Romance, Literature, and Body Image

I’m stuck in a place where this is not a whole blog post, but it’s also way too long for a Facebook status update, so consider it, like, a mini. A little treat for you for today. Just because I love you.

So this study came out and seems to be showing that it’s damaging for women to read about a) skinny chicks in literature, and b) fat chicks who have issues about being fat in literature. In the sense that reading these things makes them feel bad about their own bodies.

Now, the methodology already seems screwed. Why did they change the words to two already existing chick lit books instead of finding several chick lit books that had a variety of sizes and shapes and attitudes of heroines? Is it because they couldn’t find enough chick lit books that were specific enough about height and weight? Isn’t that indicative of something right there?

But the other thing for me is, their conclusions just feel completely opposite to my experience. I read a lot of romance and chick lit as a teenager and I feel it was precisely that that saved me from having serious body image issues. If I had stuck with a diet of Seventeen magazine and movies in which we pretend Rachel Leigh Cook is ever not a very pretty girl (And seriously, how is that not the most damaging thing – to put beautiful women on screen and have them tell you they’re fat and ugly?), I would have been screwed. But I read about girls with many different shapes of body and many different attitudes towards their shape all having hot sex with men who were nuts about them. So instead of thinking, “I will never get laid and no one will ever find me attractive because I don’t look like Kate Moss,” I came of age thinking, “Wow, men are infinitely varied in their desires and chances are someone’s going to find my sparkling wit and my Rubenesque figure appealing.” And lo and behold, I found one!

(Yes, I knew the word Rubenesque as a teenager. I could have even identified paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. This should not be surprising to any of you.)

Actually, I thought the most interesting thing Bridget Jones’s Diary did was it gave you a weight for the heroine (which was pretty low – at my weight I do have trouble picturing the woman on whom 130 lbs = heifer) but not her height or anything else about her physique. The point being that she’s fixated on this weight being unacceptable but it isn’t necessarily so to anyone else. The weight thing is about her struggles to feel like an acceptable and desirable person, not about her actual weight.

But anyway, my point is that, reading about women who were skinny and curvy and fat and had small boobs but big asses or big boobs but little asses or were tall or short or boyish-figured or voluptuous or whatever, and who liked their bodies or didn’t like their bodies, who experienced cultural approval for their bodies or didn’t, who liked that cultural approval or didn’t, etc, etc, etc, and all other permutations, and still got hot sex and deep love from men they desired, I think actually saved my body image, and did not damage it at all.


Leaving your Hypothetical Husband

Jessica Valenti posted this on Twitter and it pissed me off.

If you’re not going to read the article, I’ll give you a run-down. The article indicates that “the vast majority” of “young people” (80% of females, 70% of males) (and I’m assuming by “young”, they mean college-aged), across demographics, hold as the ideal an egalitarian marriage, where both partners share the burdens of money-making and home-keeping and child-rearing equally.

When asked what their ideal fallback would be, however, if such egalitarian harmony were impossible, young men and women are exactly the opposite – most young men hope that their wives will take care of the home front and let their careers take a backseat to a greater or lesser extent, and most young women claim they’d rather divorce their husbands and raise their kids on their own while holding down their jobs than stay at home with their kids.

To which I say, hahaha hohoho heeheehee, kids. Have fun in that dream world where you can either feel totally egalitarian about all aspects of life with your husband all the time, OR you can just leave your husband and do it all on your own, no problem! (And, young men, have fun in the dream world where you make so much money that asking your wife to scale back to take care of the very expensive wee ones is a no-brainer!)

My response to this on Twitter, and on Facebook, if you missed it, was (and I’m not directly quoting because I’m going to use real English words instead of the ones 140 characters forces) “It is easy to leave one’s hypothetical husband to raise one’s hypothetical children on the money one earns from one’s hypothetical job.”

I had more or less the same problem, the problem of talking in hypotheticals, when I talked about domestic violence. It is easy to say of a hypothetical man about which you only know that a) he hits you, or b) he wants you to quit your job and stay home with your kids, “Oh, I’d leave that asshole but quick.” Obviously, it’s not the same thing, exactly. A man who hits you is dangerous and violent and you really should get out as soon as you are able to do so, if possible, even if you love him, even if he’s a total dreamboat or makes a lot of money or has helped you out of a number of jams or whatever it is that’s keeping you in, you should leave. Whereas a man who wants you to stay home with the kids while you don’t want to do that just has a different vision of family life than you do; he’s not, you know, dangerous. I mean, one way an abuser operates is to make you dependent on him, and staying at home with the kids makes you dependent on your husband, but it does not follow that all husbands of stay-at-home moms are abusive. Anyway. My only point is that in both of these cases, people who say, “Oh, I would leave the asshole” are operating with a hypothetical asshole in mind and of course that guy is an asshole; he hits you or does not respect your career goals! But no one is actually involved with a one-dimensional man who only hits or only asks you to stay home. And if you’ve gotten to the point with someone where you’ve married them AND made the decision to have a baby with them, chances are there is much that you love about that person and would not find it easy to leave. You can say whatever you want to say about a thing that you’ll do in a hypothetical situation; it’s what happens when it’s an actual thing that counts. Until they look into how these choices play out for realz, this is like asking a bunch of eight-year-olds if they’d rather live on a moon base or in an undersea palace.

