Target Women and the Woman Question

Women have been in the media a lot lately, and the reproductive health controversy is sparking debates about ethics, morals, and the female body itself. Honestly, it reminds me of the Victorian England “Woman Question,” that I have discussed a bit previously.

This type of rhetoric and debate about the physical uterus and its “proper place” has been an underlying current in Western society since gender roles were invented. Yes, they were invented, and they are still being solidified, broken down, and rebuilt through everything we participate in: conversations, news broadcasts, advertisements, and media.

In a bizarre turn of fate, Rush Limbaugh recently decided to (continue) to be an outspoken anti-women and anti-choice bully, and jump started this already prominent conversation in politics and social media. However, his subsequent scapegoat status does not solve the problem of gender biases, inequality, and a continuation of gender role alignment with heteronormative morality. In other words, the sexist beast that shadows our culture is still out there. It has been there for years, but perhaps Lumbaugh’s latest line crossing remarks have finally made a larger audience aware of its existence.

His recent derogatory comments have drawn attention to our binary gender system- have we really changed our beliefs about gender so little since the Victorian period. Well, many prominent men and women still very much prescribe to the Victorian gender binary, and all of its moralistic connotations. A very specific, gendered brand of moralist rhetoric is still continuously permeating our culture, belief systems, and feelings about what women (and men, their supposed “opposites”) “should” or “should not” be.

Rhetorical analysis is fun, right?

For those of you interested in gender and the way it seeps into every part of our daily lives, you should check out the hilarious Sarah Haskins from Current  Media. She humorously analyzes advertisements geared toward a pretty large target audience: Women.

Although these videos are a bit older now, you can see many similar advertisements focused on “women” if you turn on your television, Hulu, or YouTube. By the way, for you educators out there, this is also a great tool to teach rhetorical analysis, and also to teach audience consideration, advertising, and a host of other possibilities for older students.

I like Haskins’ approach because she is funny, relatable, and because she points out just how absurd some of the underlying assumptions about women that these advertisements derive from.

Have you seen her segment before? What do you think we can learn from Haskins and the recent media attention about Women and their reproductive organs?

Regards,

Miss E

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For the Love of Stories

For the Love of Stories

I have been really fascinated lately (and pretty much for life, actually), with the concept of stories, their impact on us when we read or hear or tell or write them, their importance for history and culture, and how they function on large and small scales.  As I say in our “About” page, stories are all around us, and they constantly inspire me.

Recently, a high school student I was tutoring asked me why people even began to write in the first place, or how did writing even become a “thing,” as he put it. I told him that I had some ideas, but didn’t know for sure, and we spent a few minutes brainstorming on the board. Some of his answers included “bad memory,” “art,” “religion,” “accident,” “fun,” and “boredom.” I was highly amused by his list, and a favorite of ours was “bad memory.” It seemed like a pretty viable option, that writing could come about as a way of helping keep track of life so as to prevent forgetting.

Some student answers during brainstorming session

We both agreed that photos and facebook are largely serving that purpose for us now (for him more so than me), although writing is very important, and feels different from imagistic storytelling. Through those electronic means, which can become virtual and visual “timelines” or representations of life’s moments, we can not only share our lives with friends, but we are reminded of our happy memories and significant events.

I could go on about the possible detriments of social media platforms for record keeping, and the short term and long term memory loss that our culture seems to be experiencing as a result of reliance on technology, but that might be too much digression, even for me (I tend to ramble and diverge when I tell stories).

As you might imagine, my answers when we were brainstorming was slightly different, and more long-winded. Some of them included teaching future generations about lessons learned during previous ones, exploring the strategies, successes, and failures of others, and for storytelling purposes.

I have always loved listening to stories, and telling them. It’s probably also apparent that I enjoy reading, since I have discussed it on Looking for Pemberley fairly frequently.

I was having a conversation with my friend not too long ago about my interest in stories. For me, I think that my love of stories comes from the feeling of relating to others, of understanding more about myself and people in general after reading. I’m a social person, I’m interested in people. Stories are generally about people, their growth, reflections, lessons, and interactions.

