Interview with the Beyoncé Professor.

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Kevin Allred, whose debut book Ain’t I A Diva: Beyoncé & the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy, was released in June, has been teaching all things Queen Bey since 2010 in his university class Politicising Beyoncé. Here he speaks about The Lion King star’s politics, her Netflix doco Homecoming, Taylor Swift, and examining Beyoncé’s work through a black feminist lens.

First of all, why is a white man writing about Beyoncé?

I talk about my identity [as a white gay man growing up in a religious household] throughout the book. I’m always trying to be aware of it, whether through teaching or writing. I tried to come to a balance of leaving all these sources for people to kind of pick up and read with a little bit of analysis at the same time so it’s not just me shoving down everyone’s throat a perspective of Beyoncé, so that’s how I negotiated my whole identity in the mix.

Many people think Beyoncé became “political” with the release of “Formation” and Lemonade, but can you explain how she was “subtly politicizing” herself, as you write in the book, and her work long before that?

One of the things I wanted to do with the book is give an overall reading of Lemonade in one chapter and show how pieces of that were present earlier. Whether Beyoncé was trying to be super intentional with it or not, I think it’s part of her artistic process, you can now look back and see little pieces that come together in this now epic, iconic visual album, completely cohesive in the way she presented Lemonade to the world. That’s how I was teaching [Beyoncé’s work in my class] before—Lemonade came out, that makes it possible to see those other pieces now that we have Lemonade to use as a, like a key to the map. Now that you have the key you can see the little pieces in the other places, too.

Why do you omit Beyoncé’s first album, Dangerously in Love, from the book?

It’s not because I don’t like the songs or the music, but for me, I think she comes into her own as a creative director with B-Day… I wanted to make a claim as her as a creator, her as an artist, whereas with Dangerously in Love it felt more like a piecemeal album that she didn’t have much control over as producer, director… That’s why we just look at those [albums] from 2006 onward [in the book].

Beyoncé’s 2018 performance at Coachella and the recent Netflix documentary chronicling it, Homecoming, incorporate the big band, stepping and, indeed, homecoming rituals of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Beyoncé says in the doco that she missed out on uni but that Destiny’s Child was her college experience. The introduction to your book is entitled “Schoolin’ Life”. So how has Beyoncé incorporated her life experiences and education into her career and Homecoming specifically?

Homecoming is this huge culmination. I was always really taken with that song “Schoolin’ Life”, the bonus track from the 4 album. She says “Who needs a degree when you’re schoolin’ life?” as part of the chorus; it blends experience with what we’d consider the academic. Just because you went to school doesn’t mean you know more, and if you didn’t, there’s no correlation.. With Homecoming she brought it full circle. She’s celebrating HBCU culture but she’s also dropping these references throughout, all these different writers: Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, a few of the people that I mention in the book, too, which was cool for me to see… because that’s what I was always intending to do with the class and now she’s taken this over and she’s going to show us herself.

Homecoming follows a theme of Beyoncé infiltrating traditionally white spaces—the Super Bowl, the CMAs, the Louvre, Coachella and arguably Netflix itself—with her increasingly politicised artistry. Can you speak a bit about that?

I think she’s had a long-term strategy. Artists can come out and be very political right off the bat but it might mean that they sacrifice radio play or notoriety… I think Beyoncé knew that so she kept a lot of stuff hidden under the layers. So when she gets to the point of being able to go to the Super Bowl styled after the Black Panthers she has this huge platform that no other artist has. Now is the time to drop these little bombs. She might lose some followers or sacrifice some people buying her music but that’s not going to affect her in the long run anymore. I don’t think it’s that Beyoncé wasn’t thinking about [being political in the beginning of her career], it’s that she wanted to achieve that level [of fame] so that she could reach even more people because people can be turned off by those initial politics. Which in itself is a form of education: to piss [people] off and get them to say, now I’m not going to listen to Beyoncé. It draws out these questions of why are you mad that she did this? It gets into these real issues of racism that still haven’t been dealt with. I’m into calling her an educator now.