There was some negative reaction to Jessica Valenti’s Twitter post. I, for instance, said my thing about hypothetical husbands, which as far as I know, she didn’t read. She did read the one where someone accused her of feeling that being a SAHM was inherently oppressive. She argued on Twitter that posting a thing is not the same as approving of the thing, and said, to that point, “Learn how the internet works.” (Okay, I added the capital L. I’m sorry; I’m always going to be a little old-fashioned about grammar. Do you know how long it took me to agree to only one space between sentences?)

Now, I do know how the Internet works, and I know that usually, posting something without commenting on it IS approving it. For instance, when she posted this (and yes, that will be the subject of my post next week), she wrote snarky commentary ending in “Ok, then,” which made it clear how she felt about it. The only way a no-comment would be interpreted as disapproval would be if  it’s well-known by your followers that you would never in a million years approve of that position. For instance, if Jessica Valenti had posted, without comment, an article with the headline, “New Study Shows Women Often Say No, Mean Yes,” I would assume she disapproved of it.

I do not assume she feels that way about SAHMs.

Jessica Valenti argued with the follower that she had never said being a SAHM is “oppressive” but I read her Why Have Kids? and you know what? She strongly implies that being a SAHM is oppressive. I mean, I agree with a lot of her points in that book about how this culture of mommy perfection is, in fact, oppressive, and ruinous to women and their children, not to mention marriages, society, and happiness. But Jessica Valenti also titles one of her chapters – in the “Truth” section – “Smart Women Don’t Have Kids,” and also in the “Truth” section , “Women Should Work”. In an earlier section, she says that the zealous helicopter parenting derided in much media is “just the understandable outcome of expecting smart, driven women to find satisfaction in spit-up. All of the energy that they could be – and maybe should be – spending in the public sphere is directed at their children because they have no other place to put it.”


“I’m also not arguing that women shouldn’t stay home with their children (well, not yet anyway).”

To conclude her chapter titled “Women Should Work,” she quotes Linda Hirshman extensively. Hirshman wrote Get to Work, a book about how “choice feminism” is bullshit and women should work both for their own benefit and for the benefit of all women everywhere. And also for the benefit of the world. Valenti says that she once was dismissive of Hirshman, because how could you dictate someone’s choice? She says, “while I was uncomfortable with the idea of mandating – or even suggesting – to women that there’s one better choice [between work and staying at home], I actually believe that there is.”

And it is?

“We need flexible work schedules, paid maternity leave (that lasts more than a few weeks or months), subsidized child care, and workplaces that are parent friendly. … I don’t think it’s a good idea to depend on someone else financially for an extended period of time.” She mentions the idea of the US providing a wage for housework and child care, as it is labor that contributes to the economy (and the overall productivity of the United States), but says, “that’s not the world we live in right now.”

Right. Neither is the world in which we have flexible work schedules, paid maternity leave, or subsidized child care. So in the mean time, women are going to try to make the best choices they can.

Jessica Valenti’s book is by no means unsupportive of the idea that everyone’s making the best decisions they can under current conditions, and she’s right to point out that current conditions suck, and suck in specifically anti-woman ways. I actually really liked Why Have Kids?, and I liked it specifically because I hate the idea that a woman’s “choice” to work or not work while having kids is made in a vacuum, and institutional support (or lack thereof) for those choices plays no part. I always want to look at systems, not individuals, and so does Valenti. Valenti also makes much of the culture of mommy perfection that’s driving everyone f-ing nuts, and that’s really important to discuss, too.

But it’s not out of left field to conclude that Jessica Valenti finds the idea of being a stay-at-home mom oppressive, as her Twitter follower suggested. And it’s not trolling to say so. (Now, maybe this follower did say and do more trollish things in private messages. I don’t know.)

And this is also why Twitter is a sucky forum for in-depth conversation.

Personal blogs are much better!

I will be honest here; I have had a rough time becoming a SAHM. It was not what I expected to do with my life and in some ways I feel like it’s due to some personal failures that it ended up being the best choice for me. I spent my post-college and pre-kid years in academic programs that had little hope of getting me a job outside academia, and then didn’t pursue them far enough to get a job inside academia, and, as most grown-ups know but as I refused to really acknowledge, “a job inside academia” is as much a fantasy as “the super-easy nature of divorcing the man you once loved enough to marry and make children with, and raise those children on your own with the money you will have no problem making as a single mom in a high-earning profession.” So that left me more or less unemployable anyway when I had a child, which made staying home with her the easy choice, especially considering that a) my husband wanted me to, and b) my husband could afford for me to. I still teach Hebrew school a few hours a week, and now I am trying to make a go of writing, but 85% of my time is spent being a SAHM.

And it’s not that there aren’t some aspects of it I love. I mean, I get to spend all this time with my kid. Woohoo! And I love being able to run errands and go shopping and do other things during hours where nobody else is there; I now get almost offended when I have to go to a mall on a weekend and OTHER PEOPLE are ALL OVER THE GODDAMNED PLACE. I’ve learned to cook really well and I have the opportunity to throw parties and dinners and welcome other people into my home to cook for them; I’ve been able to continue teaching Hebrew school, which I really love and which would be harder to do with a full-time job AND a family. I’m on two volunteer committees to host conferences that I think are going to be really cool and, again, I couldn’t have done that AND done adequate work at a full-time job AND taken care of my family. And, oh yeah, I have time to write. And blog. And I know that we are DAMNED lucky that my husband a) has a job that can support us, and b) has hours that let him spend lots of time with us, too. So that’s all a pretty good deal.

