Between Kelly and him, I’m not sure who is worse: Kelly insists we want and need lines to parrot, and instead of saying, “that’s really a bad idea,” he gives them to us like some kind of Professor Higgins of the Western Canon.

Oh yes, speaking of the Canon, in both this and his book,  he’s also sticking to a very strict view of what the Canon is, which limits it to a distinctly white cross-section, and the he throws Márquez in as the sensual Latin American, which just bothers me, though I have to admit that 100 Years of Solitude is intentionally sensually written. Still.

The logic of the article reminds me me of that in articles written by men in the 1800’s who advocated for women’s education not because we’re human and deserve it but because it would make us more interesting for men. I’ll admit that this logic had its use back in the day because people were still unsure that women were human (and I guess you could say the same thing for now,) but it’s lost its edge. Completely.

And the worst thing about all of this is that I would love to get behind Murnighan’s message if he would just make it unisex (and be a little less condescending. Oh, and realize that “Time Passes” is one of the sexiest parts of To the Lighthouse, but I guess that’s not technically gospel fact as much as I like to pretend it is. Yes, I went to a bookstore today and looked up Beowulf on the Beach, why do you ask?). People teach classic literature as if it were boring, and that cheats everyone out of a lot of fun.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I think books are sexy. I think reading is sexy. One of the best things I got out of being an English major—aside from the life-changing lessons of critical thinking, brain-expanding empathizing, and learning to analyze and  deconstruct—was a sense of just how human, in a beautiful, dirty, imperfect sort of way, literature can be. Tradition may hold it up on a pedestal, trapped in a glass case and surrounded by a halo of purity, but great literature was written by great authors, who were and are, just like us, humans, writing to work things out or share what they think they’ve worked out. I love Paradise Lost, for example, because its author was a person who, having lost everything, was still trying to justify the ways of G-d to man. Though I find about a million things to love about Milton, I’ve always loved the sense that he writes not from a position of authority, but as an “essay”-ist, in the sense of the French essayer, which means to try. I can never see it as a stuffy, boring work because it’s so human in the most wonderful of ways. Yes, it’s literature’s humanity that makes it divine.

One of the sins of how many people teach literature is that they make it sound like it was all written by asexual geniuses from heaven instead of, as Wilde would have it, in the gutter looking at the stars. Some teachers of literature become the people Yeats describes in his poem, “The Scholars:”

Bald heads, forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love’s despair
To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.

(Yes, yes, this poem also reminds me of just how white and male the Canon is too, but that’s an issue for another post.). Much of literature does come from love (though of what varies,) and so I would agree that literature is tailor-made for intellectual courtship between two librosexuals. I’m not going to deny that one of the things that hooked me about Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels was that his love for Harriet Vane only grew when he realized she could quote from and understand as many works of literature in as many different languages as he could. I’m not denying that I find Busman’s Honeymoon incredibly sexy at parts because they’re quoting John Donne at each other. But Wimsey didn’t have to urge Harriet to join the joust of intellectual wordplay; sensing he was game, she drew out her… I don’t remember what she first quotes in Strong Poison, probably because, admittedly, I haven’t read it, and I think it’s fallen out of favor whatever it was. But it was a classic, and it was probably very sexy.

So I ask again: What good is knowing a random snippet of Boccaccio’s Decameron if you can’t follow through? Why joke about the Wyf of Bath’s (they spelled it with a “y” back in the day) foul mouth if you don’t have fond memories of when you first realized what she meant that she wanted a husband with both the finest purse and “nether purse,” or are able to use it to trigger a discussion of your favorite Canterbury Tale, be it one of the really filthy ones like “The Miller’s Tale,” or one of the tamer ones like the courtly “Knight’s Tale,” or the ever-popular “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” which is often simplified into children’s literature? If this kind of banter and discussion doesn’t scream “date night” to you, or you just don’t like literature (which is fine too), or you feel affected talking about it, then why pretend to it? Or, for that matter, if you want to flirt using books, why does it have to be limited to the Canon anyhow?

What is sexy about anyone of any gender pretending to be interested in something they’re not? Or, if they are interested in learning more about Canonical literature but haven’t read much yet, what’s sexy about pretending they’ve read more than they have? Honesty is always good (or at least it should be.)

Gratuitous Wimsey/Vane. Because that's what my pleasure reading has consisted of lately and because I can.

Gratuitous Vane/Wimsey. Because that's what my pleasure reading has consisted of lately and because I can.

I apologize for the rather obnoxious name-dropping in this entry, but I’m doing it to mock the very idea that women inclined to this sort of flirting need lines to parrot. Yes, I will admit that this kind of flirting sounds like fun if I were doing it naturally and my flirtation partner has a similar interest in literature (otherwise I’d just feel like I was showing off, and that would be gross.). I’ll also admit that I do admire Murnighan’s desire to show people just how fun literature can be, and it scares me that I’d probably get along with him if he didn’t seem to be such a condescending git.  Nevertheless, whether it was pressure from Kelly (“Girls, girls, what have we done to ourselves?” Okay, that one was Tori Amos at her most lucid.) or his subconscious longing to find his Harriot Vane (though I don’t know if he’s read Sayers), or a little of both, he has only succeeded in suggesting that female would-be-intellectuals (or, perhaps from both of their perspectives, women who would only read if it means a relationship) remake themselves in the image of male academia, and that, my friends, is no way to flirt.

In closing, I can only turn back to Woolf, as part of my not-so-secret goal in life to convince as many people as possible that Virginia Woolf is human, funny, and sexy:

Life for both sexes — and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement — is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. –from A Room of One’s Own, chapter II

There is a woman whom I have long considered my adopted younger sister–I use younger instead of little because she is taller than me and a Freshman in college, which hardly seems little anymore. Her older sister and I grew up together, making mud pies, pretending to be Smurfs, mermaids, Star Wars characters. Recently on facebook she posted a link to a really interesting slam poem by a Jewish woman. I will not post the link because the youtube comments (which delve into such non-topics as “Anti-Semitism no-longer exists” or “ISRAEL,” which has nothing to with the poem.) make me utterly nauseous, but I will quote from it (yes, I agree it’s problematic for a blogger to get so squicked out by youtube comments feeds. But I am.):

You’re Jewish? Wow, you don’t look Jewish, you don’t act Jewish.” And they say it in this tone that sounds like they’re complimenting me! Well this is what I say back: “What does Jewish look like to you? Should I fiddle on a fuckin’ roof for you? Should I humor you with ‘oy vays’ and refuse to pay!?” (Vanessa Hidary, “The Jewish Mamita”)

The poem made me smile, partially because of its content and because it’s always nice to see someone younger than you whom you care about so much find art that helps them be comfortable in their own skin and unapologetic. But it also gave me the courage to write this post, which I had hesitated writing because I thought it was too angry or too in my own head. It reminded me that these issues of identity are important to discuss or else we’ll keep rehashing them and comments like “You don’t look Jewish” will never get examined.

I recently saw a film called Two Lovers, directed by James Gray and starring Joaquin Phoenix. If you ask my flatmate (with all due respect to my flatmate who understands my point of view on the movie but is better able to distance himself from the subtext in it), it is a film about bipolar depression as it relates to a young man’s life and how he places these urges on two lovers. If you ask the majority of critics who reviewed the film, it is a struggle of a broken young man trying to decide whether to rebuild himself in the image of a safe bourgeois man or a fucked-up rebellious artist. I saw it as neither.

