Posts Tagged: women’s issues

Ladyville Book Club: Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan

I love books and films about women. I especially love books and films that are set in entirely female environments, like boarding schools, convents, or homes for unwed mothers. I know “homes for unwed mothers” is not exactly a popular location for books (especially since I’m pretty sure those don’t exist anymore), but have you read The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett? Good gravy! I love (most of) that book! I also love books about all-female families (like Little Women. You can stay gone, Mr. March) and strong groups of female friends (don’t even talk to me about Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because I’ll probably start crying). I took to Twitter a few weeks ago to get some recommendations for lady-centered books, and Carrie recommended Commencement. I went right to the library, got a copy, got distracted for two weeks, and finally finished it. And guess what? This is a perfect book to feature in Ladyville Book Club. It has strong ladies, feminism, a women’s college, romantic relationships, strong friendships, hard truths about serious feminist issues, and it’s fun to read.

According to a blurb on the back, Entertainment Weekly called Commencement “a beach book for smart women,” and I can’t really think of a better description. There are all the hallmarks of “chick lit”*–ladies tryin’ to make it on their own! Relationships! Sex!–but also a lot of really serious information about sex trafficking, prostitution, porn, mainstream vs. radical feminism, and rape. What’s better than getting invested in a character’s love life and feeling physically ill after reading about the harsh realities of prostitution? Oh, and there’s a very detailed childbirth scene, which I always appreciate because childbirth is real life and I think we should read about it and hear about it all the time. The more graphic, the better. I need to know what I’m getting into (someday in the very distant future).

Commencement follows four friends who meet at Smith. April, Bree, Celia, and Sally are very different but they still become close friends. If that sounds a little cliche, that’s because it probably is, but it totally doesn’t matter. The characters and interesting and it’s fun to watch them interact, both at school and in the “real world” after graduation. If you’re still navigating the post-undergrad world, or if you recently did, then you’ll probably identify with the girls’ struggles as they go through their “freshman year of life.”

J. Courtney Sullivan is also one badass lady. She actually went to Smith, and she edited a book called Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists. Plus, she has amazing taste in books, if this article from The New York Times is any indication.

J. Courtney Sullivan recently came out with another book, Maine, that I’ll have to get my paws on. She’s an interesting writer who knows how to make a book easy to read without making it devoid of substance. I feel about Commencement the same way I do about brussels sprouts. They taste so good, but they’re also really good for me. I realize this analogy only works if you love brussels sprouts as much as I do (and if you don’t, just…I don’t even know what to do with you), but what I’m saying is that Commencement is great and you should totally read it.

If you have any recommendations for books set in all-lady environments, let me know! Especially if they’re in that elusive “home for unwed mothers” setting.

*I hate the term “chick lit” because, duh, it’s an offensive and reductionist way of dismissing any woman who writes about relationships and women’s issues.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I’m helpless to resist any book that’s become a part of pop culture. Basically, if a book’s been made into a movie, put in Oprah’s book club, or given its own display at Target, I want to read it. That explains why I read all 4 Twilight books (about as bland and harmless as you can get) and a Nicholas Sparks book (it was, maybe literally, the worst book I’ve ever read). That’s also why I recently borrowed my dad’s copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. What can I say, the sexy naked poster and the trailer intrigued me. Seriously, this movie looks bananas in the best way possible.

I couldn’t put the book down and I can’t wait for the movie. That being said, I have some serious concerns about the book…concerns that have probably been brought up by people far more eloquent than me years ago when this book actually came out. Since I’m hopping on the bandwagon late, I’m going to go ahead and discuss this now. I am nothing if not topical.

The book’s heroine is Lisbeth Salander, an oft-abused badass who’s, I presume, mildly autistic.

