Things

Consequences of Colonialism

A new equinox, a new reminder that I’m woefully behind on keeping up with this blog! Before stepping into this summer, I wanted to recap the women’s fiction (intended to be) read summer 2019. 

This particular summer I wanted to revisit my college days of looking at texts via postcolonial theory and read novels by and about women set around the era of Western colonization (that is, between 1500 and 1850). To this day, we can still observe the repercussions of colonialism and its bloody legacy bent on stealing land, killing its Native peoples, and enslaving Africans for financial gain. However, this year’s reading taught me about a type of neocolonialism happening around the world and just in the past century. Whether it was 400 or only 40 years ago, colonialism and its consequences have had an especially oppressive impact on the women involved. 

What I Read

Exploring women’s role in colonialism, I read the following:

What I Saw

Here are their covers:

  • Erased Faces: A soldier whose eyes are uncovered looks directly at the viewer. They hold a military-style gun amid a background of red, superimposed over negatives of the same picture. The soldier appears to be a young woman. Who is the soldier? What are they fighting for and against whom? In reference to the title, how and why are faces being erased (reading this as they are losing their lives or identities)?
  • Wide Sargasso Sea: A family of 3 shadows stands at the center of what appears to be a house. They’re surrounded by splashes of color, perhaps tropical plants. Who are the people? Why are their faces obscured? What are they looking at?
  • A Mercy: We see a naturescape with no one in sight; lush, green land with water, untouched. Is this America before colonists stole and infected it with the plagues of Western religion and greed? Regarding the title, who receives mercy and who gives it?

What I Learned

  • Erased Faces: This book was in a little library that I traded for some time ago. The author’s name sounded familiar, and the back cover summary drew me in. Erased Faces follows two women who have lost their families and find romantic companionship with one another while fighting in the Chiapas rebellion. A prime example of neocolonialism, the book portrays the short-lived yet bloody war between Mexico’s indigenous people and the Mexican government just 26 years ago in 1994. In a struggle for indigenous rights and self-governance, one of the female protagonists Juana is seen being sold off for marriage, surviving domestic abuse, and then becoming a fearless martyr for the cause. Author Graciela Limón, known for her works exploring Mexican identity and Hispanic American literature, places the mythology of the Lacandón people in the modern day to reveal the oppression and violence against women still occurring throughout Mexico. In defending their rights as native people—and perhaps more importantly as women—Limón’s characters fight for their faces to be seen, not to be erased by colonialism.

Questions:

  • The concept of erasure is an especially damaging symptom of colonialism, and the book’s title immediately alludes to an erasure of identities, culture, and even physicalities (i.e., faces). How can women’s fiction undo the effects of colonial erasure and honor the identities lost?
  • Erased Faces details just one example of neocolonialism with its focus on the Chiapas rebellion. What other examples of neocolonialism have disproportionately affected women? Is there women’s fiction written about these events?
  • While lesbian relationships had been honored or considered commonplace in indigenous or non-Western religions, the spread of Christianity and homophobic biblical teachings may have led to the criminalization of such relationships in colonized countries. Now that legalizing gay marriage is at the forefront of human rights activism around the world, how can women’s fiction help to support this cause in conjunction with the continued campaign for women’s rights?

  • Wide Sargasso Sea: After I read Jane Eyre several years ago this retelling/prequel was suggested to me. Although I’m a fan of Victorian Brit lit (especially the Gothic kind!), I thought Jane Eyre dull and its characters gross—with the exception of the crazy woman in the attic. Who was she and why was she there? Jean Rhys must have wondered the same, as her novel explores Charlotte Brontë’s unspoken-for character and gives her a voice and a history. Set in the Victorian era in Jamaica, Antoinette (who becomes Brontë’s mysterious villainess) is a pariah among her peers; a white descendant of slave owners living among a primarily Afro-Caribbean population, she and her family are too Creole to be considered English (read: white) yet at the same time too white to be considered Creole. Madness runs in Antoinette’s family, and her wealth and fallen social status make her a target for the greedy, manipulative, predatory, etc., etc., Mr. Rochester. We know Antoinette’s story doesn’t end well, but Rhys’s interpretation of this character sheds light on the postcolonial politics of Caribbean plantations and the tense race relations across the British empire. Her retelling also counters the patriarchal white hegemony of the classic literary canon (and even enchants it with a little obeah).

Questions:

  • Published in 1847, Jane Eyre is considered one of the first feminist novels in part due to its first-person portrayal of women by a woman writer. However, its treatment of certain female characters (like Bertha Mason) can also be seen as regressive. How can rewriting women’s fiction be a mechanism for giving voices to otherwise voiceless female characters in protofeminist novels? What other retellings like Wide Sargasso Sea have already been written?
  • Similarly, Wide Sargasso Sea rewrites the past by “writing back” at the British Empire, turning the narrative of colonialism on its head against the colonizers. How can writing back be used to undo postcolonialism and empower the colonized?
  • Obeah, a type of magic and spiritualism brought to the Caribbean by enslaved Africans, plays an important role in the novel and helps to establish a sense of place in stark contrast to England. What can we learn about gender and colonialism from women’s fiction that employs obeah or other forms of magic?

  • A Mercy: I purchased this novel after Toni Morrison passed away last year, but having read several of her books and seen her lecture in person, I had already planned to read this novel. From Beloved to The Bluest Eye to A Mercy, her characters are both heartbreaking and haunting. I will never know first hand what it’s like to be a Black woman in America today, what it was like yesterday, or what it will be like tomorrow, but Morrison’s prose speaking to lived experiences of Black women and race in America is a necessary education. A Mercy explores women’s treatment and identity (or lack, thereof) during colonial settlement. Even with the most well-intentioned patriarch owning Virginia land and supposedly free servants in 1682, Morrison shows there is no such thing⁠⁠—that these merciful men are still slave owners who hunger after wealth at the cost of women’s lives. In highlighting the bonds of mothers and daughters (Florens and her minha mãe, and Sorrow becoming Complete), as well as the trauma caused by severing these bonds, Morrison hints at the additional burden women bore at the hands of slave masters⁠—children conceived through rape—slave breeding https://networks.h-net.org/node/4113/reviews/64746/sears-smithers-slave-breeding-sex-violence-and-memory-african-american being a form of sexual violence enacted on Black people to uphold white supremacy and profit from the slaveholding system. Embodied by the Native American character Lina stripped of language and tribe, Morrison also alludes to America, the motherland, as a victim of colonialism whose people were relocated or removed (i.e., murdered) http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/growth/text7/indianlands.pdf. In this novel, the idea of mercy—who gives it and to whom—is as complicated as its characters.

Questions:

In their depiction of female characters as broken, healed, tamed, wild, victim, and victor, these three novels portray women’s triple oppression https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_oppression (experiencing racism, sexism, classism) as a result of Western colonization. I’ve learned much about these issues via women’s fiction, but I can never learn too much! Are there any other postcolonial books about women that you would recommend? Any fiction or theory is welcome! Leave any comments or suggestions below!

If You Don’t Like Abortion, Then Don’t Have One!

There’s so much horrifying news about unplanned parenthood that it’s awoken me from my bout of blogging blasé. While Ireland overturned their ban on abortion last year, the US is regressing to the opposite. From Alabama to Missouri and Ohio, several US states passed severe legislation to restrict abortion just recently.

