Saturday, March 5, 2011

Boys' Club Manifesto

This is seriously wonderful: How to Be a Woman in Any Boys' Club, a manifesto by Molly Lambert at This Recording. Thank you Molly for writing these sentences in this order.

In case there was any doubt, writing is a boys' club, so if you're a writer, this applies to you.

It's almost silly to quote from the piece as excerpts are assumed to be highlights, whereas every line of this is a highlight, but I do want to call attention to a few parts that resonate strongly with my experience:

"If somebody says or does something fucked up, call them out on it. Don't pretend like fucked up things never get said because you are afraid of getting exiled from the kingdom of being Angie Dickinson in the Rat Pack. It makes people uncomfortable to get called out on their bullshit, and they get weird and defensive [...] This might make you feel bad or like a bully but don't. Some conversations are uncomfortable but also necessary. They are so uncomfortable because they are so necessary. Discomfort is not death." One of the the things I have used this blog for is calling people out on sexist bullshit. It almost always leads to uncomfortable arguments, and I have to field defensive, dismissive, angry or outright insulting comments. It sucks and it often makes me feel like all I'm doing is racking up enemies. But it's something I care about, and I can't simply leave it up to other women, because I know many women agree but don't want to deal with the ensuing bullshit. Women frequently backchannel me or thank me in the real world for standing up and saying the feminist thing. Someone has to say it but not everybody wants to dodge rocks.

"If anybody makes fun of straight dudes and the lame bonehead things they sometimes do, you are not allowed to get defensive and say that you never do any of those things. Relax, we're aren't talking about you. We're just talking about privilege denying dudes in general, and admitting that they exist is not the same as being one. The best first step to demonstrating that you are not one is to admit that they exist." Yes yes yes. Along the same lines, if someone points out that there is a clear, consistent gender bias in an industry, such as writing, or in the masthead or table of contents of a particular magazine, or in the comment threads on a blog, or among the community of contributors and editors of Wikipedia, it is not helpful to name the one woman you know who is a part of that community, or to say "But Zadie Smith." The exception does not disprove the rule.

"Whatever you look like, it will be used against you. If you're attractive it will be used to suggest that men are just pretending to care about what you think in order to try to fuck you. If you're unattractive, it will be used to discount you as a human being entirely, on the grounds that a woman who is not physically attractive to heterosexual men is a completely useless entity, no matter how smart or talented she is." Rush Limbaugh is an extreme example of the latter view, that the only reason to be a feminist is because you're ugly and you're angry that men don't like you. As for the former: I've had men, not just any men but my friends, tell me to my face that it's easier for me to get published because I'm a woman and because I'm attractive. People will publish me in their magazines because they need token women, and people will ask me to read in their series so they can have a cute girl in the lineup. This idea that it's easier for women to succeed in male-dominated industries is pervasive and illogical. Even if magazines had an explicit quota to fill, more women would be competing for a smaller number of slots, because women are not a minority. This idea rests on two assumptions: 1) Most women aren't trying, so you all you have to do as a woman is try a little, and 2) Most men are trying, so it's harder for them to compete against each other. The average man is not trying harder, or naturally better, than the average woman.

26 comments:

  1. I just keep thinking about a headline I saw yesterday: "Women more educated, but still make less." Pretty much sums it up. Do all the work you like, be as attractive as you like, try to ignore the issues, but you know what? At the end of the day, you still bring home - less.

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  2. Elisa - I love your blog, your "bringing up the uncomfortable," and this post.

    I have long told myself that I express my views by trying to put my money and poems where my values are: with journals and other institutions that support women. However, it is getting increasingly difficult to feel like that is enough, and it is also beginning to seem impossible, with the dearth of good choices.

    Interesting, clear manifesto.

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  3. Jeannine, I often wonder how anyone can believe that feminism is no longer necessary, when we still only make 3/4 of what men make for the same work. And as we get older, the gap widens (very few women at the high end of the payscale).

    Thank you HCG -- it's always hard to feel like you're doing enough. (By throwing myself into this fight, I neglect other fights, but we each have to do what we can.) xo

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  4. Elisa, I will always bring the orange soda to your party. Thanks for linking this article; so relieving and efficient to have it all said in one spot! XOXO

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  5. Elisa, I appreciate your focus on feminism and equality. As a self-identified feminist myself, I find myself choosing my 'calling out' battles on an almost daily basis.