What do you think about Taylor Swift coming out with a similar strategy with her “You Need to Calm Down” video and encouraging people to vote last year after receiving criticism for being “apolitical”during the 2016 U.S. presidential election?

I think Taylor Swift has copied Beyoncé in every strategy for a long time! [laughs] … She’s talking about politics now but I don’t think she’s doing it in a smart way… It feels like Beyoncé starts the trend and Taylor comes to the same conclusion later and often gets a lot of credit for it whereas Beyoncé doesn’t. That replays the race issues within feminist movements [that I discuss in his book.]

This brings us to the “wine pairing” part of the interview. I’m going to say a Beyoncé song, and you’re going to offer the black feminist analysis that goes with it. “Crazy in Love”

This one’s tough ’cause it’s from the album that I don’t discuss [in the book]! I would pair that with something to do with love, like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

“Single Ladies”

Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness.

“Diva”

We go straight to the title [of the book]. I pair “Diva” with the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech that Sojourner Truth is known for but actually [it] is not likely to have happened with those words. It’s kind of a reimagining of the speech. I love to think about the idea of a diva and the way Beyoncé constructs that song next to Sojourner Truth being a public speaker and activist. 

“Run the World (Girls)”

An article Cathy Cohen wrote called “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics”. It’s about coalitions coming together and that song—or at least the video—emphasises that. Also “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. The video always reminds me of Tina Turner in Mad Max [Beyond Thunderdome].

“***Flawless”

Well obviously Beyoncé paired Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche’s [“We Should All Be Feminists” with the song]. It’s interesting to watch the speech that she gives and read the essay and see how Beyoncé’s remixed it. What does she leave out, what does she take and rearrange? That one Beyoncé’s done for us.

“7/11”

I like to think of [7/11] as a celebration of dancing. Alice Walker has a book of poetry called Hard Times Require Furious Dancing. Her prologue to that has some really important stuff to relate to “7/11”.

“Formation”

There’s so much. One interesting one is Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, which is a choreopoem so it’s a song, a play, choreography. I think Beyoncé brings all those elements to “Formation” and the rest of Lemonade which are interesting to look at next to that piece of work.

“Freedom”

There’s a novel by Sherley Anne Williams called Dessa Rose which had kind of disappeared from literature cannons but has been revived in the last few years. It gets into the idea of what freedom means and I think put next to Beyoncé singing “Freedom” creates some interesting conversations.

“Apeshit”

I have to go with June Jordan, her essay [collection] Civil Wars. She talks about being polite and civility and I think that pairs well with the idea of being in the Louvre and not disrespecting the art [per] se but challenging the idea of respectability.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Elsewhere: [HuffPost] The Unbearable White Womanhood of Taylor Swift.

[National Park Service] Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?

[Duke University Press] Punks, Bulldaggers & Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics.

[TED] We Should All Be Feminists.

My Favourite Books of 2016.

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It’s the time of year when everyone releases their end-of-year best-of lists. Normally I write about the best books I’ve read over the course of the year in August for the National Reading Hour, but this year I decided to fit in with the literati.

It’s important to note that some of these books weren’t necessarily released this year, but I just read them in the past twelve months or so. There were also plenty of great books that came out this year that I haven’t yet gotten around to reading, in which case they’ll probably make my list next year. So, without further ado, my five favourite books of the past year.

Friendship by Emily Gould.

I loved how unapologetically human and ugly the characters were at times. Though neither of the two protagonists were likeable, I found myself relating to both of them, perhaps Amy more so, who I somehow feel is the one you’re supposed to dislike most. I could totally see Greta Gerwig playing her in the movie version. The open-ended conclusion was great, too.

Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

There are no words I could write to describe this book. Just read it.

Room by Emma Donoghue.