In the style of my original posts when this blog began, I wanted to aggregate the absurd things that dumb men (and others) have said about abortion lately, and provide responses to their regressive thinking.

Things He (or so-called Pro-Life Person) Says:

  1. This # of abortions have happened in history, thus this # of children have been killed. This is genocide, with more fatalities than the Holocaust or [insert other crimes against humanity].
  2. Birth control causes abortions.
  3. Abortion is murder, so murderers should go to jail.
  4. Women wouldn’t get pregnant if they were abstinent or practiced chastity.
  5. You won’t get pregnant if you use birth control.
  6. Fathers should have rights (to the embryo/fetus)!
  7. You wouldn’t have been born if your mother had an abortion.
  8. What about the baby?
  9. I/someone will adopt the baby! There are couples who can’t have children and want to adopt.
  10. What if that aborted child became the person who cured cancer?

Thing She (or Pro-Choice Person) Says:

  1. Rabbis and Jewish advocacy organizations…slammed the comparison as offensive, exploitive, and ignorant of historical context,” and that’s all I have to say about that. An aborted embryo is not persecuted for its religion or thrown into a concentration camp to work until they die, and that’s all I have to say about that
  2. Birth control (options like the pill and IUDs) literally prevents abortions. One of the many reasons why people use birth control is to prevent pregnancy. Birth control is also used to mitigate some serious medical conditions unrelated to birthing a child. Don’t forget about condoms, another form of birth control, which help prevent transmission of STIs!!!
  3. Ok, so you support the absolutely abhorrent Alabama legislations that criminalize those who abort (as well as their doctors and any others who may help), even in cases of rape or incest? So you’re saying that someone who someone ejecting a mass of tissue from their body (a teenager who was raped, for example) is equivalent to someone who  shoots someone in the face? Not to mention how sticky this gets in practice when it comes to a pregnancy that was lost naturally. How is a formerly pregnant person supposed to prove that their sheets were bloodied from miscarriage? Or even an especially heavy period? (Not to mention that this legislation would penalize rape survivors more harshly than their rapists?!?!?!?)
  4. Um, hello. What century are you living in that you think women should only behave like virginal Victorian maidens?! Also this completely blames victims of rape and sexual assault for their getting pregnant. While chastity may be an aspiration way of living, it is completely divorced from reality and lived experiences. Remember those nuns who revealed abuse (and impregnation/force to abort) by priests? Prime example.
  5. There’s the pill, IUDs, condoms, vasectomies, and Plan B, yet not all have access to these options. Any of these options may also fail, since nothing is 100% effective (except for abstinence, but that’s not an option that should solely be preached, as mentioned above). Blocking access to safe abortion only perpetuates the cycle of poverty, turning mothers of 3 without much access to safe contraception into mothers of 6, unable to financially support the children they already have. 
  6. Just because your penis caused the pregnancy doesn’t mean you have any right over the person you ejaculated into. You and your penis won’t ever have to endure the physiological effects of a pregnancy—pronounced weight gain, morning sickness, etc.—or other implications like needing to drop out of school or losing a job. You have no right to police the bodies of women, trans folx, and non-binary people with uteruses/uteri by rendering them as baby incubators. Thank u, next.
  7. Out of every four women/people with uteruses you know, one will have an abortion, hence the “Everyone loves someone who has had an abortion” quote. Perhaps you wouldn’t have been born if your grandmother (or other matrilineal relative) didn’t have an abortion when she was a teenager, which would have resulted in her marrying the dude who knocked her up. Did ya think about that?
  8. The majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, before the embryo has even developed into a fetus. How can an embryonic bundle of cells be considered a baby? Additionally, most pregnancies aren’t viable, and would result in miscarriage or stillbirth. Historically, fetal heartbeat was not a metric for determining personhood, but rather “quickening” and fetal movement, which happens much later in the pregnancy.
  9. I appreciate your altruism, but would you really adopt the more than half a million children currently in foster care? Would you have the financial resources to clothe, feed, house, and give them a happy and healthy life? So many children are never adopted and live their lives in a broken foster care system. Also, unless I’m being compensated via a surrogate program, I’m not putting myself through 9 months of total bodily transformation and many hours of excruciating labor to have a child for someone else.
  10. What if the mother ended up becoming the person who cured cancer, but they were deprived of that opportunity because they were forced to have a child?

Other issues that should be considered:

Plain and simple: if you’re against abortions, then don’t have them! Even though terminating a pregnancy at any stage of gestation can be emotionally and physically painful, the choice to abort or not should be available for a person to make. It is their choice alone, and some old white dude in judicial robes shouldn’t intervene. Blanket legislation that speaks for all abortions completely dismisses individual experiences and invades their individual privacy that the 14th amendment is supposed to protect.

An overall ban on abortion will NOT end abortions, it will only result in unsafe and potentially lethal abortions, a return to hanger abortions before Roe vs. Wade. For those who do not die from a back alley abortion, maternal deaths will rise because America dgaf about women, especially women of color. Black women already face statistically higher maternal mortality rates, so an anti-abortion stance is steeped in racism. Also viewing pregnant people solely as mothers is not only misogynist, but it’s also transphobic, since not all people who have uteruses identify as women. 

I can only hope abortion will be a basic human right some day. Until then, I’ll share some information next post about supporting abortion providers.

If you have any thoughts about this post or want to share some ignorant or insightful things people have said, comment below!

Gender Benders, Gynotopia, and the Grotesque

This summer I aimed to focus more on intersectional feminist novels, narratives examining gender along the lines of race, class, and geography. I journeyed through stories about gender bending, gynotopia, and grotesque dynamics between the sexes. Here are summer 2018’s #notwomensfiction reads!

What I Read

Based on recommendation or random choice, I read the following:

What I Saw

Here are their covers:

  • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Superimposed on a beige background with flourishes of bright purples and reds, Kathleen Collins’s visage is both inviting and challenging. The font and lack of copy on the back cover understate the writer. Her chin is held up high; she looks like she’s unafraid of strife, proud of who she is. Does she know whatever happened to interracial love?
  • Daughter of Fortune: A woman in a delicate lace collar and ruby jewelry poses for a photograph in sepia. Cheeks slightly rouged, her dark eyes stare straight at the audience/reader, serious and slightly defiant. Is she the daughter of fortune? Whose daughter is she?
  • The Gate to Women’s Country: An overlaid image of a cloaked woman in moonlight divides a wood carving of an ancient woman and man. Is this the gate to Women’s Country? Is there a Men’s Country too?
  • Defiance: Another sepia cover, with a blue tone section—two sides of a woman from back to profile. Her eyes aren’t depicted, and we can’t discern her emotions. How does she feel? Is it connected to her wardrobe (dark dress)?

What I Learned

  • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: I received this copy on accident at a Yankee swap (at the same time I learned what that was), and I’m glad I did! Although this is Kathleen Collins’s only anthology of short stories (published posthumously), during her lifetime she was known for her film Losing Ground and two plays (In the Midnight Hour and The Brothers). She was a black female intellectual when there were few well-known black women in this field. Written with the eye of a playwright, this collection explores inter-/racial politics and mixed-race identities during the Civil Rights era across her characters’ varied lives. She touches upon feminist themes of male infidelity, emotional/physical violence against women, and woman as object, but fuses these themes with the lived experiences of black people in America and their relationships with white people. Her characters travel from Biloxi to Boston, are broken after broken relationships, are self-actualized and sensual, and both embrace and fear Blackness. Collins’s stories are sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes eerie, but are always captivating and revelatory. You can read more about Kathleen Collins and her cultural legacy on her dedicated website, NPR, and Lit Hub. Collins also had two children, Emilio Collins and Nina Lorez Collins; Nina is also a writer and former literary agent.

