Raise Your Hand if You Need the Last Word.

montoya“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Over lunch the other day, a few of my girlfriends and I mused over how we grew up on The Princess Bride.  I mean literally like an after school snack. A drug of choice for hip 90s girls who knew we’d grow up and really want to be more like Robin Wright on House of Cards, but for a little while, we could love Wesley and his sexy bandit costume.  There were two movies that I obsessively watched as a child, Grease and Princess Bride.  I feel like between these two movies PLUS Clarissa Explains It All, I can be discovered.  This may or may not be true for most girls, we shall see in the comments section, but I think a lot of girls found themselves binge-watching The Princess Bride because it wasn’t your normal “princess story.”  Sure, she had to be saved several times from Humperdinck, but Princess Buttercup was no pansy.  What I love most about this movie is that it convinced me that there’s such a thing as a final word.

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I have sought that final word to the point of damage a few times.  I’ll argue until the height of high-pitched yelling.  There’s a moment when I say something despicable that I know can’t be taken back, but I still release it into the world like it’s a clattering truth.  I never remove myself from arguments.  I have a hard time walking away.  And even when someone is trying to give me the hint that there’s no place for me in their life, I pursue them until the ache grows softer and I, too, can let go.

It’s a downfall for sure.  I’m no hero.

shrill-lindy-west-magnumBut with that all said, I think Lindy West’s first book is doing just what I’ve done my whole life, just what Inigo Montoya does with every man who even narrowly looks like his father’s killer.  It’s what a lot of feminists do when they realize that maybe they’re being heard (the sound) but they’re not being listened to (the meaning).  They keep going. Shrill, West’s memoir really encapsulates this idea that silence isn’t golden, it’s boxy and the only way out of it, is to keep on talking.

hqdefaultI knew this book was going to pack a punch when in the beginning she lists out every “Fat Female Role Model” that existed for her as a child.  Characters like the Queen of Hearts, Mrs. Trunchbull, Lady Cluck, Mrs. Piggy, and Ursula were the most prominent according to my notebook. I listened to this on audiobook, so I had to pause to write down little tidbits I wanted to remember forever.  In Chapter 2, she says, “There is not a thin woman inside me awaiting excavation.  I am one piece.”  With this quote I began to realize that we were going to witness every bit of Lindy West, whether she thought it appropriate to show or not, she was nothing but transparent and relatable for the entire book.

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This image is from Lindy West’s article in Jezebel “How to Make a Rape Joke”

(If you don’t know who Lindy West is, she came for Tosh.0 in Jezebel with a piece called “How to Make a Rape Joke.” And she rocks).  She has been trashed by internet trolls, even one impersonating her deceased father, and she married a man who in her words is “conventionally attractive” who plays the trumpet.  The reason why I say her book is a final word of sorts is that it gives all of the baggage (and I don’t mean this as a negative) to the stories that everyone else construed about her.  These stories created by trolls, comedy show hosts, feminist bloggers, newspapers and magazines, and her blog were in some ways all fabricated.  While I blog my life blood into everything I write at Books & Bowels and Almost an Independent Clause, that doesn’t mean I owe every single one of my followers a pound of flesh.

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Internet Troll image from Kotaku

But in the eyes of the public, Lindy West did.  She was trolled, tattered, and left on the defense over really important issues like fat shaming, rape jokes, abortions, periods, and privilege.  At one point, during the comedy chapters, she says something like, I can easily name 20 white male comics, but … “Name 20 female comics.  Name 20 black comics.  Name 20 gay comics.”  Early in the book, she writes so unabashedly about her abortion when she was dating a guy that she loved, but didn’t quite like very much, that I heard every woman who walked the women’s march sigh in relief.  It wasn’t some grotesque tale like the biblical posters of “baby waste” will have you think, it was a real woman’s life trial, true to each hard step.  She even at this point in her life (what I would argue is probably a low point for some women) thought about her privilege, about the way it was so easy for the owner of the Abortion Clinic to let her pay later.

“Privilege means it’s easy for white women to do each other favors.”

I’m not going to lie, I found the chapters rehashing her experience of Tosh.0 kind of boring, but I knew they needed to be said.  I’m not going to put words in Lindy West’s mouth (like everyone else has done before me), but I get the need to have one last say, to make sure people understand your point, to make one even when all corners are trying to silence you. For me, what she said had value, is valuable, and should be repeated even if the “shrill” is deafening.  Especially in today’s political climate.

“We live in a culture that actively tries to shrink the definition of sexual assault.  That casts stalking behaviors as romance.  Blames the victims for wearing the wrong clothes, walking through the wrong neighborhood…Convicts in less than 5% of allegations that go to trial” (Chapter 13).

