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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Year of Pleasures, Elizabeth Berg

So, number one on the aforementioned Winter Book List ticked off and read: The Year of Pleasures, by the author Elizabeth Berg.

Look at the delicious looking food on the cover 🙂

I bought this novel from Third Place Books in Ravenna, Seattle.

I read this on the plane ride home for Christmas holiday. It was quick and enjoyable, and I only got my pen out three times, a record low for me in recent years.

That isn’t to say that it was boring, however. I’ll call it subdued, but I didn’t mind that for this type of story. I thought the message embedded in the novel was that living for oneself, and living the best life possible, is never a mistake, while wallowing in grief or pain is a definite mistake, and in fact destroys the pleasure in life.

Good point.

Betta, the main character in the novel, seems to know this pretty well. She is a writer, after all. However, it is with the death of her husband that she is forced to really recognize the importance of living her own life, for herself.

Although Betta herself seemed a bit dull as a character exploration, despite hints throughout the novel at her bravery, adventurous nature, and creativity, her personal story, and the idea of the novel itself was beautifully executed from a writer’s perspective.

My favorite parts:

  1. Female empowerment. The lifelong female friendships portrayed and discussion of women giving of themselves for each other and for loved ones, sometimes at the expense of simple pleasures in life was well-done. While not as dramatic as it could have been, I appreciated that Berg had addressed this issue, one that rings true for many womens’ lives. For example, Betta realizes that she can play music that she hasn’t listened to for years in compromise to her husband’s taste. She can eat when and whatever she likes, and etc. She is, in a way, beautifully freed by his death.

Even though there is some sadness and pain alluded to, Betta is in no way portrayed as tortured over the loss of her husband. At the same time however, the reader’s sense of her freedom is lessened by the narrator’s constant mention of her husband.  She does often wonder if he would approve, and most of the time, he does. I wanted to know, why does it matter?

It was Betta’s story, not his, and at times I felt it was the author’s sense of duty to Betta’s husband, rather than Betta’s. We get a sense as readers that he was a kind and loving man, who showered Betta with thoughtful support and encouragement. However, we as readers don’t actually know him as a character. While it’s expected that Betta will think of him, I felt like some of the narrative reminders of her husband were forced, and made Betta less of an interesting character.

The language on a sentence level was often lush in description, rich in parallel construction (I am a sucker for parallel construction), and done with an elegant respect for language.

  1. I brought out my pen to underline beautiful sentences, something I usually only do in workshop. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading nineteenth century lit. However, since that is the area I research, I usually take out my pen much more often and underline a few beautiful sentences, while focusing primarily on the social constructions of gender, national identity, or class commentaries in the novels I read from my research period.

That being said, those elements of interest still existed in this novel as well. They were just couched in simple and elegant language, and they were more overarching and systematic, inherent to the very nature of the novel itself, as opposed to statement after statement, passage by passage.

  1. The descriptions of food and cooking- YUMMY.

Problematic elements of the novel:

  1. White upper class privilege. It was practically screaming at me. Betta is a white woman from the East coast, and the most financial trouble she seems to have ever endured in her life is during a hippy phase in college. I feel like this might be one of the only explanations of why she seems so lackluster despite the allusions to her interesting personality. She never has really suffered until her husband’s death, and even then, she is a millionaire who can do whatever she pleases. It seemed just a little too convenient, and a little too boring.
  2. She moves to the Midwest, outside of Chicago, so she can experience the “simple” life. I am from the Midwest, and am in fact on a visit there while I write this. I still don’t know how “big city” people, like the fictional Betta, can romanticize it as much as they seem to, while deriding it all the same. I wish Berg would have more deeply imagined her characters from Betta’s new Midwestern town a bit more as well. Many of them were hollow representations. There were a couple that could have been interesting, and Betta only has a few interactions with the most interesting one (the old woman with spunk and history who she buys her new home from). Since it was Betta’s dream to move to the Midwest and open a knickknack store, and her personal goal to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, you’d think that the people in the town she moves to would be painted a bit more clearly. They were not, because they apparently didn’t matter in Betta’s egocentric “search for herself.”
  3. The other problem I had with the novel was that even though Betta and her former husband were supposed to be the main focus, they were so dull that I just really didn’t care. Her old college friends and some of the characters even just mentioned from the town she arrives in seemed much more interesting than Betta herself.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, despite the small disappointments, and in its optimism I can see why it sold well. The writing tone and style was warm and inviting, and Berg treats her characters very kindly.

