What I read in 2014

As you may have read, I have strong feelings about the value of a diversified reading list. In the interest of accountability, at the end of the year (see 2013 here) I look back and make sure that I didn’t only read novels by 27-year-old white women, for example, (though this year I did read White Girlswhich is by a 54-year-old queer black man). Nothing wrong with white girl novels, but I think reading is basically the biggest empathy-building exercise there is, so I want to make sure I’m building empathy bridges with lots of different perspectives.

Also, while there is a particular magic to an author describing exactly how I feel, I generally already know how I feel so it’s often more interesting to read how someone else, someone with a totally different life experience, might interpret the world.

In short, this year I read even more books by women (tipped the scales heavily towards ladies, actually, from about 50/50 in 2013 to 62/38 in 2014… may need to scale that back), way more books by authors of color (from 24% last year to 37% this year) and even more non-fiction. The non-fiction thing is unrelated to diversity of experience, per se, but it’s just an interest marker of my changing tastes.

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So what were my favorites? The very first book I read in 2014, Flamethrowersis still one of the most fascinating and unique reads of my year. Jesmyn Ward’s memoir Men We Reaped was gorgeous and tragic and I cried the whole time. I also went back and read her Salvage the Bones and loved that even more if only because it was slightly less sad for being brutal fiction instead of brutal truth. The strangest collection of short stories I read this year, Karen Russell’s A Vampire in the Lemon Grove, included one in which American presidents are resurrected as horses and it was amazing. Most poetic prose goes to Kevin Powers for his spare, harsh, terrible war novel, The Yellow Birds. Eric Liu’s exploration of Chinese American identity and his own family history, A Chinaman’s Chance, has stuck with me and opened up whole areas of American history I knew nothing about. I would be remiss to not include Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, but it comes with the biggest trigger warning ever. It was by far the hardest book I’ve ever read, and it’s a testament to the author’s skill with plot that I didn’t stop when the going got emotionally treacherous. For cleverest world-building in the sci-fi genre, I’ll recommend China Mieville’s The City and the City, which has added a dimension of whimsy to the way I navigate my own urban jungle.

And drumroll… It was written more than fifteen years ago, but my favorite book I read this year was hands down Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down about the Hmong community of Merced, California, and cross-cultural miscommunication in the most dire of circumstances.

What should I make sure not to miss in 2015?

 

 

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So Many Things!

It has been quite a while, my dear Internet friends. I’d apologize for the absence but I’m having way too much fun at my new job to want to apologize for it. The Matilda Effect is still ongoing and I’m truly hoping it lasts forever.

That said, I’ve missed sharing my new stuff with you! So… A few things that have happened since we last spoke (… wrote? read? communicated via pixels?). From newest to oldest:

Show up. Just do it. I wrote about the simple but often un- or under-appreciated value of showing up, especially when it’s cold, you’re busy, and Netflix is calling. This was partly inspired by Wait But Why and Eric Liu’s phenomenal book A Chinaman’s Chance (really just one chapter of it, but seriously, read the whole thing):

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On Ego and Exercise. After running my first (and probably only) half-marathon, I wrote about why I exercise and the intersection of ego and self-care.

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On slutty slutty Halloween. Every October (this now seems woefully out of date), there are endless think pieces about why girls dress so scantily. I’m so bored of this conversation, so… I wrote another think piece.

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On the pay gap and “trusting the system.” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella got into trouble by suggesting that women should just work hard and wait around to be recognized and failed to acknowledge systemic and cultural reasons for the pay gap. Oh yeah, this was at a conference for women in tech…

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Long Time No Talk! Some new stuff…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Matilda lately. You remember Matildaright? The Roald Dahl masterpiece about a tiny girl with terrible parents who can magically move things with her mind? [SPOILER ALERT, though seriously, this book is 26 years old so you probably would have read it if you were going to read it] At the end, when Matilda finally gets some quality education, from Miss Honey instead of the evil Miss Trunchbull, her magical powers go away. When she finally puts her brain to some serious learning, she doesn’t have all the extra mental energy to move salt shakers across the table.

I have a new job and I feel like Matilda when her powers vanished. A little bit bereft, but mostly thrilled to be fully engaged by the thing that I theoretically am supposed to spend so much of my time doing. I had…ahem… outgrown my previous role, and I was directing all my mental energy towards writing, blogging, and communicating with you fine people of the Interwebz.

I hope that explains a bit about my recent absence. I’m planning to continue writing and posting as much as is feasible, because I love it and it’s good practice, but if it looked like I was using magical powers to produce content before, know that it was only a Matilda situation.

That said, I’ve written a few things lately that you should read. This week, I wrote about the douchery of dudes who try to avoid wearing condoms through pressure, guilt-tripping, shaming or old-fashioned TRICKERY. I got SO many stories from people who have experienced this terrible phenomenon. On the bright side, I learned a new term, “micro-consents,” which references all the many other “yeses” we say after the initial “yes” that help us continually stay on the same page as our partners re things like protection and preferences.

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Speaking of new jobs… I got this job I’m doing now through an all-lady, invite-only Facebook group. For a split-second I felt guilty about “taking advantage” of this “exclusive” network, but then I was all like, OH RIGHT OLD BOYS CLUBS HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR EVER. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the specific values of all-lady spaces:

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Lastly, if you didn’t catch my segment on The Morning AMp a couple of weeks ago, listen to me, Molly Adams, and Brian Babylon chat about Mt. Holyoke’s new policy about transgender students, the new “normal” family, and other fun stuff.