For some reason, I’d never gotten around to reading Room when it was released in 2010 but it had always been on my list. With the movie adaptation hitting cinemas (which I saw four times in cinemas and thought was the rare film that was better than the book), I thought I’d finally see what it was all about.

Told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who never knew anything outside the titular room in which he was born to his captive young mother, I struggled sometimes with his voice (I don’t like children at the best of times, let alone when they’re trusted with an escape plan and attempting to adjust to a brand new world with rules and social norms they’ve never encountered before) but it was never at the detriment of the truly compelling story.

Hush by Eishes Chayil.

I just put this one down and it left enough of an impression on me to include it in this list. Eishes Chayil is a pen name meaning “woman of valor” and protected the identity of the author when this book came out in 2010. (The author has since been revealed as Judy Brown.) It deals with sexual assault and youth suicide in the Hasidic Jewish community and, although young adult fiction which I’m not usually a fan of, it doesn’t take away from the impact of the story.

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire.

This was definitely my favourite book of the year. The characters were so fully realised, the story familiar but still original, and the way Maguire writes about something we’re all too familiar with—the rape and murder of women—is far removed from the salacity with which it’s often covered.

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood.

This one deals with similar topics to most of the books on this list, (I’m often wary to recommend books I’ve loved to friends and colleagues because they’re usually about gendered abuse!) but the way it’s written and the almost spec-fic context sets it apart. I would recommend this one to more serious readers as the themes and tone of the book is more literary than others like it.

Image via Barrington Books Retold.

Following Bill Cosby & Hugh Hefner Down the Rabbit Hole.

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In July it came out that in 2005 Bill Cosby admitted in a sworn deposition to buying Quaaludes with the intent to use them to rape women, not to “have sex with them” as headlines read.

Around the same time, former Playboy Playmate and Hugh Hefner’s “No. 1 Girlfriend” Holly Madison released an incriminating memoir, entitled Down the Rabbit Hole, about her time in the Playboy Mansion and how it often involved Quaalude-addled group sex with Hefner.

You might remember that late last year when we finally started to pay attention to the long-standing assault allegations against Cosby after a deluge more came to light, Hefner wrote in a statement that “Bill Cosby has been a good friend for many years and the mere thought of these allegations is truly saddening. I would never tolerate this kind of behaviour, regardless of who was involved”.

Putting aside the fact that Cosby and Hefner are friends (14% of Cosby’s accusers were employees or guests of Playboy at the time of their assaults), both men’s predilection for drugging women to better inure them to sex is a damning testament to their power in Hollywood.

It would seem that since last year reports of sexual and physical violence against women have begun to be taken more seriously. As of this writing, 2015 alone as seen 63 women be murdered by their intimate partners or killed in gendered attacks, according to Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women project. The prevalence of these crimes doesn’t necessarily mean that women are experiencing more violence but perhaps that we’ve started to actually give a shit about it.

The striking similarities of the stories of the upwards of 40 Cosby accusers with nothing to gain should be enough to prioritise their safety and justice over the comedian’s legacy and power, but alas, it took the comedian’s own admission for reruns to be cut from networks and a statue in his likeness at Disneyland to be taken down. And even then, apologists such as The View co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Raven-Symoné urge us to resist making a “snap judgement” despite the “proof”. (Goldberg has since come around, saying on The View that “all off the information that’s out there kind of points to guilt.”)  

“What did these women do to get themselves in that situation?”, we ask, particularly in the case of apparently complicit women like Madison and others who frequented the Playboy Mansion.

Madison explains in Down the Rabbit Hole that “I was about to be homeless. I had no place to go and was panicking over what to do next when this opportunity with Hef just sort of fell into my lap. If I became a girlfriend, I would have somewhere to live. If I became part of Playboy’s inner circle, perhaps that could even help my career.”

“The Playboy Mansion… had been both my safe haven—and my prison,” she continues.

