Wednesday 20 November 2019

The Unsilencing of Women

"Beard’s primary subject is female silence; she hopes to take a “long view on the culturally awkward relationship between the voice of women and the public sphere of speech-making, debate and comment”, the better to get beyond “the simple diagnosis of misogyny that we tend a bit lazily to fall back on”. Calling out misogyny isn’t, she understands, the same thing as explaining it, and it’s only by doing the latter that we’re likely ever to find an effective means of combating it. The question is: where should we look for answers? Beard acknowledges that misogyny has multiple sources; its roots are deep and wide. But in this book, she looks mostly (she is a classicist, after all) at Greek and Roman antiquity, a realm that even now, she believes, casts a shadow over our traditions of public speaking, whether we are considering the timbre of a person’s voice, or their authority to pronounce on any given subject.

Personally, I might have found this argument a bit strained a month ago; 3,000 years lie between us and Homer’s Odyssey, which is where she begins, with Telemachus effectively telling his mother Penelope to “shut up”. But reading it in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it seems utterly, dreadfully convincing. Mute women; brutal men; shame as a mechanism for control; androgyny and avoidance as a strategy for survival. On every page, bells ring too loudly for comfort."

— Rachel Cooke, The Guardian November 5, 2017.

 Against a backdrop of sex, politics and race, Academy Award winning filmmaker Freida Mock's Anita reveals the intimate story of Anita Hill, a woman who dared to speak the truth. This powerful documentary traces Ms. Hill's life from her early years through her legacy today, offering fascinating insight into her experiences testifying before the Senate just over 22 years ago in the weekend of shocking television that made her a household name and smashed the door open on the issues of sexual harassment and gender equality.
Anita Hill

The New Yorker asked Anita Hill what has changed since she contended in 1991 that Clarence Thomas was not fit be a Supreme Court judge because he sexually harassed her.

Read a shocking article in The New Yorker about how Harvey Weinstein used private security agencies to discredit the women who accused him of sexual improprieties and to ensure their stories never became public. Individuals posing as journalists or human rights activists for women sought to gather information on these women.

I recommend two pieces, a strong op-ed in The New York Times  on the culture of complicity and a historical profile of sexual harassment from The Times

“In 1991, I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Clarence Thomas, who had repeatedly harassed me when he was my boss, was unsuitable to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Hill. “The outcome of my testimony was not what I’d hoped, but in no way was it the final word. In the five years after I testified, sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC more than doubled. Legislation against harassment slowly but surely began to pass. And I saw that we had a chance to shift this narrative.”

Elizabeth Warren
"The Republican silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor was shameful. That Senator Warren was silenced for reading a letter from the civil rights leader Coretta Scott King that spoke to the unfitness of Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general because of his use of “the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens” is outrageous.
Is this how Republican leaders honor Black History Month? As a white American, I am disgusted and disappointed. Black lives matter, and black words matter, too. Republicans, you owe all Americans an apology for this un-American action taken on the Senate floor."
— Letter to The New York Times, February 8, 2017

“There were many ways to frame and understand the election, but one was surely this: a cartoonish misogynist had defeated an intelligent feminist. Hillary Clinton, the first woman to have a genuine chance to be President, lost to someone who had flaunted his contempt for women generally and for her personally, even prowling behind her during a nationally televised debate.”
—David Remnick, The New Yorker

“Too many of Trump’s core supporters do hold views that I find — there’s no other word for it — deplorable.”
—Hillary Clinton, What Happened

Women who have alleged that Trump committed sexual misconduct

“I ask no favours for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask from our brethren is, that they take their feet from our neck and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy”
— Sarah Grimké, 1837 quoted at the beginning of RBG

"This lively film tracks Ginsburg’s brilliant legal career, fighting for women’s workplace rights while shrewdly also taking on cases where men suffered discrimination. It pays a moving tribute to the important role played in Ginsburg’s life by her devoted husband Marty, to whom she was married for over 50 years until his death. It also highlights her most compelling pronouncements, such as that in Shelby County v Holder in 2013, in which she argued that the regional protections of the Voting Rights Act in preventing race discrimination were still necessary even when they appeared to have been rendered obsolete by precisely those improved conditions they continue to maintain. Abolition was like 'throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.'”

— See Peter Bradshaw's, The Guardian January 3, 2019

Ronan Farrow

"Watching Ursula Macfarlane’s mesmerising documentary about Harvey Weinstein last month, I found myself wondering again how he got away with his alleged crimes for so long. Yes, he was rich and powerful. Yes, he operated in that phoney realm (Hollywood) in which beauties and beasts are apt to go along with one another. And yes, as a producer of genius, he was protected as the goose that laid the golden eggs. Nevertheless, there were people around Weinstein, also rich and powerful, and liberal minded to boot, who knew what was going on. Why did no one speak out? Why did nothing concrete ever stick?

Ronan Farrow’s extraordinary Catch and Kill, in which he masterfully tells the story of his quest to reveal Weinstein’s repugnant activities to the world, doesn’t merely answer these questions. It makes them come to seem complacent, even profoundly stupid. Several times while reading it, I had the sense that, having been blind, I could now see – and for miles, too. But while this brought with it a certain bracing clarity, it hardly came as a relief. As some American critics have already observed, Farrow’s narrative has the pace of a thriller. Were it really a thriller, however, the collusion at its heart would be too much: you would dismiss it as airport pulp. Here is a conspiracy so deeply embedded and far-reaching that even as I write, those alleged to be involved not only remain in their jobs; in recent days, they have pugnaciously denied all wrongdoing in the matter of the reporting of Weinstein’s behaviour."
— Rachel Cooke, full review of Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill

"In The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars, Daum offers a merciless take on modern feminism, woke-ness and cancel culture. If these topics are not precisely “everything,” it’s probably fair to say that they have been, in recent years, uniquely beguiling to media elites — and, Daum argues, the recent ascendancy of Donald Trump has induced a kind of reactionary psychosis within the political left. “By framing Trumpism as a moral emergency that required an all-hands-on-deck, no-deviation-from-the-narrative approach to political and cultural thought,” she writes, “the left has cleared the way for a kind of purity policing.”

