pop culture

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Time for another round up of the things I’m reading and thinking about this week.  Basically everything is terrible and this is not helped by the fact that I’m facing down a weekend full of obligations.  So here we go!

Gone Girl is the Most Feminist Mainstream Movie in Years (Vox)

Todd VanDerWerff is one of my favorite movie and TV critics writing on the internet these days, but this piece about the Gone Girl movie is an absolute must-read.  There are a ton of think pieces about the film right now: is it misogynistic? feminist? anti-feminist? full of misandry?   VanDerWerff argues it’s inherently feminist, and although I have had mixed feelings about it, he’s got me more than half-convinced:

But open up Gone Girl and dig around in its guts, and you find something surprising. This is perhaps the most feminist mainstream movie in years, a forthright depiction of the ways that society controls women and forces them into certain roles, then lets men basically do whatever they want. Amy Dunne might be a monster, but she’s no sui generis psychopath. No, she’s Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together by a husband, parents, and a social order that demanded she be certain things, rather than who she really was.

I mean, obviously there are spoilers in this review, but if you have seen it or read the book or don’t care about spoilers (I fall into this third category, and J. says I’m a monster because of it) it’s so worth your time to sink into this article.  Fincher doesn’t have the best track record with women in his films (add him to a very long list, yeah?), but this film might mark a departure for him.

The Price of Black Ambition (VQ Magazine)

At this point, Roxane Gay is my imaginary best friend because she’s so amazing.  This piece does nothing to dissuade that opinion (and if you haven’t read her recaps of Starz’s Outlander series over at NY Mag, go do that and I will wait).  But this piece is EXCELLENT and IMPORTANT:

Many people of color living in this country can likely relate to the onset of outsized ambition at too young an age, an ambition fueled by the sense, often confirmed by ignorance, of being a second-class citizen and needing to claw your way toward equal consideration and some semblance of respect. Many people of color, like me, remember the moment that first began to shape their ambition and what that moment felt like.

This whole essay is amazing.  If you read one thing this week, read this.  I could quote the entire thing:

Like many students of color, I spent a frustrating amount of time educating white people, my professors included, about their ignorance, or gritting my teeth when I did not have the energy. When race entered class discussions, all eyes turned to me as the expert on blackness or the designated spokesperson for my people. When racist “jokes” were made, I was supposed to either grin and bear it or turn the awkward incident into a teachable moment about difference, tolerance, and humor. When a doctoral classmate, who didn’t realize I was in hearing range, told a group of our peers I was clearly the affirmative-action student, I had to pretend I felt nothing when no one contradicted her. Unfortunately, these anecdotes are dreadfully common, banal even, for people of color. Lest you think this is ancient history, I graduated with my Ph.D. in December 2010.

Important stuff. Read it.  READ IT.

Stories Like Passwords (The Hairpin)

Everything I’ve read that’s written by Emma Healey has been excellent (so I should probably get to the galley of her book I have, right?) and this essay is no different.  It’s about power, and gender dynamics, and it’s incredibly powerful.  After she shows some other female writers at a writers-colony emails from a male colleague that have made Healey feel vaguely uncomfortable, the other women open up  with their own stories:

If you listen to enough stories like this, you’ll start to hear a few themes. These men are not ever that big of a deal. What they do to us is never really that bad in the grand scheme of things, no matter how big it feels at the time. It could always have been much worse. We might just have been misreading the situation. They might not have meant anything by it. They’ve never apologized – but then again, we’ve never asked them to.

This fits nicely into what I’ve been thinking about this week, which is about consent and power, about the insidiousness of sexism, of rape culture, of how important it is to open dialogues, to keep talking.  The entire thing is incredibly disturbing and incredibly powerful:

An abusive relationship is a closed loop. So is a professional network. So is the patriarchy.

Healey talks about an experience as a student with a much older professor.  Of how, after that relationship ended, he attacked her in her apartment one night.  She talks about how sharing this story opened the floodgates of dozens of stories just like hers:

Without exception, every single one of these men is still working—writing, publishing, editing, teaching—today.

These men do not work, or live, or act in a vacuum. Unless they are masterminds or psychopaths (and they cannot all be), their behavior, or aspects of it, is often visible. These men are everywhere.

It’s about the tacit approval we give these men.  It’s about how we are failing women.  It’s going to stay with me for a long time.

On Deciding What Counts: Elizabeth Ellen and What Makes a Victim (The Toast

Keeping up with the theme of really complex essays about hard stuff, here’s another one!.  If you aren’t reading The Toast at least periodically, I encourage you to do so.  If you are, let’s talk about it! This week, I corresponded (in a very long and passionate email chain) with a friend about this piece, about Mallory Ortberg and her brain (I wish to live in it), and about the prickly issues at play here.  This piece is so good.

The piece is a response to Elizabeth Ellen’s “Open Letter to the Internet” (so edgy!) about the allegations Sophia Katz made about a magazine editor named Stephen Tully Dierks, and also about the allegations of statutory rape made against writer Tao Lin.  That summary barely scratches the surface of what Ellen’s bizarre essay tackles, though.  Ortberg writes:

And yet, I think that anyone who is willing to publicly Monday-morning-quarterback the details of another woman’s rape must be prepared to face criticism, and to be brave about it…It is one thing to wish to have a public conversation about passive and active forms of consent, about how to deal with regrettable sex after one has had it, about how to best take care of oneself after being sexually assaulted; it is another to publicly pick apart the details of someone else’s rape. One can do it, of course! But it is thorny and painful territory. Best to go prepared.

What follows is a detailed and excellent critique of the arguments Ellen is trying (and failing) to make about consent.  Ortberg nears the end of her essay with this:

Not every argument is worth having! And yet, I think, it is important to gently but firmly point out that this is a wrong-headed and a dangerous and a profoundly unkind argument to make. It is shot through with the worst and the laziest sort of empathy. It prioritizes the avoidance of pain and criticism over honesty. It confuses public criticism with dehumanization. It confuses the victimized with the victimizer.

Please go read it and think about it.

What got you thinking this week?



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