But I’m a feminist, and I read websites like Jessica Valenti’s feministing and Jezebel, and of all the things that make me struggle with my choice to stay home, this is the stuff that hurts the most. Well, no. Not making my own money hurts the most. And then there’s the disapproval from people I actually know and love. But there have been several instances lately of forum dwellers over at Jezebel calling SAHMs prostitutes because we allow our husbands to pay our bills and also we have sex with them. And there is a sit-commy joke in here about how married people with kids never have sex anyway so it’s the highest-paying per-sex-act prostitution job you can get, but . . . yeah.

Look, it hurts, is all I’m saying, to hear over and over again that while you’re doing the best thing you can think to do, the people you admire and respect, the people you consider yourself to be part of, at best pity you and at worst think you’re prostituting yourself by doing it. Especially since child care and housekeeping is work that needs to be done by someone, at some point. And child care, especially, is not work that gets any less time-consuming once your kids hit kindergarten. School hours are not the same as work hours, and now you can’t let the precious little ones so much as get on or off a bus on their own, so someone has to be in the home to deal with pick-up and drop-off, and it’s either going to be you or someone you pay. Or you can pay extra for an after-school program. If you can have a job that makes enough money to make that a worthwhile decision. Plus there’s extra-curriculars and monitoring the homework and participating in school projects, and most public schools basically run on the unpaid efforts of the stay-at-home moms who volunteer for shit like the PTA and fundraising and whatnot. And sure, you can opt out of doing it, but only because other parents are doing it instead of you. Schools where no parents can afford the time to distribute the flyers and organize the bake sales and hang streamers suffer for it.

I really would love to see more of an effort by feminists to understand how much of what SAHMs do IS work, and work that the world NEEDS done. I don’t believe I’ll ever get paid a wage for it, but operating on that understanding first, rather than the understanding that doing paid work would be better for women, would be an important first step. They’re always reporting on who’s happier, SAHMs or working mothers, and the results seem to show that working mothers have a slight edge but actually part-time working mothers beat both, but, even when these statistics are mentioned by feminists like Valenti, there’s no recognition that their own stance that being a SAHM is a lesser life (and don’t tell me you don’t think it is, Jessica Valenti!) is contributing to the unhappiness of SAHMs, the same way pressure from the non-feminist world is contributing to the unhappiness of the working mother.

(And yeah, I haven’t dealt at all with the concept of stay-at-home dads, or men trying to balance family and work, or non-heterosexual families, or non-nuclear family arrangements. Sorry. It’s just a blog post, not a book.)


I was going to say something about this yesterday, when I was watching the Jon Stewart segment on discussions of gun violence as relates to that basketball player and Bob Costas (who by the way is going on my list of people who obviously have a hideously disfigured and rapidly aging portrait of themselves in their attics, along with Rob Lowe and Jon Bon Jovi) and people like Ted Nugent saying something about “Only fools blame tools instead of human” something. But I didn’t say it yesterday so I guess I might as well say it today.

I sort of agree that people kill, not guns. But the thing is, guns are a tool the only use of which is for killing. “But hunting!” Right. Hunting is also killing. Not that I don’t see the point. But also, Jason, who gets interested in stuff like this, has explained to me that there are guns the best use of which is hunting and guns the best use of which is not hunting. If there were a law in this country that we could only possess the kind that’s best used for hunting, I’d be cool with that. “But defense of your home against intruders!” Right. Okay. That’s legit, I guess. I like the idea of stuff like rubber bullets or tasers or something in that case, because you can stop an intruder without killing him (or her, I suppose – how many home invasions are committed by females?). I mean, I know you can kill with a rubber bullet, but you can kill with a lot of things. You just have to be trying a lot harder, or have the worst luck ever.

So guns are tools the only use of which is for killing. And I am fully willing to blame a person and not a gun for when a person takes that gun into an elementary school classroom and opens fire on HIS MOM and A BUNCH OF KIDS. But the thing is, as far as I can tell, most humans in this country cannot be trusted with guns. So I think we should make it really hard to own one.

Look, cars are tools, and cars sometimes kill (although their primary purpose is not killing), and yet we allow a lot of people to drive them. But not until they’re 16-17, and not without giving them classes on how to use them properly, both in a classroom and in an actual car, supervised by a teacher and/or parent, and not without testing them to make sure those classes took. And you can have your license revoked for various misuse of the tool. And the thing is, with America being what it is, people really, really need cars. So the standards for allowing people to have them have to be as lax as possible without allowing known dangerous drivers on the road.

Guns are not really, really necessary to the American way of life the way cars are. I know, I know. Hunting! Defense! But we have supermarkets, and we have police. And baseball bats. Whereas we don’t have really great public transportation, or walkable communities, or bike paths, in most places. So we don’t really need guns the way we need cars. So it should be fine to make really, really strict laws on a) what kind of guns can be sold, and b) what kind of people can buy them. You should not only have to, at a certain age, pass a written test, have a permit under which you can shoot in supervised situations for six months, then take a test proving you know how to use the gun and be issued a license that can be revoked at any time, and also have to subject your guns to state inspections every once in a while to make sure you don’t have the wrong kind or haven’t done something to your state-approved one to make it illegal, just like you have to do with cars; you should also have to pass a psychological test certifying that you are a human we can trust with a tool the only use of which is for killing. That you will only shoot it if someone is about to harm you or your family, or if you need meat and are therefore aiming it at a deer or something.

