Why I read “Diversely”

After the disastrous 2016 US Presidential Election, I had a conversation with a friend in which she asked me how I went from growing up in a house with incredibly conservative values to being an adult who is very left leaning.

I thought about it, and the shift really did begin in college. I took a class, and really, I have no idea which one it was, where I was required to take an Implicit Bias Test (IAT). I was shocked to see the results, which were that I had significant racial bias. This began my journey towards engaging around issues of race, and then sexuality, and gender until I became the annoyingly progressive intersectional feminist that I am today (and hope to be even more tomorrow).

Think you are colorblind and are raising your kids to be the same? I encourage you to take a test. Why? See what the test makers say:

Why Should I Care About My IAT Score?

It is well-established that implicit preferences can affect behavior. Implicit preferences have been shown to be related to discrimination in hiring and promotion, medical treatment, and decisions related to criminal justice.

What Can I Do About an Implicit Preference That I Do Not Want?

Right now, there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Packaged “diversity trainings” generally do not use evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases. Therefore, we encourage people not to focus on strategies for reducing bias, but to focus instead on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate, such as blind auditions and well-designed “structured” decision processes. Investment by federal and private funding sources in research to develop evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases is, right now, quite minimal.

Implicit bias affects behavior. Implicit bias affects behavior. IMPLICIT BIAS AFFECTS BEHAVIOR.

I know so many people who would swear they are not “racist.” I don’t care if you don’t use the “n” word – chances are, you are biased. And that bias affects your behavior.

Lest you think I consider myself immune – I don’t. I took the Race-Weapons IAT just before writing this blog post. Shocker: my data suggests that I have “a moderate association for Harmless Objects with White Americans and Weapons with Black Americans.”

So, what does that mean? It means, among so many other things, that I’m more likely to find it “reasonable” that a harmless pack of skittles is a weapon when it is in the hands of a black hoodie wearing teenager. Maybe I can’t change that automatic assumption, but I can recognize that I have it and work to correct any chance it has to operate.

So what does this have to do with reading? Well, even though the IAT creators said the research is still out on whether you can reduce implicit bias, I read (and I can’t remember where, but I think it was a Malcolm Gladwell book, and if anyone recognizes this anecdote please tell me where it’s from) where a guy took the IAT every day. And every day, he was still biased. Then one day, his results changed. He was pleasantly surprised, and tried to figure out what caused it. Turns out, before he took the test, he had watched Michael Johnson win a race.

michael johnson.jpg

Michael Johnson being a badass

So he looked into this. It turns out there is some support for the idea that positive exposure to marginalized groups makes you see them more favorably. Which, um, makes sense. Since a HUGE part of negative associations with groups such as black people, LGBTQ+ individuals, muslims, etc is because of negative press.

I have made a concerted effort to expose myself to a diversity of marginalized voices in order to basically retrain my brain and its automatic assumptions. (Because again, IMPLICIT BIAS AFFECTS BEHAVIOR, and I don’t want to be an asshole.)

And guess what? There is AWESOME ART being created by people in all kinds of groups! I am never lacking for good book suggestions. And if I can read books by women of color and queer people and Arab men and immigrants and feminists and talk about those books and suggest those books and ENJOY those books, and by doing so make the world a teensy bit more fair and make myself recognize and grapple with my own bias a bit more, then why the heck wouldn’t I do that? And if I don’t like a book by someone in one of those groups it is easier to say “I didn’t like that book” and not “I don’t like books written by black women” because I have read LOTS of books by black women and I don’t think that one is representative of the whole.

So I’m hoping to be blogging more about what I’m reading. And lots of those books will probably be from authors that aren’t cisgender straight white able bodied men. And I hope you’ll join me.

And seriously, before you get all annoyed or whatever, take any one of the tests. Take. The. Test.

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Currently Listening to…

Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird Song.”

And like woah.

I heard about this album on npr (where else?), while I was driving to work one day last week. I went ahead and downloaded the album, which has Dr. Angelou reading her poems to hip hop beats.

Dr. Angelou said this about who she wanted to reach with this project:

“Some young woman, who had decided that life owed her nothing and she owed nothing – she had decided that life had no promise for her. But she’ll turn on the radio or pass a car with the radio booming and it will be playing something that came out of our meeting. And the young woman’s eyes will open, and her heart will be lifted up.”