What further kept Madison trapped was her decreased confidence and self-worth upon becoming a girlfriend. Hefner’s six other girlfriends at the time Madison moved in were also plagued by insecurities which Madison says led them to bully her. And, in turn, “my shrinking violet personality was a sign of submission that [Hef] used to manipulate the other women.” When Madison tried to have an intelligent conversation with the man she supposedly loved and whom expressed love for her, “he would scoff at whatever I said. It didn’t matter if my remark was educated or even correct, because if I said it, it must be wrong.” In attempting to exert her independence and autonomy by getting a makeover, Hefner belittled Madison, calling her “old, hard and cheap”. After a seemingly throwaway comment from Madison about fellow girlfriend and Girls Next Door star Kendra Baskett (nee Wilkinson), Hefner screamed at Madison to “stop being such a fucking CUNT!”

“He frightened me,” she writes.

Just because young women seek out rich men to experience the fame and fortune they otherwise wouldn’t have access to doesn’t mean they consented to inebriated sex. On the same night she refused Quaaludes from Hefner in a scenario that made headlines upon publication of the book, “I can’t even begin to tell you how much vodka and champagne I consumed… While I patted myself on the back for turning down the pills, by the time we left the club, I couldn’t have been any more incoherent” for her first group sex encounter with Hefner.

The ostensibly compromised integrity of Madison and others who’ve written similar accounts of their time with Hef, like Hefner’s former girlfriend Izabella St. James, and their previous contributions to maintaining the glass curtain Hef and the Mansion are shrouded in makes them less likely to be believed.

Also making headlines for embellished claims was Rolling Stone’s damning article entitled “A Rape on Campus” at the University of Virginia in which reporter Sabrina Erdely failed to properly corroborate the alleged victim Jackie’s story by seeking out other sources before the story went to press. While the feminist and left-leaning media have made it clear that Erdely and Rolling Stone were at fault, a report was issued further blaming the very people it was supposed to protect: sexual assault victims.

“The editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault,” the report says, feeding all-too-perfectly into blame-the-victim rhetoric.

Chloe Angyal wrote at Feministing that “‘Jackie’ will become shorthand for people seeking to discredit future allegations of rape” just as Fatal Attraction’s “Bunny Boiler” has for unhinged women who trap and frame innocent men.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence such as that surrounding the 2014 Isla Vista shooter, Elliot Rodger, society doesn’t believe women when we tell them that harassment and a general feeling of being unsafe is something that happens on a daily basis for many of us. The hashtag #yesallwomen was spawned in an effort to debunk that. Despite the fact that the killer sent an accompanying 140-page manifesto to former friends and family members outlining his murderous intentions, people were still willing to believe that Rodger and men like him (#notallmen) are “good blokes”, while “blonde sluts” are to blame for “starv[ing him] of sex” .

Going back to Hefner, in 2005’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, author Ariel Levy speaks at length with Hefner’s daughter Christie, then CEO of Playboy Enterprises. Like Cosby and his respectability politics, Levy also quotes from past interviews with Hef in which he claims to be a champion for women and, dare I say it, a feminist.

In the book, Christie is described as the founder of many women-friendly organisations, such as Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic candidates to office, and the Committee of 200, which runs a mentor program between successful business women and young women and girls. Levy writes,

“The Playboy Foundation also gave grant money to NOW’s Legal Defence and Education Fund and supported the ERA; Hefner personally hosted a fundraiser for it at the Playboy Mansion. ‘I was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism!’ Hefner has said. A mutual friend even tried to set him up on a date with Gloria Steinem before she became famous.”

(Arguably the piece that made Steinem famous was an undercover exposé on the hostile and sexist conditions at New York City’s Playboy Club, including immediate dismissal for accepting a date with a customer.)

Just because someone calls themselves a feminist, does it make it so? Sarah Palin and Tony Abbott have done so, but their public policies and conversational faux pas would indicate that they are anything but.