I had a very emotional reaction to the flick, which made me hesitate to write about it because I agree with my flatmate; the film works as an exploration of bipolarism (I disagree with the critics, who seem to be using bourgeois as an unconvincing synonym for “Jewish tradition.”).  The problem is that the film uses a narrative that I’ve heard too many times: Do I marry the “nice Jewish girl” my mom adores, or the alluring non-Jewish woman as a rejection of all the tradition my parents raised me with? In this narrative, both women get shafted, portrayal-wise (and keep in mind as I discuss this narrative, I do not intend to imply that any of these stereotypes are true about either type of woman because, really, neither type “exists” in a real, generalizable sort of way. Nevertheless, people do it anyhow, and so I must debunk it using their language.)

Because everyone seems to like this movie besides me, writing this has been simultaneously cathartic and isolating. I think it’s important to discuss how these subtle messages work, even if they’re something that most people watching the movie wouldn’t even understand. I felt as if the film was producing Morse code blips that only I could hear, reminding me exactly of “who I’m supposed to be.” And no one else heard. Also, before I really begin analysis, I’d like to note that for me liking or disliking stories is such a complicated thing: I can admire the way something is filmed, but hate its plot. I can love a plot but hate an ideology. And, in this case, I can appreciate what a film is trying to be and feel that it can’t be that (at least for me) because I absolutely abhor its methods. Too often, I think, when someone says that they’re uncomfortable with the racial/gender/etc. subtext of a story, the response from people who don’t really want to listen is, “So you want to ban it?!” or “What about this other story which is worse!?” or the ever-popular, “Freedom of speech!?” We forget that sometimes there’s quiet outrage, gray areas of emotion, and confusion as to how something that does some things so well can make you feel so rotten.

Two Lovers is about a man in his early 30’s named Leonard Kraditor, recently moved back in with his parents after a suicide attempt and a bipolar flair-up. He works at his father’s dry-cleaning business, which is about to be merged with the family dry-cleaning business of the wealthier Cohen family. Both sets of parents entertain the idea of their children marrying to seal the deal, a move that Sandra, the Cohen’s daughter, whole-heartedly embraces (and seems to before she even meets him), and Leonard seems too broken and aimless to resist. Or, at least, he would be, if he did not run into Michelle, the free-spirited but emotionally-damaged non-Jewish woman.

And this is where the film lost me because it started to mock me.

Most people have heard of the stereotype of the JAP, or Jewish American Princess. Not many people think of her counterpart, the “nice Jewish girl” as being a true and damaging stereotype. I don’t think I even fully realized she existed until fairly recently. She’s subtler and difficult to explain because, at first, it seems to be a complimentary stereotype. Nevertheless there is a sense that this girl somehow is not a real woman. As I said, difficult to explain, but let me try.

When Michelle first walks into Leonard’s family’s apartment, she acts as if she’s walking into an alien world. “Look at all these pictures!” she exclaims of the flat, which is the very model of a Jewish immigrant home: full of photos of relatives and ancestors, dusty books, and a prominently displayed menorah (I don’t get it either. The Reader did this too, and I didn’t get it then either. I think it’s the universal movie symbol for “a Jew lives here”). “Oh! Is that Yiddish?” she asks, pointing to Hebrew writing. She doesn’t even know what a dreidel is. A dreidel. Yes, this woman lives in Brooklyn. Yes, this film takes place in 2008, though it really doesn’t feel like it, most of the time. This moment of othering is vital to setting up Michelle’s character as everything that Sandra is not. It sets the foundation for Michelle’s allure: by showing Leonard as being somewhat exotic (but not in a sexy way, because film rarely portrays stereotypical Jewish masculinity as such [CF- Woody Allen]) it emphasizes how exotic she is to him.

Michelle is blond. She invites Leonard to go clubbing with her. She has expensive tastes. She, herself, is damaged, and according to the narrative, seems to require a man to take care of her, to save her from her occasional drug binges: a manly man (more on this later). From the very moment she walked on screen, a song I hate started echoing in my head, an obnoxious song from Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway hit, The Last Five Years. The song is called “Shiksa Goddess” (On a side note, I hate Brown’s work. My dislike for it grows whenever I try and convince myself that so many intelligent fans can’t be wrong. But I’ve yet to be convinced that his lyrics truly speak to the human experience in the way all his fans insist to me that they do.) The song goes like so:

If you had a tattoo, that wouldn’t matter.
If you had a shaved head, that would be cool.
If you came from Spain or Japan
Or the back of a van–
Just as long as you’re not from Hebrew school–
I’d say “Now I’m getting somewhere!
I’m finally breaking through!”
I’d say “Hey! Hey! Shiksa goddess!
I’ve been waiting for someone like you.”

Why yes, this is supposed to be a funny song. Why no, the lyrics don’t make sense. They raise many important questions such as: Why would coming from Japan and Spain be equated with the back of a van? What’s wrong with coming from Spain or Japan anyhow? Why do these lyrics scream “I wanted to rhyme something with ‘van’ so I chose ‘Japan’?” (This, aside from the other, more serious problems that I’ll get to in a second, is one of the primary reasons why I dislike Brown’s work.)? The shaved head, I admit, is not traditionally feminine, and considering that he’s listing a tattoo as being such a big deal, I suppose it makes sense that this would typically be a deal breaker for him.

But I digress. The bothersome gist of this song can be summed up in the phrase, “Now I’m getting somewhere.” The next verse goes on to list the boring girls he’s dated with nice Jewish last names who brought him to Shabbat dinner at their houses. These women are boring, attached to their families. Dating them is not “getting somewhere.” There is something so unsexy about it that at one point the singer portrays this string of “Nice Jewish Girls” to “wandering in the desert.” And in a line that I’m sure is supposed to feel at once kinky and oh-so-clever because it references Passover, he proclaims that he wants to be her, “Hebrew slave.” Nothing kinky about Shabbat dinner, I’m afraid.

I know the song seems to have nothing to do with the movie, but the two seem to have the exact same attitude; they believe in the same false dichotomy of their female dating options. The allure of the non-Jewish woman is so universal throughout Two Lovers that every single Jewish male in the film gives Michelle the once-over. Michelle is the mistress of a banker, revealed through subtle cues (his mother lives in the same neighborhood as Leonard’s parents, to the last name Blatt), to be Jewish, who uses her as a substitute for his (presumably) Jewish wife and family. When Leonard’s father first sees Michelle, his eyes bug out. Yes, the film also portrays Michelle as being troubled, slightly ditzy, and occasionally a drug addict, but she’s somehow the more authentic woman. She’s the embodiment of freedom.

Contrast this with Sandra. Sandra is an extension of her family. She first becomes interested in Leonard because she saw him dancing with his mother around the dry-cleaners and thought it was sweet. Almost every outing they plan together somehow involves her family.  Although she invites him out for a drink once, she has to cancel because of her father’s birthday party. She instead invites him to the party and suggests that maybe afterward they can get a drink. While Michelle urges Leonard to be an artist, Sandra urges Leonard to be the “artsy” photographer for her brother’s Bar Mitzvah.

But the unattractiveness of Sandra goes beyond this: while Michelle needs a manly man to take care of her,  Sandra’s kind of love promises to be maternal, stultifying, allowing him to continue to wallow in his childishness. When she buys him a gift for his birthday, she gets him gloves, because she noticed that he didn’t have any and didn’t want his hands to freeze. “I want to take care of you,” she tells him, “I feel like I understand you.” She feels like she understands him because Leonard, himself, is a stereotype of the emotionally stunted, childish, depressed Jewish man. She is willing to mother him and his children.

