The Reading Hour.

It’s that time of year again and, in the spirit of tonight’s Reading Hour, I thought I’d tell you what I’ve been reading since last years’ event.

Rookie Yearbooks 1 & 2 by Tavi Gevinson.

I fell in love with Tavi Gevinson at last years’ Melbourne Writers Festival and had to snap up Rookie Yearbook One at the event’s bookstore. The second yearbook I got after visiting the U.S. late last year. They both compile the best of the Rookie website for those who don’t always have the chance to check it out. My favourites were anything by Sady Doyle and Lena Dunham’s interview with Mindy Kaling.

Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger.

My former housemate bought this at a secondhand bookstore in Geelong when we went there for an exhibition and surprised me with it for my birthday. I ended up using some of the intel I gleaned from the book for an article on the dark side of Hollywood that I’m shopping around, and it informed me when I went to the Museum of Death in Los Angeles, to which Kenneth Anger is a benefactor.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

I read this around the time the second movie came out and I think I enjoyed the big screen version much more than the print one. I liked how the film streamlined much of the at times unnecessary plot additions.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

Gillian Flynn has fast established herself as one of my favourite writers, and this is not only my favourite book of hers, but also one of my favourites in general. Couldn’t recommend it highly enough. A gritty page-turner that kicks Gone Girl’s ass.

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany.

I was unimpressed by last years’ Stella prize winner.

Inferno by Dan Brown.

I made the mistake of taking this hefty tome on my trip to the U.S., thinking I would get most of it read on the plane but I was still lugging it around for weeks after I returned home. I think because I read it pretty sporadically throughout the trip I didn’t get as into the story as I have with other Brown books. I did like the notions of overpopulation and the need to eradicate part of the population for the greater good of the human race, though.

Well Read Women by Samantha Hahn.

This is more of a picture book than anything with read substance, but I was gifted it in the States for my birthday after having mentioned it months and months before!

Floundering by Romy Ash.

I really enjoyed this debut novel from Ash, which was shortlisted for many a prize upon its release. If you like evocative Australiana in an alternative style, I urge you to pick up Floundering.

The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne.

A sort-of pictorial autobiography of my favourite author that I picked up from New York’s famous Strand bookstore.

Reel Religion: A Century of the Bible on Film by the Museum of Biblical Art.

I couldn’t tell whether this guide to the exhibition of the same name at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art was propaganda or, as it asserts in its title, a history of the Bible on film. Either way, if you ever have some spare time in Central Parker West, check out the free museum.

How Did You Get This Number? by Sloan Crosley.

Crosley seems to have lost her allure since I last read her work in book form, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, a few years ago.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.

What a horror show this was! I primarily read it so I could watch the Lifetime movie of the same name starring Heather Graham and Kiernan Shipka, but I had been wanting to satisfy my curiosity for it for quite a while.

The Family Law by Benjamin Law.

Laugh-out-loud funny as Law always is.

The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle by Mary Lillian Ellison with Larry Platt.

Another one I got in New York at Westsider Rare Books and, as an autobiography of perhaps the most famous—and certainly the longest active—female wrestler, I had to snap it up.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.

This marks the third and final Flynn book I’ve read, and while the colleague I borrowed it from found it boring, I loved it almost as much as Sharp Objects. It features another eleventh-hour plot twist that Flynn has become famous for. Can’t wait to see what her next release will be.

John Belushi is Dead/Hollywood Ending by Kathy Charles.

I’d been wanting to read Hollywood Ending for quite a few years, but little did I know that the book was also published under the title of John Belushi is Dead, so there I was with two copies of the same book and no place to go. It turned out to be a spectacular waste of money as I was sorely disappointed by this narrative.

Tragic Hollywood: Beautiful, Glamorous, Dead by Jackie Ganiy.

This book nicely elaborated on much of what I learned on my visit to the Museum of Death and a Tragical History tour of L.A. but, as a self-published effort, it was riddle with spelling and grammar mistakes and continuity errors.

Audition by Barbara Walters.

While I think Barbara Walters gets kookier and more conservative with age, she was once a pioneer for women in broadcast journalism, and her autobiography was fascinating if, expectedly, long.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

Another one I’d been putting off, but it lived up to the hype. I’m excited to see how the story of the last woman executed in Iceland will play out on the big screen as it has been optioned for film.