The “oft-abused” part of that is my problem. It’s not really a spoiler to say that one of the book’s themes is the abuse of women. Each chapter begins with a sobering statistic about rape/abuse in Sweden. Whether Sweden’s attitude towards women is markedly different from ours, I don’t know, but clearly Larsson wants us to know how prevalent such violence is. This, combined with various things Salander says regarding victim-blaming, abuser-coddling, and women in general, seem to show not just her viewpoint, but Larsson’s as well. Indeed, Larsson identified as a feminist and, from what I’ve read, saw the trilogy as feminist books.

But then there’s the rape. Given that this is a book primarily about abuse and rape, it would be strange if neither were discussed. The book’s treatment of rape, however, left me confused. Salander’s boss has feelings both paternal and sexual for her, and that attitude seems to be shared by every male in the book. He describes her multiple times as the “perfect victim.” The books contains a graphic rape scene that’s upsetting…to which I say, well, of course. As normal, non-psychopathic human beings, we should be upset and shaken by descriptions of rape. Yet (and perhaps this is a gross double standard), I see a huge difference between Alice Sebold (a rape victim herself) describing a rape in The Lovely Bones and a man describing the brutal and graphic rape of the “perfect victim.” The very phrase “perfect victim”

Such detailed description of Salander’s rape (which, at that point, the reader is all but expecting) makes me wonder if the reader is supposed to be repulsed or titillated. Or, perhaps, both. I’m not suggesting that such description not be included in the book; I’m hardly a fan of censorship and I’ve read my fair share of material both violent and sexual. But when a scene garners so much attention and leads to interviews with Mara Rooney (the American film’s Lisbeth) that barely discuss anything but the rape scene, I start to think, “What’s the point?” Think of the movie Hounddog, which you probably know only as “the Dakota Fanning rape movie.” One of the reasons people were so upset by that was because, somewhere, some scumbag was jerking off to that scene. I certainly don’t think we should let the potential masturbation habits of perverts govern our actions (or else no one would ever make anything or put pictures of themselves on the internet), but in general, what purpose does such a scene serve? Even if Larsson, feminist that he was, meant the scene to highlight the horror of rape, the unfortunate truth is that such a scene might only serve to sexualize a crime that, despite its nature, isn’t rooted in sex at all.

If Larsson identified himself as a feminist, I’ll take his word for it. After all, he’s dead, so he can’t exactly give any interviews explaining his intentions. I’ll presume that he meant the best and focus on Lisbeth Salander as a badass feminist hero, a woman hell-bent on vigilante justice and unwilling to take any shit from anybody. What about you guys–have you read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Are you going to see the movie? Is this a feminist book? Let me know what you think!

Lady Seminar: Stress Management for Women

Last week at work, I got an e-mail advertising a seminar called “Stress Management for Women.” I wasn’t aware that stress management techniques were different for men and women. Apparently, we ladies have special needs when it comes to stress!

Do you long for the ability to control the demands, pressures, and problems you face every day? Would you benefit from lowering your stress level and maintaining your composure in high-pressure situations? Get a handle on your tension and anxiety today!

As a woman, you face a unique set of personal and professional demands in your everyday life. The ability to manage the stresses of the workplace with those from your personal life can be overwhelming, especially when others seek you out for help with their problems and crises. Your emotions can also get in the way when you’re striving for perfection while juggling projects, priorities, and deadlines. Whatever stress triggers you struggle with … this training is here to help!

How I wish this seminar didn’t cost $199, or I’d attend myself and find out the secrets! As it is, I can only imagine the topics that will be covered:

-Penis Envy: How to Make it Work For You
-How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Oh My God I Can’t Stop Worrying
-How to Get Ahead in Business Without Really Having a Dick
-Working Around Your Period: How Understanding Your Cycle Can Change Your Management Style
-Boob: Who Needs PowerPoint?
-How to Stop Being Everyone’s Mom, Even Though You Want to be Everyone’s Mom
-Constructive Criticism, or Stop Crying, We’re Just Trying to Help You
-PMS Stands For Preventing and Managing Stress (And Also Pre-Menstrual Syndrome)