So in the context of these differences to me, which were so blatant, so obvious, and so painful to hear (One gets tired of hearing that she is a mere extension of her family and unsexy for it, you know?), I was flabbergasted that the only review I could find that hinted at the Jewish cultural subtext in the film was the The New York Times. I bristled when The Boston Globe remarked of Sandra, “The casting of Shaw renders Sandra, a mother-figure with need issues of her own, simply too attractive, too confidently sexy, to represent the bourgeois compromise Leonard is afraid he might have to make with his future.” While it seemed to recognize the stereotype (too sexy, indeed!), it didn’t seem to understand the real implications behind it. Bourgeois has nothing (or very little) to do with it.

But the NYT review didn’t help my restless mind at all.  Critic A.O. Scott simply mentions that Leonard’s story follows the American Jewish male predicament: “He struggles with the conflicting demands of filial duty and the longing to strike out on his own. He wants to be a good son, but he also wants to live a life of danger, freedom and impulse. Does he stick with his own kind and risk suffocation, or does he risk rootlessness in pursuit of liberation?” Ignoring the fact that Scott misses that Jewish women face this question too, there is just something utterly problematic and hurtful in embodying this choice in two rather unflattering depictions of women.

Though critics feel that the characters are solid, and perhaps in the case of Michelle and Leonard, they are, but Sandra has nothing beyond her family and mothering instinct. At one point in the film, she mentions, “I understand if you don’t like me in that way. A lot of men don’t.” (a statement which is later contradicted by her father, who mentions, rather anachronistically, that she had many suitors. I almost wanted to break out into “Matchmaker!” I wonder why this bizarre marriage-exchange aspect of the film went largely unnoticed by critics because I certainly didn’t get it.) My heart was further broken by the post-coital conversation they had, Sandra offering to leave before Leonard’s parents come home and realize what was happening, and Leonard’s quip that they would probably be overjoyed (I think it was something about picking out baby names or wedding invitations, but I can’t remember so I don’t want to quote). Marrying the “Nice Jewish Girl” is part of your duty to your family. She is someone you settle for.

In some ways, the depiction is almost more angering than that of the JAP. To me, the JAP is at least vaguely ridiculous, but then again, I say this as someone who grew up without knowing what a JAP was until I was about 14 and panicked when I heard my east coast cousins ranting about them because I thought they were racist and hated Japanese people. The Nice Jewish Girl damages me more because she is believable and can eat my self-esteem. As I sat there in the theater, I wanted to scream, “I get it!” at the top of my lungs. As Leonard blew off Sandra to meet up with Michelle and her adulterous lover (awkward!) at a very fancy restaurant and walked by the Christmas tree not very subtly plopped in the background, I wanted to shout, “Okay! Okay! I get it!” You’re trying to tell me that I am not sexy; I am motherly. I am not exciting; I am safe. I am not an individual; I am an extension of my family.

This is where people will accuse me of overreacting, and so I will say, “No, I understand that the film did not literally mean that all Jewish women are like Sandra.” But when a narrative about Jewish family life and tradition gets played again and again, it’s easy to get tired of it. When no one “like you” is ever portrayed as the pretty, sexy woman, it’s easy to get tired of it. I wouldn’t say Two Lovers was obnoxious, over-the-top, or excessively offensive in its use of an old narrative, but it did make me wonder when filmmakers who want to talk about Jewish identity as a facet of their film will find a new way to talk about the dilema that does not reduce their people to ideologies, stereotypes, and not-women/men.

Can we excuse reducing people to theme? The NYT ignores this tired portrayal of Jewish femininity because it’s “a classic dilemma.” And yes, it is a classic dilemma for any minority to figure out how to balance individuality, tradition, and being a product of two cultures. I understand, believe me, that the “marry/date a nice Jewish (blank)” is a refrain that so many Jewish youth hear, and so it is so easy to place all your identity issues into the question of marriage, as ridiculous as it may seem when you step back and realize what you’re doing. But there are causalities in the process. Perhaps if I could be convinced that Sandra Cohen was ever meant to be a real character, I would change my mind with Two Lovers‘s handling of these problems.

So when my best friend’s little sister posted the video link, quoted it proudly, I felt a sense of relief. It was, in a sense, our own personal (by which I mean, my friend’s and my) equivalent of “This is want a feminist” looks like campaign. My friend’s little sister is what a Jewish woman looks like. My best friend is what a Jewish woman looks like. I am what a Jewish woman looks like. We are part of a tradition, but we are not merely extensions of it. We are complicated too, thank you very much.

Candy Matson, a forgotten heroine of the airwaves

Candy Matson, a forgotten heroine of the airwaves

(See the post below to catch up on what Femicon is.)

I’m embarrassed to say that I’m kicking off Femicon by breaking one of my own rules for it. I intended this series to be about female characters who are both iconic of their times and remain in our cultural imagination. Candy Matson enjoyed a short period of regional fame (her radio show only aired on the west coast of the United States) and then faded into obscurity. Still, I think she’s a fantastic example of how fiction both plays into and challenges the norms of its era,  and, plus, classic radio shows are underrated. I had originally intended to include a segment in this post on Margo Lane, Lamont Cranston (The Shadow)’s savvy sidekick and love interest, but I found that she suffers from the good old “Every character on this show besides The Shadow is boring”-itus, and I discovered that I had way too much to say about Candy.

You see, I have a not-so-secret, not-quite-fully-explored love of old-time radio dramas. When I was twelve, my friend Lisa and I loved to listen to recordings of the classic 1930’s radio show, The Shadow, during sleepovers. Orson Welles’s haunting laugh would echo through the darkened room, where we huddled in her bunk bed, conflating the sounds of movement from the cassette tape, already out of date by then, with the nocturnal sounds of her cats running and the house settling. In many ways, I think  The Shadow was my gateway drug to Noir.

When we think of the golden age of radio stories, many of us think of mysteries. The hard boiled detectives of Hammett’s novels and the popular “Films Noirs” (not that they were called that at the time. <–crazy trivia) also thrilled audiences every week on the radio, solving crimes, smoking cigars, and trying not to be too swayed by the charms of those ever-alluring femmes fatales. But not every woman in the crime-fighting genre was a damsel in distress or a deadly vixen: lost our cultural memory of the era is the archetype of the female detective.

Candy Matson, Yukon 2-8209 enjoyed a short but illustrious run on the San Francisco radio airwaves in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. By the time the last episode aired in 1951, it had been voted the most popular radio show in the city in a San Francisco Examiner poll (as announced on the episode “The Symphony of Death.” Also, for those of you who are familiar with SF newspapers, the Examiner, not the Chronicle was the paper du jour,) and several radio history websites I’ve encountered have called her the finest of the female detectives of radio’s golden age.