I am fully willing to blame humans for gun violence. But, therefore, I do not want to allow humans free access to guns and then wait until they’ve killed 20 SCHOOL CHILDREN to take it away from them. Therefore, I want to seriously restrict which humans can have guns and what kinds they can have.

Somebody, please explain to me why this is unreasonable.

One More Last Thing about Rape and Pregnancy

I’ve already said some things on Facebook about this comment by Rep. Todd Akin that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant because we have magic hormones or something. (One of the things I said was that while human women can’t do that, ducks totally can!) But I just want to point out one more thing .

Remember when I wrote, jokingly, I thought, about how people seem to think that a woman spontaneously produces a zygote from her own slutty sluttiness? I had no idea that so many pro-lifers actually thought that’s how it works.

I’m a Democrat. Duh. I’m a liberal, progressive, and occasionally a little bit of a socialist. Also, duh. But I don’t like it when things get too partisan. I don’t think Republicans or conservatives are necessarily dumb or evil because they disagree with me on what an ideal society looks like or how we should get there. I even appreciate that we need a bit of push-pull, a bit of “Let us give all our money to social programs!” “No, wait, let’s keep some for ourselves!” That’s fine, that’s good.

On the other hand. If you believe that human women can somehow prevent conception of a child because of their super-special hormones detecting the trauma of rape, you are, in fact, dumb. And if you believe that, therefore, if a woman is pregnant, her claim of rape is illegitimate and she’s just a lying, slutty whore who’s going to have to take the punishment of pregnancy that’s been wrought on her by her harlotry, you are, in fact, incredibly evil.

A Few Quick, Mostly Unrelated Things

1. Here’s the thing I really don’t understand about when Mitt insists that, you know, Steve Jobs did build Apple and Papa John did build Papa John’s, etc. Mitt ran Bain Capital. Even if he won’t acknowledge that roads were built not by him and government programs funded half of what he did with Bain and all the rest, he knows he has administrative staff, right? He knows he has janitors and an HR department (presumably) and an Accounts department and all that, right? And he knows he needs them in order for Bain Capital to be successful? And all companies need their staff and CEOs can’t be CEOs of shit without them? Right?

2. I know this is going to get me kicked out of the club, but please bear with me. I know that all of the anti-abortion bills being kicked around, in the U.S. Congress for D.C., and in various states, are very anti-woman, sometimes include provisions against hormonal contraception, and are not doing enough to protect the health of the mother. And even if all this weren’t going on, I’m still very much pro-choice, because it comes down to, you can’t legislate when life begins so you have to allow women/people and their doctors to decide when an abortion is called for. But. I don’t think that the people taking the position that abortion is not okay even in cases of rape are wrong on their own premises. If the premise is that life begins at conception and therefore abortion is murder, then you really can’t make an exception for rape. You can make an exception for the life/health of the mother, because you do have the right to kill in self-defense, but not for rape, because the fetus didn’t/isn’t raping you, so you don’t have the right to kill it.

I get that the person holding the position of, “I sincerely respect women and believe in feminism BUT I also believe that life begins at conception and therefore abortion is murder so as much as it pains me to think of a woman traumatized by rape having to also bear the child of her rapist, I can’t justify allowing for the murder of that child” is, like, a figment of my imagination. But if that person exists I respect them.

I think people who ARE pro-life but make exceptions for rape are holding one of two positions. The more respectable one to me is, “Look, abortion isn’t quite murder and a fetus isn’t quite a person and I don’t know really when life begins, but it’s morally problematic enough that I think it should be outlawed except in extreme circumstances.” And that’s okay. I still disagree, because I’m still pro-choice, and I still think that the question of when life begins is fuzzy and nebulous enough that you shouldn’t legislate it, but I can respect that person. The one I can’t respect is the one who is going, “Slutty whores who willingly have sex deserve whatever happens to them as a result, up to and including babies. But innocent virgins who were raped [because, let’s face it, most of the people who hold this position have a pretty narrow definition of ‘rape’, too] don’t have to bear the baby because they are not the ones who sinned.”

3. I’m thrilled about the new Obamacare provisions kicking into effect this week. But I want to reiterate: Contraception is not just women’s health care. It’s people’s health care. Gentlemen, do you want to have sex and not have babies? Then you need contraception, too. Just because the women are the ones who physically take the pill (or whatever), doesn’t mean that women are the only beneficiaries of the effects.

