Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Posts Tagged ‘writing

truth in feminism.

with 9 comments

I only first read this morning about this battle re: Hugo Schwyzer & feminism. It’s the kind of thing that stirs me out of blogging apathy—though it helps that all I want to do this week is drink red wine, make vegan desserts and read & write about feminism, anyway; happy February!because it strikes at the root of what bothers me about web feminism à la mode. I’ll ramble on about that in a moment. But in short, I think the anti-Schwyzer sentiment is both ridiculous and sadly typical of the feminist blogosphere.

I don’t know a ton about Hugo. I’m dimly aware of having read him on various lady-feminist blogs. For a while I regularly read The Good Men Project, a site focused on exploring what it means to be a good man now, absent cultural scripts and yada yada yada. I liked the Good Men Project. It published good sex writing (male and female). Sometimes Amanda Marcotte (whom I also like) wrote there. It was heavy with personal-experience driven writing by Schwyzer and others on sex, marriage, masculinity, relationships, fatherhood, feminism.

An instructor in history and gender studies at Pasadena City College, Schwyzer is explicitly feminist. He writes in the language of contemporary feminism (i.e. “I haven’t been always been able to see how my writing reflects my privilege as a cisgender white male…“) and blogged at Jezebel, FeministeHealthy Is The New Skinny, the Good Men Project and elsewhere about gender issues, body image, rape prevention, why men like to cum on women’s faces and the “myth of male weakness.” He recently withdrew from The Good Men Project after founder Tom Matlack published a piece arguing men and women were fundamentally different, writing that it was no longer “ethically possible to remain silent” while the Good Men Project “took an increasingly anti-feminist stance.”

Schwyzer also wrote often about his past, as an alcoholic and druggie in the 90s (born in 1967, Schwyzer hugs the line between Gen X and boomer). He wrote about failed marriages, mental breakdowns, his Christian faith and having “consensual relationships with adult female students” in his early years teaching. It was that last part which provoked the ire of Feministe commenters and other feminist bloggers. Then someone pointed out a year-old post of Hugo’s in which he wrote about attempting to kill himself and his then-girlfriend by turning on the gas in their apartment. He was an alcoholic and addict. This preceded a stay in a mental hospital. But people called Schwyzer a sexual predator who should be excluded from the discourse on feminism (sample comment: Why is a confessed attempted murderer allowed to comment about feminism?). They made it about the role of men in feminism, a role which the feminist blogosphere is still all kinds of conflicted about.

This tendency of many feminist bloggers to be so self-consciously non-offensive gets tedious, though this just makes them boring. It’s the tendency of large segments of the feminist web to cluster and ostracize dissenters from feminism’s PC master narrative that makes them damaging, to the quote/unquote feminist project, anyway. A feminism that doesn’t allow for paradoxes and contradictions in the ideals versus lived experiences of its’ proponents is not terribly useful. And any modern conception of feminism needs not just to include men in the conversation but see men as integral to feminist issues. The movement’s history of sisterhood served it’s purpose, but for Gen Y women and men accustomed to the idea of gender equity, doesn’t we’re-all-in-this-together make more sense?

How to be an adult in an age of anomie is a question central to men, women, feminists and fundamentalists in America. And it’s a big project. I don’t know how many Gen X/Y articles I’ve read about marriage ages, fertility, dating, relationships, careers, unemployment, sex, technology, health that conclude we are all screwed. We’re all going to live into our 90s and our parents and grandparents are going into retirement broke and getting fat and getting dementia and it not only looks sad but how are you going to take care of them? How is anybody going to take care of them? That’s all we hear about is old age programs bankrupting the world. And home health care is one of the fastest growing U.S. industries, but it’s largest companies don’t even want to pay their (mostly female) employees the minimum wage. And a lot of people in the entertainment industry still think violence against women is pretty swell. Birth control is still something people are legitimately against. Women writers still can’t write about sex like Henry Miller. And for some reason people persist in publishing articles about who should pay the check on first dates. Plus, you know: The rest of the world.

I mean, I say, the more men the merrier! Let’s all talk about birth control and blow jobs and the difference between domestic violence and rape fantasies. Gender issues, marriage equality and the contradictions inherent in trying to be good men and good women in a culture with completely schizophrenic ideas about femininity and masculinity. These are problems for all us.