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Lindy West, Fierce AF at KUOW.org

I loved this book because it didn’t ask for anything.  You know how sometimes you read memoirs and you can feel that the writer is asking for pity, or asking for understanding, or even just asking for love and adoration? This wasn’t like that.  This was just a girl, standing in front of a really bookish crowd (with a pack of Lena Dunham’s behind her) telling a few truths about life.  She wasn’t asking for you to understand why your fat joke is sorry, why rape jokes aren’t funny in any contexts, why free speech isn’t necessarily free, or why feminist voices matter, she was just telling you an experience in a life of a human being.

If we could find more writers that do this, our world might open up a little.  Internet trolls might apologize more and Lindy West may have a twitter full of quips that crack a girl up while she’s at a boring desk job.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but if Lindy West keeps publishing, we just might. I liked Slate’s review here.

A Timeline is Not a Novel

I know for sure that I don’t hate this novel.  If anything, it made me wish I was able to interview my grandmother for a seventh grade historical genealogy assignment.  Every year, I have my students write about and research their name, like Sandra Cisneros did in one of her vignettes for A House on Mango Street.  Some teachers of the Holocaust have their students find and interview survivors or people who are related to those who suffered.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Unlike either of those projects, this was a fictional novel of an interview between a granddaughter and her grandmother.  You never hear from the granddaughter in The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant, but the grandmother Addie Baum tells the timeline of her life in the interview from her beginnings in 1900 to 1985 when she is doing the interview.  Addie weaves the historical remnants of prohibition, speakeasies, women who are just being allowed to be professionals, Rockport Lodge for girls, and the artistic culture, with her life as a Jewish girl in Boston growing up between her mother’s yiddish, her sister’s bobbed hair, and her own voice.  Her story was a retelling of a life which I found fascinating because it was true to an oral history of a woman of 85 that has not lost even one marble.  She’s full of fairy wisdom, and never strays from the pain in her life which makes it seem true to a real woman’s history.

Smithsonian Magazine Photo from The Boston Globe

Where I had a problem was that this book is incredibly boring. It has very little narrative drive.  This is an 85 year old woman that has very little spunk, all of her friends claim throughout her life that she’s so smart and well-read, but her speaking language never comes off any sort of beautiful.  (I don’t think most people’s speaking language is particularly beautiful. My writing language can hold a leather glove to my speaking language.  This is my first argument against BookTube).  The Boston Girl is almost an exact timeline of a woman’s life.  The expected happens. Life happens.  The scary and turbulent happens (as shit storms come through with their dust rolls and sticking webs in most lives).  I left this book wondering what exactly the point was.  Was it to tell the history of Boston women as a gaggle from 1900-1985, or Jewish immigrant women during this time? That’s the problem with plot.

Gym full of victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak. Source: Dartmouth Medicine Magazine

It ends (for me) at Addie’s marriage which I think was a smart ending.  For the entire novel, Addie finds herself rubbing against the ideals for women during the early 1900s (particularly prohibition, the Great Depression, Spanish Influenza and not so much the World Wars).  I think when she gets married, her life as a girl “coming of age” is no longer driving the novel forward, and that is the justifiable end.  Plus, the soon-to-be-husband is easy for the reader to like, as is expected if we’re going to come to a happy ending.

Rockport Lodge featured in Designing Women

I wonder if the novel was severely lacking because I had very little emotional response.  There was almost no need to because I could predict what was coming.  I know history and so I knew someone in her family would be graved by the Spanish Influenza and as a woman she would face the beginning of woman’s fight for rights.   Maybe I didn’t feel so much for it because an 85 year old woman would not remember these details of her life so specifically, the big ones, yes, but all the little touches – I just don’t know.  Maybe I didn’t like it because the writing was so plain, there was very little beauty in the wisdom and I didn’t feel as if 85 year old Addie was talking to me, but instead she was a younger version of herself.  Throughout the novel she tracks her many key friendships; Filomena who faced a bleach abortion, and moved to Arizona to pursue her art practice, Betty, Addie’s her independent sister, Celia, her fragile sister, Rose, who she attended Rockport Lodge with and Irene, Rose’s sister.  All these women were women I, too, have shared a life with in some way or another, but that’s just what this was, a life.  A life spoken down.

Have any of you read this one? It has a pretty high 5-point score of 3.81 on Goodreads.  Maybe I’m a Debbie Downer? Send your feedback below.

Why Are You in my Uterus?

It’s time for the inevitable people.  You knew this was coming: The War on Women.

Transvaginal Ultrasound

Earlier in February, Virginia lawmakers and their governor (notice the blatant lack of capitalization) thought it was appropriate to enter a bill for transvaginal ultrasounds pre-abortion.  Side note: I’m a Catholic woman, would I ever be able to get an abortion?  Probably not.  Does that mean I need to dictate how every other woman’s decision needs to be made on the subject? Absolutely not.  Your body, your decision.

A transvaginal ultrasound is defined as this: Transvaginal ultrasound is a type of pelvic ultrasound. It is used to look at a woman’s reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries, cervix, and vagina. Transvaginal means across or through the vagina. (Medicine Plus)

Now, here is the definition of rape: Forcible Sex Offense: Any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly or against that person’s will. Includes forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual asualt with an object, and forcible fondling.

