Morons 0, Feminists 1, Writing 0

I’m still not exactly sure how to score those last two hours of Tuesday afternoon. Does a win for the feminists count as a win in general, or is it a loss because I didn’t get much writing done? So complicated. So hard.

I really don’t recommend getting involved in online theological arguments. They are rarely helpful, generally time consuming, and people tend to leave with the same opinions they held before. Then again, silence is a kind of complicity. It sucks either way, yes?

Yes.

This began as a brilliantly self-righteous tirade on the birthboard by a Christian woman who “respects and obeys” her husband. She is apparently sick and tired of seeing posts by women who disrespect and devalue their husbands. No wonder we have so many broken families and such high divorce rates in this country. Her husband is fantastic, and it’s her delight to serve him. He is the head of their home. If more marriages were like that, the world would be a better place.

Did I mention my birthboard is a public, non-religious forum?

Cue the ravaging horde.

Who writes something like that? My first comment was fairly neutral, something along the lines of “Glad you’re happy, but I’ve seen these headship marriages, and I’m very happy to have missed that train.”

And then it got biblical.

At which point I went hunting for a wall to bash my head against.

Seriously. I have zero desire to debate religion with nonChristians. Zero. A hundred years ago when modernism was hip, I understand debate might have been a great tool for getting people to admit religion that is a viable perspective. But modernism isn’t hip and much as I like C. S. Lewis, I’m pretty sure even Mere Christianity wouldn’t fly off the shelves if it was first published today. So if you’re a Muslim or a Wiccan or a Hindu, you are more than welcome to plop down and tell me about your religion, and if you want I will tell you about mine. Honestly, if you file toe nails for a living you are still welcome to sit down and tell me about your life. I’m just a curious person. But I’m not interested in having an argument about whose religion is better. I’m just not. They’re called beliefs for a reason.

There is only one caveat to my pact of nonaggression: Christians who go on public forums to explain why they are better than other people and why their particular round up of beliefs are the only clear and obvious interpretation of the Bible.

I don’t like having my religion hijacked by people who just want to use it to bash other people.

This makes me crazy.

Commence theological beat down:

Previous Poster: This is clearly what the Bible says!

Me: That’s not what the Church taught for the first 1,960 years. Your thoughts?

PP: You have to remember that church authorities were only MEN and could easily make mistakes!

Me: [avoiding the obvious irony] But you still feel confident that your 2011 vintage complementarianism is without a doubt what God intended?

PP: YES! It’s obvious when you read the Bible.

Me: Ok, but you do know this is a philosophy 101 fail, yes? Because what is obvious to you is obvious because it’s your interpretation. And everyone has one of those. My interpretation is that the Bible talks about camels more than it does about marriage, and what it DOES say about marriage has been overlaid with so many centuries of sexism it’s almost impossible to get back to the root of its meaning. Similarly, if we followed this headship idea down the rabbit hole we end up with some really sketchy theology.

PP: You are mean. My marriage is beautiful… the WORLD cannot understand the harmony of a godly marriage!

Me: I am happy you have a good marriage. But as far as I know I’m not the world, the flesh, or the Devil. I’m down with God. I grew up with these concepts. And I still reject them.

PP: You’re a Christian? Then we’re on the same page!

Me: Yes, I am. And no, we’re not.

PP: I think you just misunderstood what I was trying to say.

Me: Pretty sure I didn’t.

PP: I’m going to ignore the gist of what you said earlier.

Me: Ok. You should read some books sometime.

***

Where’s that wall I was beating my head against? Oh, thanks.

BAM.

To be honest, sometimes you actually have to thank the people who chuck those cream pies of nonsense at you. At least you should thank them if it sends you back to your center. Later that evening, Carl and I went to B&N for a little pumpkin spice deliciousness and some foraging for books, and I found myself back in the women’s studies section, pulling out new books and old books and ones I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

These are the encounters that remind me: where I’ve been and where I’m going are important matters.

I used to carry acorns in my coat pockets through college—and I probably still would if I came across them more often. There’s something comforting about putting your hand in your pocket and finding an acorn there, something real and definite about the smooth sides and the rough cap and the pointy tip. Something hopeful about the symbolism. And it’s nice when a cold breeze sends your hands to your pockets and you find an acorn you forgot about just sitting there waiting to be remembered.

That’s exactly how I feel about morons.

Which isn’t a romantic notion, exactly, but kind of fills that void in my mental processes.