And there should be room in feminism for all of us to talk about them. For Schwyzer to be honest about his path to where he is now without facing this kind of hysterical backlash. For all of us “imperfect feminists” to be honest about where we fail to live up to ideals (and where ideals fail to live up to their usefulness in our lives). Freddie deBoer (who, um, full disclosure: is my boyfriend) has written about how feminism is general but relationships are specific. So are individual paths to feminist beliefs. You can comfortably call yourself a feminist even if you subscribe to less than total egalitarianism in your own relationship or sex life. You can be a feminist even if you were once so fucked up that you tried to kill yourself and your partner. You can have an imperfectly feminist past and be a feminist now. The underlying assumption between people should be respect, non-violence and equity, but people can negotiate different degrees of these amongst themselves. Besides which: The outside world, again. Sometimes it influences us. Sometimes we learn from it. Sometimes we are always getting better.

see, I like baking too. I know sites like Feministe and Feministing serve an important purpose in feminism’s mission. I never considered myself a feminist until I started reading them (along with Pandagon, Shakesville, Ilika Damen, others) back when I was 22. This year over Christmas break I ended up in a late-night bar crawl conversation with a 22-year-old female cousin who is dying to have babies and stay home with them. Until she recently began reading feminist blogs (the only one I remember her mentioning is The Feminist Breeder), she told me, she thought feminists wanted to take things like that from her. Now she’s all OMG I’m a feminist, duh. I’m a feminist and I like babies and crafts and women being treated like human beings. Awesome.

So that’s what these types of intro/activist feminist blogs do: They introduce young women and men to the idea that feminism doesn’t suck. That there are still lots of gender issues to consider and problems to solve. That feminism is relevant.

But as a feminist writer, Schwyzer has always been more essayist than activist. Both of his recent controversial posts were confession—not celebration—of past wrongs. This is what good memoirists and essayists do: They tell the truth about themselves, even when it makes them look bad. It’s in admitting to inconsistencies in their own ideals v. behavior that they have the best chance of finding something universal. Think “Mad Men.” Think Didion. It’s the space between the zeitgeist and convention that’s the most interesting.

For the feminist blogosphere to so consistently stifle voices from that space … I mean, it impedes on feminist discourse, sure. But it also tells writers that it’s not okay to be both honest and feminist. That part of being a publicly-feminist writer means a certain amount of activism, a certain amount of party-line PR. It’s a lot like how conservatism encourages its journalists and bloggers and TV reporters to be partisans first. It’s bad for the truth.

Advertisements

Written by ENB

February 16, 2012 at 10:32 am

Desk Diary

leave a comment »

Spotted!: Currently scattered on my desk:  an Old Navy coupon; Brooklyn ‘Not for Tourists’ map; Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield; The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto by Mario Vargas Llosa; a Netflix dvd of “Once Upon a Time In the West;” several old issues of Poets & Writers magazine; a copy of the Communist Manifesto; a copy of The Report; notes on a western screenplay; 1 F. Scott Fitzgerald play, one novel and one book of correspondence; a Mises institute bookmark; an Olentangy John cd; mystery sunglasses.

Now let’s see yours …

Written by ENB

March 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Ephemera

Tagged with , ,

the trouble with personal essays

leave a comment »

I’m taking a personal essay writing class from MediaBistro right now. For my second assignment, I wrote an essay about getting back together briefly with an ex, and the comfort that provides.

My instructor and classmates’ comments were helpful. Some details of the timeline and relationship were fuzzy; I did need to provide more context, and make my point of view more clear. But a lot of the assumptions implicit in the comments surprised me.

Where I wrote about our initial breakup, my teacher asked, “Why did you break up? Did you want more from the relationship than he did?” Where I wrote about meeting back up initially a year later, she asked, “Did you contact him?” Where I wrote with mostly nonchalance about the initial breakup, she asked, “Did you really feel this way?”

Okay, I thought. Gender assumptions aside, I just need to clear these details up. But when I turned in the revised draft, I continued to get these sorts of comments from classmates. “You two seem to have a connection that is still there,” one wrote. “Did you really not care?” Everyone seemed to want me to feel more than I felt.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I know that personal essays, at least in the commercial market, are designed to provide just enough glimpse of a perspective to make the story unique while still managing to be relateable/digestible to a large audience. But I can’t (or won’t) conjure emotions or attitudes that didn’t exist.

I’m not sure if there’s a larger extrapolation here about commercial personal essays, or if I’m just musing …

Written by ENB

February 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

Posted in Media

Tagged with , , , , ,

On Personal Essay Writing …

leave a comment »

I’m taking a personal essay writing class from MediaBistro right now. For my second assignment, I wrote an essay about getting back together briefly with an ex, and the comfort that provides.

My instructor and classmates’ comments were helpful. Some details of the timeline and relationship were fuzzy; I did need to provide more context, and make my point of view more clear. But a lot of the assumptions implicit in the comments surprised me.

Where I wrote about our initial breakup, my teacher asked, “Why did you break up? Did you want more from the relationship than he did?” Where I wrote about meeting back up initially a year later, she asked, “Did you contact him?” Where I wrote with mostly nonchalance about the initial breakup, she asked, “Did you really feel this way?”

Okay, I thought. Gender assumptions aside, I just need to clear these details up. But when I turned in the revised draft, I continued to get these sorts of comments from classmates. “You two seem to have a connection that is still there,” one wrote. “Did you really not care?” Everyone seemed to want me to feel more than I felt.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I know that personal essays, at least in the commercial market, are designed to provide just enough glimpse of a perspective to make the story unique while still managing to be relateable/digestible to a large audience. But I can’t (or won’t) conjure emotions or attitudes that didn’t exist.

I’m not sure if there’s a larger extrapolation here about commercial personal essays, or if I’m just musing …

Written by ENB

February 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

R.S. McCain Chastises Us Whippersnappers …

with 6 comments

… and rightly so, I think. The man may, overall, be marginally despicable, but he makes some good points in the comments to this League of Ordinary Gentleman post:

When I was your age . . .If you’re under 26, I was working as a nightclub DJ or driving a forklift or playing in rock-and-roll bands. At 26, I got a $4.50-an-hour job as a staff writer for a tiny weekly tabloid in Austell, Ga. After another 18 months of job changes, in fall 1987, I landed a job as sports editor of a twice-weekly paper in Calhoun, Ga. By June 1989, I was 29 years old, married, with a newborn daughter.McCain

So I was closing in on 30 and considered myself doing well to make $300 a week covering prep sports in North Georgia. I was 38 years old when I was hired in November 1997 by The Washington Times.

Now, try to see all this from my perspective, will you? I don’t give a hoot in hell what your SAT Verbal scores were, some of you youngersters appear mighty doggone ridiculous trying to run before you’ve even crawled. As someone even more grizzled than myself said in an email yesterday, self-publishing software has made it very easy to think of yourself as a writer.

Prior to the widespread availability of the Internet (mid-1990s), your choices at age 23 would have been (a) take an entry-level staff gig at a newspaper/magazine, or (b) dwell in that sleazy semi-pro twilight of doing record reviews for crappy weekly “alternative” tabloid or maybe Xeroxing your own crappy “zine.”

Well, hello, WordPress and now, without benefit of filling out an application or sending “over-the-transom” submissions to publications, you get that short feedback loop: Megan McArdle linked me! or: Did you see my exchange with Larison?

Think, dear boys, how ludicrously vain you appear to a 49-year-old who worked his way up through the trenches of local straight journalism to arrive in Washington at age 38. In short, I am insanely jealous to think what might have been if, when I was a senior in college, it might have been possible so much as to send an e-mail to a magazine editor.

So I see you young ‘uns with these infinite opportunities, and doing so damned little with them, and watching you fritter away your time makes me angry at the idiotic waste of it all.

E.D. Kain mocks:

Did you know, back in my day before the printing press we had to shout our thoughts from atop a large boulder! Now you damned vainglorious youngsters can actually participate in the conversation! And you don’t even have to walk seven miles through the snow to do it… You damn kids should be working in, er, journalism with all those great journalism jobs being created each year….because 2009 is just exactly the same as previous pre-internet decades when people actually still read newspapers.

While that’s some mighty fine snarking there (and I—unlike Sonny Bunch and others in the pissing contest discussion that spawned the post on which McCain was commenting—am a fan of well-used snark), I don’t think McCain was suggesting that all bloggers/young writers should have to go pay their dues for five years at the Lima Daily News or something. Rather, I think he was making a good-faith effort to explain the complicated relationship he has to watching today’s young writers or would-be writers and the ridiculous advantages we have over previous bright young things (and disadvantages, as E.D. mentions); the ways we capitalize on them and the ways we squander them; and the sense of ‘what if’ that must pervade many in the older generation of writers who came about things a different way.

