Category Archives: Unapologetic Women

Exile in Guyville

For Interview magazine, singer-songwriter Liz Phair talks with author Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose first book, Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America, originally published in 1997, has just been re-released with a new afterword by the author.

The two touch on a variety of topics, from taking risks in your 20s, writing memoir vs. writing fiction (Phair herself is at work on a novel and a book of linked essays), music, motherhood, and the rise in sexism ostensibly ushered in with last year’s presidential election.

PHAIR: I think what we’re seeing politically is the result of people having developed atmospheres around them that make them untouchable, to the point where they don’t feel empathy for people who are in a more vulnerable state.

WURTZEL: I see sexism everywhere, and I think it has to do with that. I’ve begun to blame sexism for everything. I’ve become so overwhelmed by it that, even though I love Bob Dylan, I don’t want to listen to Bob Dylan, because I don’t want to listen to men anymore. I don’t care what men have to say about anything. I only want to pay attention to what women do. I only want to read women. I’ll tell you how intense my feelings about this are: You know The Handmaid’s Tale, the show, which is feminist in its nature? Because men are behind it, I don’t want to watch it. That is the extent to which I am so truly horrified by what is going on.

PHAIR: I have felt that same wave coming through. I’ll try to rent a movie, and every single title is for men, by men, about men, and I’m just like, “Where’s my world? Where’s my zone? Where has it gone?”

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(Re)Merchandising NASA as a Feminist Act

Four Women on the International Space Station, 2010

On Women You Should Know, Dr. Katie Hinde shares the responses she received after tweeting about moving some NASA shirts from the boys section to the girls section in an unnamed big box store.

A whole lot of criticism.

Every few years I manage to touch the 3rd rail of the internet and I am reminded how aggressively histrionic so many men can be toward women disrupting the status quo. Since this tweet I have been called repeatedly (offensive terms warning) “idiot”, “ass”, “whore”, “piece of shit”, “dick”, “moron”, “twat”, “bitch”, “crazy bitch”, “asshole”, “motherfucker”, “garbage”, “cancer”, “psychopath”, “faggot”, “dyke”, “dyke ass”, “cunt”, and “retard”. I’ve been told to “shut up” and “fuck off”. I was told I should be “punched in the head”, “raped”, “euthanized”, that I “needed a bullet to the brain”, and “should kill myself”. I was sent cartoons of Nazis kicking women on the ground.

It wasn’t all straight up sexist hate; Hinde was also criticized for making extra work for retailers, “white feminist BS,” and not doing the right thing to create change. Some of it she thoughtfully considers — and she follows up with the store the next day.

But other comments solidify her case.

And many times while they were cursing at me, they included the assertion that what I was doing was useless, didn’t matter, and was totally insignificant.

A personal note: my NASA t-shirt came from the men’s section. So thanks, Dr. Hinde.

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Prosecutor, Interrupted: A Kamala Harris Reading List

The junior Senator from California, Kamala Harris had made headlines for more than a decade. She was the first woman appointed District Attorney of San Francisco, the first female and first non-white lawyer elected to the office of Attorney General in California, and the second black woman ever elected to the Senate. If it is possible to go too far with praise, President Barack Obama once had to apologize for calling her good-looking. Elected on the same day Hillary Clinton failed to shatter the presidential glass ceiling, the Sentor has been deemed “the center of the resistance” against President Donald Trump. And this week, during Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, she was criticized for being too good at her job.

The Washington Post‘s Katie Mettler summed up the situation well:

To those who have observed hearings on Capitol Hill, especially high-visibility televised hearings involving partisan subjects, there has been little or nothing unusual about Harris’s behavior. Members get a small amount of time to ask questions and make their points. Unfriendly witnesses are inclined to string out their answers and let the clock run.

The result, one side rushing, the other stalling, is never pretty. The phrase, “just give me a yes or no answer,” is so often heard it ought to be engraved on the Capitol portico.

But twice now, Harris has been interrupted and chastised by male senators for her style of questioning during the hearings.

For more on the phenomenon of men interrupting women, check out Susan Chira in the New York Times (and this New York Times story, about Uber of course, which notes studies that show men talk far more than women do in meetings).

For more on Harris, here is a reading list with a few deep cuts, including a decade-old profile of the now-Senator as a rising star.

1. “Kamala Harris rips up the script” (Maeve Reston, CNN, April 2017)

Reston managed to artfully profile Harris without interviewing her, doggedly following her around to public events, highlight comments made in other interviews and seeking insight from Washington insiders.

