My Favorite Feminist Tract. [UPDATED]

January 31, 2010 at 6:06 pm (By Amba)

UPDATE: Delighted to have this piece published on Boston arts forum Big RED & Shiny!

Surprised that I even have a favorite feminist tract?  Read on.

Back in the heady early days of the second wave, feminist theorists poured forth torrents of words about the male monopoly on public power — economic, political, religious, cultural.  If you had grown up in a world where the politicians, doctors, lawyers, novelists, scientists, artists, ministers, bankers, and entrepreneurs were overwhelmingly male, and where such aspirations on the part of a girl were not only against all odds but officially (by the reigning Freudians) ruled unnatural — hard to imagine now, half a century later — these scalding exposés and analyses couldn’t help but strike a chord, especially at first.  They gave a word, a name — Patriarchy, rule of the fathers — to the wall of maleness that loomed all around you in the public world and the near-exclusive femininity it walled into the soft home-heart of that world.  Before that, you wouldn’t have been able to find words for it.  It was just the way things were.

Soon, though, as the wall was breached and women began to pour into the public world, feminist tracts became, to many of us, increasingly strident, doctrinaire, and tiresome.  There was still resistance, there were still barriers, inequities, prejudices, condescension — but the focus shifted to proving ourselves, which we were now free to do, with an optimistic sense that merit and resolve would prevail.  And they have — with remarkable rapidity, considering the weight of millennia on the other side of the scale.  Some areas of the culture still remain tougher than others for a woman to break into and excel in.  I’ve heard the art world is one of them.

Jo Ann Rothschild is an ambitious abstract artist who often paints on a large scale.

AFTER CHICAGO 2009  oil on canvas  96″x66″

Jo Ann is also my oldest continuous friend.  I moved to her street when we were about four, and I still remember her throwing a hammer at the back fender of my bike as part of my initiation into the neighborhood.  She was tough.  I toughened up.

If I was a tomboy — climbing trees and catching spiders — what to call Jo Ann?  When we played Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (*blush*), she was always Roy.  When the boys played football, she was always devastated not to be allowed to play.  She hated being dressed up in frilly girl clothes (although she later came to appreciate little black dresses) and saddled with the nickname “Missy,” bestowed to highlight the contrast with her older brother.  Following stereotype you might deduce that she grew up to be a lesbian; you’d be wrong.  She is the only female in her immediate family (husband, son), including the dog.  She just thought the things the boys were doing, back then, were the really interesting things.

Like, art.

[At the Boston Museum School in the late 1970s] (Jo Ann writes), [a]n overwhelmingly male faculty taught an overwhelmingly female student body.  The chief Boston art critic Ken Baker wrote almost exclusively about male artists.  When he wrote about women artists his tone seemed snide.  As a trial lawyer’s daughter I began to document, in a statistical way, the gender bias of the Boston art scene.  In 1982 Art New England published my findings.  They had to be edited because I was so shocked and angry.  This created a little space for me.  Not the publishing of the stats but my discovery that this is the world I live in, work in.  This is what I’m dealing with.

I remember Baker’s calling one of my MFA classmates, Ralph Helmick, a “genius.”  I had a show at Helen Shlein’s gallery around the same time and couldn’t even get a negative review.  The ICA had an exhibition of Boston Artists that had only men.

Jo Ann could’ve remained “shocked and angry;” allowed bitterness to wither her work, or turn it polemical; blamed The Patriarchy for all her career disappointments (being an abstract painter in the ’80s wasn’t trendy, either).  However, unlike some of the theorists I’ve cited above, she had . . . a sense of humor.

Sometime after [the all-male ICA show], I had the thought that the penis, this is the difference. . .

I thought about that until it seemed funny.

And so Jo Ann began to pen my favorite feminist tract:

I have loved this little book from the moment I saw it and have held onto a battered Xerox copy for many years, but now at last it’s in print, thanks to micropublisher Pressed Wafer and Small Press Distribution (SPD).  Why do I love it?  Because it’s funny.  Because it says everything that needs saying about the other P-word in almost no words at all.  Because the vulnerable hand-drawn line and iconic shape almost make the satirical edge caressing instead of cutting.  Because it is so absurd (an all but one-gendered public world was absurd!) that it finally becomes endearing.

I am sure some of my readers will be offended by this little book, and by my love for it.  How would you feel, they’ll say, if the types and roles of women were caricatured by cartoons of your genitalia?  (I think it actually has been done, but with less class.)  How is this a constructive contribution to relations between the sexes?  Aren’t the religion parts downright blasphemous?  Isn’t this trying to rekindle a war that’s over?