By the by, I’m sure we are all aware that there are plenty of young journalists who still get their starts at small, daily papers (hey, I went through, uh, a year of journalism boot camp at a daily Ohio paper) and work their ways up there the old fashioned way (I sometimes think I should have stayed longer. These are (and I mean this neutrally) just entirely different creatures than the majority of species Blogger.

Written by ENB

February 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm

More on women, fashion, writing …

with 2 comments

My friend Melanie is offended by my post on women journalists. She writes:

“Love Liz, but I find her response really condescending. Good fashion writing is not “fluff stuff.” Need proof? Washington Post Fashion Editor Robin Givhan won a Pulitzer for her work in 2006. While I agree fashion is not a “serious” issue, that doesn’t make it unimportant or render fashion writers second-class journalists. I follow politics, but I don’t have an interest in writing about it. My ability to grasp “‘real’ political issues, like military endeavors, campaigns, taxes, etc.” has nothing to do with it.”

So—for the record—I never meant to imply I think all fashion (or fitness or celebrity or beauty or relationship) writing is fluff (nor that all business or news writing is non-fluff, for that matter). But I think we can all agree “5 Ways to Get Beach Hair” or “14 Ways to Surprise Your Valentine Feb. 14” is. And that’s the kind of stuff there’s a bigger freelance market for than the type of fashion-writing that wins Pulitzers. That said, I also never meant to imply that it doesn’t take a certain skill to write even the fluff (sometimes writing short can be sooo much tougher than writing long), nor that the writers of said fluff were writing it because they weren’t capable of grasping more serious stuff. All I was saying is that because women journalists have the option of writing—and getting paid for—this stuff, less of them may tackle military endeavors, campaigns and taxes.

This conversation was somewhat spawned by Phoebe’s post here (“I still think there’s something to the idea that fashion-as-shallowness is a sexist construction”), and she’s on about fashion again today, asking ‘What makes good fashion writing?‘ Meanwhile, I just read today (via Joanne McNeil) that “1/3 of U.S. women recently surveyed by America’s Research Group said they plan no clothing purchases–none–in 2009.

Written by ENB

February 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Feminism, Media

Tagged with , , ,

vanity & redemption

leave a comment »

“It’s clear that, besides the occasional small or large check, most writers—ourselves included—write out of vanity and compulsion. One believes in being a writer more, it seems, than in writing. What is it, again, you once had to say? And who, supposedly, wanted to hear it? Still, Bolano-like, you can’t conceive any redemption for you and your friends except through the production of masterpieces. Masterpieces, however, are always unlikely, and redemption impossible.”—from ‘the intellectual situation,’ n+1, issue 7

Written by ENB

January 27, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Ephemera, Media

Tagged with , , ,

Writing, Organizing & Distractions

with 3 comments

I really like the advice Cory Doctorow gives here about “writing in the age of distraction.”

Don’t research: Researching isn’t writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don’t. Don’t give in and look up the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the population of Rhode Island, or the distance to the Sun. That way lies distraction — an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day’s idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type “TK” where your fact should go, as in “The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite.” “TK” appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is “Atkins”) so a quick search through your document for “TK” will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognize it if you miss it and bring it to your attention.

He gives a lot of other good advice, too, like don’t write in Word because all the word-processing extras (like spell check and formatting) can be distracting, and TURN OFF YOUR G-CHAT, for godssakes, because “realtime communications tools are deadly.”

I’ve been big on trying to be more productive and organized in 2009, and so I’ll share two of the really silly, really simple things that have helped me.

1) Not keeping a Gmail tab open all day long.

The urge to click over everytime that Inbox (1) shows up on the tab is too great, and it’s usually just some sort of mailing list near-spam that I don’t even want to read, or a notification from facebook. But all that clicking back and forth totally takes you out of the moment of what you’re doing. I think deciding to only check my email at specified times during the day—to, you know, let 10 or so emails build up before I attend to them—not only saves time but helps me focus more, too.