So in addition to listening to it myself, I had it playing in the car today when I was with my “little.” While I hope that she doesn’t feel that low, I’m all for all young women’s eyes being opened and hearts being lifted up. So often they are broken down instead.

My favorite song on the album is “Ain’t That Bad.” I dare you not to do a little dance in your car when it plays.

Listen to “Still I Rise,” which is less hip hop and more a blend of gospel and Motown:

Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon: What to read next?Well, there hasn’t been much reading going on in these parts this last week. The last book I finished was Page by Paige, a graphic novel by Laura Lee Gulledge. It was cute, but nothing to rave about. I’ve been listening to Chuck Palahniuck’s  Damned on my commute. Not super impressed so far, and there was a sexual assault scene towards the beginning played for laughs that I really didn’t appreciate.

This morning I managed to catch the last twenty minutes of Melissa Harris-Perry. She was talking about the renaissance in black film making (covered in the NY Times here). One of her guests was film director Ava DuVernay, the first black woman to win the Best Director award at Sundance. A trailer for her film, Middle of Nowhere, is here. I’m hoping that it will be showing near me. My closest theaters don’t always branch out beyond the expected hits. According to the show, women make up 5% of all US film directors, so I was gratified to see that DuVernay did not shy away from her identity as a black woman filmmaker.

Tananarive Due, a novelist and filmmaker, spoke about an Octavia Butler celebration at Spelman College which inspired her to work on a short horror film, Danger Word. I can see how Octavia Butler could inspire horror as the two books I’ve read by her were *creepy.*  The first one I read was Kindred. The opening scene had a woman’s arm being torn off as it somehow was eaten by her wall. The flashbacks explain how we end up there through time travel, slavery, and family ties. The second one, Wild Seed, was equally terrifying, although in  a different way. It was not based as firmly in reality as Kindred  was (aside from the time travel, of course!).

Fantasy/sci-fi is not really my favorite reading genre, but I keep trying it. I am a big Tamora Pierce fan. She’s great when it comes to gender issues in her books, a little less successful when it some to race. I’ve had N.K. Jemisin on my radar for awhile, and am hoping to get to her novel The Killing Moon soon. Has anyone read any of her books?

As the Times article demonstrates, many movies are based on books, whether it be novels or memoirs or what have you. With that in mind, what book by a woman author or a black author (or both!) would you like to see on the big screen?

The first one that I  can think of is Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones. It wasn’t my favorite book ever, but I think the intense imagary would translate really well to film.

Your turn!

Orlando

Book cover for Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Woman in white dress lays on back on a bedwith dress and sheets spread out around her. Orlando: A Biography
Virginia Woolf

Basically, Orlando is this young nobledude in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, well known for his awesome legs, and his way with a water bowl. Yes, seriously. He loves the ladies, and ice skating, and hanging out in the great outdoors, especially under his gigantic oak tree. Then his heart is broken and he runs off to Constantinople to act as England’s ambassador. A pretty pedestrian plot (written gorgeously, of course) until, after a night of civil unrest, violence, and looting of the ambassador’s residence, where Orlando sleeps through the mayhem, he then wakes up as a she.

Woolf’s subsequent musings on gender and sexuality are pretty awesome. Yes, this is a book of it’s time, but also, since it covers 300 plus years of Orlando’s life, it is a book of many times. Orlando’s legs are still the stuff of legend, but now instead of securing him an ambassador’s post they must be covered completely lest the glimpse of a calf send a sailor tumbling from the mast to his death.

One of the things I really liked was how Orlando still is attracted to woman after he becomes a woman. It’s pretty radical to realize that Woolf was separating out gender identity from sexual orientation back in the 1920s. It seems to be a concept people today still struggle with.

On a side note, I’m reading The Island at the Center of the World, about Manhattan when it was a Dutch colony. It contained a copy of this painting of James, Duke of York, that made me think of Orlando and hir legs:

Painting James, Duke of York

Great legs, yes?

This is one of my favorite Classics Club reads to date. I’m glad the Classics Spin and Modern March pushed me to reading it now rather than later.

Have you read Orlando, or anything else by Woolf? What did you think?

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A “Heart Book”

The  lovely Eva from A Striped Armchair recently posted about what she’s termed “heart books,” or books that have touched your soul.
Heart book
It made me think about books that have spoken to me in ways that are rare and lasting. It is scary to reveal some of them. They reveal so much about us as humans.