Stories are living, and they also teach us how to live. They are influenced by the culture and historical moment of their time, but when they last (as when they are written and future generations read them), they can be interpreted by each individual reader, changing not only with each person, but also with each reading.

For example, I have read Pride and Prejudice many times over since the first reading, but it feels different each time. It becomes different because of my perception, and the novel feels different for each reader, despite the words staying more or less the same as they were over 100 years ago.

A dear friend of mine recently told me, after I told her that I had an undying love of stories, that “of course you love stories. I live for stories, to hear the stories of others, and to tell my own. That is the greatest pleasure in life.” I certainly agree. Her beautiful words inspired me to write this post.

Writing, to me, probably began as a way to make stories last for as long as possible. I am thankful for the ability to read works from years in the past because of the development of writing and its varied progressions. Whatever the real “answer,” I’m glad we have writing, because stories can be read and re-read, changing with each reading, and serving as a time capsule of sorts for the “bad memory” of the authors who write them.

Please forgive the crude drawing style. This is my first attempt at a comic.

Thanks to all the bloggers and authors I read for sharing your stories, and if you would like to tell me a story, or share your view on stories, please do. I’d love to listen and live.

Best,

Miss E

Is English Relevant?

As a former English major myself and obviously very attached to the field of English, I am always interested in discourses surrounding it.

One conversation that was brought up often among colleagues in the humanities was about defending the significance or social importance of a liberal arts education, a humanities education, and the English major particularly.

After working in a business setting since graduation, and doing freelance work on the side, I have realized that there are many more options out there than I had previously considered.

English majors out there and graduate students in the humanities- chin up, because guess what? Despite not having a direct career path after graduation laid out for us during college, our skill set (analyzing, summarizing, presenting, writing, editing, using imagination and innovation to come up with new ideas, and critical thinking) are actually very competitive skills to have.  Let’s start seeing the forest for the tress in regards to this topic, shall we?

Forest for the Trees! ; -)

A very dear friend reminded me of this when I was applying for jobs this summer, which is one of the reasons I started working at my company. I just wanted to share a few sites that I have found in my daily internet browsing which I found helpful or at the very least interesting to read.

For English Majors– Susan, the blogger for this site, seems dedicated to making sure that English majors continue to understand their own worth in our capitalist job market.

4Humanities– The team of educators at 4 Humanities advocate for the relevancy of Humanities and liberal arts educations, and propose that Humanities educations are much needed in our society.

Sell Out Your Soul– Yes. This blog is aggressive, as the title would suggest. While I don’t necessarily agree with the title, I think this writer brings up many interesting points. This site is specifically geared for grad students in English and people who really think critically about the graduate school rhetoric of a narrow focus and hopeless job prospects. It may cheer you up; it may depress you, but it is interesting.

All of these sites discuss job prospects for students in the Humanities, whether at a college or graduate level, and even though they take different angles, they show the “worth” of the skills that come with an education in English.

Hope you enjoy your reading material, and let me know what you think.

Cheers,

Miss E

The “Best” Way to Say Goodbye

“Best?”

I have been thinking about something often lately. If I’m honest, it’s something pretty dorky and academic, although as you may have noticed, looking for pemberley supports both of those things. This post has nothing to do with my current or previous research, thesis, or the research of my friends and former colleagues that I am aware of, although if one of you rhetoric folks is reading and would like to speak up about this, I would love it.

For some reason I am endlessly fascinated by e-mail closings. I currently work in an office setting, and sometimes I send out e-mails to various contacts all day. My go-to e-mail closing, instead of sincerely or regards, etc. is “Best.”

Even though I have signed my e-mails with this closing for around 3 years now, I never thought I would adopt “Best” or become so attached to it as quickly as I have. There are unique and interesting ways to sign letters and e-mails, but best is a popular closing in academia. It is short, sweet, and somewhat formal, and has a nod to the closing “All the best,” but with less effort. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is an example of what I mean by “Best” –

“Best,

[Insert Name]”

I like the closing now, but it has taken me a few years of exposure to warm up to it. I had a professor in undergrad who signed their name with “Best,” but this professor’s name also began with a B, so it was alliterative. However, a couple of years into college, I realized that more and more profs were ending their e-mails this way, and it drove me nuts after a while. I really thought they were all copying my first professor who did it, until I got to grad school. Then I realized that a lot people sign using “Best,” and I began to see the appeal of it in my own e-mails, despite being frustrated that I couldn’t come up with something more creative.