2Pac VS. Biggie: An Illustrated History of Rap’s Greatest Battle by Jeff Weiss & Evan McGarvey.

Didn’t tell me what I didn’t already know about Tupac Shakur, but I’d never really been a Biggie fan, so this book did shed some light on one of rap’s biggest stars.

An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne.

I picked this up along with Dunne’s autobiography at The Strand, and it was quite enjoyable.

Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin.

I always enjoy Maupin’s stuff, and this marks the likely second-last installment of his Tales of the City saga, in which he revisits his beloved characters from 1970s and ’80s San Francisco in the modern day.

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates.

You never know what you’re going to get when it comes to Joyce Carol Oates, which can be thrilling and disconcerting. I’d have to go with the latter in this instance.

Changed for Good by Stacy Wolf.

Two of my favourite things: feminism and Broadway musicals. For anyone who’s got an interest in either of these things, this is a fascinating look at both, with a particular focus on Wicked, which I went to see for the seventh time on the weekend!

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss.

Perhaps the Aussie book of the year, Tara Moss can be seen everywhere promoting her latest book—part memoir, part exploration of female tropes and stereotypes—and talking about everything from the Bechdel test to her rape and miscarriage. She writes in accessible terms and makes strong points.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

This book, a present from my housemate, has been languishing on my to-read pile for three years, so I thought it was high time I see what all the fuss was about. I’d watched the series so I was familiar with the premise and its aftermath, but I was quite taken aback by the misogyny and racism of pretty much all of the characters. Whether that was impeccable storytelling by Tsiolkas or the author’s biases I’m not sure; I guess I’ll have to read more of his work to find out. Next of his on my list: Barracuda.

The First Stone by Helen Garner.

Speaking of ingrained misogyny, Garner attempts to unpack the alleged sexual assault of two female students by a male authority figure at Melbourne University in the 1990s. What she actually ends up with is an out-of-touch, victim-blaming, second-wave VS. third-wave piece of misogyny. I would direct all readers away from this and towards Anna Krien’s Night Games: a much more balanced take on similar events.

Animal People by Charlotte Wood.

I’d been wanting to read this since I saw Charlotte Wood as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of years ago, and I devoured it in the space of the day. (I was without electricity so there wasn’t much else to do!) Pretty easy reading with a nice juxtaposition between human idiosyncrasies and animal mannerisms.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

I’ve already read this book, but I’m rereading it currently as research for a piece about the upcoming film adaptation. This is the third Flynn book I’ve read in the past year.

What are you reading for the Reading Hour?

Related: The Reading Hour 2013.

The Reading Hour 2012.

Tavi’s World at Melbourne Writers Festival.

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple: My Guide to New York City.

Cherchez la Femme Fatale, Take 2.

Stella: A Prize of One’s Own at The Wheeler Centre.

The Slap & Men Who Cheat.

Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” in the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

Night Games by Anna Krien Review.

You Animals.

Elsewhere: [Rookie] Sady Doyle.

[Show & Tell] Tara Moss On Ner Latest Novel The Fictional Woman & the Bechdel Test.

[SMH] Under the Skin.

Books: Tara Moss on Selfies.

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From The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss:

“Let’s talk about [selfies].

“These self-photographed images, existing as they do in an image-saturated culture, reflect some real aspect of people’s experiences. They are neither inherently empowering nor inherently disempowering. How can we pretend that beautiful young women in advertisements are just good old capitalism, that the publication of revealing paparazzi shots should be blamed on their beautiful, unsuspecting subjects, but selfies are morally dangerous because they sometimes reveal that young women (shock, horror) may try to look pretty or even hope to appear attractive? They are so self-absorbed! Narcissistic! So, we talk about what a big problem it is that women are taking photographs of themselves, without a middle man, and choosing to present those photographs publicly, for their own purposes, rather than the fact that images of women are used to sell everything from beer to automobiles to magazines.”

Image via Tara Moss.

Book VS. TV: Stephen King’s Under the Dome.

under the dome

Under the Dome by Stephen King had been sitting on my pile of books to be read for nearly two years when I nabbed it off a friend who was moving interstate. When the TV series of the same name premiered earlier this year, I thought it was high time I delved into the 1074-page world of King’s Chester’s Mill, a small town in (where else?) Maine.