4. I know that maybe I’m only feeling this way because my main news source is Rachel Maddow and my more moderate, balanced news source is Jon Stewart, but I’m starting to get the feeling that Mitt Romney is secretly super-liberal and involved in some sort of conspiracy to ensure that Obama stays President. He can’t possibly be making all these dunderheaded mistakes and be seriously running for president, can he? Making all these shady comments about his non-released tax returns? Insulting the London Olympics AND Palestinians AND Mexicans? Being the stereotypical Clueless Rich Guy from some 1930s cartoon? This has to be some sort of performance art that’s not only going to allow Obama to win in a landslide, but to actually push through some of his most liberal programs because they’ll look so much better than whatever Romney is promoting this week? I mean, think about it. Mitt was for Romneycare, then when it became Obamacare, he hated it. He was for abortion, even raised money for Planned Parenthood, and now he hates it. He was pro-gay rights, now he hates that, too. But what if it’s all a scam? What if he still loves all those things and is doing his best to ensure that Obama is in a position to protect/promote those very things?

You want to check my eyes? Why?

Fast and Furious

Have y’all heard about this plan? I heard it from Rachel Maddow and I heard it from Jon Stewart and I heard it from Bill Maher. If you haven’t heard, the deal is this. The ATF was selling guns to people they knew to be taking those guns to Mexican drug cartels. They were doing this in order to follow the chain of those guns to the higher-ups in the Mexican drug world. Then, in no surprise to anyone, they failed to do that thing. At least one US agent is dead, many Mexicans are dead, and they’re dead with our guns.

Donkeys are braying about how this was really a Bush plan, and the elephants are being really hypocritical and also crazy, and wouldn’t they be dead even without our guns (which, hello, is a sort of anti-gun-control statement to make). Elephants are bellowing either about how dare Obama want to keep a lid on this, or clearly this is some twisted conspiracy on the part of Obama to make gun policy that results in a disaster so epic people start calling for gun control, and then he can push through the gun control legislation he wants. Which is obviously nuts. Because a) it really did start in the Bush administration, which is not me crying, “Hey, this is all Bush’s fault,” because Obama let it go on for three years of his administration so, you know, both are to blame, but still invalidates the conspiracy theory, and b) do the Democrats really seem this capable of organization, forethought, and the control of public discourse to you? Come on now.

I am really annoyed that this has become so partisan so quickly. I’d rather focus on how stupid this plan was in the first place. Because when I first heard about this, I couldn’t believe this was an actual thing that happened and not the plot of a Bruce Willis movie.

Here’s how I see it:

Opening credits over a series of scenes of the violence and decadence of Mexican drug gangs and the news they are making there and in the States and maybe some footage of kerfuffles at the border and whatnot. Some of the footage is shot for the film and includes our actors; some is taken from actual news footage.

Then we swoop to the ATF field office in Phoenix, AZ. Chris Cooper is a muckety-muck at the ATF. He presents this plan to his field agents. His field agents are mostly too scared of him to argue, so they pursue this plan with varying levels of enthusiasm. We’ve got one guy (Scott Caan?) who is very “I follow orders because that is my job and my job is not to think.” One guy (Channing Tatum – obviously) is all, “Whatevs, I’ll finish my shift and then hit the bar where all the honeys flock to me.” Then there’s the guy who’s super-smart and really dedicated to his job and believes in Chris Cooper because he believes in The System. He’s played by Ryan Gosling, if we can get him.

But then something goes horribly wrong – like, I don’t know, a US patrolman (Bryan Greenberg) is shot with one of our guns. His mother (Ellen Burstyn) and his wife (Hayden Panettierre – she’s old enough to play a wife now, right? A young wife? She could be pregnant!) start screaming into any microphone they can find, demanding justice. So they send in Bruce Willis, who looks around with his smirk and his boulder of a face and sneers about how could you be so f-ing stupid as to think this was a good plan in the first place? And Chris Cooper snarls at him and he snarls back and then Bruce takes his team into Mexico.

Bruce Willis’s team contains a young, sassy black woman, played by Rosario Dawson, for whom he has paternal feelings. And Rosario Dawson is married to ultra-supportive, manning-the-home-front James Marsden, because I don’t think you’re actually allowed to turn on a camera if James Marsden is not standing in front of it. And he’s also got Jorge Garcia, who is kind of afraid and is in charge of the tech/translations/comic relief. But then, somewhere at the forty-five minute mark, they go to this village where an America gun was used in the murder of an old woman, whose son the drug lords were tracking down because he owed them money. Only it turns out that old woman was Jorge Garcia’s abuela! The son is Jorge’s daddy! Jorge’s mom took him to the U.S. when he was a young teen to get him away from the pernicious influence of his drug-dealing dad! So now, after much pursuing and fighting and detecting across Mexico, when they confront that particular murderer, Jorge Garcia doesn’t hold back; he shoots the guy. Which sets them back for a minute because they needed to question him but then Jorge does some computer magic (Thugs who work for Mexican druglords all have MacBooks, right?) and gets them the evidence they needed anyway.

So the team follow the trail of these guns and it leads them to one particular drug kingpin (Edward James Olmos) and they find out, oh my God, that Edward James Olmos and Chris Cooper were working together the whole time! It was all a conspiracy to get the guys working for Edward James Olmos more guns! Oh, and then Ryan Gosling is so distraught because the whole time he was helping Chris Cooper at the expense of Bruce Willis but it turns out Chris Cooper was evil. So Ryan Gosling is the one who compiles the necessary documents to prove that Chris Cooper is evil and sends them to the higher-ups. And then he gets Chris Cooper’s job.