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The Perils of Bad Titles (and poorly thought out analogies)

I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle I caused last week with my Role/Reboot latest. It was not my most sensitive or thoughtful work and I did some harm where I meant to only raise questions.

I often think that flipping pronouns is a useful way of analyzing the role that gender is playing in media coverage. We’ve looked at examples before, like coverage of Marissa Mayer or a story about a teenage heart throb’s virginity.

Last week, fed up with the excessive victim blaming that goes into coverage of high-profile sexual assault cases, like the recent piece on Hobart Williams and Smith, or Steubenville, I wrote an essay exploring what happens when we flip pronouns on the victims and imagine these cases if young men were raped instead of young women. Would we still say an 11-year-old boy “lured” men like a “spider,” as we did in Cleveland, TX? Would the “Princeton Mom” still say it’s “all on him” if a male college student was too drunk to prevent his rape? I don’t think we would, and I still think that there’s value in exploring how language can expose bias.

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But, I made a few mistakes. The biggest one was the title, which I suggested and my editor confirmed: “If Straight Men Were Raped: How Pronouns Change the Conversation About Victim Blaming.*” Do you see the problem? I kind of can’t believe I missed it. Of course straight men are raped. This is not a hypothetical, fantastical suggestion; straight men are raped by other men. In fact, as was pointed out by several readers, although women are assaulted far more frequently, one of the key reasons male victims don’t come forward (i.e. one of the reasons we have so many fewer media examples to refer to), is precisely because the stigmas on male victims are unique.

I did not intend to write an essay on those particular stigmas, as I don’t feel equipped or educated enough to do so. But I also did not intend to belittle or shame straight men that have been raped, nor to downplay the equally-horrible but differently-shaped reactions that those survivors get. Here are a few responses that better articulate the issue:

“A LOT of rape of men by men is disregarded because people think he must’ve given off some sort of “gay” thing that made him seem to want it. There are different ways in which male survivors have their rapes and SAs denied, mostly via homophobia. And god help you find support if you actually are GBT or Q. Obviously we know there are serious issues with GBTQ men who are sexually assaulted. I’d bet pretty much nobody is marginalized when it comes to sexual assault more than LGBTQ populations in general.” – from Joanna Schroeder, Good Men Project

“But where you say that you are merely trying to highlight inappropriate use of gendered language around victims, I contend that you are doing to male victims the very thing you are fighting against – namely grossly distorting and dismissing the realities that we live under. In effect, you are throwing male victims under the bus in order to make a point about female victims that no one in their right mind would argue against.” – From Chris Anderson, MaleSurvivors.org

I hope that the content of the article makes clear that I believe all victims deserve respect and that no one, of any gender or sexual orientation, should be shamed, stigmatized, ostracized, or blamed, for their assault. I also hope that Chris and Joanna’s responses help illuminate some subtleties that I missed in my first pass.

 

*We changed the title later to “If Straight Men Were Raped As Often As Women….” – Better, but not great.

Related Post: “After donation regret” and other rape analogies

Related Post: Using pronoun-flipping on Serena Williams’ Steubenville comments.

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On Being an Ice Bucket Challenge Party Pooper

There’s a reason it’s taken me seven days to write about why I didn’t (and won’t) participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge that has raised a buttload of money for the ALS Association

[Note: If you are not familiar, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a hideous neurodegenerative disease that paralyzes and kills within a very short time. It is one of the conditions often cited by advocates of doctor-assisted suicide. That’s how bad it is.]

When I was nominated for the viral challenge by mother, I knew I wasn’t going to do it, but I couldn’t figure out exactly why. My instinct was that peer-pressure and popularity are not the reasons I want to participate in philanthropy, but it’s taken me a week and half a dozen  conversations to articulate my thinking.

So here’s where I landed:

Screenshot_8_28_14_2_04_PM-2From the reactions I’m seeing on Facebook and Twitter, I wasn’t the only one struggling to find the words on this one.

Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? An interview with a social worker friend.

Related Post: Complicated feelings about India, terrorism, harassment, gender etc.

 

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“Doesn’t this stuff just make women feel like victims?”

This “stuff” he was asking about was articles like the ones I write for Role/Reboot and the ones I read on sites like Jezebel, XOJane, Salon, Slate, and The Hairpin. This “stuff” calls attention to discrimination and prejudice, to misogyny and hypocrisy.

If women feel like victims after reading “this stuff,” it’s not the article to blame, it’s the need for such an article in the first place. I don’t feel victimized by articles about street harassment; I feel victimized by actual street harassment. The article is the spotlight on the problem, not the problem.

You have three choices: You can pretend it’s all in my head (see: gaslighting), you can pretend what I document is true but not a problem (what even…), or you agree that what I document is true and a problem. We can disagree about how to solve it, but if you can’t even open your eyes to it in the first place, we’re never going to get very far.

More on this idea of “victim-creation” and whiny feminism at Role/Reboot this week:

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Related Post: So this is why people hate feminism

Related Post: Happy 80th Gloria!

 

 

 

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Femimosas Podcast + Newsletter!

Screenshot_8_18_14_2_09_PMLast week I was a guest on the podcast Femimosas (Get it? Feminism + Mimosas = YUM). While drinking copiously, Alicia Swiz, Mikey Mankar and I discussed dating dealbreaker lists, Ray Rice, violence against women prevention, “Nice Guys,” friendzoning, and basically everything else ever.

Oh yeah, there was also a new Rosie Says What newsletter! It contained, among other things, Random Family turns 10, Michele Roberts is the new NBA Players Union head, what it’s like to close a Starbucks at 11pm and open again at 4am.

Don’t get it in your inbox? Sign up here.

 

 

 

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