I’ve only ever read one other King book, 11/22/63, which wasn’t faultless by any means, but which I enjoyed. I’d hoped I’d feel the same about Under the Dome, but that wasn’t to be as it is one of the most boring, misogynist, needlessly violent, cringe worthy and pointless books I’ve ever read.

The first half is somewhat intriguing, but UTD could have been cut down by 500 pages and still make for an okay effort on King’s part. The descriptions of the female characters are unnecessarily focussed on their physicality, ages and physical appearances, whereas I don’t recall the men being written about that way. Many of the women are sexually assaulted both in life and death, and the apparent heroines are rendered pathetic as the story progresses, life under the dome becomes more hostile and their male paramours step up to the plate. There are far too many characters that they’re hard to keep track of, but were seemingly only written in to the story to be killed off in horrifically violent ways. The dialogue is some of the clunkiest I’ve ever read; the same goes for the inner monologues. And can someone please explain to me why King felt the need to get into the head of a dog who comes face to face with a ghost?! You’re really undermining your credibility here, King.

1000 pages later, UTD ends very unsatisfactorily and somewhat childishly.

Now, this could very well be the way every King novel finishes; I just haven’t read enough to know whether UTD is a terrible fluke but I suspect this is the case as 350 million readers can’t be wrong… Can they?

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I finished reading UTD with about two or three episodes of season one left to air, but I didn’t end up watching it until last week. I think I just needed a break from all the nonsense before I gave the screen adaptation of King a chance. But I’m glad I did, because the series is far better than the book.

The characters are nuanced and you find yourself rooting for them onscreen far more than on the page. Whereas Jim Rennie was pure evil according to King, up until the last few episodes when his true evil proclivities are revealed, viewers are in Rennie’s corner. The same goes for his son, Junior, who is a mentally ill necrophiliac in the book, but has more facets when he’s played by Alexander Koch (though Junior is still the Dome’s most inconsistent and annoying character). I also really liked that the show did away with the unnecessary throng of characters, amalgamating several traits into one person, and thus the senseless killing: every death on TV meant something.

For anyone who’s read the book prior, you know what’s coming next, but the CBS series makes its characters empathetic, its storyline watchable and the motivations surrounding the dome that much more intriguing that its audience wonders if they’ll be different on the small screen…

Image via L.A. Times.

Event: The Reading Hour 2013.

booksIt’s that time of year again—National Reading Hour—and last year for the event I chronicled the books I’d read and what I thought of them and thought I’d do something similar this year.

Without further ado, here’s an incomplete list (I threw out my day planner from last year in which I’d pencilled in time for reading certain publications so some of this is from memory) of the books I’ve read since then.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling.

The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog & of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andre O’Hagan.

Marilyn: The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner.

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

After the Fall by Arthur Miller.

Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later by Francine Pascal.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander.

The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Undisputed by Chris Jericho.

Night Games by Anna Krien.

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan.

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers.

Under the Dome by Stephen King.

Feminism & Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler.

What books have you been reading in the past year?

Related: The Reading Hour.

Image via The Design Files.

Book Review: The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers.

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“Misogyny” seems to be the word on everyone’s lips after newly ousted former PM Julia Gillard’s famous parliamentary lambasting of Tony Abbott last October. It was certainly on Anne Summers’ when she spoke at the University of Newcastle in August last year about the then-Prime Minister’s rights at work and how, “… if she were an ordinary worker, she would have a case for sex discrimination and sexual harassment.”

That quote appears on page five of Summers’ recently released The Misogyny Factor, born out of the above two speeches.

Gillard was quick to be criticised for intimating that Abbott is a misogynist; after all, how can you be a misogynist if you’re happily married and have three daughters? (That line of thinking was employed in a recent Facebook debate I had with a friend over Robin Thicke’s hit, “Blurred Lines”.) While the dictionary definition of misogyny is hatred of women, Summers explains the reasoning behind calling her book The Misogyny Factor:

“… [T]he misogyny factor is that set of attitudes and entrenched practices that are embedded in most of our major institutions (business, politics, the military, the media, the church, academia) that stand in the way of women being included, treated equally and accorded respect… I am not sidetracked by strict dictionary definitions of ‘misogyny’. Sure, it can mean, ‘hatred of women’ and we still see far too many instances of that. But it is more complicated and far more widespread than the prejudices of individuals, which is why I use the term ‘the misogyny factor’… I am talking about systemic beliefs and behaviour, which are predicated on the view that women do not have the fundamental right to be part of society beyond the home… Such views can be, and are, held by women as well as men… Why they defend misogyny is mystifying, yet plenty of women do.” [p. 7–8]