It was after I have re-entered the 9-5 working world, and have continued to sign my e-mails with “Best,” that I have realized not many people outside of the academe sign their e-mails this way. Common closings I see at work include:

No Transition Word:

[end of message text.]

[Insert Name Here]

Formal:

“Sincerely,

[Insert Name Here]”

 “Warmest Regards,

[Insert Name Here]”

Emphatic:

“Thank you!

[Insert Name Here]”

“Cheers!

[Insert Name Here]”

You get the idea. There are various e-mail closings, and people choose their closing for different reasons depending on the e-mail, the message, and the audience. Each closing is a specific rhetorical choice, but I feel like “Best,” more so than other closings, could be considered a rhetorical move that signifies busy but still professional, casual but still fairly traditional, and generally an academic.

I may be reading into this a little too much, but I have yet to get an independent e-mail or first response e-mail in my inbox at work from a non-academic that closes with “Best.” On the other hand, most of the e-mails I receive from other academics – although not all academics sign with the same closing of course -usually do seem to end with “Best.” When I use it, I do feel like I am marking myself as an academic, and that I specifically use it to enter academic conversations. What do you guys think?

Best,

Miss E

Why Does Austen’s World Appeal So Much to Modern Ladies?


Because not that much has changed in terms of gender expectations and role fulfillment. Gender dynamics are largely the same it seems, even though women are now able to own property and have the right to vote.

We tend to think of Jane Austen’s time period, around the late 18th and early nineteenth century, as charmingly antiquated. Despite the changes that have occurred since the 18th century, it seems culturally significant that Austin’s male protagonist has regained popularity in recent years.

A friend recently told me that her little nephew asked her if she was in college. When she told him that she had already graduated years before, he said “Oh my gosh! We need to get you a husband! You should join an internet dating site!”

I other words, a person as young as 9 years old was concerned that a woman of my friend’s age was unmarried.

This issue is also discussed in all Austen novels. The social need for marriage is pressed upon the female characters, and they are forced to weigh their own desire against the desires of the world. The reason many of Austen’s novels are considered “happy endings” is because we are excited that the protagonists’ desire won despite the pressures bearing against them.

In the 1850’s, a man by the name of William Rathbone Greg wrote an essay titled “why are women redundant?” It was thought that there were too many single women of a certain age in England at the time, and this evoked anxiety in a heteronormative, marriage-driven society. Greg’s attempt to solve the problem was to come up with a plan to ship all of the “quite abnormal” number of unmarried females overseas to the Americas so that they could fulfill their proper gender role and marry. Women were seen to be a problem to be dealt with- if they did not marry, the entire social structure might have crumbled, according to Greg and probably Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

These fears of staying single were grounded in harsh reality for the women in Austen’s time. In Persuasion, this fear of the unmarried woman, or “superfluous woman” is discussed in detail. Anne Eliot, the protagonist of the novel, is 27 when the book opens. She is seen as a problem, a liability, as one who has passed her peak time for being auctioned off to the highest bidder in the marriage arena. She is plain and “old,” two things that damage her chance of fulfilling her gender role.

In today’s world, there are plenty of unmarried women. But oftentimes, they are still seen as a “problem.” I mean, how much has really changed since 1851? Do we not still live in a heteronormative, marriage and babies driven society? Most women I know, even the independent and educated ones, still feel pressure from family and friends to “settle down,” and many wish to marry for various reasons. I currently work with a 21 year old who is being pressured by her family to marry as soon as she can. She often talks about how worried she is that it won’t work with her current boyfriend both because she likes him and also because she’s “running out of time.”  Time for what, exactly?

I often here snippets of conversations that sound like the Eliots from Persuasion. People judging women on their age, and how much time they have left to fulfill what they were apparently purposed to do, how shabby they look, how they will never “find a man,” etc. Unfortunately, I am 26, and all these people talking about running out of time are, quite frankly, freaking me out.