Questions:

    • How does Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
    • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? is at times reminiscent of White Man Canon literature. The voyeurism and narrator being in love with the family he’s obsessed with in “The Happy Family” reminds me of The Great Gatsby, while the Gothic family romance in “Dead Memories . . . Dead Dreams” feels like it could take place in the House of Usher. How does fiction by and about black women fit into “women’s fiction”? Is this a category dominated by and about white women? How can fiction by women of color be used to counter the White Man Canon?
    • Characters in Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? are inextricable from their race, class, and gender. Most, if not all, are also involved in or are children of mixed-race relationships. How does intersectionality and interracial identity/ies play a role in women’s fiction?

 

  • Daughter of Fortune: I don’t remember how or when this book fell into my possession, but this particular Oprah’s Book Club copy was surely loved by its previous owners, paperback cover torn and spine lined. Perhaps these readers were just as dazzled by Isabel Allende’s portrait of place and her characters’ complexities, not to mention the sprinkling of magical realism. Eliza Sommers, a Dickensian orphan confined by a stuffy Victorian upbringing, is raised by her English aunt and uncle, as well as the family’s Chilean cook, in Valparaíso during the mid-1800s. This daughter of mysterious fortune is primed to become a lady in an arranged marriage, yet independent Eliza instead falls in love with a revolutionary young Chilean in search of gold. From Chile to California, Allende depicts colonization as both a destructive and creative force, Europeans to South America and Americans westward slaughtering indigenous peoples and erasing their cultures but at the same time producing new democratic societies and opportunities for those oppressed in their own countries. Eliza for the first time experiences true freedom on her misguided voyage to find her lover, riding in pantaloons on horses and reading pornographic stories for money. She also meets a cast of unconventional characters: an aristocrat’s daughter who has more business acumen than her husband, a band of prostitutes led by a lesbian or possibly transgender man aptly named Joe Bonecrusher, a man whose masculinity is more fragile than it appears, and an acupuncturist who combines western medicine with ancient Chinese healing. Although the novel ends with Eliza returning to a more feminine persona (after a quick masturbation sesh!), she persistently refuses to be a ruined and subservient woman; she has a miscarriage after being offered an abortion, learns about performative gender and transgresses female roles, eschews xenophobia, embraces her prostitute friends despite their status as “soiled doves,” is repulsed by her friend’s former fetishization of Chinese “golden lilies” or bound feet, and combats the sex trafficking of young girls. This is also the first book in a loosely connected trilogy; Daughter of Fortune is followed by House of the Spirits and Portrait in Sepia.

Questions:

  • How does Daughter of Fortune reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • Since European colonization of South America (and the subsequent racism toward native peoples) is an important theme in this book, Daughter of Fortune might be considered postcolonial. What other works by women explore the intersection of postcolonialism and feminism?
  • Eliza dresses as and is perceived as a man for the majority of the novel, and at points she questions her identity as a woman. What function does crossdressing and gender performance serve in women’s fiction? Is it “women’s fiction” if the protagonists/all characters aren’t always cisgender women?

 

  • The Gate to Women’s Country: My brother gave this pulpy-looking fiction (which might have been as violent but less riveting than Pulp Fiction after reading it for a freshman course collegeonly three years after which and when I was ¾ done he told me it was a gag gift. Thanks, bro! Sheri S. Tepper’s famous dystopian novel creates a society separated by sex, women at the helm of civilization while men are hyper-masculine soldiers living in an adjacent garrison, though there are a few men who choose to coexist with the women as caretakers and advisors (and, spoiler alert, BABY DADDIES!). Women are still expected to rear children, but Women’s Country is a second-wave feminist experiment in the extremes of toxic masculinity and patriarchy in contrast to matriarchy and productive, peaceful sorority. As a former executive director for Planned Parenthood, Tepper also injects some pro-choice rhetoric around reproductive rights; there’s some cool contraceptive technology, like a proto Nexplanon arm implant! There’s also mention of systemic misogyny/violence against womenlike FGM, femicide, and pologyny (where polyandry isn’t even a thought). However, points of contention aside from the giant penis statue are heteronormativity/erasure of anything LGBTQ+ and erasure of non-white characters (the protagonist women’s light eyes and blond hair are always mentioned, and there’s so much weaving of Greek mythology). This book definitely feels dated as a result, though Tepper is considered a legendary female sci-fi writer.
    1. Side note: While reading The Gate to Women’s Country, I also watched a movie and mini-series involving groups of women: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (yes, that’s the actual title!) and Picnic at Hanging Rock. The former (discovered via Elvira, Mistress of the Dark https://www.elvira.com/) is a campy 80s flick in which a feminist professor investigates a group of women in California who eat men with a side of avocado. The latter, based on a book of the same name, involves a group of teenage girls going missing in Victorian-era Australia. Both were strange and delightful (albeit problematic) and complemented the experience of reading The Gate to Women’s Country.

avocado women 5.png

Stills from Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death © Cult Video.

Questions:

  • How does The Gate to Women’s Country reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • There’s no explicit mention of trans characters or characters of color. In fact, being gay in Women’s Country is briefly alluded to as an aberration. Since the novel explores medical technology as a way to phase out undesired genetic traits (like the desire to fight in men) and correct humanity, what does this erasure say about this type of matriarchal utopia? And what about intersectional feminism?
  • As Mary Shelley is often considered the creator of science fiction, what does the intersection of “women’s fiction” and science fiction unearth? 

 

  • Defiance: Aside from the author using the word “scalloped” excessively (I love scallops, but not when they appear 43 times in 265 pages), Carole Maso writes a compelling profile of woman as prey-cum-predator in today’s sadistic patriarchal society. Anti-heroine Bernadette O’Brien chronicles a traumatic life from her prison cell; we learn of her psycho-sexual slayings as she’s waiting to be executed. In her murdering two young men, she claims male privilege for herself. A child genius who sells sex to pay for Harvard tuition and has several abortions in her teens, she subverts the Madonna/whore archetypes while also embodying the monstrous-feminine. She’s demonized by some, and then revered as an impenetrable feminist Venus in Furs by others. I watched American Horror Story: Cult after reading this novel, which explored the idea of female rage (and “nasty women”!) as absolute power, not to mention its somewhat relevant lesbian death cult that labeled all men as scum and perpetrated serial killings. Her powerher defianceis a violent escape from a cycle of abuse, inflicted by lascivious, dominant men on helpless, dominated women, structures that remain too relevant to America’s current political climate (read: rapists and misogynists in the White House).

Questions:

  • How does Defiance reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • Though the protagonist/heroine, Bernadette can also be considered a villain. How does the figure of woman as predator/villain fit into women’s fiction?
  • Hierarchies of gender are replicated (or exacerbated) by class disparities. What’s the role of class in women’s fiction?

 

Each of these novels, all written sometime after the 1960s, depict different moments and thinking about women in the 20th century (and prior). Are there any novels by/about women from this era that you would recommend? Leave your suggestions below!

Also, what should I read in 2019?

Cat background in post header image © Lush Cosmetics.