Essentially, “sexism goes hand in hand with misogyny. Sexism provides the rationale for misogyny.” [p. 8]

There is sexism and misogyny to be found almost everywhere you look, but The Misogyny Factor primarily focuses on the realms of politics and the economy. For example, we’re all (well, those who have a vested interest in the pay gap and who don’t buy into the misguided notion that we now have gender equality. If anything, we’ve regressed, and Summers addresses this specifically in the book, too.) familiar with the fact that a post-graduate degree-holding woman entering the workforce today will earn $2.49 million over her working lifetime, while her male counterpart earns $3.78 million [p 53–54]. For being a “young woman in Australia today,” “there is at least a million dollar penalty.” [p. 54]

And for those women who do manage to crack the glass ceiling and rise to the upper echelons of the corporate world, they mustn’t show an ounce of femininity lest they be deemed “too emotional” for the job:

“If women brought onto boards are expected to behave like men, what is the benefit of their presence? It is the worst of all possible worlds: the company is denied the different perspective women directors might bring to its governance…” (emphasis mine) [p. 89]

I’m glad Summers was sure to include “might”, as without it she might as well be buying into the very idea she’s trying to debunk: the belief that women are so inherently different from men that they can’t possibly execute jobs traditionally held by the opposite sex, or if they are granted employment in them, they’ll do a vastly different performance than the menz. They’ll “destroy the joint”, if you will.

Speaking of Destroy the Joint, the feminist social media movement, and now a book, born out of Alan Jones’s comments that female politicians and business leaders were “destroying the joint”, Summers explains:

“[Alan] Jones’s intended insult, that women were ‘destroying the joint’, was turned on its head. It wasn’t the first time that women had transformed what was intended to be a belittling comment into a triumphant battle cry. In 1905 the Daily Mail newspaper in Britain ridiculed the suffragists— those, mostly women, who were fighting to get the vote for women, by calling them ‘suffragettes’. The more radical of the suffragists embraced the term. They started using it with pride to describe themselves, and to differentiate themselves as radicals from those who used more moderate tactics. They created a publication, The Suffragette. More than a century later in another country, Australian women also took the disparagement and created the modern-day equivalent of a campaign newspaper, the Facebook page and the Twitter handle @JointDestroyer. Yes, that’s right, women responded. We are going to destroy the joint. We utterly reject a joint whose sexism and misogyny is so ingrained that far too many people see it as perfectly normal behaviour. We will no longer tolerate a joint that systematically excludes women from its ranks, that insults us as a matter of course when we stand up for ourselves, a joint that sees something wrong with spending money to stop violence against women. If that’s what the joint is, we don’t want it.” [p. 139]

The modern-day equivalent of the suffragettes? SlutWalkers and Joint Destroyers.

Some feminists have expressed concern that these movements are too radical and scare off more moderate feminists from the cause. When you look at the fact that “… In 2012… 21 per cent of people in Australia has been sexually harassed since the age of 15, a slight increase the previous report in 2008 (20%) and that a majority (68%) of those people were harassed in the workplace… [and] most of these were women.” [p. 97], it becomes pretty clear why we need such “radical” movements. Personally, I’ve been sexually harassed too many times to count, and a handful or two in the workplace. I need SlutWalk and Destroy the Joint.

Many of these grassroots campaigns occur online, to match the spate of online abuse women on the internet receive. I just received my first rape/death threat for views expressed (about To Kill a Mockingbird, no less!) on this blog: I can now officially call myself a feminist blogger. But when Kickstarter sees nary a problem with raising funds for a sexual assault manual, Twitter is used as a forum to berate women who don’t fit the mould, and Facebook bans breastfeeding photos but keeps rape memes and pages, misogyny is plain for all to see online. For example, former political cartoonist for The Australian, Larry Pickering, who most recently depicted Julia Gillard with a big black dildo, a strap on slung over her shoulder (“It seems that Pickering cannot envisage a Prime Minister without a penis—so he has to five Gillard a strap-on” [p. 125], Summers notes) and animations of the former PM topless, had the latter deleted by Facebook but the strap-on images were allowed to stay. Seems like Facebook has a women (or just female breast-) problem…

It’s not just online, as the sound bites from fellow politicians and menus from Liberal fundraisers will attest, that Gillard experiences sexual harassment. “It says something about our country and about us that we could subject our leader to such vile abuse” [p. 130], Summers writes. Look at the U.S.: while they arguably have more problems with misogyny than we do, at least the Office of the President is viewed with respect, regardless of the figurehead who occupies it.