I read “A Happy Man” about a year and a half ago. I loved it immediately. It was one of those books that I read as slowly as I could, savoring the scenes. This from a reader better known for flying through novels at breakneck speed.

Afterwards, I wondered why it spoke to me as it did. After all, it’s about a financially secure married European white guy, This, who likes to play jazz. And he’s happy. He just goes along in his happy little life, not bothering that there are definitely some problems around him. As I said in my review, this would likely infuriate me if I were an actual person who had to deal with This everyday (although I like to think the last eighteen months have seen me become a bit kinder and gentler).

Readers of my blog may have noticed that I tend to read, and enjoy a lot of female authors, a lot of writers of color. I sometimes/often have a difficult time identifying with white male protagonists and authors. So why did this particular book strike such a cord with me?

I believe it was in large part due to some difficulties I was having at the time. I was in an emotional whole that I was really struggling to climb out of. The idea that someone could simply be happy seemed like a revelation.

After I could look back on it more objectively, I realized that yes, this book is about a relatively privileged guy. But really, this is how privilege could work. I can’t remember where I was reading it, although I want to say it was in the comments on a post over at Shakesville, about different kinds of privilege. There are privileges that come at the expense of others, and privileges that don’t. White privilege is at the expense of people of color. There is nothing inherently positive about being white – it is a privilege because there are institutional power structures that enforce the idea that white is better. This would be a privilege that comes at the expense of another group.

It is also a privilege to be free from violence. However, one person being privileged in that they have not experienced personal violence does not come at another person’s expense. We should all strive towards the privilege of being free from violence.

(Please don’t be all nitpicky with this general framework. This is a blog post, not a master’s thesis.)

It struck me that This’s life is what I hope that all people one day achieve – a life in which we have families (or not) of our choosing, in which we pursue a career we enjoy, in which we can maintain long term relationships with friends, in which we love and support those around us.

Of course, that was how the book spoke to me at that particular time in my life. Who knows – reading it at a different point might cause me to have a completely different reaction. I’m thinking of a post by Stephanie at So Many Books that explores the ideas of different interpretations of a book. One is not necessarily wrong or right, but perhaps exists on a continuum of “truth” – “truth” being whether or not the interpretation is supported by the text. I can imagine vastly different interpretations of this little novella, each having support in the pages.

Thank you, Eva, for the prompting, and the opportunity to think a bit more about this “heart book.”

Unbearable Lightness

Unbearable Lightness

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain
Portia de Rossi

Here’s the thing. I kinda liked this book. No, the writing isn’t going to win any awards. Still, three stars. But while writing this review, I seemed to focus more on the negative. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, so I’m putting this upfront 🙂

You may recognize Portia de Rossi from Ally McBeal or Arrested Development or some other show, or from being married to Ellen Degeneres. I always thought she was incredibly beautiful and poised. In Unbearable Lightness, she lets the public into her very private, very scary struggle with an eating disorder and her dehabilitating self doubt. She is revealed as that girl that may come across cool and standoffish, but it’s really because she’s terrified that if people see her true self that her reputation and career will be destroyed.

As this is a book about a woman with an eating disorder, there are some very graphic passages. I felt physically ill at certain points, imagining the suffering that de Rossi was going through, denying her body the fuel it needed to exist.

It is so shocking to realize how far we’ve come in a relatively short time when it comes to LGBTQ acceptance. Of course, there is still a long way to go. De Rossi is very matter of fact about her career being stopped before it really would have started should anyone have found out she was gay. I am sure this still happens, probably pretty often, but it does seem like less of a big deal when a star comes out. Of course, there’s a big difference between coming out on your own terms after building a successful career and being forcefully outed as a young Hollywood hopeful. Maybe that’s changing?

The most powerful part of the book is when she juxtaposes her health diagnosis with pictures of herself when she was at her most sick. And truly, in most of them, she looks like any typical starlet. It’s a shock to realize how many people must be starving themselves like she was.

I do wish there had been more focus on the “gain” part of the subtitle. De Rossi rather glosses over her struggle to recovery, and the stability and happiness she’s found. It’s clear there was a struggle, but it’s only hinted at. She was so forthright in sharing her experience in the depths of her condition, I was surprised that she didn’t detail how she got better. I feel it would have been a better aid to those that she says she wants to help. It was a bit simplistic – I found out I was sick, so I got better. I had an eating disorder because I was afraid of not being accepted as gay. I don’t know – it just was a bit too pat.