The same could be said of Cosby’s respectability politics. On the surface it might look like Cosby is championing his race, but really it’s about minorities policing their own behaviour in an effort to prove how “good” and worthy they are of fair treatment by the powers that be. Cosby has done such an expert job of portraying himself as black America’s father figure that defenders like Raven-Symoné (in whose case Cosby literally played her grandfather on TV) are still in his corner.

In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy quotes from a 1967 interview with Hefner that the self-professed feminist does “not look for equality between man and woman… I like innocent, affectionate, faithful girls.” Perhaps that’s why he challenged Madison’s post-Playboy life as not being “happy, healthy and productive”: because she, like the 41 women who kept Cosby’s secret for up to 49 years in the earliest reported case, didn’t play along with the socially prescribed rule to put up (or out) and shut up when it comes to powerful men.

Related: The Year of the Stalker.

Elsewhere: [Gawker] Who Wants to Remember Bill Cosby’s Multiple Sexual Assault Accusations?

[Vulture] A Timeline of the Abuse Charges Against Bill Cosby.

[HuffPo] Hugh Hefner Responds to Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Allegations.

[Jezebel] The Connection Between Bill Cosby’s Alleged Crimes & The Playboy Mansion.

[Facebook] Counting Dead Women.

[The Cut] “I’m No Longer Afraid”: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby & the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.

[ET] Bill Cosby’s Accusers: A Timeline of Alleged Sexual Assault Claims.

[TV Line] Bill Cosby Sitcoms Yanked from Centric, Bounce TV’s Schedules.

[WNEP] Bill Cosby Statue Removed from Walt Disney World.

[Us Weekly] Holly Madison: Hugh Hefner Offered Me Drugs, Tried to Buy Me in His Will.

[Rolling Stone] Rolling Stone & UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report.

[Feministing] Rape, Rolling Stone & the Radical Notion That Women Are Trustworthy.

[ABC The Drum] Disability & Murder: Victim Blaming at Its Very Worst.

[The Guardian] Elliot Rodger’s California Shooting Spree: Further Proof That Misogyny Kills.

[The Hairpin] Life Lessons from the 1968 Playboy Club Bunny Manual.

[WaPo] The Fake Feminism of Sarah Palin.

[The Guardian] Tony Abbott Says His Three Daughters Helped Him “Turn Into a Feminist”.

[ET] Hugh Hefner Responds to Holly Madison’s Tell-All Book: She Has “Chosen to Rewrite History”.

Image via HuffPo.

The Reading Hour.

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Tonight at 6pm marks 2015’s edition of The Reading Hour.

In celebration, here are the books I’ve read in the past year and a brief review of them.

What have you been reading since last year’s event?

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

If you haven’t read Roxane Gay’s book of essays since it was released last year, then what the hell have you been doing?! Gay is one of the best writers out there, and her take on all things pop culture and the conflicted relationship feminists sometimes have with it is a must read.

Death Clutch by Brock Lesnar.

This is one of those terribly ghost-written wrestling autobiographies and the main reason I read it was because it had been sitting in my to-read pile for far too long. Brock Lesnar is one of my least favourite wrestlers mostly because he was the first one I met and he was an asshole. This book gives a glimpse as to why he’s so introverted, which can sometimes come across as rude and ungrateful.

Rebels & Chicks: A History of the Hollywood Teen Movie by Stephen Tropiano.

Having been written a decade ago, this book unfortunately misses many of the teen movies we’ve come to know and love since then, such as Mean Girls and John Tucker Must Die, not to mention the booming genre of fantasy/dystopian teen flicks. But it does provide a pretty thorough and entertaining history of many teen movies you might have missed from as far back as the ’50s and, of course, the golden age of teen flicks, John Hughes’ ’80s.  