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Really Important Things

Well, it would be nice to say I’ve been busy doing important things. Like writing that novel draft I’m supposed to have finished before March, but that would require actual writing and except for the occasional article I’m dashing off for work, I haven’t been doing too much of that lately.

Like almost zero.

I’ve been observing Significantly Less Important Priorities (SLIP), which has led me to decorate the abode for fall, and watch Bethenny Ever After (do NOT judge), and start working out again, and join a birth board online.

Mostly joining the birth board is what killed me.

It’s an online forum of women who are all due in March of 2012. There are almost seven thousand of us. It’s insane, but I’m learning a LOT of really important things.

Really Important Things (RIT)

  1. Do not get impregnated by a douchelord. This will cause significant problems later on. Examples of douchelordery include (but are not limited to) refusing to see or help support the child while INSISTING on your “right” to name the child; giving all the money your wife has saved for baby expenses to an alcoholic family member who “really needs” it; eating all of the household cheese.
  2. Have a rabid opinion about circumcision and be sure to mention it often. Never thought much about it? YOU ARE UNEDUCATED. Thought about it and decided one way or the other? YOU ARE STILL UNEDUCATED. Even threads that are ostensibly about vaginas WILL eventually get hijacked by a circumcision debate. The first time I gamely typed out my feelings on the subject. The second time I did it crankily. The third time I said, “actually, your assumption that circumcision = mutilation convinces me that any conversation between us would be pointless.” And the last time a thread got hijacked I just said, “And they’re off!!” As Darth Vader says, It’s better. This way.
  3. There are only two kinds of people in the world: aggressive and passive-aggressive. Nice people are just passive-aggressive people in camouflage. Aggressive people will tell you point blank when they disagree with you. Passive aggressive people will start spinoff threads about all those mean know it alls who are so judgmental. Well, and then there are the double winners who disagree point blank and then blog about it later. Woot.
  4. Hormones explain everything. Feeling emotional? Sad? Lonely? It’s hormones. It doesn’t have anything to do with being exhausted 24/7, throwing up like clockwork, being in pain, being hungry all the time, having your hands and feet swell up, being unable to participate in certain activities you used to really enjoy, waking up every two hours at night, knowing that NOTHING you do will make you feel better for at least 5 more months. Nope. It’s just women being hormonal. Hormones. How cute. Let’s have a good chuckle while I invalidate your life experience. Next!
  5. The time for cre8ive spelling is past. You can still name your child Breeaughnah Mohneeekwa (pronounced like “Jackson Scott”) if you want, but that ship has officially sailed. And the swim will be a cold one.
These are the kinds of valuable life lessons I’m accumulating instead of pages in my novel draft. It’s totally worth it.

The Hunt Begins

After the previous two week debacle with our first realtor, things have finally picked up on the house hunting front. As in, our new realtor actually keeps his appointments to show houses. It’s a minor miracle.

I truly, sincerely, profoundly wish we’d brought our cameras to the first one.

It was amazing.

And when I say amazing, I don’t mean in the “amazing grace how sweet the sound” kind of way. I mean amazing in the kind of juvenile Armstrong “it’s so unbelievably bad I cannot WAIT to share” sense.

To its credit, the listing did try to warn us. “Needs total rehab” and “bring flashlight” are not common phrases on real estate listings, where microscopic is generally called “cosy” and a torn out kitchen is referred to as an “opportunity to update.”

We knew it would be bad, but we couldn’t stay away. The location was perfect—about a mile from downtown—on a grassy, quiet street. Lots of space between houses. All the homes looked nice. The price was comfortably in our range. So, yes, we knew it would be bad. But we were curious. Was it bad like you could repair stuff as you went along, or bad like you’d have to spend $30,000 before you set foot in it?

The listing warned us not to go in the front door, so we went in the back.

It looked like an abandoned house. One of those creepy ones in film.

Everything was original to the 1930s. The kitchen sink looked like a barn sink. The cupboards were falling apart. A drift of mail had settled onto the kitchen counter, all postmarked from the ’30s.

Carl and I exchanged glances. We’re not usually thieves, but if the realtor hadn’t been there, I would probably have succumbed. I mean, if whoever those letters were addressed to had wanted them she would’ve checked her mail sometime in the last century, right?

Sigh.

We didn’t. We left them.

And went into the front room, where we discovered why the front door was inoperable. The inside ceiling and wall had fallen away in a kind of deconstructed still life.

“So…” I said, “given the price….”