2) Making “Weekly Focus Lists” at the beginning of the month

This is something only a type-A person like me could love, but I’ve started coming up with a “weekly focus” for each week of the month, be it a writing idea, or some household project, or whatever. Then, when I have free time, I’m not as prone to thinking “well, I could be working on this, but there’s this other thing I wanted to think about/do, and maybe it’d be better if I switched to that for a little while and …” Bleh. Having some predetermined project I’ve decided to focus on for the week helps me squelch that voice, ’cause I can tell myself  “this is what I need to think about/work on right now, and everything else can wait.”

Written by ENB

January 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm

An Efficient Journalistic Machine …

leave a comment »

Via Tomorrow Museum, Momus on “a 1:1 ratio of experience to writing:”

Obviously I enjoy writing. If I’m not doing it for money, I’m doing it here for free. The kind of activities I’d be doing if I weren’t writing are also, in a sense, writing. I’d be making songs, books, performances which are really nothing more than writing in real time, or acting out bits of writing I’ve done beforehand. It’s not writing I’m getting sick of, but journalism.

Actually, it isn’t even journalism. I think it should be compulsory for aging rock stars to take up journalism, just to get them engaged with the world, keep them learning, wean them off drugs and booze, give them a bit of mental discipline. That or pottery. No, what I worry about is the ratio of experience to writing. It’s rapidly approaching one to one.

A 1:1 ratio of experience to writing means that you’ve become an efficient journalistic machine: nothing you do ever goes to waste. Every single thing you experience gets written about somewhere. It doesn’t have to be experience in the real world; it almost seems like I write, now, about every website I visit too.

I was going to add my own commentary here, but that’s just so perfect a description I’ll let it stand unmarred.

Written by ENB

December 4, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Ephemera, Media

Tagged with , , ,

An Efficient Journalistic Machine

leave a comment »

Via Tomorrow Museum, Momus on “a 1:1 ratio of experience to writing:”

Obviously I enjoy writing. If I’m not doing it for money, I’m doing it here for free. The kind of activities I’d be doing if I weren’t writing are also, in a sense, writing. I’d be making songs, books, performances which are really nothing more than writing in real time, or acting out bits of writing I’ve done beforehand. It’s not writing I’m getting sick of, but journalism.

Actually, it isn’t even journalism. I think it should be compulsory for aging rock stars to take up journalism, just to get them engaged with the world, keep them learning, wean them off drugs and booze, give them a bit of mental discipline. That or pottery. No, what I worry about is the ratio of experience to writing. It’s rapidly approaching one to one.

A 1:1 ratio of experience to writing means that you’ve become an efficient journalistic machine: nothing you do ever goes to waste. Every single thing you experience gets written about somewhere. It doesn’t have to be experience in the real world; it almost seems like I write, now, about every website I visit too.

I was going to add my own commentary here, but that’s just so perfect a description I’ll let it stand unmarred.

Written by ENB

December 4, 2008 at 4:04 pm

A very long post that will be of very little interest to most people

leave a comment »

So I mentioned last week that I’m part of the cabal of LadyBloggers over at Culture11. This next part feels a little silly explaining, because everyone I know in DC seems to be writing for Culture11 in some way or other, but I realize some people read this who aren’t the 30 people I know in DC. So …

Culture11 is a new online magazine—it’s still in Beta right now—that was/is aiming, at least theoretically, to be like Slate or Salon but with a slightly right-of-center bent. A few months ago it began snapping up various talented libertarian-ish writers, including three of my favorites: Peter Suderman (C11’s culture editor), James Poulos (C11’s politics editor) and Conor Friedersdorf (C11’s features editor). The whole endeavor seemed radically promising. Where it will go still remains to be seen, obviously—right now, the amount of content is a little light and every now and then article choices just seem weird —but it is still in beta and I think it’s off to a good start.

And now, this brings us to LadyBlog. Please understand that everything I say from here on out should not be construed as criticisms of Jillian Bandes, C11’s assistant editor and the Madam of LadyBlog, if you will (who was nice enough to let me be a part of this project despite the sum of my conservative credentials being “not Democrat,” and who handpicked a very interesting slew of diverse women bloggers and is, in these early stages, currently taking a generously laissez faire attitude towards what we write). Nor of the very smart, very funny women—Phoebe Maltz, Amber Bryer-Wotte, Jillian, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Dara Lind, Nicola Karras, Penny Larkin, Cheryl Miller, to name a few—writing on LadyBlog.

But let me just say that LadyBlog is a weird, weird place. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by ENB

September 23, 2008 at 5:47 pm