These same websites emphasize Matson’s resourcefulness, toughness, and her ability to speak with the same dry wit that we’ve come to expect from a hard boiled detective. She usually solves the case before her love interest, Lt. Mallard of the SF police, puts together the pieces, and rarely needs to be rescued. These, combined with the recommendation from a dear friend of mine who occasionally does research on old-time radio, prompted me to download a few episodes (they are fairly widely available on the net,) and have a listen. To my surprise, the framing of Candy’s first adventure didn’t reflect any of these qualities at all. In fact, I came close to completely dismissing her when I heard the announcer’s introduction to her first case:

“Do you have a little unsolved murder in your home? Got some blackmail you want to unload? Are you the victim of some vulgar extortionist? I know a girl you should meet. She may not be the greatest private eye in the world, and so what if it does cost you three or four hundred dollars; she sure is sweet.” (from “The Cable Car Case”)

Hearing that, I expected some sort of insufferable, incapable  weakling. A girl (not woman) whom we should coddle and pretend does well at her job because she’s so sweet? What kind of adventures could she possible have that would be worth listening to? I thought maybe there was a reason why she retreated back into relative obscurity. Fortunately for me, Candy soon took the microphone and began to speak for herself. Though the beginning of her speech ostensibly confirmed my low expectations, as she continued, I was surprised to hear her slowly subvert her packaging.

“I get into the craziest routines. You see I used to be a model. I’d been told I had the proper displacement for such a career. But I found there wasn’t enough money in it, and a girl has to eat doesn’t she? And she has to maintain a nice apartment on Telegraph Hill [a nice San Francisco neighborhood], and buy enough clothes to highlight the displacement I mentioned, right? Sure. So I turned private eye. You meet a better class of people… mostly named rigor or mortis.” (from “The Cable Car Case”)

Candy herself does nothing explicitly to subvert the announcer’s portrayal of her, but she hints that there’s more to her than meets the eye. Her voice actress, Natalie Masters, speaks with confidence and a slight edge; she’s always completely on top of what she’s saying. While the introduction prepared us for a “sweet,” perhaps stereotypically ditzy woman, we find that Candy has brains and sass. Her comment about “rigor or mortis” gives us our first taste of her wit. And, though this may be my inability to suspend belief to make way for radio-show logic, I find it dubious that being a private eye would pay more than modeling. In any case, when you listen to Matson’s adventures, that you get the sense that she knows what you must think of her, and she’s not going to tell you out-right that you’re wrong, but she’ll use your underestimation to her advantage. She’s the femme fatale of justice.

Ah yes, that phrase “femme fatale.” I keep using it. Does it mean what I think it means?

Before I talk more about Matson and her role in American culture, let me talk a bit about the femme fatale, and women in the Noir genre.  In her essay “Women in Film Noir,” lecturer and scholar Janey Place notes of the femme fatale, “independence is her goal, but her nature is fundamentally and irredeemably sexual” (Place in Women in Film Noir pg. 57). I’m probably attributing too much to this quote, but for those of you who A) haven’t read the essay and B) don’t have a secret love for the B movies of the 40’s and 50’s, what this essentially means is that the femme fatale uses her sexuality to maintain Independence (and power) in a male-dominated world. This being the Post-WWII era, this was not a good thing. The femme fatale inevitably lures the hero (be he detective, insurance salesman, or otherwise) into danger. In The Maltese Falcon, Brigid O’Shaughnessy gets Detective Sam Spade involved in a hunt for a legendary object that many would kill for (and gets his business partner killed in the process.). In Double Indemnity, Phyllis Dietrichson convinces salesman Walter Neff to kill her husband for insurance money (and sexual favors.).

Some films (DI, for example) gave the femme fatale a “good girl” counterpart who often served as a love interest for the main character at the end of the story (this doesn’t happen in DI, but I think it does in Murder, My Sweet. But I’m going off on a tangent.). This woman was usually dependent on the men in her life, be it her boyfriend or her father. She did not seek independence. She was not dangerous. And, well, to break my impartial façade, she’s boring in that 40’s, 50’s “perfect” woman sort of way.

Though the Post-WWII Era certainly did not invent the archetype of the dangerous spider woman, it did give us a series of visual cues and mannerisms to define her that still linger in our imagination. Cultural critics also tie the femme fatale so strongly to the Post-War Era because she represents anxieties that surfaced with changing culture. During the war, women took over the jobs of men who had left for the battle fields. Thus, upon their return, men found themselves displaced; women had more freedom and independence than ever before. The femme fatale is frightening precisely because she uses men to maintain her independence but never needs them. She aggressively maneuvers her way through the public sphere.

These cultural tropes are important to keep in mind when we think about why Candy Matson is such an interesting figure within her time period. For the remarkable thing about Candy is that even though she’s working within the Hard Boiled genre, she’s far more femme fatale than she is Noir “heroine.” On an obvious level, she uses her sensuality to her advantage. She’s not afraid to flirt to get what she wants. As she says in her personal introduction, she’s well aware of her “displacements” and is not afraid to use them.

But her ties to the femme fatale go beyond the sexual. As Payne points out, the femme fatale uses her sexuality not because she’s so interested in having sex (which perhaps would have left the hapless hero off easy) but because she wants independence. Candy herself says that she uses her detective gig to maintain her penthouse on Telegraph Hill (a rather fashionable SF neighborhood) and buy herself fancy clothes. Materialistic? Perhaps. But what’s interesting is that she doesn’t need Mallard to have them, and it’s never portrayed as being a negative. She has all the independence of the femme fatale but none of the malice

Furthermore, she doesn’t need Mallard to solve the case, or even to protect her from danger. In “The Movie Company,” she chases a suspect out onto the high ledges of a high-rise hotel building. In “The Valley of the Moon,” she hunts for evidence into a restricted area where she knows she’s liable to be shot at. For all Mallard’s panic over her safety, danger never seems to be too much of a match for her.

So if Candy acts like a femme fatale, how is it that her independence is celebrated instead of “punished?”

I think it’s important to consider Mallard’s relationship with Candy. Though they’re by no means portrayed to be on as equal footing as, say, Emma Peel and John Steed, they do have a similarly bantering, give-and-take kind of relationship. Candy’s not afraid to use her sexual power over him, such as in “The Movie Company,” where she encourages his jealousy when she runs into an old boyfriend because she thinks he’s being childish, she never uses it against him. At the end of the episode, after teasing him profusely, she offers him tickets to go and see his favorite cowboy movie with her. Other times she hides the fact that she’s working on the same case that he is (so that he won’t try to dissuade her from putting herself in danger,) but if they run into a clue when they’re out on a date, as in “Jack Frost” (it’s a radio detective story. It’s supposed to be improbable and illogical,) she’s willing to work with him to crack it. She may not need Mallard, but she enjoys his company. She looks to him as a partner, both in their personal and working relationships. Therefore, her independence isn’t threatening to Mallard, and when it is she’s quick to make nice and stroke his ego a bit.

Unfortunately, this sense of partnership gets undone in “Candy’s Last Case,” which ends with Mallard’s proposal to Matson. She accepts, and he proudly declares that she’ll never have to work as a detective again. In this sense, Matson’s independence is portrayed as a temporary thing, something that she enjoys as she waits for marriage. As soon as she has the opportunity to have someone else provide those needs, she relinquishes her independence (at least financially.). Do we really think Candy’s going to be able to stop sleuthing? Well, judging from her character, I’d think  not, but the writers leave that up to our imaginations.

To me, Candy Matson represents an attempt to make peace with the so-called new woman. I think it’s telling that when we think about the women of the Noir/hard boiled genre/style, we remember the femme fatales instead of the heroines (and even at the time, the more famous actresses played the fatales.); they command the screen and our attentions. It makes sense (to me, at least) that writers would try and imagine a case where this same fantasy woman wouldn’t have to be destructive; because let’s face it, she’s really fun. I also love the fact that the series creator Monty Masters, created the role of Candy for his wife, Natalie Masters. I admittedly know nothing about either of them, so for all I know their marriage could have ended in a catastrophic divorce, but, at least at first glance, creating such an awesome role for his wife is a wonderful, romantic gesture.