To them I can only say:  please, try not to be as touchy and humorless as some feminists can be.  (Note also that the book’s publisher, and the eminent museum curator who calls it a “little masterpiece” in his afterword, are male.)  Indeed, this is a salvo in a battle that’s won in principle, if not yet over (and that could still be lost in many parts of the world, like Afghanistan).  Indeed, Rothschild’s drawing of a phallic “Saturday Night Special” is aimed at a target that for us is largely in the past:  at the likes of Norman Mailer, who, in Ancient Evenings (via a reviewer — I’d rather quote The Prisoner of Sex directly but can’t access it), asserted that “the Egyptian word medu . . . means both word and stick (or penis)” and equated “speech and storytelling . . . with male ejaculation.”  Mailer was certainly one of those who qualified, by his own hand, for my old friend’s most piquant distinction:

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The Mother’s Milk of Politics

January 30, 2010 at 11:03 am (By Rodjean)

The Las Vegas Review Journal reported today that Harry Reid raised $15M in political contributions for his campaign in 2009. It amounts to $7.50 for every man, woman, and child in Nevada and probably about $30 per voter, which seems to me an astounding sum when you consider that Harry wasn’t on a ballot in 2009. He spent $2M campaigning in the last three months of a year when he wasn’t running. All of this occurred in the middle of a deep recession before the Supreme Court struck down caps on corporate contributions. By the next election day, Harry might end up spending $45M running for office. If he gets 50% of the vote, he will end up spending an amazing $180 for every voter who actually presses the button for him.

Admittedly, the Nevada Senate raise is going to draw more attention and money than usual this year, but I believe these numbers are indicative of how much of our money is getting devoted to the political process.

At first blush, you might think this would lead me to favor imposing campaign spending limits. I might do so if I thought they had any chance of working. Instead, they invite massive evasion. I suppose disclosing how much Exxon or Bank of America gives to a candidate might help keep the public informed about who owes what to whom, but there are very few public servants who will not listen to the donor of $100,000.

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Tiptoe Through the Tulips . . . [UPDATED]

January 25, 2010 at 11:59 pm (By Amba)

. . . antagonize through the amaryllis.

My best friend from high school sent the basket with the bulbs for Christmas.  All I had to do was add water, and KA-POW!!

J is looking unhappy only because I’m shooing Buzzy away.  It’s for his own good.  Buzzy wants to eat an amaryllis and I’m afraid it may be toxic.  The amaryllis have the guest room all to themselves.

UPDATE: Nance, in the comments, makes the excellent suggestion to invite captions.  So???

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Pictures Since the Fire

January 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm (By Amba)

Finally got ’em out of the camera.

(in temporary quarters)

How much is that silverfish on the ceiling?

The Director of Sunsets on his birthday




At the K&W Cafeteria

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Evan Bayh . . .

January 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm (By Amba)

. . . gets it.

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This Is A Story That Could Send Me Screaming Into Christopher Hitchens’ Arms. [UPDATED]

January 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm (By Amba)

UPDATE: This is no longer a story.

Trijicon, the company that made the scopes, has proactively decided to stop printing Bible chapter and verse citations on rifle scopes to be sold to the U.S. military and any foreign military that so prefers (as New Zealand, Australia, and Canada evidently do).  The company will also make kits available at no cost that can be used to remove existing inscriptions.

That decisiveness and dispatch is free enterprise at its best.  Now we’ll see who doesn’t want to let go of this story.

Thanks to reader_iam for the heads up.


And that takes some doing.

Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the United States military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found.

The sights are used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army. […]

Trijicon confirmed to that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions “have always been there” and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is “not Christian.” […]

That would be the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, “an advocacy group that seeks to preserve the separation of church and state in the military.” headed by one evidently “not Christian” Michael “Mikey” Weinstein.

Weinstein, an attorney and former Air Force officer, said many members of his group who currently serve in the military have complained about the markings on the sights. He also claims they’ve told him that commanders have referred to weapons with the sights as “spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ.”

Let’s note that this is hearsay from an advocacy group with an agenda.  Still, the firearms are on the record.  Photographs of the cast-metal scripture citations illustrate the post.

If you can swear an oath on the religious text of your choice*, should you be required to shoot a firearm explicitly dedicated to Jesus?  Yes, Virginia, it violates the Constitution.

Those Christian soldiers (in and out of uniform) who fervently believe we’re in an apocalyptic theological struggle against Islam — yes, by God, a Crusade — will nonetheless find it thrillingly appropriate.  So will their opposite numbers, who’ve thought so all along.

