Fionamism

bolt cuttersIt’s been years since Fiona Apple’s last album, as it usually is. She’s a hermit who hates giving interviews and rarely leaves the house, a protegee who released her first album at 19, back when that was unusual, and proceeded to make an award acceptance speech that marked her as a freak for as long as people decided that lasted. And she does seem to be a bit of a freak, as so many of us are. What does Fiona have to contribute to the latest, most conscious wave of feminism?

A strange kind of love.

She (the narrator – no presumptions) aggressively rejects the competition, shaming, and other sexist behavior encouraged in women against women, particularly women bonded by their relationships with men. Decades after being bullied and bored in grammar school, she is sustained through hard times by the words of classmate Shameika, when she said she “had potential.” There is no resentment around her lack of kindness or the fact they weren’t friends, just an appreciation of someone who reached out for no reason except to help her out. I wasn’t going to read any reviews for this, but the quote I just stumbled across is too perfect:

My middle-school experience is still so important to me. Mainly because that’s where my relationship to women started getting fucked up.

And that- the fuckedupedness of women’s relationships, is a dominant theme in the album, expressed with humor and raw honesty and emotion and vulnerability.

Newspaper mourns her inability to befriend a woman getting fucked over by the same guy who fucked her. Where they should be bonding over his abuse and gathering strength and recognition from their shared experience, the new victim has “made me a ghost to you” while the singer can only observe the repeated pattern. “I watch him let go of your hand, I wanna stand between you” makes me think of a kid putting herself between an abusive man and mother, no thought for herself in the attempt to protect the person she cares about.

In Ladies, composed like a kind of Jazz standard, with a chorus sung like a Vegas showman, she strives to get through to “good women like you” to share and love and conspire together and accept themselves as irreplaceable, instead of different failed versions of whatever it is that any random man has made up in his head. I’m just goo-ing over this verse – typing it without the music attached is an insult, but it’s just so great, I had to share:

When he leaves me, please be my guest
To whatever I might’ve left in his kitchen cupboards
In the back of his bathroom cabinets

And oh yes, oh yes, oh yes
There’s a dress in the closet
Don’t get rid of it, you’d look good in it
I didn’t fit in it, it was never mine
It belonged to the ex-wife of another ex of mine
She left it behind with a note, one line, it said
“I don’t know if I’m coming across, but I’m really trying”
She was very kind

This simple offering is almost heartbreakingly beautiful, handing down a dress like the man they shared: I didn’t fit in it, it was never mine, try it out, maybe it’ll work for you. And feel free to build on whatever useful things I contributed to him or his life. It’s hard enough getting through any relationship, any life; making enemies of the people who could gift you the benefit of their experience is a horrible way to try and move forward.

But women have been doing this to themselves forever. You think it’s an accident? You think women just naturally hate other women? They are taught to see each other as nothing more than competition from childhood, and it’s the curse that keeps on giving. Who do you think created those messages? Who could possibly benefit by women going it alone without acknowledging, appreciating, or learning from each other’s pain?

The #metoo era of feminism ripped open the Pandora’s box of a lot of bullshit I had buried away for as long as I can remember. But one of the most disturbing things to come out of it was the realization that I had bought into the sexism of the dominant culture, all the while thinking I was fighting against it. I’ve shunned or minimized the importance of bonding with women my whole life, and while the romantic competition aspect hasn’t been a big one with me, plenty of other antagonisms have. Turning this competition into a shared force cannot be anything but powerful.

So, yeah, this is a FEMINIST album.

It’s also just fucking rock your sox innovative and raw and fun and brutal and both plaguey and plagueworthy. Do it.

Harper’s Scary

Long Live Bad Puns!

harpersI’m afraid to open this month’s Harper’s magazine, which our mail carrier crammed into my mailbox a week ago, over the objections of a squirrel-deformed jack-o-lantern, a Día de los Muertos calavera, and the dog.

I’ve subscribed to Harper’s continually for nearly a decade, and periodically before that. It was a primary source when I was writing about forgotten female horror writers of the early 20th century in grad school. The Guy & I have a monthly ritual of quizzing each other on the Harper’s Index at breakfast, and the Readings section has provided some of my favorite hilarious lists, bizarre transcripts, and brief personal narratives of all time.