“I was raised to do,” Harris replied. “I was raised that you do, you don’t talk about yourself, you just do. You don’t talk about it after you’ve done it; you just do the next thing…. I would prefer to talk about what needs to get done, versus talk about myself.”

2. “California’s next A-G, city’s pride” (Ajai Sreevatsan, The Hindu, November 2010)

This short, sweet profile from a local outlet in India is a worthwhile and endearing read.

Recalling Ms. Harris’ childhood when she used to frequently visit her grandfather’s house in Besant Nagar, her aunt said, “Even as a child, she was very kind. She could not bear to see anyone cry. She always wanted to go out there and do a few things.”

Ms. Harris retained the close bond with her grandfather, often writing long letters to him about cases, especially involving Indians, when she became an attorney.

3. “Kamala Harris, a ‘Top Cop’ in the Era of Black Lives Matter” (Emily Bazelon, The New York Times Magazine, May 2016)

Profiles of Harris over the course of the last decade are fairly consistent in their representations of her as both smart and warm, but as she is increasingly framed as the antidote to Donald Trump, insinuations slip in about whether she has what it takes to win. Bazelon’s profile offers a lot of lovely personal insights and anecdotes, but the most interesting parts show Harris as a savvy, driven, and strategic politician who picks battles and wins them handily.

Her closest rival, Representative Loretta Sanchez, pointedly told an audience in January, “I think we need a Latina in the U.S. Senate.” As of that month, Harris had raised far more money than Sanchez and had racked up endorsements from unions and other power brokers, but she was well aware that in a state that is 40 percent Hispanic, she still needed the blessing of Latino leaders.

Now her aide had spotted one in the crowd: Jimmy Gomez, a Democratic state assemblyman from northeast Los Angeles. Heading into the scrum, Harris looked over her shoulder at me with a conspiratorial smile. “Here comes the strong-­arming,” she said. “I’m going to be shameless.” She strode up to Gomez, did the forearm clasp and, brisk and direct, asked Gomez to endorse her for Senate. Gomez, a youthful 41-year-old who is a son of Mexican immigrants, seemed a bit taken aback. He mentioned a bill he was sponsoring to ease the financial burden on low-­income workers of taking family leave, which was stalled. “Let’s work on it,” Harris said. “Do you have stories of the people who are affected? You need to tell their stories.” Gomez nodded intently.

4.“Kamala Harris grew up idolizing lawyers” (Sam Whiting, SF Gate May 2009)

There are many fun revelations in this 2009 Q&A with Harris, including the fact that the first time anyone asked how to pronounce her name was apparently in 2009 (unless she was being sarcastic).

Q: Who do you live with?
A: Me, myself and I.

Q: Have you ever been married?
A: Not officially.

Q: Motto?
A: A saying my mother had, “You may be the first, but make sure you’re not the last.”

5. “District Attorney Kamala Harris on working for Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, and where to get really good Indian food in the city” (Steve Kaplan, Super Lawyers, August 2010)

A random, but fun Q&A with the then-District Attorney, with nice insights into her day-to-day life.

Do you speak any Indian language?

Let me tell you something about the Indian language. I know all the words of love and all the words of dissension and frustration. All the words of strong feelings, one way or the other. When my mother couldn’t come up with any other word, that’s what it was.

6. “Why Kamala Matters” (Nina Martin, San Francisco Magazine, August 2007)

One of the earliest profiles of Harris also happens to be beautifully written and full of incredible anecdotes.

The first time I meet Kamala Harris, she’s trying to convince a roomful of low-level drug dealers that they should get themselves to the gym. “I have a job that’s just crazy,” she tells the crowd of 100 or so young men and women, sounding more like a motivational speaker than the city’s chief law enforcement official. It’s the kind of responsibility she can never, ever put aside. “I get calls day and night,” she says. “That’s a lot of stress.”

What helps her cope, she continues, is hopping on the treadmill every morning. She has to wake up early to fit in a workout, and there are plenty of times she’s tempted to skip it, but once she’s at the gym she never regrets it. She used to watch CNN while exercising, but now she’s decided, “My life is like the news, and I don’t need to watch the news. So I watch MTV and VH1. I know every song!”