Hat tip:  Peter Hoh.

*Does anybody know the restrictions on what texts you can swear an oath on?  Could it be, like, Atlas Shrugged?

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Who Does This Make You Think Of?

January 13, 2010 at 2:17 am (By Amba)

I began to understand that there were certain talkers — certain girls — whom people liked to listen to, not because of what they, the girls, had to say, but because of the delight they took in saying it. A delight in themselves, a shine on their faces, a conviction that whatever they were telling about was remarkable and that they themselves could not help but give pleasure. There might be other people — people like me — who didn’t concede this, but that was their loss. And people like me would never be the audience these girls were after, anyway.

~ Alice Munro

I’ll put my answer in the comments.

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Rant Against (What We Wrongly Call) “Reason”

January 12, 2010 at 11:55 pm (By Amba)

Leon Wieseltier:

[I]n this culture of perfect intellectual confidence […] everything is sooner or later penetrated and unmasked—this culture of explanation, in which all the ancient problems are either solved or scorned, and every obscurity of human life, every fog and every cloud, is just a research paper away from satisfactory clarification. There is no riddle of existence that cannot be resolved, or robbed of its sting, in a David Brooks column. We are lucid now, and efficient; we are the quickest studies who ever lived. We throw no shadows. We know how things really work. We have the definite measure of everything. (Happiness, for example, is defined for us by social science; is an objective of public policy). Even as we cozily admit our fallibility, we exempt nothing from our brilliance. We dispel inwardness with our analysis of it. Hurriedly and without any suspicion that precious things are being driven away, we march smartly through all the pains and all the perplexities, and we call this dream of transparency, this aspiration to control, this denial of finitude, reason.

But it’s not, he goes on to say:  “Reason is more provisional, more modest, more patient.” Read on.  The occasion is the evisceration of late Philip Roth:  “All mastery, no mystery.”

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What Gets Warm Must Cool Off.

January 11, 2010 at 9:47 am (By Amba)

Here’s one of the most persuasive accounts I’ve seen (you can take or leave the political editorializing appended at the very end) of how large a part natural warming and cooling cycles have likely played in the climate changes of the past century.

The authors of this study are not climate-change skeptics, exactly.  They just think about 50 percent of the most recently observed warming trend was natural (i.e. not “anthropogenic”), and that we’ve probably now flipped into an equally natural cooling phase that could last a few decades.  They’ve received hate mail from both “warm-mongers” (I love that phrase!) and antiwarm agitators, a sure sign that they are doing something right.

Meanwhile, polar bear fans take heart:

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, says that Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007.

If these guys are right, this cold winter we’re having is no fluke, but the new normal for the next 20 to 30 years.  Of course, if so, this is going to cause problems of its own (doesn’t everything?):  deaths of the poorly housed and homeless, high heating oil demand, crop damage, shifts in tourism patterns (I saw a few hardy souls trying for suntans in South Florida last week; they were getting polka dots from their goosebumps).  It will also come as a setback to investors and entrepreneurs who have been betting on a continuing temperature rise.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that the Chicago child in me is excited.

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The language of politicians

January 10, 2010 at 11:55 pm (By Rodjean)

Lost in the firestorm that has erupted over revelations of Sen. Reid’s comments about then Senator Obama’s election prospects and race is the context of those comments. It explains why African American political leaders were so quick to forgive his “poor word choice.” They knew he was not a racist from his lifetime commitment to civil rights, but I believe they also knew that Sen. Reid was not expressing a racist opinion because the subject he was discussing was how voters might react to an African American candidate.

It is easy to forget that two years ago many Americans wondered whether this country could elect a black man to the Presidency. Early in the Obama campaign, a majority of African American leaders in the Democratic Party still supported Hillary Clinton. Were they racists? Of course not. But, they accepted the conventional political wisdom at that moment, which held that sufficient latent racism probably existed among voters to deny the Presidency to an African American candidate.

To a certain extent, voters need to identify with a candidate to vote for him. In that sense, Sen. Reid was stating a truism: the more Obama was perceived as a “black” candidate, instead of a candidate who happened to be black, the more difficult it would be for some white voters to identify with him. To handicap a political race, politicians and political analysts must assess the possible prejudices of voters, be they racial, regional, religious, or class based. The problem is that a candid discussion of those prejudices is not politically correct, and it can be portrayed as racist or bigoted by those willing to repeat it out of context in our “sound bite” culture.

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