Meditation on Menstruation 2: 2 Years, 1 Cup

Two years after publishing my first (and only) post about menstruation, I’m dusting off my Diva Cup and getting back into learning more about menstruation options.

Since Plastic Free July is almost over and I’m very passionate about reducing my own use of plastics, I wanted to write this month about a particular reusable period optionthe menstrual cup. (Not to mention, a friend documenting her menstrual product use during this eco-conscious month really made me want to put finger to keyboard and write!)

The earliest menstrual cups were actually first patented in the 1930s in the US, though they weren’t widely commercially available until 70 years later, in the early 2000s! While pad and tampon usage has been recorded throughout history, tampons became commercially available also in the 1930s and then pads in the 1970s. A brief history can be read on the website for feminine hygiene brand Maxim. Humans with uteruses (uteri?) have been menstruating for time eternal, so it’s so fascinating to see the mass development of products to manage menstrual flow as pretty recent.

I’m No Diva!

Shortly after I wrote the first Meditation on Menstruation in June 2016, I decided to try out a menstrual cup, so I purchased the Diva Cup pack with reusable Luna pads. At the time I thought, “Ew, cloth pads? I don’t need those!” But now I use them regularly for sleeping since my period is heavier. Although I had only used the cup a handful of times before this and the next happened, I’ve been hesitant to use my dormant Diva Cup for fear that the suction will painfully dislodge my newish IUD; as one gynecologist told me of that risk, another assured me that it’s rare. I’m no diva, but installing that IUD was one of the most painful experiences of my life, and I didn’t want the reverse of that to happen on accident.

Still, I’m trying to pick up where I left off and try different methods of managing my period since it’s more extreme in length, pain, and heaviness than it was before I got the copper IUD. I now use a suite of super absorbent tampons, synthetic and cotton maxi pads, and cloth pads (still feels ew!), but I want to incorporate the cup more into my routinepartly to use less resources and partly to get my money’s worth out of the cup I had already invested in to save money on pads and tampons.

diva cup

Pictured: Diva Cup in an ugly floral design pouch. Ob tampon to the right for scale.

Push It Real Good

No, don’t do that! Fold it into a U shape and gently insert it!

I’m still a cup newbie. Having used it for less than 6 periods in the past 2 years, the ovulation origami has been a struggle when inserting and removing the cup. Aside from needing to cut my nails (and for those with acrylics, how do you not slice your vagina/labia?!), I have the most issues with suction during removal. The stem at the bottom is so short, my fingers are slick from blood and other goopy goos, and I never fully break the seal so it feels like a vacuum is sucking out my insides!

When it’s in though it’s great! It’s similar to a tampon in that I don’t feel anything if it’s inserted correctlyit’s very much set it and forget it. And I can pee and poop (usually diarrhea if I’m on my period TBH) without worrying about shooting a tampon out on accident! A lot of blood can collect in that little funnel, so I only use it on lighter days and at home since I’m afraid there might be overflow/leakage when I’m out and about. Although blood and needles generally freak me out, I’m unfazed when I need to pour blood in the toilet in a mock murder scene. Maybe the Misfits were actually referring to menstrual cups in the song “Horror Business”…you don’t go in the baaaathroom with me! If anything, I feel oddly more in tune with my body and its byproducts, a witchy woman alchemizing the moon with menses and hailing the lifeblood from which we are all born (this article is WiLd).

While I’ve only used this brand of menstrual cup, there are several others on the market with different sizes and lengths, from the Ruby Cup (with a philanthropic Buy One Give One program) to MeLuna. For those having difficulty with the highly tactile nature of menstrual cups, there’s the Keela Cup with a “disability-friendly design.” Here is a list of other menstrual cups with reviews and links for purchasing. There are also several online resources about considering and using them. Make sure to clean them when you’re done, too, to avoid Toxic Shock Syndrome!

Have any menstrual cup recommendations? Share them below!

Aborting Guilt

“I got something to say
I killed a baby today
And it doesn’t matter much to me
As long as it’s dead”

As I’ve discussed earlier in my “(Un)Planned (Un)Parenthood” posts, I had an abortion just over a year ago, almost to the day. While some might say I killed a baby, I’m not as cavalier about it as Glenn Danzig in The Misfits’ “Last Caress” lyrics above (which horrifically continue with raping mothers and killing even more babies). My baby was not yet a baby by definition. It was an unborn, unformed embryo, and removing it from an environment in which it it could live—thus resulting in its death—did matter so much to me.

The most salient emotions from my whole abortion experience were relief and guilt. It’s been reportedthough I’m unsure if this website is factually accurate since it reads more like pro-life propagandathat 55% feel guilt and 10% have reported more serious “psychiatric complications” like diagnosed depression.  Fortunately, I, like 95% of those who have had an abortion, don’t regret the decision. This longitudinal study from PLOS also counters the pro-life narrative that all abortions are emotionally damaging, recommends counseling for those having difficulty coping with their abortion, and concludes that the intensity of negative emotions and frequency of thinking about the abortion will also decrease over time. I’m not attempting to discount anyone’s experiences, only provide my own experiences and provide information I’ve collected.

Guilty or Not Guilty

I don’t know if I would’ve even delivered a healthy baby, but I do know I prevented the thing growing in my womb from becoming a person. And I don’t want to do that again.

A year later, I feel guilty because:

  • I ended a life before its life began.
  • A couple, family friends who were my second pair of parents, had wanted children for the decade I’ve known them. To this day they don’t have children. And there are so many who want biological children and are unable to have them.
  • I was able to get an abortion, while many aren’t able due to lack of access or financial support.
  • I could’ve not terminated the pregnancy and given the child up for adoption.

On the other hand, I don’t feel guilty because:

  • What I aborted was not even an autonomous being yet. At eight weeks it was just a mass of cells without lungs to breathe, a brain to think, or eyes to see!
  • I shouldn’t blame myself for parents not being unable to conceive. Perhaps I will serve as a surrogate or donate eggs in the future to help those who can’t have children.
  • The option to have a safe abortion was there, so I took advantage of it. I petition to make medical and surgical abortions available, as well as donate to local and national abortion providers. I aim to volunteer more with these providers and use my experiences to help others.
  • I would probably feel even more guilty giving a child up for adoption, relinquishing all my responsibility for them and enabling them to be absorbed into the foster care system and possibly have a terrible life.

Friends who were pregnant when I was and continued their pregnancies now have 6-month-old kids. It’s still odd to think that could be my kid, curly or straight hair, brown or blue eyes like theirs, perhaps speaking its first words. At the end of the day, when my friends-cum-parents are up all night trying to calm their sleepless babes, the only thing I’m truly guilty of is making the right decision for myself.

I wish the stigma surrounding abortion were removed, and safe abortion options were readily available and affordable for all. Weigh your options and make the best choice for you. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help with pre- and post-abortion emotions.

Be kind to yourself (as the first link below advocates!).

Additional resources on post-abortion emotions:
Positive experience:
Women’s Health Options, Emotional Support
Early Options, Guilty
The Telegraph, More than 95 per cent of women don’t regret their abortions
Mic, 90% Of Women Feel Relieved After Abortion
BBC News, From relief to regret: Readers’ experiences of abortion

Negative experience:
Weebly Tatt Words (these are quite ridiculous)
OMG there’s sad Pinterest quotes!
Women Who’ve Had Abortions
LiveAction, 8 heartbreaking quotes from post-abortive women

I Know What You Read Last Summer (Super Belated!)