    There's just so much fucked up stuff that's eligible.

    I asked my very Christian son once how he might feel about the bible if the characters (particularly those considered prophets/leaders) were overwhelmingly female, as they are now male. He had difficulty conceptualizing this.

    No shit, that's the point.

    Keep speaking your own truth - it matters!

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  6. Danielle: I know I'll be linking to it often. Thanks for bringing it, the soda and otherwise.

    Josephine: Exactly. Happy to have found you as a reader and your support means a lot.

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  7. I saw this manifesto earlier this week and wanted to teach it in my Literature and Identity/Dishonored Woman class (the only class of the three I teach where I can even mention the word "feminism" without having to deal with at least half the class immediately becoming hostile/defensive or asking me why I have to bring that up and/or informing me that I am "ruining everything.") It's too late this quarter, but I've saved it for next time. Glad you linked to it here, and glad you keep bringing this stuff up on your blog.

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  8. "Ruining everything"! GROAN.

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  10. Yep. Because it's me calling attention to inequalities and biases that is ruining everything, not the inequalities and biases. Doy!

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  11. Have some practical tips of being a girl in the poetry boy's club today:
    http://myblog.webbish6.com/
    PS Starting a gluten-free blog too, finally. I think everyone else already has one!

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  12. Thanks for sharing the link, Jeannine! Please let me know where the GF blog lives too, when it's live.

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  13. Feminism needs an add campaign--sort of a joke as the mnedia is ripe for feminist critique; but seriosly, it's weird that a great discourse isn't more beloved. Has anyone tried creating an anthology trying to clear up persistent misconceptions like man-hating (most feminism is heterosexual so this strikes me as laughable), minorness, notions that feminism doesn't majorly relate to the state of being human not just female. Too, it'd be cool if someone made a how to smartly make critiques within, not against, feminist discourses: am i crazy or do many people not realize that feminism is not one big censorship in which one must only say certain things (tho like every discourse there is this dynamic. Feminism is not bootcamp or fascism or pointless--it's, I'd state, ideally, rigorous FREEDOM.

    I hope all's well!

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  14. The thing I sometimes don't understand: what is the value, for specific male writers, in constantly denying the existence of any kind of gender bias (except ones that supposedly exist and that seem to favor women)? What does it do for them? It doesn't get them published. It doesn't make them popular with their women writer colleagues. It makes them look either like fools or assholes. It gives them no particular advantage in the world of writing that I can think of. It certainly doesn't lead to anyone taking them more seriously. I suppose it might allow them to hang out with their buddies unperturbed, but that also often ends up limiting their influence.

    Still, some male writers do it instinctively, immediately, repeatedly.

    I guess the answer may be: defensive hostility doesn't need to be productive or useful; it just can't help expressing itself whether it does anything worthwhile or not. The immediate need to express feelings of rage at one's position being questioned overwhelms any other goal.

    But I'm still not sure, having said that. I still don't know why so many men seem so bent on acting that way.

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  15. If humanism would become in again, I'd vote for feminism becoming that; humanism is a hard line to argue against, and it has the possible benefit of not seeming like one can make tedious disses towards feminism. Amartya Sen's The Idea Of Justice is, I think, an excellent example; it by no means pretends like women don't exist, and has a very real femninist dynamic, but ultimately anounces its allegiance to reason/humanity/just about everything.

    This is potentially not a good mode for CVs, so I don't expect it to have much currency with other than the already established: Nussbaum, Sen, etc.

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  16. Mark, one thing that's interesting to me is that it seems easier for white men to admit that being white offers advantages than it is to admit that being a man offers advantages. I take this as a sign that sexism is still more pervasive, and more socially acceptable, than racism (a conclusion I came to when Hillary and Obama were running at the same time). But I agree, it's strange -- I assume it comes down to pride, an unwillingness to accept you might have had a leg up, as it means you're not as wonderful as you thought.

    Adam, I think those books you've mentioned exist, but they don't sell well. :)

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  17. I love this: "Adam, I think those books you've mentioned exist, but they don't sell well."

    Is this because the "concept" is all wrong, or because it's not trendy?