So it’s a little odd that most people, myself included, had no idea that female hard boiled detectives even existed during the age of Noir. We tend to think of these years as being fairly backwards in terms of gender roles with the exception of radicals.  I wouldn’t necessarily call Candy Matson a progressive show–its portrayal of ethnic minorities is certainly less than enlightened, and Candy’s best friend, Rembrandt Watson, a photographer, and perhaps the weakest (in terms of strength and courage) character of the series, likely was meant to be read as gay (that he was included is pretty cool. His job to whine, get called “Ducky” by Candy, and be comic relief for his effeminacy is less so.). Still, it’s neat to see that there were in fact cases in which gender roles were more fluid, where strong women were not portrayed as menaces to themselves and society. Candy Matson, in fact, benefits society, helping strangers and friends alike.

If you want to learn more about Candy or listen to some of her cases, check out these sites:

info page @ Thrilling Detective.com

info page @ Old Time Radio Catalog

Listen to episodes @ the OTR network

Download episodes from Archive.org

As I’ve been trying to feel out what sort of content I want this blog to focus on, I thought it might be fun to try doing some pieces on iconic fictional characters. You’re probably wondering why it’s worth looking at fiction when there’s so many incredible, real feminist icons out there to talk about. You’d be right, of course, that reality is perhaps more powerful and inspiring, but I’m still interested in the fiction.

This is approximately my 23rd time trying to write this paragraph, so let’s see if I can explain this without lapsing into academic-ese or turning my prose into pudding. In the conventional wisdom of cultural/media studies, the characters who capture our imagination do so because they speak to deeply held cultural beliefs.  They reflect our struggles, our ideals, our challenge to find a place within these ideals, and/or the fantasies of breaking or embodying these ideals. Looking at fictional characters can’t, of course, tell us how people really lived in any given time period, but it can give us an idea of how people imagined themselves.

This series of posts will include female characters (primarily American with a dash of British because, well, I am but one woman with one brain. I only feel comfortable working within the context of the culture that I know well [or reasonably well. Believe me, I know that Britain and American are more different than one might think]. I would like to add more diversity though, and if anyone has ideas, suggestions, or would like to do a guest post, I’d be happy to oblige.) from a variety of media who were somehow iconic in their eras. Granted, when I talk about “eras,” I sound like I’m limiting this to the past. I’m not. Dana Scully, will certainly make an appearance. Perhaps Xena will too. Maybe I’ll even jump way ahead and talk about a current TV show (President Roslin? I guess I’ll have to finish watching “Battle Star Galactica first.) We’ll see. My question is not “were these women feminist,” which is so incredibly arbitrary (also, if a character is popular, most of the time she usually somehow works within or around the gender norms of her society.), and I’ll probably even look at a few characters whom no one would even think of considering feminist. The fun is in seeing how different eras imagine women differently and what kinds of messages we can find in popular media.

If you have suggestions or would like to do a guest post, please comment or email me and let me know. :)

Megan Abbott writes about female characters in a tradionally male-oriented genre. But does that make them different?

Megan Abbott writes about female characters in a traditionally male-oriented genre. But does that make her novels different from those of her peers?

When I need a bit of a feminist pick-me-up, I love watching Sarah Haskins’s “Target Women.” Because I do this for a pick-me-up, I always try and not commit the grave sin against my poor brain of reading the comments thread. But sometimes I’m a backslider. This week, when checking out the hilarious episode mocking VH1’s “Tough Love,” I came across this comment:

Feminism isn’t dead but it does get drunk and confuse itself with women doing things as poorly as men . A woman doing the same weak version of a job that men do isn’t a feminist, just a hack .

It should have been easy for me to dismiss this comment as someone engaging in the good old “This is objectively bad!” to make themselves feel better for disliking something.  It’s just easier to say, “I don’t like this because it’s bad,” than admitting that it’s just not to your taste (I think we all do this sometimes, when “well it’s just my opinion” seems far too weak to convey how truly bad we think something is. I’m certainly “guilty” of it, if it’s something to be guilty of. And on some days I’m not so sure it’s always a mere defense mechanism.). But the comment wouldn’t get out of my head. It rang and rang in there until I was forced to admit that it’s a thought I’ve had too, though not directed at Sarah Haskins.

I think back to my time as an English major, specifically my time sitting in Intro. to American Literature, slogging through the writings of the Puritans (who, admittedly, didn’t interest me anyhow). As the Great Canon of English Literature has fallen from grace (and rightfully so,) because of its rather homogeneous, white, male voice, English scholars have done their best to diversify the Canon. Some have called this method “Just add minorities and stir,” and it has made many people, progressive and conservative alike, wonder if some writers are now being taught for diversity’s and not quality’s sake. I never felt this more keenly in American Literature, when we discussed the poetry of Anne Bradstreet.

All through that reading assignment, I seethed. I hated her writing–I found it trite, boring. It included the line “My love is such that rivers cannot quench” for Pete’s sake! Why? I thought Why is her poetry so famous? I tried to share the enthusiasm of another feminist in the class to no avail. I felt that I was expected to look to Anne Bradstreet as an inspiration because she was a woman, a Puritan woman, who got published. Instead, I felt she got undue recognition because the Canon needed more women.

I felt terribly guilty for this. I redoubled my efforts to take Bradstreet seriously; I attempted to read her poetry aloud in a tone that wasn’t singsong (I failed miserably. See the aforementioned line.). But nevertheless, I couldn’t help but compare her poetry to her contemporaries and find it lacking. I tried to justify my disdain by pointing out that other women wrote better poetry in the 17th century: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, for example, a Mexican nun who also lived in a culture that tended to see intellectualism in women as no better than witchcraft. But even as my gut feels justified, I know that the comparison is unfair: the women came from different cultures, and just because I think one is a better poet than the other doesn’t necessarily render Anne Bradstreet bad. Just because that, in addition to a few explicitly feminist pieces, Sor Juana writes about everything from the metaphysical, to love, to Greco-Roman mythology doesn’t make Anne Bradstreet automatically boring because, in addition to one incognito feminist piece, she writes about her devotion to her God, her husband, and her job as a Christian housewife (Granted, my problem with Bradstreet is more that I don’t think she wrote about them well, but it’s more thematically powerful in the context of this post if I leave that out.).

Nevertheless, this realization didn’t stop me from feeling self-righteous anger. “Adding women to the Canon because they are women doesn’t further feminism!” I would grumble to anyone who asked me my opinion on Bradstreet. People generally agreed with me. I still don’t necessarily think I’m wrong, and, to this day, I’ve yet to find anything interesting about Bradstreet. It’s the same argument many feminists use (fairly, in my opinion) to remind people that just because Sarah Palin runs for Vice President doesn’t mean we have to support her, and that just because Twilight was written by a woman about a woman (? arguable.) and then turned into a film directed by a woman doesn’t mean that we have to pledge our undying love. But I do think things are a little more complicated than I make it out to be sometimes.

One of the things I’ve written about many times before on this blog is that when women want to write, perform, or otherwise create media, society still sees them as women before it sees them as artists. But there’s more to this than just that: we (and I mean everyone) also judge women for what genre they choose to work in.