Still with Gillard, “Can it really be the case that a tax—a carbon tax—could really spur so many people to such levels of hatred? I find that impossible to believe, so I have had to conclude that the persecution of Julia Gillard has to be about something else. Is it just the simple fact that she is a woman?” (p. 130-131)

In the fallout from Gillard’s ousting, and the subsequent gendered abuse I heard and saw thrown her way in the media and on Facebook and Twitter (which lead me to unfriend certain long-time-coming people), unfortunately I think Summers is right. The misogyny factor is alive and well in Australia.

If you’re after some similar content from Summers, check out her recent Emily’s List oration and this Meanjin piece.

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Related: Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

Event: Midsumma Festival & Women Say Something’s Should We Destroy the Joint?

Elsewhere: [Do Something] CEO of Kickstarter: Refuse to Fund How-To Guide on Sexual Assault.

[Jezebel] If Comedy Has No Lady Problem, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?

[HuffPo] Breastfeeding Photos on Facebook Removed From “Respect the Breast” Page.

[Gawker] Facebook Removes Pro-Rape Pages, Kicking & Screaming.

[Anne Summers] Emily’s List Oration 2013.

[Meanjin] The Sexual Politics of Power.

Image via New South Books.

Book Review: Night Games by Anna Krien.

anna krien night games

Everywhere you look lately, there seems to be a promo for Anna Krien’s latest investigative tome, Night Games, and rightly so: it’s a fantastic, impeccably researched and hard-hitting look at misogyny and power in football. I might be a little biased having a vested interested in the topic and, as I told Krien when I got my copy signed at the Readings Carlton book launch last week, the rape statistics she rattled off in an excerpt reading at the event, unfortunately they’re nothing I haven’t heard before.

Having said that, though, Night Games is an absorbing read for those well versed in the misogynistic nature of “jock culture” as well as for those new to the topic. Krien makes sure not to alienate sports fans who may be wary of picking up the book:

“This book is not anti-sport. ‘”Jock culture” is a distortion of sports,’ the American author and sports journalist Robert Lipsyte once noted, warning that America was in danger of finding its values in the locker room. It’s not the game, the pleasure of the play, that’s dangerous. It’s the piss stains in the grass, the markings of men who use sport as power and the people—teammates, fans, coaches, clubs, doctors, police, journalists, groupies—who let them do whatever they want.” [p. 266]

However, “football is an abnormal society” [p. 70], and nothing reflects that more than the bulk of the book, which deals with “regrettable sex” [p. 73] or rape accusations, depending on who you ask, against AFL and NRL players; “Camel Nights”, in which players bring two women they don’t care for so “everyone gets a hump” [p. 71]; and that infamous Cronulla Sharks group-sex scandal from 2002 that came to light in a 2009 Four Corners exposé, amongst many other examples.

Speaking of Matthew Johns and Cronulla, Krien quotes an anonymous player who laments the stigma of group sex bonding sessions:

“It’s like saying you can’t be homosexual, or you can’t have such-and-such sexual preferences. How can he tell us what to do in our private lives?… We already have so many rules; we can’t drink on these days, we can’t go to these places, now we can’t have group sex. About the only thing we can do these days is go to club functions and just hang around with other players. That’s just isolating us more from the rest of the world, and it could lead to even more violent acts.” [p. 46]

While it’s easy to scoff at these privileged footballer comments, he does make a valid point. It’s kind of like the argument against restricting dangerous dog breeds: the more you isolate a pit bull, for example, the more likely it is to be aggressive to other dogs and humans when it does come into contact with them.