“Yes,” the realtor said. “It’s a bit overpriced. The lot is probably worth $40,000. And the house is almost a tear down.”

On the plus side, it was huge and endearingly quirky in the way old houses can be. The second floor landing opened into a tiny reading room. The bedrooms were large with sloping cottage ceilings. Not necessarily a plus, those ceilings, but definitely full of character. There were some closets, but mostly there were cupboards built into the walls.

If we were builders and could get it for $60,000 (well, and not worried about it collapsing in the meantime), we would have been sold.

Then we went to the basement.

Later, driving to the next listing, we discussed the basement. I said it had to have been done by kids. Neighborhood kids who must’ve broken in and thought it would be funny to creep people out. Carl remained noncommittal.

The basement had a couple of cinder block rooms. One of them was a workroom with a long, scarred table lined with rusting, ancient cans of chemicals and a canning jar with some kind of rust-colored liquid and something moldy floating inside. A large carving knife lay in front. Next to an open book of human anatomy.

Not kidding.

We laughed uncomfortably, but the appeal was sort of gone after that, you know?

The second house was basically a study in contrast. Small and compact, all one floor, new roof and appliances included, occupied most recently by humans. A solid, cosy, first time home kind of place. Perfect for a young, asocial family of three. Less perfect if said family decides to multiply to four or five and develop a mad passion for having guests stay the night. Because while there was technically a third bedroom, I’m not by any means convinced a bed would actually fit in it. Desk, maybe. Bed, no.

A home to like and maybe someday to love, but not a home that makes you say wow, we are the luckiest people in the world to find this fantastic home for this unbelievable price!! Not that those places actually exist outside of HGTV.

But good points of reference as we keep sorting through listings and trying to figure out what matters most.

My brain is apparently working overtime to process all the life changes going on. Last night I dreamed our baby turned out to be a small, pinkish-white and very active piglet. Yes, complete with a snout that I kept staring at and wondering whether it was possible anyone could actually “grow into” a nose like that (and no, I never saw the movie Penelope, so I have no idea where this dream came from). Anyway, I was determined to love and look after our porcine blessing like a good parent and was FURIOUS when Carl objected to the fact that I had filled in 4/5 of our pool with concrete and wanted to set up a baby gate around the rest (a narrow ribbon of water next to Carl’s side of the bed. So, yes, to recap: I filled in an indoor pool and turned the room into a bedroom).

Carl thought the baby gate was really too much.

I began screaming at him in righteous fury. “I will NOT come home to a dead baby!”

Which is awesome for so many reasons, not least among them that I have never screamed at Carl in my entire life, and my baby is a pig, and I had single-handedly filled a pool with concrete.

All of which goes to show, I think, that not only will I be an awesome mother, but my home decorating skills are pretty much the bomb.

I’ve got this homemaker thing in the bag.

We Are Family

Well, the road was a lot bumpier than we thought, but the signposts are now promising and the miles are counting down, and that’s about all the mileage (ha! get it?!) I think we can get out of that metaphor, so let’s just be frank about it, shall we?

There is a small person in my uterus.

He (or she, but I’m pretty sure he) has been growing faithfully from a 1 cell wonder since June, so although we don’t get to see what he looks like until sometime in March, I’m pretty sure we’re sort of parents and I’m even more sure there’s something (with a heartbeat, since we heard that) living in my abdomen.

Yep. A baby.

Difficult to grasp, really. I read the other day that our baby is around 4 inches long now and just beginning to form eyebrows. Really? I thought, pondering the pudge in my midsection. Eyebrows? In there?

It’s all a little unreal.

The morning sickness is the real kicker. I have never been so sick in my life. I mean, sure, in concentrated doses, definitely I’ve been sicker. Everybody’s been sicker. I’ve had mono and about three dozen cases of strep and broken things and gone to the ER as per usual. But this sustained, low-grade awfulness is a new one on me. Like having the flu for seven or eight weeks in a row.

The really sketchy part is the way the advice keeps changing.

At first it was all, “oh, yes, EVERYBODY feels like that. You’ll feel better at 12 weeks.”

And then I was 12 weeks, and I didn’t feel better, and it was, “well, you’ll have good days AND bad days for a while. Everyone does.”

And now it’s polite nods or, worse, ghastly things like, “yes, I pretty much had it from week 4 through transition.”

Times like these, I definitely cast around to see who I can hold personally responsible, but I’m fairly certain Carl and I are the only people personally responsible for this, and one does not, as they say, bite the hand that brings McNuggets, so I guess we’ll let it slide.