Here is another definition of sexual battery (for those of you who like to argue):  Sexual Battery: Forced oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by any object, except when these acts are performed for bona fide medical purposes.

I’m not sure forcing women to have a vaginal ultrasound is “bona fide medical purposes,” however penetrating a woman with or without medical purpose against their will isn’t acceptable.  It isn’t acceptable to write into law any type of entrance into a woman’s private parts, ever.  I like to choose what goes into my vagina thank you, and an ultrasound probe for whatever reason is not on the top of my list.

Hence, I am particularly thankful for the men and women of Virginia’s silent protest.

In the history of language/the first obscenity was silence.” – Christina Davis

Here is where I always turn to the literature.  Last night I was reading Christina Davis’ brilliant collection of poems, Forth a Raven.  Whenever I’m in a moment where I don’t have the language or words, I go to the literature.  This is a quote I found in the poem, “The Primer” which is about love, and language, and usage.  It is the perfect tune for the Virginia protests.  What is grander than silence?  What is worse than yelling, and pitch forks, and gangs of human beings hooked together at the elbows with signs of hate in bold black marker? Silence.  Silence is the greatest power we have as human beings: to choose when and if to speak, or just to coat the air with the remarkableness of nothing.  It’s enough that we have language to argue, to write, to form a voice for our bodies and soul, but it’s even more to have the chance and the power to stop that voice and let the noiseless emotion fill the blue air.

Thank you, Virginians.

And then we come to the reason why I’m a slut: the pimple of politics, Rush Limbaugh.

If you watch the news, or you listen to NPR, or God-help-us you listen to Rush Limbaugh in the mornings then you’ve already heard about the comments he’s made to and about Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke.  If you haven’t heard the comments, here are just a few remarks:

  • “What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
  • “She was not allowed to testify because it was not about women at Georgetown who have so much sex they can’t afford birth control…”
  • “if we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” (Yes, he did say porn was acceptable, but for women to have contraceptives, not so much…)
This isn’t an argument about whether the government should subsidize birth control anymore, it’s an argument against women’s rights and women’s value.

And here is my open letter to Rush Limbaugh.

Dear Rush,

Hello from the inner world of my brain which does not reside in the deep red depths of my vagina.  This is Slut # 273,483,212 speaking from North Carolina (yes, the Bible Belt).  Thank you dearly for calling me a slut on Friday from the smooth reclining chair and empty airspace of your cubicle radio room.  It’s easy, isn’t it, to sit behind a microphone and let your thunderous voice boom out to millions of people (if in fact that many people actually listen to you seriously).  Unlike the Virginia protesters you can’t look anyone in the eye with your comments, can you?

I’m not angry that you called me a slut.  You’re right, I do have free choice on who and what goes into my vagina.  I do have the right to protect myself from STD’s through use of grocery store birth control methods, and medically prescribed pills that I oh, so love, to take at the same time everyday.  Did you know that I got on birth control to stop heavy flow, not because I was bringing all the boys to the yard.  I’m a bookish nerd, I clean up pretty, but I’m not exactly a sexual beast.  And if I were, why is that your business?  I do hope your wife has since thrown away her 30 days of pills in their purple packet and stuck the “two aspirins between her legs.”  Sorry honey, no sex tonight.  Maybe she can give YOU recommendations on which birth control method would suit your heavy flow, and also make sure you don’t gain weight (because that’s certainly a side effect).

I think my favorite part of your broadcast was this:

“So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

I know your game is to objectify and continue the rape-culture.  The culture where advertisements picture women in scantily clad clothes serving their men beer on a platter.  In fact, here is where I think you and Chris Brown would definitely get along.  You both prefer women bent over and quiet.  It’s men like you that make it okay for women to be door mats, vacuum cleaners, punching bags, trash bins, just another pair of legs.

I’m sure your mother would be proud.  Not only did she fit your big head through that birth canal, but she created a balding, middle-aged man that doesn’t respect the very mind that made him.  Your mother did all the right things during pregnancy and was lucky enough to have the miracle of a healthy baby boy in her arms when you were born.  But, let’s not forget, she’s a slut.  Your sister’s a slut.  I’m a slut.  My mom’s a slut.  Plenty of women reading this blog are sluts.

Thank you for making me proud to use this word. No longer will I feel offended being called this by sidewalk preachers and back woods conservatives.  If being a slut means having total control of my body, and the welfare of any child born within, I’m a total slutbag.

Just remember, in 1920, I was given the right to vote.  It may have taken us an 18 year movement and a history of domesticity, but somehow (maybe with intelligence…just maybe) we managed to collectively earn that right.  If you think I’ll ever vote for someone, or something that lets a man’s heavy hands into my vagina, you’re dead wrong.  Welcome to the female nation.  Welcome to democracy.

Sincerely,

A Feminazi

My dear blogger friend has had an amazing idea to write his sponsors or at least boycott them.  Here is the list of Rush’s radio sponsors.