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

This was one of those books that, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get into. The main reason I stuck with it was because it was a gift and I wanted to tell its giver that I’d actually read it.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Carrying on from the funk that Madame Bovary got me into, I spent a few weeks reading this on public transport (which, at over 600 pages, is no mean feat!) but my mind wandered elsewhere.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.

Of all the celebrity memoirs I read over the past year, I’d probably recommend this one the most, if only for the salacious alleged molestation Dunham detailed and her experiences breaking into sexist Hollywood.

Too Much Money by Dominick Dunne.

Not one of Dunne’s better books but a carefree romp for the reader nonetheless.

The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales.

This was also a gift from the same person who gave me Madame Bovary. I’m pleased to report it held my attention much more than Flaubert.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Another gift, and one of my first forays into comic books. I enjoyed it more for the story than Bechdel’s illustrations.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

By far the worst instalment in the Hunger Games trilogy. I know it’s set in a dystopia, but Mockingjay was thoroughly depressing.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

I had such high hopes for Yes Please, but it was mediocre, both in writing style and humour.

Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin.

One of only two books written by Maupin outside the Tales of the City franchise, I didn’t fall in love with the characters as I have with his previous books, but it was an interesting story based on the life of Tamara De Treaux, the actress who played E.T.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Not as good as the movie and I struggled with the animal cruelty portions.

Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy.

One of the most overrated feminist texts I’ve read. This is probably a testament to the fact that it was written ten years ago and feminist theory has come a long way since then, baby. A lot of unnecessary scaremongering not unlike this recent Vanity Fair article on Tinder and online dating in general.

The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin.

Maupin’s second non-Tales book, it was turned into a film in 2006 starring the late Robin Williams which was dubbed as a “psychological thriller”. While I would say the book is far more campy than a psych thriller has a right to be, I did enjoy the suspense of Maupin’s fictionalised real-life encounter with Anthony Godby Johnson, the young author of a book about his abuse as a child, which later turned out to be a hoax.

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter.

A poor woman’s Female Chauvinist Pigs.  

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

This book could have stood to be shorter, but it is very suspenseful and lives up to the hype.

Wild Things by Brigid Delaney.

I had high hopes for this modern-day Aussie version of the aforementioned The Secret History set in the residences of an elite Sydney university. The local spin increased the novelty factor, but I was expecting more.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay.

Not for the easily triggered, Gay has a knack for writing about suffering that is second to none.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock.

If you ever need to explain the plight of trans people and how to talk to and about them, I can’t recommend Janet Mock’s memoir highly enough.

Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine by Andi Zeisler (ed).

A selection of some of Bitch magazine’s best pop culture writing from its inception in 1996 to this book’s publication in 2006. Another decade has passed since then, so it’ll be interesting to see if Bitch comes out with another collection. I hope so. In the meantime, subscribe to them.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.

There’s a lot to be said for feminist theory that is accessible to its readers and I don’t think The Beauty Myth is. I found it hard to stay focussed on some of its more wordy theories and criticisms.

Periods in Pop Culture by Lauren Rosewarne.

Who would’ve thought there were enough examples of menstruation in pop culture to warrant a whole book?! I enjoyed this exploration of periods in pop culture and its demystification of something that is normal but rarely discussed.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie.

I was obsessed with this movie as a kid so I thought I’d finally read the book. The movie trumps it TBH.

Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith.

I had different expectations for this relationship thriller but I was pleasantly surprised by what Deep Water turned out to be.

Laurinda by Alice Pung.

One of the best YA’s I’ve read… well… ever. Pung has a knack for putting to paper the way inner city teens talk and the dynamics of private school girls. If you’re looking for something easy to read but gritty, Laurinda is the one for you.

Nightlight by Harvard Lampoon.

This book made me understand the nuances between satire and parody: satire is smart and crafty, parody is the equivalent of Chief Wiggum—annoying and stupid.

Bossypants by Tina Fey.

In the vein of Amy Poehler’s Yes PleaseBossypants wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. In fact, it was barely funny.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty.