Summer 2017 is further away than summer 2018, yet I still haven’t put fingers to keyboard and typed about the books I read last year. Continuing the spirit of #notwomensfiction, reading books only by and about women from July through September, this post chronicles my literary selections (includes some read before and after summer). I’m writing this 5 months later, so my memory is as fresh as mid-winter grocery produce (read: not at all).

What I Read

I finally got to chip away at the dusty towers of books in my room, reading the following that I’ve neglected for a few years:

(That being said, I’ll aim to actually buy some books and support women writers next year.)

What I Saw

Before reading her novel, I had heard an excerpt of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You when I saw her at a local bookshop in 2015. This was the only book in this summer’s lineup that I was familiar with in terms of content, though I did have expectations of the grim subject matter in Joyce Carol Oates’s story collection having read her previously. The other two I only had a shallow inkling from each front cover image and back cover/jacket synopsis.

Here are their covers:

  • Getting Mother’s Body: The understated, minimalist cover prefaces a book that is anything but. While the Western typography and stars prepared me for a wild ride in a place I used to call home, the coy woman’s face drew me in and beckoned me to hear her story. With flapper curls and a necklace of pearls, she looks like she belongs to a bygone era. Is she the mother? Where is her body and where does it need to go? Why and how are they getting her body?
  • Everything I Never Told You: I love swimming, though I can’t recall any books I’ve read about swimmers. The cover depicts a female swimmer surrounded in an endless blue that matches her bathing suit, with sloppy cursive lettering superimposed on the water. Is this the girl’s handwriting? If so, to whom did she never tell everything?
  • Black Dahlia & White Rose: Dahlias and roses, adorning this purple cover, are two of my favorite flowers, and JCO is one of my favorite (or at least most frequented) writersa winning combination, or so I had thought. The Black Dahlia conjured images of Hollywood noir, so I knew this would include some difficult content around the mutilation of the young Elizabeth Short in 1947. Who or what is the White Rose?
  • Incubus: The title is a *dead* giveaway of the book’s creepy contents. If this were marketed to men, the cover would no doubt resemble a pulp magazine or late night B movie, helpless woman with torn clothes and a buxom body draped over a monster’s arms. Though the cover is quite boring (red-orange hued with a church steeple in the foreground), I appreciate there not being a sexploitation element to attract readers.

What I Learned

  • Getting Mother’s Body: Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks’s debut novel conjures women who recklessly follow their own pursuits, defying men, poverty, racism, and whatever else gets in their way. Set mostly in Texas and partly in Arizona in the 1960s, Getting Mother’s Body follows a cast of characters all associated with the titular mother Willa Mae, a cunning,  light-skinned black woman whose memory haunts each. The protagonist Billy Beed, daughter of Willa Maea spunky, stubborn teenager who becomes pregnant and contemplates an abortion despite having no money and having lost her mother to a botched abortionis the epitome of a strong, independent woman. And in Dill Smiles, Willa Mae’s last lover, is defined by her queerness; her peers consider her a man more than a woman. As lyrical as it is heartbreaking, Getting Mother’s Body is an unforgettable ode to the strength, resilience, and cleverness of womenparticularly women of colorin times of adversity.

Questions:
1. How does Getting Mother’s Body reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
2. Getting Mother’s Body is reminiscent of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Toni Morrison’s Sula. How does fiction by and about black women fit into “women’s fiction”? Is this a category dominated by and about white women?
3. Characters in Getting Mother’s Body are inextricable from their race, class, gender, and ability. How does intersectionality play a role in women’s fiction?

  • Everything I Never Told You: A literary whodunit (but not quite) that focuses on the characters’ secret inner lives to unravel the cause of a favorite child’s death, Everything I Never Told You depicts the conflicts and grief an interracial family experiences in 1970s small-town America. Celeste Ng creates layered characters, unmasking an increasingly dysfunctional family throughout the novel. While the death of daughter Lydia Lee is the central question of the novel, Ng probes further into questions of identity and place. Lydia’s mother, a white woman who faces discrimination as a woman in a medical academic program full of men (that she reluctantly leaves and never returns to when she becomes pregnant), is scorned by her mother when she marries a Chinese-American man. Lydia’s father is obsessed with cultural assimilation, ashamed of his heritage when he is also discriminated against for his racial Otherness. And the children, whose lives are tainted by their parents’ insecurities, the shadow of their dead sister, and their own Otherness. Lydia’s death by drowning (hence the swimming girl on the cover), which we find out to be accidental rather than a murder or suicide, is a symbol of the characters’ unfulfilled potential and broken futures. Her death also signals in the end that there is hopethat one day the world will be a more welcoming and inclusive place.

Questions:
1. How does Everything I Never Told You reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
2. I haven’t seen any other explicitly biracial or mixed raced characters in the “women’s fiction” that I’ve read. I would like to read more! Any recommendations?
3. While Lydia is the child everyone is fixated on, the siblings Nath (older brother) and Hannah (younger sister) are integral to the family dynamic and plot. How do different family configurations inform the characters in fiction by and for women?

  • Black Dahlia & White Rose: Though I meant to read full novels for this exploration, I include this unlinked short story collection here. This was probably the most disappointing JCO I’ve read, though the titular story “Black Dahlia & White Rose” was the strongest and most evocative (albeit really dark and disturbing). In this piece I found it fascinating to read about Marilyn Monroe before she became the iconic sex symbol, and her relationship with another Hollywood starlet. Overall this collection touched on themes pertaining to womens lived experiences: broken marriages, violence against women, sexual objectification, absentee fathers and the Electra complex, fat shaming, women’s sexuality, inequity and feelings of inadequacy. I won’t read this again since JCO has much better offerings.

Questions:
1. How does Black Dahlia & White Rose reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
2. There are elements of biography and nonfiction in the titular story about Elizabeth Short (Black Dahlia) and Norma Jeane (Marilyn Monroe/White Rose). How does fact-based information or research inform the fictional elements of “women’s fiction”?
3. How does form (short story, flash, novel) influence content in this genre?

  • Incubus:  I read this book in September/October to prep for Halloween, but this book didn’t give me the titillating chills it promised. TBH the scariest thing about this book was how awful it was, despite it receiving a starred Kirkus review. Yeah, let’s make this narrator woman do even more domestic tasks to ward off an evil sex demon, who has in a way enabled women to fulfill their own marital desires (yay feminism?)! Unfortunately, the narrator’s agency is expressed through housekeeping by the end of the book. There were also pointless subplots and obvious motifs, not to mention xenophobia and ableism. I thought this would be a sexy horror story for bored housewives with vaginas drier than Dry Falls, Maine, (the setting of this terrible book) but Ann Arensberg seems to support sexism rather than subvert it.

Questions:
1. How does Incubus reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
2. I’ve always loved Gothic stories. The common categorizations of the Gothic genre are the Male Gothic and Female Gothic (though that doesn’t incorporate queering of the genre). Does Incubus fit into the Male or Female Gothic tradition? How does Incubus in this genre fit into “women’s fiction”?
3. How does Incubus as horror fit into “women’s fiction”? Is horror for women considered “women’s fiction”? What about horror by but not necessarily for women?

That’s all for now, but I look forward to reading more #notwomensfiction this upcoming summer. I also need to diversify my book choices. Leave your reading suggestions below!

