Tag Archives: goddamn patriarchy

In which it becomes ever more evident how predictable my tastes are, continued.

27 Oct

Today, part two of my review of Judith Pearson’s The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy! The first part can be found here!

I’ve talked a bit about what I liked about this book, and now it’s time for a bit of talk about the things that didn’t work for me.

One of my few complaints about the book is that Pearson hints at a lot of important but uncomfortable issues, and then drops them without really addressing them to my satisfaction. For instance:

  1. the institutional sexism that Hall dealt with during her time at the State Department, and later in life when she worked for the newborn CIA: Pearson mentions how few women were employed as Foreign Service officers and mentions rumors that women were held to a much more rigorous standard on the exams than men. There’s even a throwaway mention of the fact that when Hall was recruited by British intelligence, part of her motivation for joining was likely the fact that they offered her the chance to do much more than the clerical work that was all the US government would entrust her with. The book isn’t aiming to be a feminist reading of Hall’s life, but Pearson is clearly aware of the issues—she just never really seems sure how to address them. Just how disillusioned might Hall have been, that when Vera Atkins asked her to work as a spy for a foreign (albeit friendly) government, Hall immediately said yes?
  2. The book’s subtitle (“The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy”) is ironic; though she later worked for the OSS, and the CIA when it became that, part of Hall’s motivation for getting involved in the war and staying involved in the war was having spent most of her adult life in Europe, and identifying at least as much with the people there as in her home country. Pearson shies away, however, from the more difficult questions of identity and where Hall might have considered herself as “belonging”, and while admittedly this probably makes for a smoother narrative (and I’m a lot more likely to forgive a book’s flaws when they make it a quicker read than a slower one), the allusions to the questions as Pearson comes close to addressing the matters and then backs down are almost more frustrating than if she hadn’t mentioned them at all.
  3. The uncomfortable fact that the Allies, with regional OSS director Alan Dulles leading the charge, made deals allowing numerous Nazi war criminals to escape in exchange for their help setting up anti-Communist espionage forces in 1945, thus kicking off the Cold War. At least, I was deeply uncomfortable with this, and Pearson seems to be at best ambivalent about it; the characterization of those who took advantage of this deal to flee Europe as “war criminals” is hers as well as mine. But the incident is mentioned, and apart from a couple allusions to trials and assassinations at the end, that’s it—there’s nothing to really tie it into Hall’s narrative, even.

Basically, my one complaint would probably be that Pearson doesn’t seem quite sure what she wants this book to be, and ended up a bit wishy-washy on some issues, not wanting to offend anyone with the fact that sometimes people in history do both great things and less-great ones. Or maybe more accurately, Pearson’s editor doesn’t seem sure what it should be, since there are a few obvious misspellings and repetitions that would’ve been fixed by more thorough edits.

Plus it does the irritating thing of referring to Hall by her first name, Virginia, throughout; as her marriage isn’t mentioned until the very last chapter and the jacket copy refers to her as Hall, this just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Oh, patriarchy, you just always find new ways to delight me, don’t you.

But flaws aside, it was totally enjoyable for me, although again, this may be because I have a love for stories of AWESOME LADIES DOING AWESOME THINGS, which Virginia Hall definitely qualifies as. I’m actually considering buying copy of my own after I have to return this to the library, because it was so awesome and I imagine I’d like to reread it later.

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In which I (unsuccessfully) attempt to disguise my disgust with sarcasm

12 Oct

Sorry about that break there; I was out of town for a bit and also things are starting to (finally) get busy for me on the job-hunt front! Fingers crossed on that, though it might mean posting becomes a little less frequent. But I have a totally fun post to make up for it! By which I mean feminist rage. Sorry.

I know that the rape business we’re all concerned about right now is Roman Polanski, but my friends, part of the fun of feminism is that there is always more than enough rape to go around! If you’re looking for some other rape case to cleanse your palate while you wait for the next course of Polanski, seems that 30 Republican Senators voted to defend the rights of a corporation over the rights of a woman that corporation’s employees locked in a shipping container, drugged, starved, and gang-raped.

Unsurprisingly, among the Republicans who voted in favor of the victim’s right to take Halliburton to court over this are all of the party’s female senators! I eagerly await the talk of how that clearly means that womenfolk shouldn’t be in Congress because their icky lady feelings get in the way of them towing the party line.

In which I have thoughts on stage parents.