Additionally, there were things in the “recovery” section that made me uncomfortable. She makes some rather judgmental pronouncements on eating habits in general, and she still seems to think that there is an acceptable weight range, or an acceptable way for weight to be distributed on one’s body. There’s a comment about people on treadmills vs. people who are “naturally” active, focusing on doing things like walking their dogs. While it seems that she’s made progress, there are still some pretty damaging. For some thoughts bout what it’s truly like to accept bodies, including fat bodies, I recommend checking out the Shapely Prose archives or Shakesville’s Fatsronauts series. Also, for a great (and quick) summary about how not to talk about food and bodies around people with eating disorders, check out this post from a human story. It would be awesome to eliminate discussions about “good” and “bad” foods – you never know who’s around to be hurt by these well accepted, seemingly harmless words.

Want more like this? Try:

  • Marya Hornbacher, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. A non-celebrity take on the topic. Very interesting to see the similarities and the differences in how the eating disorders were manifested in the two women. 
  • Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth. I haven’t read this one yet, but I do have a copy (thanks to the lovely Marilyn). De Rossi mentions this book frequently as opening her eyes to the impossible standards of beauty that women are expected to meet. Warning: Although this book is supposedly excellent, Naomi Wolf has been advancing more troublesome ideas in recent years.
  • Jessica Yee, Feminism, for REAL. To further the idea of accepting ourselves and those around us, regardless of appearance or anything else! This book is awesome, btw. Everyone should read it.

Oh, Internet, How I’ve Missed You.

But we’re back together now! I’ll be catching up, writing posts, reading my favorite blogs. My feed reader is completely overloaded, but I have started going through some posts. And of course, I’ve missed awesome stuff since I’ve been internet-less for over a week. Here’s a few awesome posts from around the world wide web that you should check out if you haven’t already:
Liss at Shakesville introduces a Top Five series, and kicks it off by asking readers to name their top 5 books by female authors. Go! Get book ideas!

A Year of Feminist Classics takes on Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”

Words Without Borders July issue is focused on new writing from Japan

Awesome People Reading continues posting
awesome pictures of people reading.

Second Selection from a Year of Feminist Classics

The Book of the City of Ladies

The Book of the City of Ladies
Christine de Pizan

I know I’m posting my thoughts on this book well after the other Year of Feminist Classics readers. I really struggled to finish this, and have further struggled with writing up a review of it.

No doubt, this is an important text. It’s certainly “pro-woman” in the sense that de Pizan is defending women from pretty vile attacks by other writers. However, I’m thankful that feminism has come a long way since the 1400s.

For example, there’s a heavy emphasis on virginity and equating “virtue” with virginity. At the same time, there is an implicit recognition that young people, regardless of gender, are typically sexual beings. See the following passage:

This lady (Minerva) was not only extraordinarily intelligent but also supremely chaste, remaining a virgin all her life. It was because of her exemplary chastity that the poets claimed in their fables that she struggled long and hard with Vulcan, the god of fire, but finally overcame and defeated him. This story can be interpreted to mean that she conquered the passions and desires of the flesh which so vigorously assail the body when one is young.

There were times when her arguments sounded depressingly familiar:

“Yet there are still those men who go around claiming that women know nothing of any worth. It’s also a common way to mock someone for saying something foolish by telling them they’re thinking like a woman.”

Poster from 2012 movie Think Like a Man

How much has society really progressed when in 2012 we have a movie based on Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man?

Why is “woman” still a slur? Why are women still considered less-than? It’s disheartening at times to really think about these issues.

While The Book of the City of Ladies may be interested in dismantling gender based privilege (although that’s certainly debatable), it is very interested in propping up other systems of oppression, such as heterosexism, classism, racism, Christian privilege, gender essentialism – you get the idea. Only certain women should get the benefit of the doubt, should be considered as fully human as their male counterparts.

The last portion of the book was particularly difficult to complete. It’s basically a list of a bunch of early female Christian martyrs who died horrifically. Far from serving as example of how to live my life as a proper woman, it made me thankful that my family left Catholicism shortly after I was born, so these stories didn’t give me nightmares when I was a young child!

At the end of the day, I’m glad I read this. It’s probably the oldest book I’ve ever read in it’s entirety, so that’s something 🙂 Just not exactly a “fun” read.

Feminists, Read this, FOR REAL

Feminism FOR REAL

Feminism FOR REAL
Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism
Edited by Jessica Yee

This book is SO GOOD. SO GOOD.