Phantom Emb(ryo)

Again, it has been many moons since the last post, as my motivation to write and desire to document my pregnancy experiences are equally low. Halloween and my would-have-been due date are just around the corner, so it’s only appropriate to tell a (gestational) ghost story.

Eight months in and I would be about ready to burst, What to Expect When You’re Expecting expectedly paged, nursery (if I had one) predictably painted, and diapers stocked for Armageddon in an ideal, prepared parent’s world. Instead of a pineapple-sized fetus living in my womb, my stomach has become home to all the delicious pineapple devoured this summer.

Mine is a vaguely flat tummy, a little flabby and cuddled by love handles as it’s always been, but lately I’ve felt a foreign emptiness there when I see pregnant colleagues all round and full, bellies as big as mine would be. I admire how their unborn babies unapologetically take up space, how their mothers wield new bodies like precious weapons. When they pass in hallways or hold office baby showers, my hand flies to my stomach without thought. Nothing is there.

I had the abortion long before the embryo became a fetus with feisty legs, so I didn’t experience the kicks common in later trimesters. But seeing other pregnant people induces within me odd reactions; a flutter of butterflies tries to mimic the quickening of a fetus’s limbsthe fetus a phantom limb itself. I don’t feel stress, anxiety, or depression as many others who have had abortions do (referred to as Post Abortion Stress Syndrome/PASS to be discussed later), but I just feel strange, dissociated, as if I’ve been cast in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

But I do feel relieved more than anything. That could be me.

Speaking of strange physical phenomena, there’s also phantom pregnancy or pseudocyesis, when one experiences symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. And sympathetic pregnancy or Couvade syndrome, when the expectant person’s partner experiences similar pregnancy symptoms.

The body is a weird, wonderful, worrisome thing.

Do you have similar experiences or other weird pregnancy stories? Share them below, if you wish.

Time for more pineapple!

Some resources on weird pregnancy things
(I am not a doctor, so these are not meant to be prescriptive!!):
Pseudocyesis and Couvade syndrome
BabyMed, “What Is a Phantom or False Pregnancy – Pseudocyesis”
ParentingDad’s Pregnancy Symptoms: More Than Just Sympathy Pain?”
The Independent, “Couvade Syndrome”

Quickening
The Atlantic, Abortion in American History” 
Slate, He Took It Into His Head to Frisk a Little’”
Mirror, I FELT BABY KICK 10 WKS AFTER MY ABORTION”  

 

Abortion from Abstinence

In an ironic plot twist, I found myself pregnant shortly after posting February’s piece on celibacy.

If you know me at all, you know that I had an abortion, that it wasn’t so much a choice than an imperative. (Though I’m immensely thankful to even have the privilege to choose an alternative, especially one that is safe.) Gal pals and I would have conversations about reproductive rights back in college, mostly joke about being pregnant when a period was a little late because it was some freak Final Destinationesque accident that couldn’t happen to us.

But what we didn’t want to conceive ofconceptionisn’t as implausible as we thought.

I’m now 24, and no more prepared for parenthood. To think I was somehow immune from encountering that embryonic actuality is absurd beyond Camus: I’ve never been on the pill, have had unprotected sex with a couple partners more than a wombful of times, have taken Plan B (or its off-brand equivalent) twice.

I don’t even want children—or at least not yet. Other than mothering a beloved late feline friend, I honestly don’t know if I have a maternal bone in my body. I don’t remember when I last held a human infant, or if I ever had.

This Mother’s Day I’m especially grateful for my maternal figures and friends my age who have had one, two, more kids. How do you do it?! You are amazing!

And also grateful that I’m not yet a mother; I would be about 5 months in at this point, baby the size of a banana (according to this meticulous and a little ridiculous mapping of a human fetus compared to edible items).

In support of #shoutyourabortion, the next few posts in the series “(Un)Planned (Un)Parenthood” will be about my experiences with abortion, addressing topics including personal guilt/shame, privilege, and bodily autonomy.

Thanks for always being here for me. I’m here for you.

Let’s Talk About Sex: Celibacy and Self-Love

January is almost at a close, and the desire to reform oneself wanes with the warmth of winter sun. Not usually one for New Year’s resolutions, I broke tradition in 2016 by taking a personal vow—of celibacy. By the end of the following week I had already failed, but was able to reset and keep this promise until July.

To discredit myself, in having a choice about my sex life I am speaking from a position of sexual privilege, engaging in normalized sex acts that are hetero, cisgender, mostly vanilla (though not generally with white people), able-bodied, monogamous, and pleasurable. Not to mention even having the opportunity and ability to have a choice (and not to dismiss rape culture or all the other atrocities occurring in the world either). In discussing this aspect of my personhood, I do not mean to brag or belittle, only to untangle its role in relationship to myself and my interactions with others in order to become a better human.

Those who are sexually privileged probably wonder why I would willingly abstain from the thing that has been compared to music and prayer (make of that what you will), and to me is essentially chocolate. Though with one I burn more calories, I could partake in both all day, every day, and if I don’t get a taste for days/weeks/months, I grow cold and cranky. As with chocolate, I tend to have an unhealthy relationship with sex—overindulging, regretting, refraining, then lapsing. I wouldn’t necessarily identify as an addict, neither nymphomaniac nor chocoholic, but my need for serotonin satiation has impaired my judgment on several occasions.

About to Shock Some Ppl: A Recent History (Or, Things I Don’t Tell My Family—Look Away Now!)

A handful of years ago, after a breakup destroyed my ability to feel feels (I was so naïve at the time), I dabbled in the clubbing scene. I had had only two partners (not the dancing kind) previously, but during a brief period between ages 21 and 22 hooking up—a byproduct of the clubbing scene—was a new kind of fun that ushered me into the world of one-night stands. During that time I had stupid sex with stupid people. I would thrust myself in questionable situations for a hedonistic high, though nothing so extreme or dangerous as in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac series.

My mantra used to be: “Dumb guys are good for fucking, smart guys are good for dating.” So I dated the smart ones and fucked the dumb ones. And the sex was exhilarating and reckless—until I became disgusted with myself. My body grew bruised, used, until I felt nothing. I used them as much as they used me—isn’t that what hookup culture is all about? The only app meetup I’d had ended in a trip to CVS for anti-fungal ointment and hemorrhoid wipes. Sex was a game, a passionless pursuit and quest for a “zipless fuck.” It was a quick chemical fix to feel good, yet I carelessly ignored the repercussions—especially those times certain pieces of myself were trespassed and trampled like neighborhood turf.

How lucky nothing worse had happened.

In 2015, the year I disrespected my body most, I had three partners—a guy who I was dating at the time, the above stranger, and a guy friend with benefits. In 2015, sex was dissatisfying and dysphoric. Sometimes I didn’t feel anything physically—no friction, no dopamine—instead, I mostly felt numb after. I would paddle the pink canoe just to feel something until everything hurt.

Partner 1: I liked him enough at the time and I was his “girl” and gringa hermosa; however, our relationship was doomed to fail. We weren’t carnally compatible at all (and his work visa was going to expire), so we were both content to move on. Sometimes I would regret sleeping with him, wish I could separate myself from my body and erase the embarrassment of our awkward anatomies slamming together.