And then critics would pan the movie because, well, OF COURSE Chris Cooper was in bed with the Mexican drug kingpin, because otherwise, WHY WOULD YOU EVER THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO SELL GUNS TO VIOLENT CRIMINALS? It would do a respectable if not spectacular job at the box office and later be considered a good movie to Netflix if you’re looking to turn your mind off and look at some gun fights, some beautiful Mexican scenery, and some Rosario Dawson in skimpy shorts for a couple of hours.

(Hey, any Hollywood types reading this right now? This shit is copyrighted. Well, it’s copyrighted by virtue of me having written it. And then the registered copyright is pending. Will be pending. So if you think this is in fact a good idea for a movie? Show me the money.)

Female Agency and Pop Culture, Entry One – Prince of Egypt

I have been dwelling on female agency in pop culture.

What do I mean by female agency? It is simple. Agency is when a character takes an active part in their story. I don’t mean that they control everything that happens; just that they make decisions and take action; they aren’t just swept up into whatever the fates or the other characters have in store. And obviously by female, I mean characters who are women.

I was going to do a single post where I covered a bunch of things we watch, with and without Zoe. (Who am I kidding? We watch nothing without Zoe because she never sleeps!) But there was too much. So I’m going to do a series of things, which may never end because we keep watching movies and TV around here.

And I’m going to start with Prince of Egypt, because it’s Passover, and because I love what this movie, and what the Exodus story, does with female agency.

It’s complicated because I feel compelled to address both the movie and the Biblical text, and while I think this movie does one helluva job representing the Biblical text authentically, that doesn’t mean every detail transfers.

So let’s take them separately, and let’s start with the Biblical text.

There’s a story in the beginning of the Exodus story that rarely gets a mention (something my awesome friend Leah is trying to correct). Before Pharaoh orders his soldiers to go in to Goshen, the Hebrew slave area, and kill all the male babies, he orders the midwives Shifrah and Puah, who are either Hebrew themselves or simply serve the Hebrew population, to kill the male babies as they come out and then just tell the mothers they were stillborn or whatever. Shifrah and Puah do not do this thing. When the Pharaoh notices they are not doing this thing, they play on his prejudices, claiming the women give birth so fast, like animals in the field, they don’t even have time to get there in order to kill the babies. The Pharaoh is apparently too stupid to wonder why Shifrah and Puah have jobs in the first place.

This story is about two powerless people defying Pharaoh as best they can in the circumstances, and it sets up a longer story about how to have agency as a person when you have little political, military, or social power. That’s the story of Exodus, and it’s really the story of the whole of the Torah. Think about Jacob stealing a birthright, about Joseph climbing out of slavery to help rule Egypt. About some random shepherd named Abraham fathering three religions. And Shifrah and Puah, and Yocheved and Miriam and even Tzipporah, and of course Moses, all finding agency where power is limited. Seriously, guys, believe in God, don’t believe in God, do whatever you want – but the Bible has some awesome stuff in it.

The next time women act with agency despite lack of power, pulling the wool over Pharaoh’s eyes, is also usually sort of glided over, if not omitted like the midwives. Here’s what the Bible claims happens: Yocheved, in defiance of Pharaoh, puts her baby in a basket and sends it down the Nile, and sends her daughter Miriam to watch over the basket. Miriam sees the Pharaoh’s daughter (who is usually his wife in movie depictions) pick up the baby and offers her mother up as wet nurse, to which the Pharaoh’s daughter agrees.

Can I get a “Yeah, right?” Yeah, right, the princess bought that the little Hebrew girl hanging around the little Hebrew baby boy she just picked up – at the time when her father has ordered his soldiers to kill Hebrew baby boys – just happened to have a mother who could serve as wet nurse right now, and that all this was a coincidence? Do we think maybe it went down more like this? “Hey, princess, who I happen to work for – can you take in my baby brother your dad doesn’t kill him? And use my mom as his nurse so that she doesn’t have to leave her baby?” “Yeah, sure.” “Okay, but how will you explain the new baby to your dad?” “Oh, you know. It’s one more baby in his harem. He’s not even going to notice. If he does, I’ll say I pulled him from the river and he was a gift from the gods.” “Cool.”

Even if it did happen more or less the way the Bible says it did, there would still be the knowledge between all three of them that the baby was really Yocheved’s and the princess was helping hide a Hebrew baby boy from her murderous father. A little conspiracy, know what I’m saying?

In the Biblical text, there is also this weird thing with Tzipporah and circumcision that I don’t really understand but it seems like she’s taking charge of something?

And then Miriam grows up to be instrumental in leading the Israelites through the desert. She’s part of the leadership, she’s a prophetess, all that stuff.

So women in the Biblical story of Exodus have all kinds of agency.

What about Prince of Egypt?

Yup. By the bucket.

They gloss over some stuff. Like, we never get to the desert, so instead of Miriam having a leadership role there, we see how instrumental she is in telling Moses who he is, in pushing him to be the leader of the Hebrew people, in shoring up and supporting his position once he comes back, and, in the wake of the death toll among Egyptian children, which crushes Moses because it kills a kid he’d have liked to consider his nephew (The most brilliant thing PoE does is the relationship between Moses and his adoptive brother Ramses. I’d write more about it but it’s off topic and also I’ll start crying, no joke.), it’s Miriam who turns it into a hopeful and happy movement with song and guidance.