“It’s about just being happy and healthy and figuring out ways to cope,” she adds, earnest and slightly goofy, aware that this gym idea is a tough sell to this crowd, even though she’s wrangled them free monthlong passes to 24 Hour Fitness. What her listeners care most about is finding a job with a real future that pays better than selling crack. But she wants them to think about broader issues, like the importance of taking care of their bodies and figuring out ways to feel better that don’t involve booze or drugs. I can’t imagine Hallinan or Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi or Dianne Feinstein, talking like this to a crowd of young, mostly male, mostly black and Latino dope dealers. Harris isn’t lecturing them; she’s trying to connect.

7.“A Lack of Conviction” (Peter Jamison, SF Weekly, May 2010)

This SF Weekly exposé poked holes in then D.A. Harris’ campaign claims while in pursuit of the Attorney General post, with interesting analysis of potentially politically-motivated efforts by a liberal wanting to seem “tough on crime.”

Harris declined repeated requests for an interview through her spokesman, Brian Buckelew. Asked about the recent spate of unsuccessful cases, Buckelew said the past year and a half is an insufficient amount of time to look at when asserting trends in the office’s performance, and that trials represent a small slice — only 2 to 3 percent — of the thousands of felony cases handled annually. The failed trial prosecutions, he said, were “cases we believed in, and still believe in, but sometimes they don’t work out the way we had hoped. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been brought to trial in the first place.”

8. “Kamala Harris: Democrats’ anti-Palin” (Ben Smith, Politico Magazine, December 2010)

Before Harris was the anti-Trump, she was the anti-Palin. Smith’s profile offers a nice glimpse of the Senator seven years ago, and is a prime example of the consistency to be found in profiles of her.

But like Obama, Harris has sought to avoid being tied to Democratic orthodoxy. Her “ Smart on Crime” approach in San Francisco included cracking down on truancy — including charging the parents of chronically truant children with a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine. Civil libertarians and conservatives alike raised questions about the move, but Harris was unapologetic.

“My staff went bananas” at the policy, Harris said, as did school administrators. Citing statistics linking crime and truancy, she argues that she’s nipping a problem in the bud.

“My bottom line is these children have to be in school,” she said.

“There will be outrage when in 10 years they’re a menace to society hanging out on the corner.”

Arundhati Roy Doesn’t Care What You Think 

Seven thousand, three hundred days. Twenty years. Judging by the response to the release of Arundhati Roy’s long-anticipated follow-up to her first novel, 1997’s The God of Small Things, you’d think it had been two hundred. Reviews of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness are almost as ecstatic as the ones that accompanied Roy’s first book — and they almost always include a lament that it took her so damn long to produce.

The God of Small Things received a Man Booker Prize, bestseller status, and a whirlpool of accolades, but after its publication, Roy opted out of fiction altogether, pursuing a career as a political activist-cum reporter, unearthing the stories of society’s rebels and outcasts, advocating for a non-nuclear India, the independence of Kashmir, and criticizing prime minister Narendra Modi.

How dare she?

That’s the underlying question in nearly every interview with Roy that’s followed. Who wouldn’t give just about anything for a fawning debut New York Times book review, a public clamoring for the next book? Doesn’t she owe her readers another glimpse into her imagination? Read more…

Another Tech Casualty: Dating

Cane Toad

“I want to punch them and make them take off their damn sunglasses,” the bartender said. I’d said something uncharitable about the guys at the far end of the room, but the bartender heard me — and shared my disdain. He went on a tirade about how “those tech bros are rude, entitled, and synonymous with everything I hate about the neighborhood.”

Tech bros might be the cane toads of cities like Seattle and San Francisco. Cane toads were imported to Australia in the ’30s to keep the bugs down; brogrammers are meant to do the same, but the crop isn’t sugar, it’s code. Cane toads were wildly successful at reproducing, but if you ask the women trying to navigate the brogrammer-riddled dating pool, reproduction is not in the cards.

My judge-y conversation with the bartender was last spring, but it’s not a new discussion.  Back in 2014 for Dame, Tricia Romano shared her own dating trials and those of women who want to spend time with guys who are — go figure — interested in them. In spite of a sea of more recent apps, this is an issue tech bros haven’t been able to disrupt.

The exact same scenario has been playing out in San Francisco for the last few years. One woman, Violet, a 33-year-old who has lived in the Bay Area for eight years, with one of those in the “belly of the beast,” Palo Alto, experienced many of the same things I and other women did. They had money, but they were boring. They had a lot to say about their job, but their development as a complete human being seemed to be stunted. And they exhibited little to no interest in the other person at the table.

One woman, Bridget Arlene, spent three years in Seattle for graduate school, and said that she actually moved out of the city, in part because of the type of available men—most of whom had computer science or engineering degrees and worked for Google, Microsoft, or Amazon. “The type of person who is attracted to these jobs and thus to the Seattle area seems to be a socially awkward, emotionally stunted, sheltered, strangely entitled, and/or a misogynistic individual,” she wrote in an email. Arlene said that she was once contacted by a Microsoft programmer on OKCupid who required that she read Neuromancer before “he would consider taking me out on a date. He was not joking.”

It’s not just the dating pool that’s been affected. Spaces that have traditionally been held for — and by — subcultures have lost their character as new residents seek out places that aren’t dominated by sunglasses-indoors-throwing-their-money-around dudes.

This wasn’t what I’d signed up for. I’d moved back to Seattle, in particular to Capitol Hill, because when I’d lived here during the ’90s it was a beacon of diversity for weirdos. (I stress “weirdos”—there are few people of color in Seattle.) The weirdos were: young gay boys, old hippies of varying sexuality, straight artists and musicians, softball lesbians, punk-rock dykes who played house music, metal musicians, ravers, or people into the fetish scene. They were not straight, white guys from flyover country or California imported by a software company. They spent their time doing things other than making Jeff Bezos more money.

The problem has become pervasive enough in Seattle that when I went with a few girlfriends to Pony, one of the last true gay bars on Capitol Hill, I was shocked when I found out that the adorable pair of 25-year-old boys talking to us were heterosexual. They were there because—as one of them told us—”It was the only place on the Hill on the weekends where there are no bros.”

Cross-reference this experience with skyrocketing housing prices and the erasure of retail jobs; the homogeneous dating pool is unlikely to diversify without diverse jobs and housing options.

You can’t date the guy at the record store if there’s no record store.

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Curing My Flight Anxiety, One Book Tour at a Time

Jami Attenberg | Longreads | June 2017 | 9 minutes (2,138 words)

 

There was a definitive start date to my flight anxiety. I know this because I was on an early morning flight back from a Midwestern city. I had been in town for an appearance. There was average attendance at the event; I had collected my check. Later, I had one of the hosts drop me off not at my hotel but an old lover’s house in the city. I’m sure she thought I was being sketchy. I wasn’t explaining the whole story. An old friend, I said. We were having dinner. But I took my luggage with me. She kept offering to buy me dinner, this nudgy, but kind woman. I didn’t feel like explaining anything. She was a stranger. It was my personal life.

These are not extraordinary circumstances, necessarily, although they are specific ones. You may not have to stand in front of an audience talking about a book you wrote, but you might have had to make a sales presentation to a regional office. You may not have a prying local escort, but you might have, say, a mother, or a friend, who doesn’t know when to drop it. And at some point in your life I bet you’ve made choices that other people might find questionable, even if you didn’t question them one bit.

The next morning I boarded this tiny plane, two seats on either side of the aisle, except for the very last seat, which was a single. That was where I was miserably stuck, directly across from the bathroom. I’d had about two hours of rest the night before and was hungover on arrival. I fell asleep almost immediately on the plane, a hazy, buzzed sleep. I woke as the beverage cart rolled over my foot, with a gasp and a start and a solid pounding in my chest. It was an almost instantaneous anxiety attack.

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A Witness to Other People’s Lives, Not Living My Own

Jennifer Romolini | Weird in a World That’s Not | Harper Business | June 2017 | 10 minutes (2,475 words)

 

Long before author Jennifer Romolini’s name appeared high up on the mastheads of publications such as Time Out NY, Tina Brown’s Talk Magazine, and Lucky, and websites like Yahoo Shine, Hello Giggles and Shondaland, she struggled to find herself. She spent her early 20s waitressing in restaurants and hotels, and was soon rushed by a pregnancy that ultimately wouldn’t last into marriage that wouldn’t, either, with a summer fling who should probably have been no more than that. She felt lost and stuck. She felt limited by her working class upbringing with weird parents who fashioned themselves after the oddball parents in Bowie’s “Kooks,” and by her academic failures — mostly for lack of trying — first in high school, then in college, which she didn’t finish. A perennial misfit where ever life took her, she assumed doors would always be closed to her. But a few years later, after leaving her first husband, she committed to figuring out what she wanted, getting her life together, and finding a place for herself in a career she liked, without compromising who she was.