I would recommend the novel if you are in the mood for a quick read that is not complete trash, that has some literary merit without being actually literary, and that focuses on renewal and new beginnings.

I would not recommend it if you get jealous easily, since I think it is very easy to envy the fictional Betta and her cushy gushy, yet lonely and somewhat dull life.

It gets 3.3 of 5 stars from me purely for entertainment purposes and beautiful sentences.

Read with a DR. Pepper (a drink that gets mentioned so many times you start to crave it) and Indian food leftovers (because it’s something Betta might eat, and because they are simply delicious).  Or, herbal tea and a fruit pie, which is also discussed in the novel often.

Why is Feminism So Taboo?

In a recent post by the Feminist Breeder, the reluctance of modern women and men to identify as feminists was brought up. Her post is cleverly titled, well-written, optimistic and refreshing. She discusses being surprised at the fact that nobody wanted to raise their hand when asked in a gender class if they were feminists. In fact, for self-identifying feminists in America, it probably reads like a breath of fresh air, especially because her definition of feminism is so inclusive.  Her criteria for feminists includes 3 points:

  1. Believing that women are human beings
  2. That men and women are fully human
  3. And political, economic, and social equality between the genders

Sadly, not many American people have such an expansive view of feminism. Even at my undergraduate university, albeit a fairly traditional Catholic and Jesuit one, students who were asked by a group putting together a feminist edition of a magazine to have their picture put in a collage titled “this is what a feminist looks like,” were either reluctant to identify as feminist, or reacted with surprising anger towards feminists. The students falling into the latter camp generally seemed under the impression that all feminists hated men and caused political unrest.

These Feminist Blogs Create Thought Bubbles

While I don’t think the first part, the man-hating part, of that statement is true about feminism as a movement or a belief system, even if there are feminists alive who claim to hate men, I do believe that the second part remains true, the political part, and that is what makes feminism so taboo. At its core, feminism’s tenants question the dominant ideological structure. If that political aspect of feminism still gives feminists a bad reputation, then I might be hard pressed to accept a better one.

Twisty from the blog I Blame the Patriarchy fairly recently brought up the ever-so-fine distinction between subjection of women and subjection of all “other” people that the ideological structure imposes itself upon. She argues that, “because sexism has been so comprehensively assimilated across the board, the elimination of racism, classism, ableism, homophobia et al cannot obtain without the simultaneous liberation of women from patriarchal tyranny.”

I don’t want to feel threatened when I identify as a feminist. Further, I do think it is pretty sad and also confusing that people get so up in arms about feminists, although that is also a move of patriarchy and an attempt to subjugate women’s voices, or if you consider the quoted section above, truly patriarchy as a system attempts to destroy any opposing forces. According to the Feminist Breeder’s definition feminists can be anyone interested in the equal rights of all people. Unfortunately, although I do want to be optimistic as well, I don’t feel like the general public cares about equal rights, which is one of the reasons that patriarchy still thrives. The people on top want to stay on top, and the people at the bottom just want to replace the people at the top.

Do I wish that feminism was less taboo? Sure I do. However, I fully understand the political choice I am making when I self identify as a feminist, the choice to counteract a dominant patriarchal ideology which subjugates all non-subscribers, and quite frankly, if it makes other people a wee bit uncomfortable, I am OK with that.

Miss E