This is becoming more true now because I am feeling more and more inclined to become a redundant woman and do whatever I want without obligation to a partner or children. If that’s how I end up living my life, I can think of at least 30 or 40 acquaintances off the top of my head who would feel uncomfortable having me around.  As a single woman of a “certain age,” I am still a liability. Perhaps not as much as in the time Jane Austen was writing, or even William Greg, but still, a liability nonetheless.

In Jane Austen’s world, at least to contemporary viewers, there seem to be certain rules that guarantee a chance at a proposal. If you were of a certain age, and a man called on you, or danced more than a few dances with you, it is significant in terms of the likelihood of proposal.

For the multitudes of heterosexual women who are trying not to be superfluous or redundant, who are dating men and looking for “Mr. Right” or “Mr. Future Husband” in every man they meet and constantly failing to find him, the predictability of 18th and early 19th century courtship can be very appealing.

I am not implying that all women feel this pressure to avoid living what Greg terms an “incomplete existence” and therefore are attracted to the courtship in Austen’s world. Do I think it could be a factor in some of the more recent popularity? Yes. Do I think it is important to study both Jane Austen and the potential cultural undercurrents that make her work extraordinarily popular right now? Yep.

Yours redundantly,

Miss E

Be a Man, Read Some Trash

Writer: Allen B 

I had something odd happen to me the other day. I was sitting at the Elliot Bay Book Store (great place, if you don’t know it, go find it, get a coffee and a book and improve your sad, sad life) reading a novel I had recently bought. The book was called Danse Macabre by Laurell K. Hamilton and for those of you who have never read her work, it is a collection of hot sex, horror, hard-boiled detective, with a tip of the hat to the great Anne Rice and a flip of the finger to those sparkly angsty characters of another series which I will not here name. Some might call it trash but in my not at all humble opinion, it’s better than candy.

Sipping my coffee, I looked up to see a very good looking man reading a book by Slavoj Zizek, one of my favorite political theorists. I smiled, he smiled back, I thought about getting his number, and then he glanced at the book in my hands. He didn’t say anything, nor did I, but for a moment, I felt a sting of embarrassment. I know it doesn’t matter that from time to time I read novels that may go on for pages (or chapters) about how hung a sexy vampire is, but for some reason I didn’t want to be thought about as the kind of guy who reads… that sort of thing at that moment.

I wanted this to be a symptom of intellectual snobbery, I know what that is and to be honest, I’m fine with it, but it wasn’t. I was embarrassed in the same way I was when some boys from my middle school saw me looking at the Barbie’s at the toy store in the mall. For some reason, I felt insecure because on some level, palpable caught there in the stare of that tall, sexy man, I didn’t think it manly to read romance. I went as far as putting the book in my bag and pulling a copy of James Clavell’s Shogun off the shelf when I went to the café to see if I could find him.

Sadly, he was already gone but as I stood there with the manly book (which I already owned) in my hand I wanted to know what the hell was wrong with me. I’m not one, in general to give a shit what other think of me, I’m a god damned lit student, people already think I’m a confusing mess, so why should this moment be different? I know the answer, you probably do too. There are some times when gender norms extend, however ridiculously, even to books. Once again I was caught looking at Barbie dolls in the toy store. Even worse, this time I was playing with them. I was more than a little annoyed at myself and rather than take the long bus ride home hiding the book in my bag, I picked it out of my bag, found a table where I could look at the passing guys (yeah, I’m kind of a dog), and then sat reading it shamelessly for anyone to see, even getting a kick out of being in public when the main character talked about things having to stretch.

In the end nobody cared. I wanted to know though, are there things that others have never read because of the ideas attached to them? I’m not talking about political ideas, I’m not going to try to talk any hard core right wingers into embracing The Grapes of Wrath, at least not today, but is there anything you chose not to crack open because it wasn’t ladylike or because it wasn’t manly? Guys, have you ever wanted to read Little Woman or a Jane Austen novel? Ladies, were you ever just a little curious about why some guys love Tom Clancy or John  Le Carre?