Partner 3: My body betrayed me. I needed a place to crash in the expensive city where my friend lives. We’ve slept together several times (I even loved him as more than a friend at one point), but no one makes me feel more skeeved out and self-conscious than he does. He’s honestly the last person I’d sleep with, but I guess that’s what happens when I share a bed with raging hormones. We didn’t touch each other as we nodded off, but I knew he was ready to go. He generously asked me if I wanted to too, and, half-asleep, my body responded. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want it—especially not with him—but he and this shell of sensuality won. I lay there unmoving, defeated, waiting for it to be over so I could sleep. Then when he finished (I didn’t), I went to the bathroom and glared at the horny hijacker in the mirror. How could my body do this to me? How could I do this to myself? (Perhaps I was just experiencing post-coital tristesse, or feelings of depression after getting it on/in?)

There were also those whose numbers I’d swapped with the intention of swapping other things: “nice guy” on bus, baseball guy on train, security details guy on campus. At my worst I’m Mr. Hyde, a mal intent sexual opportunist (only with their consent, of course) collecting contacts as a body count.

2016 was to be a year of respite.

But it didn’t last. On January 2nd, the bootycall at home (a guy I dated in college) beckoned and I answered. I answered again in July, breaking seven months of sexlessness, but I didn’t care. I always enjoyed sleeping with him; ours was the sex that seemed infinite. He was the first person who worshiped my body and taught me to too. And we fit together so well. I wondered why I stuck to this thing. Sex—when I’m not just an object to my partner or me—is magic. I revised the resolution, refined it to getting naked only with someone I liked as a human being.

Easier said than done. Questioning my motivations and still ignoring my best interests, I almost broke it again with a 30-something dudebro I met clubbing (return of the itch for idiotic boy toys). We Snapchatted for a week, and I’m glad I didn’t ever meet up with him, especially since I didn’t know him at all.

But I did end up briefly becoming bedfellows with an unexpected someone the following month. Coitus was confusing and accidental at first, but with him I never felt disgusted with myself. Our Netflix and chill sessions weren’t code for fucking—but when we did, he was generous, gentle, and grateful. Even though his bed was lofted and a bitch to climb onto, even though he never used protection (which once necessitated a morning after purchase of off-brand Plan B), even though he’s 20 years my senior, and even though I got a UTI, he was more than sex to me. I was ready to give more than my body again. Actually caring about this person as a person, genitals aside, enabled me to break out of this damning sexual cycle.

Life Lessons

Sex—both the pursuit and the consummation—had been more important to me than developing an emotional attachment with these poor sods. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex if it’s consensual, but indulging my id at the expense of myself and others had made me an awful person. Sex isn’t an anti-romantic game for me anymore. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the cusp of 25, and have relinquished those wild nights (as Emily Dickinson can attest to) in favor of safety and self-fulfillment. This stint of celibacy provided a transformative space for retroactive introspection, particularly of the auto-erotic kind.

What being celibate taught me about myself:

  1. Sex shouldn’t influence or determine my self-worth.

I’d do it all for the nookie, like riding in cars with boys I don’t know, riding on boys in cars. I engaged in these hazardous behaviors partly because the chase—not even the sex itself—made me feel wanted and desired. That someone was attracted to me was even more euphoric than orgasm itself. In The Sex Myth, journalist Rachel Hills explores the values Western culture attaches to sex, positing misperceptions or myths that we create and perpetuate. Like one of her interview subjects, “[Not having sex] made me feel like I was worthless.” I realize I’m not alone, falsely believing that my fundamental worth as a person or a partner is a product of my attractiveness. Sex shouldn’t be “a matter of proving something to yourself and to others.”

  1. Celibacy and sexlessness are as valid experiences as a sexual relationship is. Or eating chocolate is.

Sex isn’t the most you can have that isn’t laughing (a pedophile said that anyway). To believe so completely discredits the lived lives of asexual and celibate folx. Putting sex on a pedestal alienates those who don’t or can’t have it. This piece in Thought Catalog captures the feelings of abnormality, insecurity, and loneliness some asexual people feel about dating.

Society shouldn’t stigmatize those who find pleasure in life outside of spooning and forking. Can’t we feel valued and fulfilled through reading a favorite book, participating in social activism, eating chocolate? One woman recounted her 12-year period of celibacy as one of her “happiest. It was so important to me, and so misunderstood by society. I want people to understand that being celibate can be as nourishing and fulfilling as being in a relationship.” Not having sex (whatever variety of it) doesn’t make one deficient or inferior—and having more of it doesn’t make one superior.

  1. Not everyone is doing the do. Not everyone is doing the do in the ways you expect.

I thought the people I know constantly had sex. A female friend, smart, funny, absolutely beautiful, confessed she hadn’t slept with anyone for six months. I was shocked.

Another sex myth is that everyone is doing it all the time, as we’re led to believe by the media. But we’re not rabbits in heat. College, for example, isn’t always the holy grail of alcoholic orgies and girls gone wild it’s cracked up to be (at least it wasn’t in my social circles). In 2015 (also the year that catapulted my sexual sabbatical), New York Magazine polled 700 college students and found that 39% were virgins at the time of the survey. Additionally, Millennials (aka “the hookup generation”), are surprisingly having less sex than Gen Xers—with less partners and more likely to “abstain in their twenties altogether.”

Not everyone has casual sex either. I was also surprised that some of my friends (particularly those in long-term relationships or marriages) have only ever had one or two or three partners. I’m only competing with myself, and shouldn’t hold me or anyone else to a culturally fabricated standard.

Gimme Gimme More

Hills ends The Sex Myth with a reaffirming revelation: “You are not your sex life.” To believe that your “value and identity lay in something more than how often [you have] sex, how many people [you have] slept with, or how adventurous (or not) [you are] between the sheets” does a great disservice not only to yourself but to others. Theoretically my feminism doesn’t view people as sex objects, yet in actuality I was the one objectifying while being objectified. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Closed for business coupled with the dreaded Valentine’s Day, I feel more alone than usual, but will not allow Cupid’s bow to fuck up my recent sexless streak. I will be more considerate of myself, caring toward my mental and physical health. Id is now did.

No more perpetuating sex myths. No more hookups. No more walks of shame.

Just me.

***

Does sex influence your self-perception? Do you have any stories of or lessons from celibacy?

Other Stories
Kit Naylor’s “15 years without knocking boots”
Precious Princess’s “My Self-Imposed Sexual Sabbatical” 

A Summer of #notwomensfiction (Belated)

Fall is here. Has been for about a month now. The air is crisp, cool, and every #basicwhitegirl is coming out of the woodwork for pumpkin spice lattes.

But enough of stereotyping women for their preferred seasonal beverage…I’m the one you should smh at.

Back in June we examined what women’s fiction is as a genre/reading category, how it’s inherently Othered because there is no “men’s fiction,” and how to destroy it with the #notwomensfiction campaign. Summer is passed and past, and I unintentionally took a three-month hiatus from the blog (I’m so sorry!). Though belated, I guess it’s fitting to bookend the expired summer with the results of this reading challenge.

What I Read

In the span of three (or really four at this point) months, I had a terrible run—with only three books read in total. I wanted to read so much more to support women writers, but I was focused on the job search, moved to a new apartment, finished up classes, got lazy, some other weird things…But no excuses! This is what I read:

  1. Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser, 2015
  2. Cutting Loose by Nadine Dajani, 2008
  3. The Daughters by Adrienne Celt, 2016 (as soon as I went to add this to my Goodreads shelf, an ad for the new book The Mothers bannered across the top of the page. How pleasantly ironic!

the-mothers

Screenshot from Goodreads.