And obviously we don’t get the Tzipporah/circumcision story because it’s one of the ones in the Hebrew Bible where you get the feeling that, when people sat down to write down the oral traditions, they stuck some stuff in there that even they didn’t understand, but which had been passed down enough that they felt compelled to stick it in there. It really makes no sense and I don’t know that any movie tries to deal with it. But Tzipporah is very much the sassy pants in the mold of late-’90s animated heroines (think Esmeralda in Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and Megara in Disney’s Hercules). We first meet her as a ‘gift’ for the princes. She spits at them, fights them, and escapes them (though Moses helps her out at the end there, a little). Then we run into her again in Midian and she pushes Moses in a well and sasses at him and dances with the sexy hips and argues with her father and all the rest. And she’s by his side the whole time in Egypt, supporting and pushing and helping.

And of course Yocheved starts the whole thing by sending Moses down the river. In PoE, she is very specific (and tuneful) about her hope that this action will lead to Moses delivering the Hebrew slaves from bondage in Egypt.

The princess who pulls him out of the water knows he’s Hebrew, although the movie is subtle about it. She just sends quelling glances to her servants. There’s no conversation with Miriam and no Yocheved as nurse, so there’s no conspiracy. She’s more your typical mom character in any movie. Still, she knows what her husband ordered, and she knows she’s defying that order by raising a Hebrew slave under his nose, as his own son.

So, yes, Moses is the titular character. But it’s very clear in this movie that his leadership is supported, even created, by women. Lots of agency. Happy Ricki.

Sometimes it feels to me that the late ’90s was the golden age of sassy and likable female characters with agency. I’m sure we’ll explore that more as this series goes on.

Reframing Contraception, or, Why Men Need Contraception, Too

Here is how human reproduction DOES NOT work. A man places his penis in a woman’s vagina. She allows this because she is a slutty slutty slut who sluts. Her whorish delight in having a man place his penis inside her spontaneously creates a baby inside her womb, a sort of amoeba-like clone of her. Sometimes the wanton trollop has been contained by marriage to a just and Godly man, whose piety has been rewarded in financial security, in which case the baby is a blessing to be welcomed. But in some cases, she’s allowing men to whom she’s not married to put their penii* inside her. Then when a baby spontaneously appears in her womb, she sucks state resources away to pay for her selfish, child-having lifestyle. There are obviously no other circumstances from which a child might issue than the two we’ve just described.

Here is how human reproduction DOES work. A man places his penis in (or sometimes just near, if my mid-nineties sex ed can be trusted) and ejaculates. His ejaculate, or semen, contains spermatozoa, or sperm. One of these sperm combines with one of the woman’s ova, or eggs. That combination of sperm and egg then nestles itself in the lining of the woman’s uterus, lives there for nine months, give or take, and then exits her womb.

Let me draw your attention to the key difference here. In the first scenario, the baby is entirely the woman’s. It is created only out of her own sluttiness and its genetic material is exclusively hers. Therefore, all of the responsibility for the child falls exclusively on the woman.

But, and I know this might come as a shock to those of you who’ve been listening to certain pundits speak on the question of who should have access to contraception, that’s not actually how human reproduction works. In fact, human offspring are the product – and therefore the responsibility – of a woman AND a man!

Now, I’ll wait a minute as you digest this piece of shocking information. But then let’s apply this new knowledge to questions about contraception. In any heterosexual sex act, the couple must decide if they wish for a baby to result, or not. If they do not, they must take steps to prevent such an occurrence. One method of choice in this country is the birth control pill. If a person is in a monogamous pair, or in other ways limits his or her sexual partnerships, it may be the only method.

Now, the pill only works if the woman takes it. That’s just how it’s designed. So the woman is required to take on the chemical alterations that the pill produces. Some are good – skin clearing and periods being less of a pain in the neck are two – and some are difficult to bear – such as libido depression and weight gain and other, nastier ones occasionally. And the woman is frequently also responsible for paying for it. But the fact remains that, most of the time, both the male and female parties to a heterosexual sex act require either the wherewithal to have a child, or reliable contraception.

So let’s please stop talking about contraception as if it’s only a women’s issue, okay? I know that it affects women MORE than it affects men – but that’s only because we frequently pretend that the first scenario there is the real one. We need to stop doing that.

*ETA – My husband wants me to let you know the correct pluralization of “penis” is not “penii” but “penes”. Because he is a dorky dorky dork. Who dorks.

Obama’s First Speech After the Republican Ticket is Announced

Here’s how I hope it goes-

“My fellow Americans . . . Really? You really want me to ‘run’ against . . . him? Really, guys?”


Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to ‘run’ . . . the country. Like I do now. I’m going to keep awesoming while these fools keep . . . doing whatever the hell they’re doing, and, you know, I’ll see you in November for my victory speech.

I mean, not for nothing, but we all need the women’s vote, and he’s going to shut down contraception while I sing soulfully and self-deprecatingly. I create a NEED for contraception, bitches!

Oh, and you left-wing Democrats? All two of you? I know you’re mad at me. I didn’t close Guantanamo, I didn’t put any bankers in jail, and my AG is pretending the words ‘due process’ don’t really refer to anything specific. You know what? I don’t give a fuck. Because the guy running against me is your worst nightmare. So you’re going to back me for fear of him.