But the last year has made me question my loyalty. It started with the rambling, pathetic, not-mea-culpa by John Hockenberry, entitled My Life in Exile. Continue reading “Harper’s Scary”

To Explain or Exclude?

genderThere’s a tasteful sign in the most liberal of liberal coffee shops in my city that “asks that you use gender-neutral language when addressing its employees. Thank you.” Great. I have no problems with the sign. But I’ve whined to a couple of friends about not yet having the huevos to ask the business to clarify what they mean. Yes, I know what they mean, and most of their liberal patrons in their liberal neighborhood in one of the most gender-spectrum-friendly cities in the country know what they mean, but what about the ones who don’t? Continue reading “To Explain or Exclude?”

Feminism & Racism: Up Close & Personal

femrac

Some of my feminist behaviors are actually acts of white supremacy.

Damn it.

I’ve been on a Racism Awareness journey over the past year. Well, for longer than that, but aggressively over the past year – reading lots, talking with folks on their own journeys, facilitating conversations on race as much as they’ll let me, going to conferences on equity, volunteering as Secretary on the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee at work … stuff like that.

Simultaneously, I have been on a feminist journey: a #me-tooing of my own. This hasn’t required any books, just a clear-headed, clear-eyed recognition of life as it is and has been for me for decades.

My habitual behavior in the realm of the latter is to recognize blatant sexual assault and blatantly sexist language (and in my case to apply feminist analysis to works of literature and art), but to “deal with” the rest as the necessary burden of being female in the world. To play the game, laugh at the jokes, tolerate the piggery. Because we can. Because we are strong enough to do so. Because we can take jokes. (Unlike men. Don’t panic, guys. She’s a professional comedian.) Because we know how to “play with the big boys.” I realized last year that this is not necessarily healthy, and I’m certainly not the only woman doing it. And while I don’t regret behaving in that way, it is a coping mechanism performed out of defensive necessity. I should not have to be tolerant in the face of offense or attack or abuse. I should be able to call it out and have it redressed. That has been a difficult thing to accept, because I take so much pride in my toughness, my ability to withstand sexist bullshit, but in reality it is much braver to upend the game than to play along. I also have to recognize that I have looked down on women who “couldn’t take it,” who chose to make themselves vulnerable by calling out the crap, and I am not proud of that.

It took a bit more formal education and a bit more time to recognize that there was another destructive aspect to the persona I’ve cultivated in response to sexism. I have made it a point to be heard, to express opinions, to speak out at work, to argue and disagree and confront professors because it is my responsibility to fly in the face of stereotypes of female inadequacy and submission and deference. What I never thought to recognize is that while this might be a stand against patriarchy, it’s right in step with the white supremacist culture in which I was born and raised and live.

I have never thought of my assertiveness as consensual with white supremacy, but it is. It’s hard to say what threatens white men more – women or Black people – the threats are different and context is everything – but as a white woman I have certain privileges that Black men and Black women do not have, and I have taken advantage of that privilege more times than I can count. A big one with me is the right to be angry. While I might be described as shrill or hysterical if I openly express anger, I am not perceived as a threat and I’m not usually written off. That is not typically true for Black people in America, because it feeds into the manufactured stereotypes which I certainly don’t need to explain here.

So this idea of standing up to authority, of being what I am in spite of the powers that be: much of that has been an illusion. And coming to terms with that has been … interesting. It doesn’t mean I stop, but it means I bring a little more mindfulness to that behavior. Powerful white men have always benefited from pitting various “others” against each other, but it’s particularly upsetting when we do it without their (explicit) help.

When you start to recognize that we live in a society anchored in the bedrock of white superiority, your perspective on everything changes. The new vista isn’t always pretty, especially when you’re looking in the mirror. If you’re trying to head off another excuse for self-loathing, it helps to recognize that we are all soaking in it, and it takes a lot of work to scrub this shit off.

Sinema Sworn in on a Law Book!

sinemaWhy is this worthy of comment? Why isn’t this the standard? Did the book burn Mike Pence’s fingers as he briefly touched a symbol of our country’s founding fucking secularism? What does it mean that she is more unique in Congress for being “religiously unaffiliated” than she is for being bisexual?

More questions:

  • How fabulous was her outfit?
  • Why does it make me cry when I see a swarm of women of different colors sworn into Congress?
  • Why did the fight scenes in the Wonder Woman movie make me cry?
  • Why did 2 male and 2 female white, cis-gendered heteros in near-middle age all cry when we saw this ad four years ago?

Have our bodies known for years, decades, millenia, what we’ve refused to say out loud to ourselves? How we have been diminished, oppressed, terrorized?

A New Year is Here.