Traditional feminist wisdom holds that there are two ways women can make art: we can either appropriate male forms, or we can create our own. The difficulty with creating our own is that, because it deals with women’s issues, men and other women often don’t take it seriously. The difficulty of appropriating male language (…music, painting styles, comedy, etc.) is that audiences are quick to call femininity a gimmick. The problem with creating our own is that it forces us to buy into cultural definitions of what is feminine. The problem with appropriating “male” forms is that it supports the idea that masculine is somehow equivalent with unisex and devalues the feminine. Catch-22. What do we do?

When I first opened this blog, one of the articles I was eager to write was entitled “Writing for Women.” The thesis was to be, essentially, “I hate chick lit. I hate the very concept of chick lit. Any genre that shares its name with a type of gum isn’t literature!” When I was sharing my ideas with my friend, a fellow writer and armchair philosopher whom I respect very greatly, she asked me some rhetorical questions that complicated my very black and white view of the issue (Her favorite philosopher is Socrates. Is anyone surprised?). You see, this friend is a closeted devotee of The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. “It’s not that I think they’re great literature,” she told me, “They’re not. They’re just fun. But it made me realize that chick lit. is a genre used for women to speak to each other. The men in the books were caricatures, cardboard cutouts. They weren’t meant to be real, unlike the women of the book. It’s supposed to be a world men can’t inhabit.”

I thought about this a lot. I still objected to the idea that women’s writing had to be about romance and weight loss, but, at the same time, is it possible for women to write a book about family, sisterhood, and mothers and have it be taken seriously by the book world? I tried to think of a book of the sort that wasn’t treated as either chick lit. or “whiny feminist literature” (a genre that I don’t actually believe exists, but you try convincing some people that Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood have the ability to appeal to everyone.)

Oh I argued with her. I mentioned that there’s no equivalent genre for men. I claimed that the existence of the genre makes it more difficult for women writers because we fear that whatever we write will be stuck in that genre (I still hold this as a possibility.) But I couldn’t shake a lingering doubt from my head that I was calling this writing trite because it dealt with what is the reality for many women who do follow current feminine norms. Maybe it does nothing to challenge it. Maybe it’s poorly written (I don’t know. I haven’t really read it.). But am I being unfair to dismiss it as a stain on all women’s writing?

One of the things we prize most in our artwork is universality–that everyone can relate to it. Shakespeare we hold to be the greatest of authors, and when we question why, the first answer people will give you is “universality” (Anthropologists will tell you otherwise. I don’t think this detracts from Shakespeare’s greatness.). Even as scholars argue whether universality is a myth or not, the reality is that as long as we hold “universal” to be a criteria of good art, art written by members of “minority” groups suffer because people tend to see their art as specific to their group. White, straight, cis, (I could go on…) men writing about men’s issues does not face the same “universality” penalty that others’ doesn’t (I think I’ve mentioned this before) . So one has to wonder that if well-written “chick lit” exists out there, is it dismissed as “chick lit.” for not being universal? Or does its unwillingness to be universal disqualify it from being literature?On the other side of genre fiction, I recently read the book Queenpin by Film Noir Scholar, Megan Abbott. If you want to read a straight-up, hard boiled as Sam Spade eating a hard boiled egg Noir book, I’d strongly recommend it. I, on the other hand, was disappointed.

I had been excited at the prospect of reading Noir from a feminine perspective because the genre is so masculine. Scholars widely regard the Eve-like (or is that Lilith?) figure of the femme fatale as an embodiment of the contemporary fear of female sexuality and “The new woman”: the women who had joined the workforce during WWII, taking over jobs that men once held. These women had both financial power and manipulative sexual power. They traversed into the public sphere with ease. The femme fatale provided a universal scapegoat and outlet. So, therefore, I was excited because Abbott writes from what seems the femme fatale’s perspective. I was excited to see how this would change and rearrange the genre. I was disappointed when it didn’t.

In a set-up so perfectly embeded in the Noir genre, I could see the diagrams my Noir professor drew on the board to describe the inner turmoil of Walter Neff, the main character of the classic film Double Indemity, who must choose between the male influence (a friend of his from the insurance agency) and the evil femme fatale (who convinced him to commit murder to win her sexual favor), the main character must choose between her female mentor, a gun moll who has taught her the art of surival in the masculine realm of the Las Vegas underworld, and the “homme fatal,” a failed gambler who encourages her to betray her mentor. I didn’t find the homme fatal’s charms alluring, but then again, the idea that a femme fatale could actually convince a man to go against his morals because of her beauty is a very strange idea when you look at it objectively. I mean, the old “men can’t control themselves when faced with breasts” is an excuse hurled at everything in our culture, so perhaps having a woman act the same about a man is radical in its own sense, but I’m grasping at straws here.

It’s interesting to take a critical look at my assumptions. Though Abbott is, in fact, a scholar, and particularly interested in gender, I had no reason to assume that just because she was a woman that she would somehow re-invent Noir. She set out to write Noir fiction; the fact that it blended so seamlessly into the genre is to her credit (now whether it makes sense to write pure noir as opposed to playing with the conventions of a really restrictive genre is a completely different, non-gender-related story.). Why should I expect her to stick in feminist commentary? In other words, why was I expecting her to write Noir as a woman? And why was I so disappointed when she didn’t?

When we see women working in genres or realms that are traditionally male-dominated, we still carry expectations of how they’ll approach their work, and that they’ll approach it differently from men because they are women (and not because they are individuals). I don’t know which male counterpart the commenter on “Target Women” thought s/he was comparing Sarah Haskins to. This is partially because I view “Target Women” as at once occupying a traditionally male realm and working within an explicitly female genre. While “Target Women” can be watched and enjoyed by anyone, it deals strictly with women’s issues, the messages we get, and the questions we hold about our own femininity. At the same time, its format is familiar to anyone who enjoys “The Daily Show.” Do we owe it to Sarah Haskins to ask ourselves whether we like her show just because no one else is doing it? I think so. That doesn’t mean I agree with the commenter–I think she does a good job, too (not that I’m the grand arbitor of what is funny or anything like that.)

I suppose you’re expecting me to write some grand proposal of how we should judge women working in gendered genres, but any proclamation I could possibly come up with would be filled with contradictions, problems and pitfalls. I’m certainly never going to become a huge fan of “chick-lit,” but I still mourn the fact that the trend in short story writing these days seems to be to emulate Hemingway as much as possible. I’m not going to suddenly cheer on Anne Bradstreet when I have Sor Juana to fawn over. But if we can learn anything from the way we look at women creating their own genres or trying to appropriate traditionally masculine ones, we learn that it’s still difficult for women to create without facing a lot of “political” questions of what it means for them to choose that particular method. Whew. You probably could have guessed that without reading the whole article. Sorry.

So how do we unisex genres? And do we even want to unisex genres?

To quote a 1950’s instructional video: What do you think?

(I apologize in advance for any incoherence this article may contain thanks to my throbbing sinuses.)

“So this is what a real writer looks like,” was, I’m embarrassed to say, my first thought as I approached the Writer’s Dojo, a Portland writer’s resource center tucked away in north of the city. The woman who had caught my eye was wore an overcoat and carried a large Queen Bee Creations bag. I smiled, thinking of the Queen Bee bag slung over my own shoulder and feeling that perhaps I wouldn’t look entirely out of place despite the fact that I had gotten caught in a rainstorm on the way to the Dojo.

