Anniversary of La Femme Rompue

The great Simone de Beauvoir was born exactly 112 years ago today in Paris. She was the ur-feminist thinker of the 20th century and together with fellow philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre both cemented and forever glamorised the quintessential Parisian mode de vie of happily living in an open relationship (in addition to existential philosophy). Or so I thought.

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So Keanu Reeves Has a Lady Friend

The past week has been one of major significant events. 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, rappers having their adult daughters hymens checked for virginity, people dying in various catastrophes around the world, the usual. Nothing could have prepared the world for the shocker that Keanu Reeves served at LACMA Art and Film Gala last week, however.

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Nonfiction November: Three Women

I’m in two ways with literary blockbusters. I want to read them to know what all the buzz is about (Atwood’s Testaments) and on the other want to keep to my niche ways and go exactly where the herds are not. Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women came out already some time ago, so I didn’t exactly ride the wave this time as I finished it this weekend. Very glad I did.

There’s so much hype and reviews about this book that you barely need to read it to figure out what it is about, but do read it in any case. Three Women is a study about three (real) women and their relationships with men. Yes, revolutionarily exciting. Each relationship comes with a twist, however.

Taddeo’s point, or possibly one of them, is to illustrate the omnipresent power imbalance between men and women that kind of seeps into a relationship. This can be easily disregarded by “that’s generalisation”, I give it to you. But what Taddeo argues with her stories is that there is something systematic to this imbalance, and it usually works in the man’s favour.

When a woman embarks on a relationship with a married man, she obviously has certain agency and makes a conscious choice. This might or might not end up well, and the story is as old as history, so there are gazillion ways to turn the story. Even in the best case scenario, it is about possessing and using power. What if the woman is in fact adolescent (we might or might not want to call her a child) and the man is her teacher, married with children?

What if a married woman feels trapped in her life and wants to experiment with an extramarital affair in order to stay sane? Is the amount of judgement by her peers in any way proportionate to what goes on, especially if compared to a married man carrying out similar liaisons (see above)?

What are the limits for women, especially mothers, in wedlock, to express their sexual desires, even if they do no necessarily match with the expectations of bourgeois life? And more precisely, whose expectations of a bourgeois life?

These are the issues minutely reported in Three Women. The book is not a feminist rant, but a very educational, recognisable and eye-opening study about humanity, power, exploitation and being a woman in today’s society. The women are all based in the U.S., but their stories are universal.

Taddeo spent eight years on the road talking to the three women, their friends, relatives, lawyers and investigators, as well as going through legal documents, recordings, letters and text messages. The result is an account that points a finger without really doing it. She’s an acclaimed journalist whose long-read “Rachel Uchitel* is not a Madam” for New York Magazine is brilliant as is her fictitious piece “Last Days of Heath Ledger” for Esquire.

Three Women is not your ultimate party-prep feel good situation, but an excellent snapshot of women’s desires and the ubiquitous, weird power-games that hover over everything. Strong thumbs up for NonFiction November.

*Tiger Woods’ alleged mistress.

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.”

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.

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