Oftentimes, the difference between a rape allegation and the aforementioned “regrettable sex” is treating a woman well. You know, like a human being:

“‘It’s not during the act, it’s the way you treat them after it. Most of them could have been avoided if they’d have put them in a cab and said, you know, thanks for that, sort of thing, not just kicked her out, call her a dirty whatever, that sort of thing. It’s how you treat them afterwards that can cover a lot of that sort of stuff up.” [p. 183]

But what Krien makes the reader understand is that groupie sex with a footballer is not about the woman, it’s about them:

“A footballer does not look at another human when he fucks a groupie. He’s looking at his glorified reflection—and when he performs, he’s doing it for ‘the boys’, not her.” [p. 200]

And:

“[Sam Newman] said it [the hazing of sports writer Caroline Wilson on The Footy Show] was a compliment of sorts, a sign that the Footy Show culture ‘accepted’ her. In other words, it wasn’t really about Wilson, it was about them. About a subculture of men trying to find a place—albeit a very lowly place—in their world for a woman. Considering that it’s all about the boys, they prey doesn’t even need to be present.” P. 72.

Going back to the group sex-as-bonding scenario, it makes sense that the woman/women would be used as a vessel to bring the teammates closer together. And further to the absence of a woman, we can see this in the social media shaming of the Steubenville victim, for example. The whole team—and, by extension, the town—we’re brought closer together by reliving the girl’s assault on YouTube and Twitter.

Obviously this is one of the more extreme and brutal examples of sexual assault in sport, but Night Games also talks about the “gulf of uncertainty between consent and rape” [p. 73] and the many sexual experiences that occur therein. Krien also comes across as sympathetic to the “… ongoing education about how to negotiate sexual encounters in a way which ensures informed consent is always obtained” [p. 47] amongst the codes, but there’s still a long way to go, baby. This is exemplified by an educational male-on-male rape video that is shown during a training session. Many of the players are noticeably upset, with one lamenting that “You don’t really ask for trouble if you have too much to drink and get raped by a bloke. You don’t ask for that.” I’ll just let the double standards marinate for a bit after you consider that the video shown prior to this was one of mistaken identity male-on-female rape to which the players were less than sympathetic. [p. 188–189]

The abovementioned “grey zone” that exists between the sexes “to explain what was lost in translation” [p. 259] takes the form of the rape trial of Justin Dyer (name changed), an amateur footballer accused of raping Sarah Wesley (also not her real name) the night Collingwood won the 2010 grand final rematch. Many of the reviews of Night Games seem to focus heavily on this “he said, she said”, but Krien expressed relief when facilitator of the Readings event, Sophie Cunningham, skirted that issue. While the trial beautifully bookends all the points Krien makes about the treatment of women in male team sports, it’s not the be all and end all of Night Games. Similarly, though Sarah declined to be interviewed by Krien, thus leaving “all those little erased bits, I thought, hovering around like question marks” [p. 245], I don’t think it does the book detriment. In fact, I can’t envisage how Night Games could get any better.

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Related: In Defence of Mia Freedman.

Elsewhere: [The Vine] All Dogs Go to Seven.

This review has been submitted to The Australian Women Writers Challenge as part of their 2013 Challenge.

Image via Kill Your Darlings.

Book Review: Vagina — A New Biography by Naomi Wolf.

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The title of Naomi Wolf’s latest, Vagina: A New Biography, promised great things, to my mind. I envisioned the book taking aim at the stigma, use and abuse of the female sex organ throughout history, both physically and ideologically, and why we still think of it as ugly, dirty, alien and taboo.

Vagina certainly analyses this for the bulk of the middle part of the book, talking about the actual chastity belt (p. 143) and the “similarly constructed device” called a “scold’s bridle”, “made of iron and leather, locked around a talkative or argumentative woman’s head” to “gag her mouth” (p. 144). Here, we see that the vagina has been a metaphor for the female voice, insinuating that headstrong and opinionated women are also “loose” women. Wolf goes on to mention William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and the heroine “Lavinia’s mouth and vagina are both assaulted in repeated acts of silencing and control” (p. 144). When it comes to sexual assault, it seems not much has changed, then.

Wolf also touches on hysteria, which literally derives its meaning from the Greek word for uterus, hystera, but for the most part, Vagina is an excruciatingly heternormative and cisgendered look at what it means to be a woman. Wolf may claim that erotic literature such as 50 Shades of Grey portrays women as having “no existence separate from her vagina” (p. 178), but Vagina essentially makes the same statement: if you’re not having vaginal orgasms (presumably via the penetrative properties of a real, live penis!) and your “Goddess Array” (the things a woman needs to experience her best lovemaking: foreplay, respect, help around the house, understanding. On a side note, the nod to the “Inner Goddess” really is just like 50 Shades!) stimulated, you’re just not a real woman.