What I Saw

Don’t judge a book by its cover, goes the old adage. Yet “women’s fiction” is too often visually coded as less serious than “regular” fiction (or fiction by men). To recap the posts that began this campaign, covers unconsciously factor into the bias against fiction by and about women, especially when their designs feature pastels, stereotypically “girly” things (pumpkin spice latte, anyone?), and/or fonts like  curlz mt.GIF. (And in publishing, covers drive sales, whether or not the author is self-published.)

Here are the covers of the three books:

covers-in-row

Before actually encountering these books in person, I had never heard of them. They were all free (also not supporting these women writers, so I should be ashamed of myself!), floating around campus, in little neighborhood drop-and-swaps, or at publishing conventions. I had no expectations, other than what the covers and back copy visually communicated.

  • Paulina & Fran: Tons of copies were scattered throughout my college program’s department lounge, so I nabbed one. The title indicates the relationship between two women, as does its cover, featuring, presumably, their faces. Who are they? (An alternate 2016 cover removes the sense of sorority that this cover establishes.) Cursive font. Nothing is strikingly feminine about this cover other than the two female faces looking away from each other and the reader—in fact, they may be resisting the male gaze in their lack of sexualization and inattention to the gazer.
  • Cutting Loose: Just from the cover, I know this book isn’t my cup of tea. The three women running toward the reader, splashing along the shore of a beach with their backlit hair blowing in the ocean breeze seems very much “chick lit.” But also interesting starry patterns and palm trees—which make me homesick. Almost curlicue font. Knowing this is a book I would turn away from based on its cover, I needed to give it a chance (or else I would be perpetuating the women’s-fiction-made-even-lesser-because-of-its-cover stigma).
  • The Daughters: Trees (notably bare) and script and deep blue and pale yellow—there’s no overt labeling on this cover. The title hints to matrilineage, yet this is definitely the least gendered of these books’ designs. Trees on covers are common enough, but trees in this book turn out to be where women seduce their prey (i.e., men). Maybe this aspect of nature is hinting to the Mother (Mother Nature)?

Random observation: All of their blurbers are women.

Other random observation: Nobel Prizes don’t have gendered literature categories. Thanks!

What I Learned

Since I had no knowledge of these novels’ plots, no inklings of the writing, and no expectations of either, I tried to go into this campaign as open minded as possible, ready to learn. I wouldn’t say I loved each of these novels, but they definitely weren’t particularly unlikeable solely because they were about women (see “80 Books No Woman Should Read” for writer Rebecca Solnit’s analysis of the persistence of the all-male literary canon).

Behind their covers, each expose different facets of women’s lives. These depictions of womanhood, interior and exterior, surprised me in their depth (that’s terrible of me!). Rather than the endless heteronormative white wet dreams Nicholas Sparks softcore romances offer to mainstream women’s fiction/romance readers, relationships between women and men aren’t the focal point of the fiction I read (spoilers ahead).

  • Paulina & Fran: Raw, witty, and empowering, this more literary work of fiction is an ode to women as friends, enemies, sisters, and lovers. The eponymous protagonists’ relationships are central to the plot, while men—infatuations or gay BFFs—are auxiliary (How auxiliary? “She’d once called James a dildo with eyes.”) distractions from Paulina and Fran’s barely-consummated love; the real romance is the electrifying, yet frustratingly unfulfilled, connection between the narrators. Rachel Glaser’s women are powerful, creative geniuses who reach self-actualization (for the most part) and develop artistic and business acumen that propel them beyond petty flings with college boys. This is probably the first lesbian fiction I’ve read since Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, and it’s just as bleak and real.

Here are some questions I had after reading:

  • How does Paulina & Fran reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • To be frank, Paulina is a bitch. Are protagonists in women’s fiction required to be likeable?
  • If romance in traditional women’s fiction is generally populated by heterosexual couples (this is pure observation via Nicholas Sparks), how do (or should) lgbtq+ relationships fit into the women’s fiction category if there’s gay and lesbian fiction as well?
  • Cutting Loose: The cover doesn’t depart too much from the actual contents of the book on the surface—babes on a beach. Yet the characters’ multicultural heritages offer a layer of unexpected complexity. Nadine Dajani’s cast of women is a spectrum of rich/poor, young/old(er), thin/curvy, married/unmarried, virgin/whore, breaking these dichotomies to reveal people and motivations beneath their labels. There’s lots of boring description of clothes and makeup that went over my head, like a Sex and the City on Miami Beach, but these Latina and Muslim WOC bring to the fore issues of colonialism and globalism in American media, and with it intersectional feminism and rebuking the Stepford wife stereotype. Among a cast of chaste brides, rejected playboys, arranged marriages, and gay or abusive husbands, the women band together despite their religious beliefs, political views, cultures, and social classes. This book is all about female liberation, positive sexuality, questioning gender roles, and women’s lived lives. Though the ending is predictably happily ever after with hetero romances, this is what I want “chick lit” to be.
  • How does Cutting Loose reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • Ranya is like a Disney princess, but is more than the Jasmine that meets the eye. How do gender roles play into “chick lit” and women’s fiction?
  • Is there a multicultural/postcolonial women’s fiction genre?
  • The Daughters: This lyrical literary work is as enveloping as a vagina, with its operatic musical scores and potential Freudian symbolism. As the novel’s title suggests, there are maternal bonds, (umbilical) cords that become tangled, frayed, and broken. Embedding these strands within family lore to develop female relationships fraught with jealousy and postpartum depression, Adrienne Celt explores generations of women as both caregivers and black widows who sacrifice anything—even their husbands/lovers and sons—for their daughters. She is not the Othered half of a heterosexual relationship, but rather her agency (via her daughter) is achieved through exploiting and disposing of men, similar to Paulina & Fran. With absentee mothers and unknown motherlands, WWII and the Holocaust, and gruesome Polish folk tales, this work of “women’s fiction” is as darkly serious as it gets.
  • How does The Daughters reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • Anti-Semitism serves as an impetus for the protagonist’s family to move to America. How does fiction by and/or about Jewish women fit into women’s fiction in America? How are Jewish women represented in women’s fiction (as both/either characters or writers)?
  • Motherhood is almost toxic in this novel, and the nuclear family is practically nonexistent. How has women’s fiction evolved over time to reflect woman-as-more-than-mother and the dissolution of the family unit?

#notwomensfiction Online

Clearly men are Othered themselves in these three novels, so why is this genre or category? This campaign made me even more acutely aware of my own bias toward chick lit in particular and women’s fiction in general. To me, this type of reading is like the Lifetime channel of books—awful acting, awful stories, and my mom loves it.

But wait a sec, rebranded Lifetime has some awesome feminist promos now:

lifetime

Photo screenshot from the Fempire Diaries.

I plan to continue this campaign every summer—hopefully reading more! Next year, I aim to read women’s fiction about or by transwomen, multicultural and multiracial women, and women with disabilities (please provide suggestions/recommendations for these or anything else I should read!).

Thank you so much to those who participated in this campaign on Twitter and Instagram.

You’ve brought to my attention some great books by women, about women, not necessarily for women, all while dismantling the literary patriarchy.

Like this:

A photo posted by Shabnam (@dew.drop.diary) on Jun 24, 2016 at 2:12am PDT

And thanks, readers, for your continued support of Things He Says!

Share your thoughts/recommendations below!