When she was struggling, none of the career books on the market quite spoke to her, or offered solutions for someone who’d never been on a traditional career track. Now, after years building her career as an editor, she’s decided to fill that void for younger women who find themselves in her old shoes. Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures, out today, is the book she wished she’d had — an interesting addition to the growing category of Misfit Lit, a hybrid of memoir and self-help. What follows is an excerpt, recommended by Longreads Essays Editor Sari Botton.

* * *

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Dorothy Allison on How America Devalues Those Who are ‘Other’

At Lenny, Kaitlyn Greenidge interviews Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina, on growing up poor, finding her voice, overcoming the stigma of poverty, and being a lesbian in Donald Trump’s America.

And then define, what is your own unique story? It’s a struggle for every writer. And to value your story is a struggle for every writer. The problem is, of course, that if you live in a culture that inherently devalues the poor, the working class, the darks, the queer, the other, and you are all those categories, then you are fighting the voice of your culture at the same time that you are fighting all of the other difficulties of developing a voice and telling a story.

It’s a miracle that we ever manage, but my conviction — and I’m old enough to have evidence to support my convictions — is that the best American literature is working-class literature. The strongest voices are those voices, those people who have come out of the poor and the disadvantaged circumstances to claim their right to tell a story. And they tell stories with such passion and brilliance. You don’t have to read far to realize the power of those outlaw voices and how they dominate American literature.

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Protect that Underwear Zone: Abstinence Only Sex Education

Advertisement for movie, Damaged Goods

The chatter continued for a while; then Whittle flipped to another photo of two smiling white teenagers. Next to the picture was the phrase “sexual abstinence” and its definition: “saving sexual activity for a committed marriage relationship.” Boals told the kids, “We define ‘sexual activity’ as when the underwear zone of another person comes into contact with any part of your body.” The students would often be asked to recite this definition at the beginning and end of each class.

Data shows that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work, but it’s still a common practice in American public schools. On Mother Jones, Becca Andrews tags along with an abstinence-only sex education teaching tour — and reflects on her own education, ten years earlier.

I don’t regret abstaining in high school, but the fear I picked up along the way hasn’t been easy to shake. I’d believed that sperm could swim through the holes in condoms and impregnate anyone stupid enough to rely on them. It appeared to me that there was no good way to have sex until you wanted a baby, and I didn’t understand what changed once you were married, if birth control wasn’t protection enough. Surely the Pill can’t tell if you wear a wedding band.

When I did start having sex in my early 20s, even though I loved the man I was with, part of me felt disgusted with my body and overwhelmed by the experience. I couldn’t figure out what I liked because I grew up hearing that I wasn’t supposed to like any of it. I felt paralyzing shame at a basic expression of love.

Seems like an effective method to create more handmaids.

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When ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Isn’t Fiction

I watched the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale with an increasing sense of dread. While I can easily draw parallels to anti-feminist sentiment in modern society, the specifics of the story remain, for me, primarily fiction.

Not so for Hännah Ettinger, who grew up in the fundamentalist Christian “Quiverfull” movement. Ettinger first read The Handmaid’s Tale in college and saw herself in the story. At the Establishment, she describes the similarities between her life under the shadow of a repressive misogynistic religion and that of the women in the dystopian novel.

I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian community  —  the church we attended could fairly be called a cult, and my parents took things a step further than even our church did, homeschooling and raising nine kids. I was the oldest. We were part of a larger movement now called “Quiverfull,” the term taken from a Psalm where the writer talks about God blessing the man whose “quiver is full of arrows.” The metaphor refers to children, and our community understood this to be a command: Have children and raise them in this aggressively conservative faith, and then there will be more “true” believer Christians in the world to bring about cultural revolution in the name of Jesus Christ. Children like me were raised to see life as apocalyptic, and ourselves as serving on the front lines of a culture war to make America Christian.

And me, the oldest child in a family of nine? As was common in the movement, I was my mom’s right hand. She sometimes called me her strength, because I helped her co-parent my younger siblings and keep the household running. When she had twins shortly before my 13th birthday, it was me who got up with her during the nighttime feedings, not my dad. When things were too busy on Sunday nights, I took over doing all the family laundry and ironing. And I did the dinner dishes almost exclusively for about 10 years, foregoing activities with my peers at church and in the community because I had too many obligations to fulfill at home. Like Offred, my life’s purpose was subsumed into serving the “greater good” of my far-right Christian community.

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