Tag Archives: gender

Books Acquired Recently: Radical Women Edition

The most important intellectual experience of my life was when I first encountered feminist theory in a Feminist Theology course my second year of college. Feminism gave me a completely new way of viewing the world that has led me to become a much better person than I would have been otherwise. It has also led to my scholarly interests in minority literatures, most notably queer literature. The three books that I’ve acquired over the past few weeks in the U.S. (see the post I wrote yesterday to read more about the books I acquired on my recent trip to England) are evidence of my continued desire to encounter new feminist perspectives.

Breedlove, Lynn. Godspeed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002.

I had not heard of Breedlove, a member of the band Tribe 8, until recently when I came across several mentions of her in some queer theory I was reading (one mention was by Ann Cvetkovich and I think the other was by Jack Halberstam). Then I heard about this novel via Stryker’s book (see below) and it became a “Rule of Threes” thing: the universe was telling me to encounter some Breedlove. So I bought a copy of her book.

This and Stryker’s book were purchased from amazon.com’s network of independent booksellers.

Morris, Catherine, and Rujeko Hockley, ed. We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-85: A Sourcebook. Brooklyn: Brooklyn Museum, 2017.

I ordered an exam copy of this book from its distributor, Duke University Press, because I love radical literature from all traditions. While some of the documents it collects are well-known, most are not, so I anticipate that reading it will be an enjoyable journey of discovery. It looks like it would be an excellent resource for both African American Studies courses and Gender Studies courses.

Stryker, Susan. Transgender History. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008.

I love Stryker’s book on queer pulp fiction and have enjoyed other essays of hers as well, thus when I encountered a citation of this book while doing some writing on trans Mennonite literature I decided to buy it immediately. I have already read it and it is a strong, accessible introduction to the subject.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Book Acquired Recently: Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight

Hampton, Michael Wayne. Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight. Oregon: Artistically Declined, 2014.

A pre-order advertisement for this book showed up in my Facebook feed a few months ago, and I ordered it because I loved the title, and I also like to support small independent publishers (Artistically Declined Press’s website is here; I must say that it vexes me that they do not list a specific city of publication, only a state. But the book did come with a nifty “Books Are Better” bookmark). I love roller derby and thought it would be cool to read a novel about it. The self-proclaimed “novella” (it is only 108 pages) showed up in my mailbox today and I read it immediately.

Unfortunately, Hampton’s story is a dud at best and offensive at worst. The premise is promising: a down-on-her-luck single mother and her younger daughter arrive in a small Kentucky town where her older daughter has just bought an old skating rink in order to stage roller derby bouts; hilarity ensues. But the story is never interested in these women as people, only as tits-and-ass. If the book had been written by a woman, it would be a fun story of female empowerment, but written by a man the female characters are just exploitative cardboard cutouts. They love flaunting their fantastic curves, are super heterosexual (which is frankly not an especially accurate portrayal of the roller derby world), and are desperate to find men to complete them even though the men in their lives are all terrible. They all use language that reads like an Onion parody of the dialogue from Steel Magnolias.

It is clear that Hampton is trying to make some sort of aesthetic statement about fiction with these simultaneously overly stylized and utterly flimsy characters, but he fails miserably. The writing isn’t thought-provoking, it’s just, well, dickish. This is sad because the novella has the potential to be so much more. The resurgence of roller derby over the past twenty years is a significant social development that deserves to be chronicled in literature, and Hampton’s observation that “[c]hicken fighting, boxing matches, football games, if it’s got honest people hurting each other these folks will eat it up” is an astute one about the role of sports in American society (57). But he fails to consider these subjects in any kind of thoughtful manner, instead using them as props for his misogynist tale.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature, Sports

Women Readers and the Crisis of the Male Novelist

Elaine Blair has a fantastic article in the current issue of The New York Review of Books (July 12, 2012) about how the fictional trend of oafish male protagonists has evolved from the work of hoary giants such as Philip Roth and John Updike through the work of present-day writers such as Gary Shteyngart and Jonathan Franzen. She points out that, while female readers in the 1960s were willing to read their sexist contemporaries because that’s what one did in order to keep up with the intellectual Joneses, female readers today (who comprise a much larger proportion of fiction readers than they did in the 1960s because all guys want to do now is play video games) are much less willing to put up with men’s misogynist shenanigans, fictional or otherwise. Blair posits that contemporary male authors are aware of this (logical) attitude, and as a result make their male characters so ridiculously pathetic that they are impossible to hate; one just feels sorry for them instead. As a result, maybe female readers will read their books. She shows, though, that this trend is just sexist pandering which leads to a lot of uninteresting novels.

I fully agree with this critique. Blair quotes a David Foster Wallace essay in which he recounts an instance of one of his female friends calling Updike “Just a penis with a thesaurus.” This description is spot on… but damn, that penis sure knows how to get the most out of that thesaurus. I have to admit that I like Updike, and I love Roth (and Wallace, and Franzen). They are my guilty pleasures. I enjoy their writing because I am their intended audience, no matter how much they try to attract female readers. I can’t imagine women enjoying their male characters because I don’t enjoy them either. But I appreciate their truthfulness, and their beautiful use of language.

This raises the question, though, of whether literature that is merely valuable for its formal and/or aesthetic qualities is worthwhile. To read for fun, maybe, but I don’t assign these authors in my classes because they are so off-putting to women. The ideal texts to teach are those which are both aesthetically beautiful and politically engaging–Toni Morrison, Samuel R. Delany, Don DeLillo, and the like.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature