Whose Story? Who Cares?

There are two Rebeccas in this world whom you should be paying close attention to. These two are authors (and so much more) Rebecca Traister and Rebecca Solnit. Today’s focus shall be on the latter, who’s also responsible for coining the term “mansplaining”, which alone should be reason enough to love her forever.

I sometimes understand people who question the need to read feminist literature. Why not just be feminist and forgo the wretched rants and instead read the Christmas Shopaholic (such a title is now available) and be merry? This is a fair question, and as always, I can only speak for myself.

I swim through all kinds of snippets of information almost around the clock, all the time. I’m barely offline. I often find myself chatting, simultaneously, with one person IRL and with about two other people online. I am fed so much information that it is impossible for my brain to absorb and process even a small fraction of it. Let alone take distance and think.

This is where my need to read other people’s thoughts becomes a necessity. While the pesky algorithms make sure I will forever stay comfortably in my liberal feminist bubble, reading a text whose preparation has required a longer thought-process than composing a witty tweet necessitates, is extremely refreshing.

The endless (and often mindless) surfing and clicking of (usually) mindless headlines and opinions makes me primarily irritated (10 minutes spent on twitter can lower the quality of life for days, and this is a fact) but also numb. I easily lose the ability to see the big picture. Let’s take some (feminist, and unfortunately US-biase) examples:

  • 2011 then-IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of sexually assaulting a hotel worker. Claims are quickly dismissed with the usual “she fabricated the story for money and notoriety”. Now, can you tell the name of the woman who was accusing DSK of the assault? No worries if you can’t. She wasn’t handed the public platform, but instead DSK’s friend Bernard-Henri Lévy was, when he wrote an op-ed letter that said “the DSK he knows for many years bears no resemblance to the monster” as described in the press. Whose story are we reading?
  • US elections 2016. One person, one vote, right? Except that a bunch of white men have wildly disproportionate control of the money and media that play a hugely important part with whom the rest of the people with their one vote get to vote in the first place. Who is writing the story for us to read?
  • US elections 2016, again. Did you know that more Americans work in museums than work in coal? No matter. Yet it is the coalminers that were the sacred beings where the museum workers didn’t exactly get talked about as totems of the American national identity. (Replace the museum workers with “nurses” and I bet this example would fly anywhere in Europe as well.) Whose story are we being told?
  • There are over 1000 statues and monuments in New York. Only five are of named women. (Before you go all “Hey surely the Statue of Liberty must count for something!” let me remind you that while she is a woman, she is also a nobody, depicting an anonymous muse at best. Indeed, as described by the sculptor Bartholdi himself: “The model, like the design, should have a summarized character, such as one would give to a rapid sketch.”) Whose stories are immortalised for generations and generations?
  • Add anything #metoo aftermath -related here. The men who were forced out of their jobs. Those who could not pursue their creative passions anymore. Those who became so angsty that they are forever scared of reaching out to women (because you cannot say anything anymore). The high-level superheroes who paid so much taxes they basically kept small economies from defaulting. Who are we mourning? These men? Or are we instead contemplating the creative contributions we never had, and will never know, because their creators were crushed or shut out? Whose story is it?

The list, of course, is never ending in real life. Reading Solnit’s latest, Whose Story Is this? was a beautiful eye opener and I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Another recent brilliance by Solnit is a collection of already published essays and articles “The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness”. It is everything about Iceland’s dramatic economic plunge in 2008 to Arab Spring to Silicon Valley and much more. I enjoyed the cults and creeps in California as well as the several essays about how Iceland managed the bursting of its economic and financial bubble.

And because I must, I shall finish with a quote from Whose Story. It’s not like the 2020 election is that far away (and yes, it’s something to give some fucks about in Europe as well).

Kanye West, wearing his MAGA-hat, said “But this hat, it gives me power in a way. My mom and my dad separated, so I didn’t have a lot of male energy in my home. There was something about putting this hat on that made me feel like a Superman.”
West is not white, but he does ace unconscious bias with his widely shared male idea that a presidential candidate should have the same general effect as Viagra, and he does remind me that the 2016 election sometimes seemed to be an erectile referendum.”

Book:Talented, Millennial Ms Ripley

If you enjoyed the demimondaine excesses of The Talented Mr. Ripley, which had beautiful people stretched across the beaches of Positano and the alleys of Venice, you’ll might like Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton. The novel dutifully echoes Patricia Highsmith, and will make a fabulously satirical curtain-raiser to the incoming party-season.

Social Creature tells a story about two young women who live in New York in 2015. Lavinia is an Upper East Side princess, currently taking time off Yale, loves vintage ballgowns from the 30s and has her extravagant lifestyle bankrolled by her parents, who conveniently reside in Europe. Louise juggles several jobs (ghostwriting, tutoring, waitressing) to make her ends (just) meet. They meet as Louise preps Lavinia’s younger sister for her SATs.

Lavinia and Louise become friends. Except that their friendship of course is a mere psychological game from the very start: to Lavinia, Louise is a prop and a cheerleader she can tote around to her endless parties that center in the city’s arts scene (Lavinia’s true relationship seems to be the one she has with her phone.) To Louise, Lavinia is quickly becoming a sponsor and way to access the upper echelons of the New York society. We know from the very beginning on that Lavinia will die. We know from the very beginning that everything will go horribly wrong.

Social Creature is an entertaining snapshot of white privilege in a La La Land. There’s no moral of the story, everybody is beautiful and everybody lives in a bubble far detached from the real world. None of the characters are likeable, their discussions are highly pretentious (especially the opera-scenes are hilarious) and it’s all very, well, Tom Ripley has a party with Jay Gatsby and Daisy plus the gang from the Secret History.

I could only read Social Creature as a satire, but sometimes found that the humour did not quite carry through. As a reader I felt confident in Burton’s hands, because she keeps the story masterfully in check from the beginning. And she plays the obscenely imbalanced relationships, social media obsession and our (my) fascination with the spectacularly over the top Manhattan parties really well.

So yes, read Social Creature for inspiration when you’re planning your next big birthday party or soirée of any other kind. Pairs extremely well with a tart Negroni. I only had a bag of Maltesers, though, but they worked, too.

Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Chanel Miller, until recently referred to as Emily Doe, was assaulted while unconscious on the campus of Stanford University as she was returning from Kappa Alpha frat-party with her sister. Miller did not want to be reduced to an anonymous rape victim of a court-case, which became a nation-wide topic, and her memoir Know My Name was published recently.

Continue reading “Your Silence Will Not Protect You”