For example,

“… [I]t comes as no surprise, then, to discover that many women find that vibrators alone or masturbation alone do not do exactly what lovemaking does for them emotionally” (p. 74)

and

 “This ideology [women don’t need men] does nothing to help women of any sexuality understand why, often, the vibrator and a pint of Häagen-Dazs are pleasurable but that other longings for connections can remain strong” (p. 75).

Ladies without access to a peen, you’re out of luck: vibrators, ice cream and a rom-com won’t cut it. ’Cause isn’t that what all miserable single women resort to in between boyfriends?

Going back to loud mouth=loose vagina, it would seem the reverse is also true, as an uptight vagina also begets an outspoken woman:

“Straight men would do well to ask themselves: ‘Do I want to be married to a Goddess—or a bitch?’ Unfortunately, there is not, physiologically, much middle ground available for women. Either they are extremely well treated sexually, or, if solo, treat themselves well sexually—or else they are at risk of becoming physically uncomfortable and emotionally irritable” (p. 301).

We just can’t win.

Wolf also talks about the sympathetic and automatic nervous system and how stress contributes to unsatisfactory sex lives:

“Marital counsellors tell women and men to talk through their problems; fertility doctors send men into rooms to masturbate and then they inject the semen themselves into the vaginas of women who are suffering from irregular periods or with low fertility levels. Again, if you understand the profound nature of the animality of women, you see that these practices are incomplete. Marital counsellors should start by telling men to hug women; to stroke if the women are open to that; to take women, if they are willing, ballroom dancing. Fertility specialists should make sure, before anything else, that women are getting well and regularly cuddled and brought to orgasm by their men” (p. 314).

Coming from someone who insinuated that the women who accused Julian Assange of rape were “honey trapping” him, this sounds awfully like a “legitimate rape” apology…

Because we’re such paranoid creatures obsessed with talking our feelings out, “[t]his, I believe, is why so many marital fights take place just when both members of the couple have entered the house after a day’s work—her brain is agitated and desperate to talk things through, which is how it calms down and feels better, while his is desperate to have some downtime doing nothing, or in front of the TV, which is how his brain calms down and feels better” (p. 319). I don’t know about the rest of you ladies, but my brain tends to work the opposite of how Wolf says it should: after a particularly mentally grueling day, I need to veg out in front of the TV and speak to no one. Kind of like Carrie feels when Aiden moves in with her in that episode of Sex & the City.

But maybe us modern, Western women are just living with too many distractions in our lives that prevent us from connecting with our partners, our “Goddess Arrays” and whatever else Wolf thinks we’re lacking. Maybe we’d be better off in the Third World?

“In virtually every culture outside the West, many women spend some time, usually on a daily basis, only with other women (and children)… While women in these societies face immense hurdles and inequities, they often seem to be much less irritated with the men they live with than women tend to be in the West. (I am not addressing here physical abuse.) The burden is not on the husband to somehow, heroically, alone, fill that deep neural need for talk, which his brain chemistry makes difficult to impossible” (p. 320).

Speaking of the Third World, women often give birth at home there (through lack of access to medical practitioners, not necessarily by choice), and hardly anything goes wrong *cue sarcasm*!

“A low-stress environment of soft lighting, soothing music, caring attendants, and the loving presence of family, all actually helped the female body birth a baby, and then feed a newborn, successfully, in clinically measurable ways. Many studies also confirm that stressful hospital birthing environments, in which women in labour are hooked up to intravenous devices, or to fetal monitors that consistently shows false-positive ‘fetal distress’, causes so much ‘bad stress’ in the mother that the stress itself biologically—not just psychologically—arrests labour contractions and inhibits lactation” (p. 34).

Not all Wolf’s points are ignorant ones: she does talk about porn use and modern relationships, scientific studies about the Pill and how it affects the way women physically respond to their significant others and, as I said above, the parts where Wolf discusses the vagina throughout history are quite informative.

However, I kind of wish she had’ve continued the vagina’s “biography” throughout the rest of the book, instead of harping on about her own experience with her retarded pelvic nerve, the luxury operation she underwent to correct it, and that a vagina that’s getting a lot of penetrative action resulting in vaginal orgasms makes for a more creatively fulfilled owner.

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Related: 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James Review.

Image via The Age.