But it was sort of surprising how quickly things changed. The typical moan is always focused on how everything changes when you have a baby—and I’m sure that change IS a dramatic one—but our life is already totally different from what it was before I got pregnant. We can’t go out to a movie whenever we want. I might throw up on somebody. We don’t get to play tennis together anymore. We don’t stay up super late watching movies—or, well, I don’t. You know my fondness for UFO documentaries, and I even fell asleep during one of THOSE. Insane. So it’s official: we no longer exist in a halcyon cloud of irresponsibility.

Carl because he loves me, and me because I am possessed. That’s pretty much the gist of it. This little four inch punk has hijacked my body and reprogrammed my sleep, diet, and activities to suit his interests.

And I get that it’s part of the process and I do sort of adore, but I also sincerely look forward to the day when he or she is grown up enough to move out… of me, anyway.

Sigh.

It’s pretty magical.

Not least of all because we seem to be right on schedule with Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Glad that worked out.

Feminism and Fantasy (and other things that make me crazy)

This is what I’ve learned about being a feminist:

If you are born a woman, you should try really, really hard not to be abused. Because once you’ve been abused based on your gender—whether emotionally or sexually or physically—you will see the world differently from people who have not been abused. You will find yourself yelling weird things like, “hey, world, abuse is bad,” and people will look at you funny and say, “well, actually, your opinion is no longer valid now that you’ve experienced it and become angry about it. Now you’re too damaged to see things objectively, and we don’t have to listen to you.”

And if you make the mistake of getting abused and the double mistake of being frank about it, you should also be aware that you will forever have to work harder in every argument so that you can be calmer, more logical, more articulate, and better-prepared than your opponents just to keep from being dismissed out of hand.

This is not something I like to talk about (maybe for obvious reasons), but it’s something I’ve noticed before, and it’s something I noticed again today as I read a bunch of my friend’s links on Facebook about this online debate frenzy over whether or not the fantasy writer George R. R. Martin’s books are sexist and bad.

If you don’t know anything about Martin’s books, don’t worry. Neither do I. I’ve never read a single one of them, and I’m not going to talk about anything in the books or even whether or not Martin is a sexist, bad writer. (My friend says the answer to that question is no. He’s a smart guy. He’s probably right).

The original rant was written by a woman named Sady Doyle, and you can read it here (if you want. Full disclosure: I didn’t make it through either). The critique by Alyssa Rosenberg is here if you want (I did actually read this one, but since I’m not going to talk about it, you certainly don’t have to). The comments on the Rosenberg piece are actually what first made me care about the debate, because a fair amount of the chatter started to revolve around whether or not Doyle was “obsessed” with rape and how it was difficult to take her piece seriously because she “overstates her case” and even indulges in a little “hysteria.”

Yes. You have to love the (I hope) accidental irony of the poster who thought hysteria was a good word to interject into a feminist debate.

And then I saw a comment that was really interesting. Someone said, “while I’m not defending the article, I do defend [Doyle]. She was raped.”

Well, as soon as you see that you have to expect the automatic response. And, yep, there it was just below:

“I know that having something horrible happen to you changes the way you see things,” another commenter wrote, “but it doesn’t make your soapbox any taller.” (Followed by a couple of appeals to keep things “objective”).

Bingo.

But, see, my problem is that every year it gets harder to see the validity of that argument. It’s tricksy, and it’s circular. It’s designed to invalidate whatever heated opinion you might have while still claiming the high ground.

Let’s not use Doyle as an example, because I don’t know her, and I have absolutely no idea what did or didn’t happen to her or how she feels about it or whether it has anything to do with whatever opinions she may or may not hold. Let’s make someone up. Let’s invent a woman named Amber who grew up with a dad who shoved her around and told her she was a worthless little slut. Let’s say Amber loved to read and grew up to write a blog where she wrote about books. Let’s say she read a novel set in the wild west, where a bunch of the cowboys mistreated the saloon girls in graphic ways. And let’s also say Amber followed it up by throwing the book across the room and writing an angry screed online about how the book is just a bunch of sexist excrement.

Is she right or is she wrong? And, more importantly, what’s our criteria for deciding whether she’s right or wrong?