Oh, yeah, and I killed Osama. So suck on that.”

Some More Talk About Contraception

So when I was in grad school –

Oh, wait, I need to be more specific, don’t I? When I was at UIC, getting my MA in English with a Gender and Women’s Studies concentration, I took a class with this woman. It was a great class full of stuff I’d never thought about before, like there was a book about how the “first wave” of feminism in the latter half of the nineteenth century wasn’t just suffragettes. There were women doing a lot more work on the daily lives of women and had these ideas about communal apartment buildings with a common kitchen and day care center and laundry and stuff, so that women could do these housekeeping tasks communally and more quickly and therefore have time to do other shit.

And she also listened to us whine about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s racism for a while and then pointed out to us that we exhibit racial ignorance when we declaim female genital mutilation so vehemently without understanding that there are two different things going on – the bad kind where clitori, labia, etc. are cut off, sewn together, etc., all in an effort to make sex actively unpleasant for women because otherwise they’d be dirty, dirty whores; and a practice wherein just the clitoral hood is removed, roughly the anatomical equivalent of male circumcision, and then the girls’ sexuality is celebrated with an all-night party in their honor, and allegedly such an operation actually makes sex more enjoyable, because the clitoris is more easily accessible. And while I know some women would argue that actually their clitori are too sensitive for more access to be enjoyable to them, the point is that the rhetoric around the first kind is, “Women are dirty whores and must be prevented from enjoying sex,” and also that the procedures themselves are highly painful and awful and make sex bad for life, and with the second, the pain is not so bad or so permanent, and the rhetoric around the second kind is, “You’ve hit puberty! Time to get down with your bad self! Woohoo!” And that’s very different.

One of my favorite things she told us was about Iran and family planning, and thinking about it now, I wasn’t sure I was remembering it correctly, so I looked it up. That’s right, people. I did research. For you. Please, please, don’t think you have to run out and buy me expensive chocolates. Homemade cookies would be fine.

Anyway, I was remembering right. In the wake of the revolution in Iran in 1979, the rhetoric there was very, “Have more babies! Have more babies for the cause! More soldiers for Islam! For Iran! For the Revolution!” Family planning institutions were dismantled; health officials were ordered not to speak about contraception. Predictably, the birth rate in Iran went through the roof.

Then about five or six years later, the government of Iran went, “Oh, shit.” Because they did not have enough kindergarten classrooms for all these kids. Or water. So they got very serious about government-sponsored family planning education and coverage. All couples must go through family planning classes in order to get a marriage license. Families are encouraged to wait three to four years between kids, and to have only three kids. They encourage the latter by restricting maternity leave benefits after the third child. There are tons of clinics, mobile clinics and other health care facilities centered around family planning AND – wait for it – THE GOVERNMENT COVERS 80% OF FAMILY PLANNING COSTS. Yes, including the Pill.

Yes, you are reading this right. In crazy, right-wing, fundamentalist Iran, where women can’t show ankle, they can get the Pill, no problem, from their fascist religious-right government.

No, let that sink in. One party in this two-party country thinks it’s wrong to ask businesses to have health insurance plans that cover contraception. Not only that, but one of the two front-runners for that party’s nomination for PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES seems to think that sex should only be procreative, and that contraception and abortion of any kind ought to be forbidden.

But in IRAN, the government will pay for 80% of your Pill. They even have a government-run condom factory.

(I never thought about condoms being made in a factory. I mean, obviously, they are, but now I’ve got an image of it in my head and it’s making me giggle. Because I’m twelve.)

“Come on, Ricki. You wouldn’t want to live as a woman in Iran.” No, I would not. As a Jewish woman, I think Iran would be a pretty bad place for me.

I just want to point out that, look. I am a liberal/progressive Reform Jew and feminist who thinks that the only sex that is immoral is sex in which one or more parties cannot give or have not given consent. But I get that there are people who, for religious and/or moral reasons, really think sex should be restricted to married couples, and while I respectfully disagree, and also think they’re being unrealistic, and that you can’t apply such a standard to the nation via legal means because we have, you know, a separation of church and state around here, I understand why they think the way they think.

But. Even if you think that all sex should be married sex, it still doesn’t make sense to expect that either a) married couples will only have sex when they want children, and will avoid having sex of any kind unless they can afford to support any child that will result in that sex, or b) married couples will simply have all the children that their desired sex life will produce, and that will be fine for both the family and for the state in which they live.

And not only does it not make sense, just, like, thinking about it for more than five seconds, but fortunately for us, Iran already ran the experiment. They do not have separation of church and state, so they felt perfectly justified in applying a religious mandate not to have sex outside marriage to everyone. Then they decided to also religiously mandate baby-making. Their resources were overwhelmed in about half a decade. So they decided that it was perfectly in keeping with strict religious principles against non-marital sex to also support family planning and the reduction of the total number of babies being born. They even educated men and women about sex for pleasure and how women should enjoy it and men should have the patience to get them to the point of enjoying it! No, seriously! That’s sex ed IN IRAN.

Now, things have changed slightly since the article I linked to was written. Apparently there was a “Two is Not Enough!” campaign in 2006. And I don’t know if they’re still doing the sex-for-pleasure education. But still. Iran. Our Republican party is to the right, in matters of sex, of IRAN.

That is all.