Part memoir and part jeremiad, “The Problem with Everything” is replete with examples of what Daum views as intolerant, self-righteous woke-ness: She highlights the young-adult fiction authors forced to withdraw their books “when social media mobs attacked them” for purported “racial insensitivity” or cultural appropriation, for instance, and the “self-congratulatory reverence” displayed by white liberal admirers of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the “unofficial paterfamilias of the wokescenti.” Commenting on the controversies surrounding Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Daum writes that although she found Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault “moving, compelling and entirely credible,” she was “less moved by the sloganeering that rose up around them.” The “Believe Survivors” trope, she argues, draws no distinction between violent rape and lesser forms of male creepiness (groping, leering), and sacrifices due process for the accused to outraged assertions of male sinfulness."
— Rosa Brooks,Washington Post

"The book begins with an admission — one familiar to anyone who was a teenager 15-20 years ago —recounting how after hearing about the Kobe Bryant case, she did not believe the complainant. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that when we were the age of the young women spearheading consent culture in 2019, many of us, myself included, were making Monica Lewinsky jokes.

She realizes as an adult how misguided she was and also why this was a common way for women to react —what did Bryant’s complainant expect, going to his hotel room? This section’s placement at the start of the book is a generational framing that helps us understand where the author comes from, and how her views shifted before and during the writing of the Unfounded report. The rest of the book contains fewer personal anecdotes and relies more on factual accounts, which is where Doolittle’s natural strengths are as a writer."
—  Zoe Whittall, October 8, 2019, Globe and Mail

Recommended novels for the #MeToo era:

"Acclaimed and esteemed author Joyce Carol Oates tackles toxic masculinity and its impact on one girl's life in her latest novel, My Life as a Rat lives in a self-gratifying pattern of behavior they are forever blind to.

Fierce and unflinching, Oates dissects every aspect of paternalism and male entitlement Including: a father's tight-fisted control over his wife and seven children, two older brothers who learn to answer life's frustrations with violence, the youngest daughter who loses her most-favored status and is exiled from home and family when she accidentally betrays the men of her family, the strangers and family alike who prey upon an innocent girl's burgeoning sexuality, and the men who coerce and manipulate the women in their lives in a self-gratifying pattern of behavior they are forever blind to."
  — C. J. Lyons The New York Journal of Books 

“I can’t help noticing how frighteningly well he illustrates a phenomenon many women who’ve been assaulted describe, which is the double nature of the attack. First there is the physical assault, and there is what I call the epistemological assault, by which I mean the brazen denial that anything untoward took place. It isn’t enough to violate the woman’s bodily autonomy. Her version of events must also be seized and subjugated. In many cases it is this secondary attack, the seizing of the woman’s reality, so to speak, that proves to the most traumatic in the long run…”
— Cited by James Lasdun in Afternoon of a Faun based on a talk given by Katha Pollitt

Miriam Moscowitz, the main character of Cary Fagan’s new book, The Student, is in her final year studying English at the University of Toronto. It is the 1950s, and she has asked her professor for a recommendation letter:
He avoided looking at her but took the pipe from his mouth. “Whatever for?”
The question took her aback. “Well, to do my Masters and then my PhD.”

“No, no, I mean whatever do you want to do a PhD for? To spend several years of your life, not to mention the valuable resources of this university, for nothing?”

It turns out that her academic pursuits were not "for nothing" but The Student brilliantly delineates the professional and personal challenges that Miriam confronted  even in her later years as a grandmother. 

"In her new novel, The Silence of the Girls, [Pat Barker] takes on the foundational war story of the Western canon, giving voice to the muted women of Homer’s Iliad.
It’s a rich premise, since in the “Iliad” (if not the Odyssey) Homer’s women remain underrealized — static as statues, waiting patiently upon their plinths to be awarded as prizes, enslaved or sacrificed....

Barker wants to end that silence. She allows us to get to know Briseis before Achilles and Agamemnon start fighting over her. It is Briseis’ voice, in a first-person narration, that largely carries Barker’s interstitial chronicle."

— Geraldine Brooks, The New York Times  September 27, 2018    .

Suggested films:

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes
Stunt coordinator turned director Alison Reid deserves high praise for fine storytelling, combining ecology and social-justice issues while focusing on a woman ahead of her times, whose ambitions were thwarted by institutional sexism. See the full review of this fascinating documentary

"Close plays this ignored, pushed-aside woman like a gathering storm, drawing us into the mind and heart of a heroine who’s not going to take it any more. The actress has received six acting nominations without ever winning an Oscar. The Wife, a funny and fierce showcase for her prodigious talents, might just end the drought. You can’t take your eyes off her."

 — Peter Travers, RollingStone 

The film crafted for the #Me Too era is I believe actually better than the original source material, the novel by the same name by Meg Wolitzer. I have two reasons: first the secret about their relationship is only revealed near the end of the novel; whereas, in the film we learn about it earlier and it explains the smoldering resentment of the wife so vividly conveyed by Glenn Close, my second reason, who is as the reviewers have agreed is brilliant.


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