In our culture, we naturally honor the cool-headed person, and if you turn the volume down on two people who’re arguing, viewers tend to side with the person whose body language remains the most neutral. There are some good reasons for this, of course. It would be even more ludicrous to live in a society where the most excitable person was always considered right. And, of course, it would be more pleasant and palatable for everyone if Amber had calmly typed out her complaint about the way those saloon girls are portrayed in proper MLA format. No arguments there.

But my real question is this: are we willing to say that detachment and classic argument structures are really the only viable way to determine something’s value?

Or does it tell us something kind of interesting that Amber became intensely upset, defensive, and angry when she came in contact with that particular book? Do all Westerns make her angry or just this one? Do other female readers with a history of abuse feel the same way? What does it mean and when is it appropriate for an author to knowingly use material that triggers such intense reactions in his/her readers who have actually experienced the topic introduced? What does all of this tell us?

I guess I’m no longer willing to say that the only thing it tells us is that Amber is an illogical woman with a wounded past. Nor am I willing to say it tells us nothing about the novel she threw across the room.

Call me crazy.

This book triggered a major emotional response in her.

Actually, that might very well be a good sign. Maybe the author of that particular Western really wanted to discuss gender violence in his book. In that case, he’s clearly on the money. He’s got Amber’s attention. In fact, he’s hitting the mark so accurately, she’s already going into fight or flight. That’s not necessarily bad. Some of the most inspiring and empowering books I’ve ever read have also contained some of the most graphic and brutal descriptions I’ve ever read. It’s not about the specific acts portrayed in the book. It’s about what they’re used to signify and where the journey ends up taking you. Amber obviously couldn’t find a justification for the saloon girl subplot, and if we wanted to make a decision about the value of this particular book, it would probably be helpful to know whether other women who share Amber’s history also share her feelings about this book.

I don’t actually know any figures along these lines nor can I find stats on the rate or intensity of sexual violence in fantasy novels, and (maybe unsurprisingly) I can’t find that anyone cares enough to ask about it. What I can find are some basic facts about readership. Less than 25% of all fiction readers are male, and the majority of all fantasy readers are also male. When you keep the first fact in mind, the second one becomes even more remarkable.

So what is it about fantasy that attracts a male audience and (apparently) rebuffs a female one? Should we be concerned about that, or should we just assume that fantasy is the mirror image of romance—a genre we know has roughly a 90% female readership? Of course, you might want to rethink your strategy if you say yes, because romance fiction is generally understood to be wish fulfillment fiction. Are we willing to say fantasy is male wish fulfillment?

At the very least, the gender gap in fantasy is worth thinking about. There’s clearly something going on, even if it’s something as apparently innocuous as male “point of view.” Although how Martin’s point of view is “more” male than, say, Ian McEwan’s is a bit harder to explain.

It’s also hard to understand why women dislike fantasy when they show a very clear liking for historical fiction in general and all the current speculative fiction featuring werewolves and vampires is marketed toward women too. So if women enjoy historical settings and mythological creatures in general, why do so many female readers avoid the fantasy shelves?

Is it that women don’t like books that revolve around wars? That’s would explain why women have had such a hard time getting behind books like Cold Mountain, War and Peace, The Killer Angels, and Gone with the Wind… wait. No, it doesn’t.

Or is it the violence? That’s certainly possible, but do we actually know that or are we just relying on a stereotype that “makes sense”? Do women repeatedly shy away from violence in thrillers, horror books, or crime fiction?

Again, this isn’t an argument, and it isn’t an end point. These are questions I don’t have the answers to, ideas that make me curious enough to pay attention when the Internet erupts over a Sady Doyle diatribe about a bunch of books I haven’t read. Not because I care very much about Doyle or Martin. Not even because I care who’s “right.”

But maybe it’s time we looked a little more closely at the assumptions we make about whose opinion is more “credible”  and the lines of questioning nobody’s bothered to follow. Maybe it’s worth grappling a little more with the issues of art and responsibility instead of imagining that they’re little check boxes where you pick one or the other. Is historical accuracy trump or is it just another card in the deck, you know?

All I know for sure is I get really uncomfortable when people decide it’s ok to write women off for being too “angry” when they complain about issues of sexual violence or abuse. A rant belongs in a different category from a classically-constructed argument, it’s true,  but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t valid or doesn’t contain a truth worth engaging.

This post, for example, was going to be my attempt at a rational response, but given the topic and my general unwillingness to waste any more time tinkering with it, I think I’m going to have to settle for rant status. In which case, I probably should’ve just gone with my original and much shorter version:

OMG, I’m so tired of women being dismissed for being too “angry.”