I’d like to excuse myself for these silly thoughts with such generalizations as “no one is immune to shallowness,” but that would be ignoring the truth of the matter, which is that I still feel as if I’m intruding on the Portland writer’s world instead of being a part of it. I pay attention to the way I dress because I feel as if maybe I can make myself look the part people won’t realize that I’m still an amateur. Perhaps it’s a symptom of my own mental transition from academic to writer.  Maybe it’s because I don’t have the mental energy these days to devote much time to fiction, which I would love to eventually have time to do (it just feels irresponsible to dream about the lives of others while I, myself, am mostly unemployed.) But I think the most likely reason of all is that I am not yet published (though this will change in a small capacity shortly. I’ve landed a small freelance gig, but I’ve hesitated to post about it here so that I don’t jinx anything.).

This muddle of thoughts is actually central to a lot of what I got out of attending the Writer’s Dojo panel discussion on publishing, community and social media. Featuring writers, small-press publishers, and the owners of literary social networking sites, the discussion panel answered questions and posed new ones about the future of publishing: What does it mean that with technologies such as Twitter and blogs, anyone can be their own publisher? Does blogging about your day smother the seeds of stories by forcing them out into the open air prematurely? Do people still read books? And what about the fact that a lot of people need solitude to write and don’t want to constantly be able to communicate?

Despite my nerves, the atmosphere was genial and open, becoming more of a giant conversation than a lecture, and I’m sorry to simplify what was an all-together fascinating panel into this small write-up, but this was what stuck with me. This is the second panel I’ve attended on this subject, and I’m more than a little surprised about the one commonality between this one and the one I attended at Wordstock: The panelists at both were very concerned about what “the kids” think about print media, and yet, “the kids,” for the most part, didn’t attend these discussions. I don’t know what to make of the latter point, but I’d like to speak a bit to the former. Being on the younger end of my twenties, I’m more or less on the upper edge of the age group in question and felt a little awkward hearing such joking comments as “Yeah, you want a 20-year-old to do your marketing!” It’s akin to hearing relatives discuss your life at a family function, referring to you in the third person while you stand right next to them, staring at your shoes.

As the conversation moved in fascinating directions such as the usefulness of paper media for annotation, and the fact that children still grow up with books (and children books are amongst the most beautiful printed), I often wanted to raise my hand and offer a recent college graduate’s perspective. (Unfortunately, I’m short, shy, and was sitting behind tall people, so by the time I got called on, the conversation had moved in such a direction that I mumbled something about the kinds of interactive fiction I’ve seen on Livejournal, primarily in fandom, where people are supposed to respond to journal entries as if the characters were real people, and came off as a not particularly serious sci-fi dork, but that sorry tale is neither here nor there).  What I had wanted to say though, is that the person who brought up children’s books hit the nail on the head: I don’t know anyone my age who sees books as obsolete. I heard of a  few people who hate reading, but not even my constantly plugged-in little brother is ready to give up books yet (granted, he doesn’t hate reading.).

This brings me back to the issue of publishing and the question of what makes a “real” writer: yes, anyone can be published these days through blogs or twitter. There are sites designed to help you archive web comics and sites which which you can use to print small runs of your work for family and friends. Before all this, zinesters were self-publishing their work armed only with a copier and a stapler. But even amongst people younger than me, I don’t know if anyone considers these self-publishing tools to be “real” yet. From what I can tell, and I admit that I’ve never truly been in an online writing scene (there’s more than one), writing on the net is still seen as a prelude to a book deal. Getting recognized by a publisher still has a kind of mystique. When a fanfic author such as Cassandra Clare, both infamous and famous in the Harry Potter fandom, gets a book deal, people see it as having moved on to the big leagues. At this point, I think it’s both the seal of quality publishers assure for readers and the affirmation they provide writers that keep self-publishing in this manner less mainstream. If these attitudes change, well, the sky’s the limit.

I write a lot of articles on this blog. People have commented both positively and negatively, and it’s a lot of fun. I feel like my voice is being heard. Nevertheless, I don’t think of it as publishing my thoughts. I don’t consider myself a journalist or a published writer at this point, which is why I still feel like I’m performing something I’m not when I go to events like this panel. I still list myself in the “aspiring” category, someone who’s still striving make her output match her ideas, and then, with a little luck, her output match her dreams of publication. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind. Maybe I’ll be published before I have to change my mind. Or maybe I’ll opt out of all of worry of when I can truly call myself a writer and join the publishing world (or try and make my way in both.) Until then, I’ll still worry that I’m out of place at writing events, checking out the aura of the authentic writers and wondering when I can walk among them with confidence. Even if our publishing media has democratized, I’m not sure our attitudes have. At least mine sure haven’t.

What? I’m writing the Snazz on Thursday this week like I said I was going to? Wow. Unfortunately, I don’t have much new to report on my front, but maybe you guys have more to say.

Reading

I’m still working on The Blind Assassin and loving it–it’s taking me a bit longer than I expected because I got distracted by the science book I’m reading:

Einstein’s Telescope by Evalyn Gates- So far this has proved to be wonderfully accessible and interesting (and has made me jokingly gripe at gravity all week for screwing up everyone’s predictions and theories). Part of me wishes she’d go more into the mechanics of how lenses work because I’ve forgotten, but I understand that she’s trying to keep it simple, and I can’t blame her for that. Also, she’s speaking at Powell’s in April, so maybe I’ll get to hear her comments on her own work.

Listening

It’s just been a Regina Spektor kind of week.

Seeing

The Importance of Being Earnest– Wilde’s plays are always good for a laugh, and Portland Center Stage’s production was rather nicely done. I think my favorite aspect of the staging/direction was the attention paid to class, from the way the city and the country servants behaved to the difference in mannerisms between Gwendolyn and Cecily. Granted, the only other production I’d seen of the play was entirely gender-focused: the play featured an all male cast, and was framed by a scene with Wilde drinking absinthe in Paris and hallucinating the handsome waiters into his own play.

Misc.

Rebeca Rubin- American Girl Dolls have certainly changed a lot since I was little. Okay, so they were always overpriced and toys for the (semi-)wealthy, yes, I know, but I got hours of enjoyment just reading the catalogs, books and fantasizing. Okay, I had a Samantha doll. I admit it. Still drooled over the catalog. In any case, to my surprise, I found out that they’re retiring Samantha to make way for a new Victorian-era girl: Rebeca Rubin. Why is this even remotely interesting? She’s a Russian Jewish immigrant on New York’s Lower-East Side, that’s why! This is exciting for me because it always really did bother me as a young girl that none of the dolls reflected my family’s experiences. I know that there are plenty of histories that get left out of the American Girls, but when you’re little, you don’t consider that. All you know is that none of the dolls are like you, and you feel left out.

I’m intrigued by their decision to retire Samantha, whom I always thought was really popular because of her overall pink and frilliness. Perhaps her story, which is largely about a wealthy Victorian girl coming to terms with her own privilege, came off either as condescending (which seems to clear to me now, that I’m embarrassed for my younger self), or maybe it just wasn’t as exciting as the lives of the likes of Addy,  an escaped slave forging a new life for her family and dealing with racism, or Felicity, who learned to stand up for her beliefs and had adventures in breeches. No matter. I’m excited that there finally is a Jewish doll. Now maybe they’ll diversify even more. The only doll they have to represent East-Asian Americans is in a side-kick role, which seems kind of unfair to me. And how about a South-east Asian? Blah blah blah time/money/concept design/is anyone going to still buy these dolls in the middle of a recession? But, hey, nifty nevertheless, right? (source, and no, I don’t usually look on doll collecting blogs. I found the link elsewhere.)