    I totally agree that race has a higher status in terms of rights discourse than gender--the very fact that civil rights is extremely likely to be understood as race rights is evidence. I can't wait for the days when feminismn and race discourses are just as likely to be lovers as antagonists; this will require concerted efforts (which do get made sometimes!) on both "sides" which is a bad word so maybe facets.

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  18. I think it's because the same misconceptions you mentioned, the misconceptions that reading the books would help correct, prevent people from picking those books up. It would be awesome if a basic course on feminism were required for college freshmen. As it is, generally only people already inclined toward feminism take those classes.

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  19. The second point is especially good. There's nothing more obnoxious than someone leaning on an "exception" in an attempt to deny a "rule." It is this very mindset, in fact, that creates the perception of certain writers (like Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, Angela Carter, and others) as "token" writers when obviously they are anything but token.

    Huzzah, Elisa!

    Perhaps you've done this in the past, but would you take a stab at articulating your theorization of feminism, perhaps in a post devoted to the subject?

    I'm most familiar with feminism as a specific pedagogical approach, and would be interested in how you would "define" it as you're using it here.

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  20. Hi, Matt! That would be a good exercise because I don't think I have taken the time to articulate it here. I use the term quite broadly to refer to a set of beliefs I self-identify with, the same way I'd say I'm liberal or an atheist. I'll try to remember to write a sort of statement about it here.

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  21. Oh, Elisa, here's the new blog link. It's going to be restaurant and bakery reviews and recipes, I think. Strangely enough, not enough info on blogs about Seattle gluten-free stuff.
    http://glutenfreenorthwestadventures.blogspot.com/

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  22. molly lambert is fantastic. i will follow her anywhere, even to bill simmons' new 70% sports site. i feel like she knows how to make use of the internet as a medium better than most--not that what she writes wouldn't be amazing on paper, but the images, the songs, the links--her writing seems somehow elevated by being online, where for so much of what i read online the context is either irrelevant or dragging stuff down.

    this is a bit of a ramble, when i really came here to submit to you a "reader question." this summer, i moved to cambridge from seattle, and i'm having some trouble figuring out where the fun/interesting readings/literary events are happening. i know there is no shortage of straight-up readings, but i'm wondering more about things like seattle's "cheap wine & poetry" (just what it sounds like, and so popular that it spawned a spinoff: "cheap beer & prose"). beer doesn't necessarily have to be involved, but i'd love to know if you have any favorite reading series, or even trusted sources for upcoming events. i can't even seem to use my fairly formidable googling skills to find some kind of reliable source for this information (somewhat related: why is bostonist so much more boring than the other -ists?), other than the grub street mailing list. as my trusted source for perfume insights, posts that make me think, and poetry recommendations, i turn to you now in my hour of not-really-need, but curiosity.

    p.s. my other comments have been as 'elizabethames,' but i'm having an issue signing in with my google profile/openID (lending a lot of weight to my earlier google bragging).

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  23. Oh! Miss Ames AKA Bizness, I'd love to help. Email me directly (address is in my profile). Or drop your address in a comment and I'll write to you. I'm planning to hit a reading this Saturday, maybe I could meet you there.

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  24. good gracious, i can't even find an e-mail! i am hopeless. but grateful. i'm off to e-mail you now (will i be able to work the gmail?).

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  25. I tend not to like manifesto-like pieces, and this one (Lambert's) is no exception: the logic seems wayyyy to dependent on clean-cut binaries which end-up rendering men and women rather stick-figurish; too, it is creepily old-hat in its uncritically accepting conventional notions of homo and heterosexual (gay guys as allies of gals; sure sometimes, but often not and often gals ain't remotely hearteninbg in their sexuality politics)--tho the bottom[ing] pun (well I assume it's a conscious pun) is interesting. Too, it states that males who are aware of the problems of rigid gender paradigms are an un-named species, whereas women with this awareness are feminist. Overall, this piece, for me, is too comfortable with a heterosexual sex binary, and saturated with essentialism.

    I don't think my issues with the piece are off-base from a strict semantic standpoint, but then again this is presumably not meant to be viewed as an extremely carefully constructed argument a la academia at its best. As well, I am not sure I am the target audience: the imagined one seems to presume no in-depth awareness of critical thought regarding gender: Butler, Foucault etc.

    How can the bridge between feminism as sophistication/maximal thoroughness and feminism which manages to be in large-scale circulation for ready consumption be created?

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