The only thing that kept me from giving it five stars was that, as with pretty much any anthology or short story collection, some of the pieces in Feminism for Real are stronger than others. (Maybe I should have given it five stars, but my ratings are typically a gut reaction and once I make them I don’t really like to go back and change them). There were no real duds, just some selections that didn’t speak to me so much, but overall the collection did what it said towards “deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism.” This book is what I was hoping for from bell hooks’ “Feminism for Everybody.” The writers are a diverse group of people, mainly Indigenous and/or Canadian. They talk about how ivory tower feminism has failed them, and how they work anti-oppression principles into their everyday lives and activism.

Editor Jessica Yee’s interview with anna Saini on sex work and feminism was one of the best pieces in the collection. Admittedly, it contained many ideas that I’d read elsewhere, but they bear repeating, especially since Saini’s perspective is not one that gets much mainstream coverage. Here’s an excerpt:

i agree that the missionary slant that feminist “saviors” of sex workers adopt is a modern form of colonialism. Sex workers are the contemporary Venus Hottentot for all the fascination that white feminists have with fetishizing our work…. If they really wanted to help, they would work to correct the racist, capitalistic, abelist and patriarchal power structures that force too many women into sex work, but because they have a stake in these structures they are willfully ignorant to this perspective. 

And I love this:

i don’t think anyone is defined by what work they do for pay. In an ideal world, “job” is synonymous with “passion”. i can envision this world in my art and the work in those in my communities, but in the mean time we need to respect the rights of people to identify with what they love rather than how they survive financially. We need to see beyond the confines that white, capitalist, patriarchy place on our humanity.

This is so, so, spot on. Identifying people with the work they do is inherently a classist paradigm that erases the reality of so many people. It also places a premium on a person’s ability to work at all. So many people cannot enter the workforce, despite wanting and/or needing to, because they are physically or mentally disabled in some way. Is someone who can’t work less than fully human? Surely not.

Okay, I could go on and on and on about all the pieces I really liked, but this review is already being posted so much later than I wanted, so this is what you get. But read it. Seriously. Maybe I’ll post a review “part II” at a later point.

Want more like this? Try:

Some thoughts on Feminism Is For Everybody

Feminism is for Everybody

Feminism is For Everybody
bell hooks

This is the February selection for A Year of Feminist Classics. There’s a discussion of the book over there that you’re welcome to check out, so I’m keeping my thoughts on this rather general, taking the book as a whole. There’s certainly enough to talk about that I could write a post about each 5 page chapter, but I shall refrain from doing so.

Hooks states that the purpose of this book is to give people a short, accessible primer on feminism when they ask her what it is. Does she succeed? I have to say no, she didn’t.

That’s not to say this isn’t worth reading. It is. But it’s more about a history of feminism and how it relates to various subjects (such as parenting, race, class, love). It’s dreadfully short on details and concrete examples, but chocked full of jargon that would easily scare off hooks’ supposed audience.

Randomly opening to a page:

Despite the limitations of feminist discourse on sexuality, feminist politics is still the only movement for social justice that offers a vision of mutual well-being as a consequence of its theory and practice. We need an erotics of being that is founded on the principle that we have a right to express sexual desire as the spirit moves us and to find in sexual pleasure a life-affirming ethos.

That’s not exactly written in the vernacular.

The book also shows its age in chapters such as Beauty Within and Without and A Feminist Sexual Politic (from which the above quote is taken). Beauty touches on the dangers of eating disorders such as anorexia, but doesn’t talk about the broader pressure to be in a certain weight range. Since hooks’ writing, there has been the emergence of the Health at Every Size and Enthusiastic Consent movements. Those two ideas have radically opened my eyes to what feminism can do every day to make everyone’s live better. Seriously, read THIS. If it doesn’t immediately transform your thinking on policing people’s bodies, I don’t know what will. As far as feminism and fashion, there are people out there having fun with clothes in a way that has nothing to do with attracting the male gaze. It’s fashion for fashion’s sake. Man repeller, anyone?

On a more positive note, I do love hooks’ insistence that feminism take on all modes of oppression, including class, gender, and sexual orientation. Intersectionality is not optional here. Feminism should not be working to place a few (mainly white) women in powerful positions on par with their male counterparts. The movement should be pushing for the end of the current white patriarchal capitalist system that depends on oppressing people without power for its success.

That’s an idea I can support.