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Archive for the ‘Ariel Levy’ Category

I have been very negligent in my reviews this year and am months behind.  Whoops.  I have been trying lately to get reviews up in a more timely fashion and I have been succeeding to some extent but there are still all the titles from April and March and, yes, even February that I want to mention, however briefly!  Time for some mini-reviews, starting with Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, and Born Round by Frank Bruni.

There are certain pearls of wisdom spouted by Jackson Brodie that I take to heart.  For example, his concern in an earlier book (One Good Turn, I think?) that women wear shoes that they can run in or easily rid themselves of, should a crisis arise.  A very sensible and practical sentiment, I thought.  In Kate Atkinson’s most recent Brodie novel, Started Early, Took My Dog, there is the usual fill of this observant, if highly politically incorrect, social commentary, echoed by most of the characters:

‘You can’t tell a good girl from a prostitute these days,’ Harry Reynolds said.  ‘They all dress like they’re on the game, act like it too.’

‘I know,’ Tracy said, surprised to find herself agreeing with someone like Harry Reynolds.  But it was true, you looked at young girls, crippled in heels, dressed like hookers, stumbling around pissed out of their brains on a Saturday night in Leeds town centre and you thought, did we throw ourselves under horses for this, gag on forced feeding tubes, suffer ridicule, humiliation and punishment, just so that women could behave worse than men?

Atkinson just gets better and better with each Brodie book.  They’re categorized as mysteries but they are my kind of mysteries, where characters are at the forefront, always layered and intriguing, attention to them never sacrificed in favour of the mystery.  This is, as always, a story about forgotten women and lost children, making me more paranoid than depressed though Atkinson paints a pretty bleak picture of the world and constantly highlights woman’s defenselessness.  Not a cheerful book but an excellent one.

On a vaguely related note (well, certainly related to the passage I quoted from Started Early, Took My Dog), there is Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy.  Basically, I agreed with everything in this book.  There were no new ideas presented and nothing that particularly stood out for me; I simply found it to be an excellent overview of the topic, full of persuasive examples and clear, thoughtful writing.  Rather than weakly summarize Levy’s points, here are a few of my favourite passages: 

This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism, they told me: it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved.  We’d earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes.  Women had come so far; I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny.  Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pulp culture, where men had been enjoying themselves all along.  If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.

That women are now doing this to ourselves isn’t some kind of triumph, it’s depressing.  Sexuality is inherent, it is a fundamental part of being human, and it is a lot more complicated than we seem to be willing to admit.  Different things are attractive to different people and sexual tastes run wide and wild.  Yet somehow, we have accepted as fact the myth that sexiness needs to be something divorced from the everyday experience of being ourselves.  

Women’s liberation and empowerment are terms feminists started using to talk about casting off the limitations imposed upon women and demanding equality.  We have perverted these words.  The freedom to be sexually provocative or promiscuous is not enough freedom; it is not the only ‘woman’s issue’ worth paying attention to.  And we are not even free in the sexual arenas.  We have simply adopted a new norm, a new role to play: lusty, busty exhibitionist.  There are other choices.  If we are really going to be sexually liberated, we need to make room for a range of options as wide as the variety of human desire.  We need to allow ourselves the freedom to figure out what we internally want from sex instead of mimicking whatever popular culture holds up to us as sexy.  That would be sexual liberation.  

All of the books dealing with body image and eating disorders that I’ve previously read have centered around women and girls, so Born Round by Frank Bruni was an intriguing contrast.  Bruni is the former chief restaurant critic for The New York Times and struggled with his relationship to food for many years prior to accepting that position, employing dangerous methods to attempt to control his weight. Reading about his childhood and early adult years was particularly disturbing, when he was so obsessed over an extra ten or fifteen pounds that he turned to bulimia, laxatives and Mexican speed.  For me, the most intriguing and entertaining parts of this book dealt not with Bruni’s mental and physical struggles with his body but with his career endeavours.  His time as a journalist on the George W. Bush’s presidential campaign is mentioned all too briefly and the best part about the chapters covering his beginnings as a food critic are not hearing about his eating or workout regime (‘oh dear god, I really do not care’ was my reaction by this point) but about his actual work process.  About disguising himself to visit restaurants so that wait staff and chefs don’t recognize him, about booking reservations under pseudonyms and then showing up having forgotten what name he used.  The rest of the book was a little too much like therapy for me.  It was no doubt a freeing experience to get this all down on paper, in public, but if I had known just how self-loathing it was going to be beforehand, I probably would have never picked it up.

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