3 Oct

So there was an interesting letter in Salon’s broadsheet tying together the Polanski case and a recent incident in which a photograph of Brooke Shields was removed from the Tate Modern in London on the grounds that it might constitute child pornography. It got me thinking about how I am really bothered by everyone who blames the parents in situations like this! Like obviously what Brooke Shields’s parents did strikes me as pretty creepy. But the constant barrage of people saying “well, what about Samantha Geimer’s mother” in the Polanski case are making me really mad, because you know, it’s ultimately shifting the blame for his raping a thirteen-year-old girl to someone else, and a woman at that. And yes, it sounds like Samantha Geimer’s mother was a crappy exploitative stage parent for putting her daughter in a situation where she could be drugged and raped to begin with, but on the other hand, my parents sent me and my sister to a gymnastics school that was later closed down and our coach was arrested for raping students there. Possibly I am projecting a bit, but I don’t know, it’s still ultimately not their fault the dude was raping girls, it’s his fault.

I guess the insistence on tying it into terrible parenting—actually, not just terrible parenting, but terrible mothering, which I feel it’s important to note, because no one is talking about the fathers specifically in these situations, just the awful awful mothers—bothers me, because it’s a way of shifting the blame from the dude who actually drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old girl, and shifting it to a woman besides. And in an exploitation case like that of Brooke Shields, examining the parents’ behavior is valid, but when it’s a case like the Roman Polanski one, where Samantha Geimer was put into an exploitative situation and then raped, it seems really problematic to me to blame the mother instead of, you know, the guy who actually did the raping.

It’s also striking me as sketchy that Tracy Clark-Flory has reduced the judge in the Shields case to practically a footnote. Like, the focus is on how terrible the parents’ behavior is, not the judge who basically said that since Brooke Shields had done suggestive jeans ads as a teenager, she had no right to get upset about the creepy kiddie-porny picture that was taken of her when she was ten. This is a pretty classic example of what we in the Getting Irritated About Lady Matters biz call “victim-blaming”, and I would like to hear a hell of a lot more excoriation of that dude in this case, you know?

Like, there is more than enough blame to go around in our culture, because I do subscribe to the idea that we live in a rape culture and there are a lot of people who fucked up royally and betrayed both Brooke Shields and Samantha Geimer and, if they didn’t directly exploit them, at least allowed them to be exploited. But this just doesn’t sit right with me.

IDK, I originally intended to tell you guys how much I liked Zombieland! Maybe that will be an entry for tomorrow or something.

In which I read things: The Pirate’s Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

2 Oct

The Pirate's Daughter, paperback coverI was catching up with a friend last week and she said “so, Jules, what have you been reading lately?” This was not a question I planned to answer on the blog, since only one of the books I read in September was really historical, but then I realized an important counterargument, in the form of “hey, why the hell not?”

One of the books I read this month (the one that actually was an historical novel) was Margaret Cezair-Thompson’s The Pirate’s Daughter. In 1946, Errol Flynn comes to Jamaica, and this is the story of the women–well, and some men, but mostly women–whose lives he affects: primarily a woman named Ida, a preteen girl at the story’s beginning, with whom he later has an affair, and their illegitimate daughter, May.

This book is, in a lot of ways, not at all the kind of thing I usually read–multiple points of view, a sprawling story that sweeps across several decades in scope, and, heck, four out of every five books I read are young adult–but this was a wonderful story, beautifully written, and contains the one thing that will generally make me give something more of a chance, namely a lot of ladies, and ladies of color besides. It’s a story of women and race, women and inheritance, women and land. In writing her memoirs as an adult, May says:

It used to give me a ghostly feeling to hear stories about the days when men like Bligh and Admiral Nelson were in Jamaica. Not that they were ghostly but that I was, creeping about their big, conspicuous ruins. I’d feel ghostly too when I’d hear stories about my father. Because women like my mother, Sabine [a local ghost], the White Witch of Rosehall [a horror story], women like me, are usually heard of only in legends about haunted places. But it’s not a haunted house that I’ve inherited; it’s history.

In a LiveJournal post I linked to earlier, user Oyceter commented that the white man/woman of color pairing dynamic in what these people need is a honky stories plays out as “colonialism in miniature”; that idea is explored thoroughly here. The celebrated white man comes to Jamaica, loves it, but loves it as his vacation spot, not for what it actually is but for what it can offer him; he paints it as a charming, quaint little place and never even pays for his own meals (Ida’s father, his usual tour guide, pays for their dinners and drinks together). He loves it so much that he seduces a young woman from the island, then abandons her, and only meets their daughter once (at which point the child has no idea who he is). Colonialism is acted out in and upon the bodies of the characters, and May begins to come into her own and come to terms with her past against the backdrop of the political violence in Jamaica in the 1970s. Not entirely shocking, then, that The Pirate’s Daughter also contains one of the best descriptions of privilege I’ve ever read:

“I can’t tolerate men who are careless about other people’s lives. […] There was no malice in what Errol did to people, just thoughtless galloping over everyone, like a princeling.”

Basically this is one of the best books I’ve read in ages and I really cannot recommend it enough.

In which the legends are indeed true

29 Sep

What’s that I spy in the distance? Is it another mirage, or is it indeed an article that isn’t defending Roman Polanski for raping a child? Oh my God, it is!

Roman Polanski may be a great director, an old man, a husband, a father, a friend to many powerful people, and even the target of some questionable legal shenanigans. He may very well be no threat to society at this point. He may even be a good person on balance, whatever that means. But none of that changes the basic, undisputed fact: Roman Polanski raped a child. And rushing past that point to focus on the reasons why we should forgive him, pity him, respect him, admire him, support him, whatever, is absolutely twisted.

Like, I was willing to hear out the people who didn’t think Michael Jackson did what he was accused of. I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I could see where they were coming from.

But when we are dealing with a dude who actually pled guilty to raping someone (sidebar: I love that in the linked piece, Harding notes how the defenses would probably get even creepier if the girl hadn’t been thirteen at the time), uh, I’m sorry, but how is there any room for debate there?

I have more thoughts on this, obviously, but that will probably be something for tomorrow instead.

In which some cave paintings set me off.

16 Sep

So there was a neat article that popped up in my RSS reader from the London Times, about how there’s been some speculation that the cave paintings at Pech-Merle are not all by dudes! The article is here, and this is pretty interesting stuff, but there is a lot in that article that is…not exactly irritating, but kind of weird and off-putting, pretty much from the first paragraph.

Cave art seems always to have been thought of, for no especially good reason, as the work of men.

Okay, that’s fair enough, I guess? I never thought much about it one way or the other, but I guess that’s as good an opening for an article about ladies doing cave-paintings as any.

Perhaps it is because much of the art lies in deep, dark caverns,

Wait, what? Is there any way anyone can find to interpret this that does not boil down to “this is why we figure dudes made them, because everyone knows ladies are afraid of the dark”? Any way at all?

or because many of the paintings and engravings are of large food animals such as mammoth and bison, which men might be supposed to have hunted.

Wait, what? Because…ancient ladies would’ve been completely divorced from the process of hunting, if they weren’t hunting those animals themselves? If they weren’t the ones out there killing the big tough animals like the manly men were, there is no way they could possibly have known what those animals looked like? Seriously, dude, I do not understand what you are saying here.

Cartoons have often suggested that women played a part, however, with the animals shown as a shopping list, or as home décor.

I recognize that this is not meant to be lending sexist cartoons the same weight as actual scholarship, let alone saying that those cartoons may be right, but I don’t know, man, something about this sentence is still just rubbing me the wrong way. That might just be that it’s hard to get sarcasm across in print, though.

Handprints are not found in all, or indeed most, caves, however, and since many are those of men, it is so far impossible to say firmly which if any of the great animal friezes in caves such as Lascaux or Chauvet might be women’s work.

NONE OF THE IMPORTANT STUFF WAS BY LADIES, RIGHT? RIGHT?

While Professor Snow’s research shows that we cannot rule out either sex in any cave as the world’s first muralists, no doubt cartoonists will find in his findings a fertile new field for their humour.

IN CASE YOU DIDN’T CATCH IT THE FIRST TIME, LADIES LIKE TO DECORATE THINGS AND GO SHOPPING, AND THAT’S PRETTY HILARIOUS. Like, seriously, though, if cartoonists have already been making jokes about cave paintings being ~ladythings~, what the heck is finding out that these paintings may actually have been made by women going to accomplish? The jokes have already been made, and instead if you are the type of person who says that the only reason an ancient woman would’ve painted something would’ve been by way of a) decorating or b) nagging, JUST LIKE THOSE ARE THE ONLY THING LADIES ARE GOOD FOR NOW, AMIRITE OR AMIRITE, you instead are probably just going to cite this as proof of that. If, meanwhile, you are genuinely interested in this finding, you will probably just get irritated at how clumsily-written this article is.

In which I am ambivalent about TV.

12 Sep

So I am a reluctant (very, very, very reluctant) fan of the CW television show Supernatural, which just had its fifth season premiere last night. When I say “reluctant”, let me tell you, I mean reluctant. I mean I was told by friends for four years that there were things I’d love—the family dynamics, Dean Winchester’s Oldest Sibling Angst, the way folklore (American folklore in particular) is drawn upon to create horror stories, the American backdrop, and the occasional guest appearance by Jeffrey Dean Morgan—and resisted right up until the end of the fourth season.

In An Open Letter to Eric Kripke, Alaya Dawn Johnson, of The Angry Black Woman, articulates a lot of the reasons why I’m such a reluctant fan, and why I’m so ambivalent about the show at the best of times. The misogyny and racism in the show are appalling, and the misogyny and racism in the fandom are, in some ways, even more so (which reminds me; you may not want to read the comments, because a lot of them are pretty depressing).

Mr. Kripke, one of your show’s characters—who, surprise, surprise, was later brutally killed—said it best: stop calling me “bitch”.