In the end, perhaps it’s helpful to remember that reading a novel with some erotica or that centers on a marriage plot won’t cause a man’s nuts to pull up inside of him like 40 degree water, and that some gun play and loveless sex won’t make hair grow on a woman’s chest. But maybe the problem has nothing to do with what we think these books will do to us and everything to do with what we think our friends will do to us.

Would I make fun of one of my guy friends for reading Sense and Sensibility? You bet your sweet ass I would; I’d ask him if his lady parts hurt and tell him to hold on because one day his prince will come. (Don’t hate me for the move into heteronormativity, I was after all brought up in America.) If I saw Miss E. reading some Hemmingway I’d make fun of her too, “Breaking out of the kitchen through fist fighting and womanizing?” But should that keep The Sun Also Rises out of her hands or a dirty erotica novel out of mine? To be honest, reading things that are out of my normal field have helped me to learn a lot about myself and where I stand in terms of sexuality, choices. I sucked it up and read Danse Macabre at the café in the bookstore.

So let’s be honest, it won’t threaten my manhood to read this kind of thing in public, and I was being a fucking sixth grader for reacting that way. Try it this week; go get something you’ve always been curious about. Some of the best nights I’ve had in my life have dealt with pushing the limits of my curiosity, (I’m talking literature and so much more.) If it makes you tingle in places you don’t want to talk about, all I can say is congrats. If you feel like your manhood is in question or your womanhood is being put upon, keep reading—you need to be threatened.

Pondering Publishing in Barnes and Noble

Today I was at Barnes and Noble, contemplating the demise of Borders and the state of the publishing world today. I felt conflicted. Let me give some context for this. As an English-y person, I have kind of become a bookstore connoisseur. I go to all bookstores and libraries- independent, corporate, independent-used, and coffee shop bookstores. I have even been to a bookstore with a bar. I have never been incredibly discriminating about my bookstores, at least not the ones I will go into and purchase a book from. If there are books there, usually I will buy them.

However, since I have moved to Seattle, a place where local business thrives more than anywhere else I have ever lived, I have been going to a ton of great local bookstores. For example, yesterday afternoon I was in a charming bookstore in my neighborhood, one I was seeking out even on short visits before I moved. So yeah, it’s that amazing.

Anyways, at said charming independent bookstore yesterday, I had the best customer service I have ever experienced in a bookstore. I as having a casual conversation with an employee there who was really friendly. He was stocking books and we began discussing what I like to call “Bus Books.” I ride the bus to work every day, and so far I have finished 3 books on the bus. I don’t read them anywhere else- they are just for my commute. They have to be both light, and intriguing enough to grab me at 6:50am when I may have slept 5 hours the night before.

He knew exactly the book he thought I should read. One by Thomas Hardy- Far From the Madding Crowd. Apparently there is also a very amazingly cheesy looking movie. I have not read much Hardy, but from what he described from the story, it seems perfect for both me and the bus.  Has anyone else read this one or seen the movie?

I found the image a few different places, but linked to one of the websites below with a review of the book: http://myggm.org/book-discussion-far-from-the-madding-crowd/

At the corporate bookstore today, I just wasn’t feeling it. Everything felt so sterile, despite all of the books on the shelves.  All the books were shiny and new, many were hardcover, and almost all of the employees were wearing suits (it was in a fancy pants shopping center downtown).  Compared to the bookstore from the day before, I felt isolated and uninspired to buy.

I have not been buying most of my books at full price this whole summer, but more for cost-cutting and a sort of pseudo rebellion against capitalism. However, I feel guilty about it. About only buying books from my favorite, local, bookstores. Conflicted, as stated earlier. Why?

If we don’t support the bookstores that buy their books directly from the publishers, they may stop being able to make books altogether. I do not enjoy reading from a nook, thank you very much. I want that book smell, that physical relationship with the book where you eventually break the spine from reading it so much. So, in order to keep book production going, and be able to go to my favorite local used bookstore, I may need to buy an occasional book from Barnes and Noble. Because if Borders is any indication, the market for paper copy books is diminishing and may continue to decline as online and paperless media rises. So when I finish my current bus book, I may go to a B&N before hitting up my local place for another one.

What do you guys think? Do the pros of local bookstores outweigh the possible cons?

Cheers,

Miss E