So what sort of snazz are you enjoying this week?

Would you believe anything this person says?

Would you believe anything this person says?

When we talk about the possibility of blogs replacing newspapers, we tend to pay a lot of attention to the anxieties surrounding the anonymity of bloggers. They just don’t seem to have the credentials that someone being backed by the New York Times has. There’s a lot to discuss in this issue, but I want to draw attention to one point that I don’t often see brought up (though I’m sure someone’s talking about it.). The thing that worries me almost more about the transition from print to digital media is the ability for people to comment on whatever they read. Though blogs have long been considered a dialogue, newspapers and magazines have started attaching comments feeds to their articles, allowing for instant discussion. But comment feeds rarely actually encourage discussion that does not degenerate into flame wars, name-calling, and the other weapons called upon in net drama.

As any net veteran will tell you, you cannot win an argument on the internet. But can you even have a discussion on the internet?

In her article “Lowest Comment Denominator,” freelance writer Laura Nathan encouraged feminists to abandon using the comments feeds on blog and news article as discussion forums in favor of email or even in person discussion of the articles with friends. This seemingly Luddite response comes from her rather astute observation that “commenting has been around for a decade now, and it still hasn’t advanced the conversation about feminism—or anything else for that matter” (pg. 45, Bitch Magazine: Fall 2008: “Loud”). As much as I hate to say it, she has an excellent point. I really love getting comments here on FtCM, and I love reading other blogs, but, for the most part, reading comments pages gives me headaches of epic proportions.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, and I do feel a little guilty for making commenters who do think carefully about the comments they write out of this post for the most part.  Don’t worry–I know they exist.

If you’re at all interested in the discussion of the future of journalism, I would recommend checking out Nathan’s article, which addresses, albeit briefly, some of the common ways comment feeds degrade journalism, such as the way internet culture thrives on provoking others and the ability of commenters or even the bloggers themselves to create sock puppet accounts (fake accounts) in an attempt to make it seem like more people agree with them. But I’ve got another reason why comment feeds, particularly on news articles, don’t seem to help discussion any: comment feeds completely eliminate context.

One of the first things any writer considers before beginning a piece is their audience (and if they will accept the fact that I like using 3rd-person plural pronouns as a gender-neutral 3rd-person singular). I know this sounds banal and obvious, but it’s so taken-for-granted that we almost forget about it. Thinking about whom you write for means that you consider your audience’s context: their education (Is it specialized? Do they expect you to use certain jargon?), their background, their concerns. It shows consideration and respect for them, not to metion that having a sense of what your audience expects changes everything about how you write from your tone to what you discuss. It’s essential.

But you can’t do this properly on the internet. Its vastness erases context. Even though I do have some sense of which sorts of people read my blog, I constantly find out that websites like Stumbleupon, or random Google searches for such random terms as “castration” or “what happened to the Nostalgia chick?” bring people outside of my predicted audience to my site. I’m not complaining (I mean, thinking hard enough about it, I realize that the writers of centuries past didn’t consider us as their audience either,) but it does mean that people read me out of the context I’ve created on FtCM, and sometimes without me predicting them as part of my audience.

In the end, this does not really affect the way I blog; like any other writer, I eventually just have to pick an audience and stick with it. Published writers go through a similar context-erasing ordeal (they can’t predict who will pick up their books!), unless they’ve been published by a specialty press. I do still consider audience when I write and make an effort to account for the fact that not everyone reading this blog comes from the same background that I do. I like to think that most bloggers do this, and I know that a good journalist does too, whether their article goes in a paper or on the net.

Though we tend to think of commenting as being intimately tied up with blogging, it actually works in a different way. A quality blog or a news blog worth reading will have articles that are written with care, or at least some effort. Comments, on the other hand,  are often gut reactions, written without fully realizing the implications of their words nor with thought given to the types of people who may be reading the comment. When I comment on a feminist blog, I expect people to be familiar with certain concepts. If I go to a slightly larger blog, even one that considers itself progressive, I don’t know if its readers come from the same feminist context. I cannot expect them to be familiar with terms such as “rape culture” that are well-defined and easily understood within the context of the feminist community. If I write with the expectation that people already know the lingo or already accept certain precepts as true, I run the risk of alienating people who might otherwise be sympathetic to my ideas and causing others to make terrible assumptions about what I’m actually trying to say. Ignoring who my audience only serves to undermine my point and hinders discussion.

The other danger lies in the ability of commenters to erase their own context. This is less of an issue for bloggers because even if they are fairly tight-lipped with personal details, they create a context for themselves with their blogging history. Eventually, if a commenter comments at a blog long enough, they will gain a context of sorts, but in a vast sea of comments it’s difficult to keep track of an individual, unless they’re on a small blog that has created a community of regular commenters.

Writing outside of a context might mean that whatever you say can’t get traced back to you (which has been oft blamed for viciousness on the internet,) but it also means that readers do not have a context within which to judge your claims. Again, this is a simple point, but it can have a huge effect on the direction of discussion. For example, if I’m reading a book on physics, and the book tells me that its author works at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC,) I know that, at least in the realm of particle physics, she has some authority to speak on the subject. Therefore, if I am looking at the comments feed for a Scientific American blog article, and see a person make a claim that contradicts what I read in the book, I’m probably going to ignore the comment. It doesn’t matter if the comment I read was written by a physicist working within the same field who has found actual evidence to bring the theories of the author of the book into question. I don’t know that from a comments thread. And, beyond that, I have no reason to trust that information coming from a comments thread, even if the commenter were to reveal my identity.

Ultimately, everyone who writes on the internet now, bloggers and commenters alike, faces the obstacle of having internet culture as their context. Internet culture, as it stands, has an attitude rather similar to such characters as The Joker (ala The Dark Knight): Why so serious? (sorry, sorry. I couldn’t help it!)  Anyone who has ever gotten upset over a comment made on the internet will probably have received a slew of responses to the effect of, “Why are you taking this so seriously! It’s just the internet!” or “Why do you care what people you don’t even know think?” (If you play with the logic of that third statement long enough, you start to wonder why anyone has a conversation on the internet ever, if it’s just a bunch of people they don’t know spouting opinions.) The internet has gained the reputation of being a land of informational anarchy, of communication via macro, and of people venting their anger. It is a land of verbal vigilantes who thrive on “educating” people that they consider to be stupid of their own stupidity. If this is the base-line context we write in on the internet, then I do not blame anyone dubious of its usefulness as an informational or, almost more importantly, discussion forum.

I’m not sure I want to pronounce a death sentence on the internet’s possibilities for discussion on issues. The internet is a useful organizing tool, an equalizing tool, and often offers a public stage for people whose voices are often ignored by mainstream publications for reasons of gender, race, class, and sexuality.  And, again, I don’t want to forget the fact that there are people who comment thoughtfully, or at least make an effort to. I always hesitate to portray the internet as a wasteland, even if it sometimes feels that way. Nothing’s that simple.

But the fact remains that whenever we read, and particularly whenever we read anything on the internet, we cannot stop questioning. We cannot stop thinking critically about people’s motivations, backgrounds, and contexts for commenting.

And now, in a fit of paradoxical glee, I invite you to comment on this article. ;)

Welcome

From the Cracked Mirror is a blog about culture, both high and low, including art, literature, film, food, and advertising from a progressive and feminist perspective. I’m here to critique, elucidate, wonder, and gush...

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