This was one of the best books I’ve read all year. It looks at the funeral industrial complex and argues that people have options for their loved ones in death that don’t include embalming, a sterile mortuary and an impersonal traditional funeral.

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb.

A lot of statistics and studies brought down what is otherwise a funny, engaging argument for more equality between men and women in the home and at work.

Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister.

With the announcement of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run, I thought I’d finally get around to reading Rebecca Traister’s take on the 2008 election, which has been on my to-read list for years. It was interesting, however its distant tone means I barely remember its contents only a few months after reading it.

Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave.

This is a beauty of an Australian fictional work and I can’t wait to see the film it was recently adapted into. Very tender and sad but also brilliant.

Playland by John Gregory Dunne.

This book began the series of four books I attempted to into over the course of a few weeks but just couldn’t. I think this one was about Hollywood (as Joan Didion’s husband and Dominick Dunne’s brother, it seems only fitting) but I gave up after less than 100 pages.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo.

I got almost to the end of this novel about September 11 after realising I’d taken in nothing.

Oswald’s Tale by Norman Mailer.

Coming in at over 800 pages, I couldn’t justify giving any more than about 90 pages of my time to this biography of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Feminisation of American Culture by Ann Douglas.

I’d bought this book six years ago when its contents may have interested me, but upon cracking its spine, I realised I was no longer.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron.

The Most of Nora by Nora Ephron.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron.

I decided to get into Nora Ephron after the previous spate of books that kind of made me hate reading. Whilst I’d never read any Ephron before, I did devour most of her movies over the summer, so I thought her book writing might be similar. I was right, although I did end up encountering most of her essays more than once as these collections tended to double or triple up on some of them.

Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas by Jane Mayer & Jill Abramson. 

Another book that had been on my list for years that I decided to read upon HBO’s announcement that they’d be turning the sexual harassment of Anita Hill by current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas into a biopic starring Kerry Washington as Hill. While Strange Justice isn’t light reading by any means, it did enlighten me to the politics of the case ahead of the biopic.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I was late to the party on this one. I did have a little cry as was expected, but I found its protagonist annoying, the dialogue unrealistic, and the writing misogynist at times.

The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills.

Naomi Wolf and Ariel Levy, take note: this is how you write feminist theory. With an informal, accessible tone and a non-judgemental discussion of sex, this is the seminal text about sex and feminism for the millennial generation.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman.

I had no idea some of the Netflix series’ characters would be so heavily based on real people Piper Kerman encountered during her incarceration that inspired the show. While her story and her subsequent work with the Women’s Prison Association are important, I found some of the language she used alienating and transphobic, in particular.

Paper Towns by John Green.

Despite The Fault in Our Stars‘ overhype, I still had high expectations for Paper Towns, which I had written on my to-read list next to the words “debunking of Manic Pixie Dream Girl”. While the book tries hard to do that, particularly towards the end, it ultimately fails. Also, too much use of the word “ret*ard” and Quentin’s friend Ben is a complete creep who refers to women as “honeybunnies”. Gag me.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen.

I love Anne Helen Petersen but I didn’t necessarily love her take on classic Hollywood which is arguably what made her famous. I’m looking forward to her dissection of more modern stars and the gossip surrounding them for her second book.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

No wonder Harper Lee kept this original manuscript of what would eventually become To Kill a Mockingbird hidden for so long. It’s pretty average on all counts and focusses far too much on the racism we’ve all heard about. Mockingbird is by far the superior text so if you aren’t able to separate the two in your mind, steer clear of this one.

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum.

This, along with Laurinda and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, was perhaps the best book I’ve read all year. Featuring only a few longform essays, The Unspeakable is bookended by the two standouts: “Matricide”, in which Daum explores her ambivalence and sometimes rage towards her dying mother, who passes away less than a year after her own mother with whom she had a tumultuous relationship; and “Diary of a Coma”, which details the viral infection that almost killed Daum, again, less than a year after her mother’s death. Challenging, laugh out loud funny and gasp-inducing.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume.

Based on the real life events in Judy Blume’s hometown in the ’50s, where three planes crashed in the period of a few months, I expect to finish this one tomorrow. I’m enjoying the story however there are far too many characters and giving them equal time in their own little mini-chapters distracts from the central story of Miri and her family.

Related: The Reading Hour 2014.

The Reading Hour 2013.

The Reading Hour 2012.

Blood Bonds—The Sisterhood of Menstruation.

Interview with The Sex Myth Author Rachel Hills.

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] Lena Dunham, Slenderman & the Terror of Little Girls.

[Vanity Fair] Tinder & the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse”.

[The Hairpin] Scandals of Classic Hollywood.

[The Independent] Go Set a Watchman: Atticus is Now a Racist in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird Sequel.

Image via HuffPo.

International Women’s Day: Why I’m a Bad Feminist, or Women Can Be Misogynists, Too.

In honour of International Women’s Day and Roxane Gay’s book, Bad Feminist, which I’m going to hear her speak about tonight, I wonder whether I’m a “bad feminist” for asserting that women can be misogynists, too. 

I could be accused of being a “bad feminist” for the assertion I’m about to make. After all, feminists are supposed to support all women, right? Even women doing unfeminist things, like Sarah Palin, or women in traditionally male dominated industries, like Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, and who throw feminism under the bus.

But in my experience women can be misogynists, too. And as I write this I’m thinking of one woman in particular.

A few years ago, one of my closest male friends started dating someone new. My friend later relayed to me that upon stalking his Facebook, as you do, said new paramour stumbled upon several photos of the two of us. Most of them were taken at costume parties or clubs, so my feminine façade was amplified perhaps more than usual. We were probably standing pretty close together in the photos, too, and our natural affection for each other would be evident. This led her to ask about me, “Who’s that slut?”

At first I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I wrote on my blog at the time that I could see where she was coming from: her insecurity at her date’s close relationship with a woman she didn’t know manifested itself as slut-shaming. It was slut-shaming as a defense mechanism, if you will.

Presently, that woman has now become a colleague; not someone I work with directly, but who has contact with many people I do both professionally and outside of work. Through this network I’ve come to find that it isn’t just me she’s made libelous comments about but many a female coworker who happens to fit the conventionally feminine and attractive mould.

I don’t know exactly what was said about these other women, but I’m pretty sure it was as unwarranted as what she said about me (although I am loathe to defend myself against her name-calling as that implies that some women are sluts and others aren’t). One of the women is ditzily endearing and while I don’t really know the other, she seems pleasant despite her bitchy resting face.

The first comment about me could be chalked up to the green-eyed monster rearing its head, but when such behavior begins to occur on a regular basis, it’s hard not to wonder whether this woman is actually a misogynist.

It could be that she thinks she’s “not like other girls”, which is inherently misogynistic; she doesn’t buy into feminine conventions that she implies other women do, and she’s “one of the boys”. Like Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s Cool Girl screed, or as Reign actress Caitlin Stasey tweeted, being “‘One of the guys’ implies that to resemble any kind of man is better than actually being any kind of woman.” But the very fact that she’s engaging in the stereotypical feminine act of “backstabbing” makes her just like these “other” women, no?

Whatever the case, though, this woman has serious other-women-problems. And if we can accept that men can be feminists, it would stand to reason that women can be misogynists, right?

Related: Slut-Shaming as Defence Mechanism.

Elsewhere: [Feministing] Once More, with Feeling: Sarah Palin is Not a Feminist.

[Jezebel] Does it Matter if Marissa Mayer Doesn’t Think She’s a Feminist?

[Buzzfeed] Jennifer Lawrence & the History of Cool Girls.

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.

Fictional-Woman-Coverweb2

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.