A pretty low bar for inspiration

When I think of inspiring, against the grain girls in classic children’s literature, I think of characters like Laura Ingalls, Caddie Woodlawn, Anne Shirley, Jo March, Arrietty Clock of The Borrowers series, and Pippi Longstocking. Yet in the foreword to the reissue of Betsy Was a Junior, the seventh book in the Betsy-Tacy series, Anna Quindlen argues that the rather conformist Betsy is a feminist icon.

And why might that be?

Because Betsy always wants to be a writer, and no one ever tells her she can’t. Oh, and she’s not a fairytale princess or presented as perfect.

WHAT!

Is the bar really set that low these days?

For historical perspective, the books are set from 1897–1917, during the First Wave of feminism. Many women in the First Wave did tend to be rather conservative in their aims; e.g., they didn’t think to question the Mrs. Husband’s Full Name convention, and frequently argued against African–Americans (men or women) getting the vote before white women.

But they lived in a much different world than we do today. Merely working for women’s suffrage, higher education, and employment was seen as radical in their era. Successful, longterm changes happen gradually, not overnight.

Ms. Quindlen claims Anne Shirley and Jo March “are implicitly made to pay in those books for the fact that they do not conform to feminine norms.” That implies their respective authors wanted to punish them and teach them a lesson for not being girly-girls and aspiring to a life beyond housewifery. When does that happen in either Little Women or the Anne series?

It smacks of classism to say Anne “never is permitted to forget that she must work for a living.” As compared to upper-middle-class Betsy, whose parents can afford to send on a freaking Grand Tour to inspire her writing, and who doesn’t have to attend university on scholarship or through her own earnings?

And if you subscribe to Third Wave “choosey-choice feminism,” why bewail how Jo March chooses to marry an unromantic, much-older man instead of the young, hot, rich guy who instead goes to her sister? Prof. Bhaer supports and encourages Jo in her writing, and not all strong marriages begin with nonstop fireworks and a superficial attraction.

From what I’ve read so far, Betsy is a lot more interesting in the first four books than she is in the high school books. Once she hits the teen years, she becomes very boring and shallow, caring more about a constant whirlwind of social life, parties, sports matches, boys, clothes, and hair than schoolwork. I’ll eat my hat if the fourth and final high school book goes down a totally different trajectory than the first three, wherein Betsy resolves to change herself to be more popular and get male attention, suffers in school, doesn’t get the outcome she wants, has everything blow up in her face in a big way near the end, and resolves to be truer to herself.

It obviously takes all types to fill our world, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a social butterfly with more passion for fashion, parties, and dating than intellectual pursuits, but that’s not the kind of character who strikes me as a feminist icon!

Also, while some people in Betsy’s era still didn’t take women’s writing seriously, it was nevertheless usually seen as a respectable profession. Would everyone have encouraged Betsy the same way if she’d always wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, politician, or professor?

To date, I’ve yet to see anything that could remotely be construed as First Wave feminist inclinations in these books—women’s suffrage, focusing on studies instead of social life and clothes, thinking about entering the workforce in addition to writing, the birth control movement, nothing. In fact, in the last book, Betsy and Tacy try to pressure Tib into marrying ASAP so she won’t be a pathetic spinster! At all of 25 years old!

Have I mostly enjoyed this series so far? Yes, despite my continued frustration with how everyone’s lives are just too idyllic and charmed. I also mostly like these characters. But to claim the protagonist is some kind of unsung feminist icon? I hope you stretched before that reach.

Celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage in the U.S.

On 18 August 1920, the long-fought battle for women’s voting rights finally became reality in every state in the U.S. I owe so much to my brave foremothers who worked so tirelessly to gain this precious right. Sadly, the last survivor of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, Charlotte Woodward Pierce, was too ill to leave her home and go to the polls for that November’s election, but at least she lived to see that historic moment.

And thank you, Harry Burn of Tennessee, for listening to your mother and voting “aye” in the tie-breaking vote.

2016 in review

Writing and editing:

I didn’t complete any books this year, though I got a lot of work done on The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees and A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at UniversityBranches was 61K when I took it out of hiatus and began expanding it into an actual narrative story, and it’s now up to 333K. This book really wanted to be one of my sprawling sagas!

Dream Deferred was 80K when I went back to work on it shortly before NaNo, and it’s now up to 170K. My conservative guesstimate is 300–400K, since it only covers four years, and has relatively quieter storylines than the massive Journey Through a Dark Forest.

I did one full round of edits on Dark Forest, and have done little tweaks as I’ve looked through the four combined files. The first draft was 891K, and it’s currently down to:

149K in Part I
272K in Part II
219K in Part III
237K in Part IV and the Epilogue
877K total

I expect a bit more to be shorn off during subsequent full rounds of edits.

I also did some work on my alternative history in January and February. It’s now up to 185K. I also did a bit of work on the book formerly known as The Very Last.

Films:

After finally reaching my long-awaited goal of 1,000 silents on New Year’s Eve 2015 (The Phantom Carriage), I turned my focus to early sound films that aren’t comedies. I knew that was a most dire gap which needed filling.

Most of the silents I saw this year were avant-garde and experimental films, including many made after the silent era officially added. I count them as silents because they were deliberately made without dialogue (or extremely sparse dialogue in otherwise silent scenarios).

I saw 125 new silents this year, my favorite features being L’Inferno (1911), The Bat (1926), and Labyrinth of Horror (Labyrinth des Grauens) (1921).

Favorite new-to-me sound films I saw this year were, in no special order, Frankenstein (1931), The Petrified Forest (1936), Little Caesar (1930), The Roaring Twenties (1938), Scarlet Street (1945), Meet John Doe (1942), Charade (1963), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and White Heat (1949).

Books:

pornland-cover

The most important book I read this year had to have been Gail Dines’s excellent Pornland, which was highly recommended on one of my favorite radfem blogs. Over this year, I came to the stronger and stronger, more and more obvious realization I’ve been a lifelong radfem (though I don’t 100% agree on every single issue). Unpacking my feelings towards porn was my final step.

All these revelations about the true nature of the porn industry were so nauseating, heartbreaking, and shocking. Even if it’s possible there are some small indie companies doing things radically differently, that doesn’t change the nature of the vast majority of porn. A few powerful women like Nina Hartley in the industry also don’t cancel out the sickeningly overwhelming numbers of women trafficked into this exploitative business and not given any free agency.

This book also helped me to realize how very, very pornsick my ex is, and how porn deeply affected our relationship in many ways I wasn’t aware of.

Life:

As abovementioned, this year I realized I’ve always been a radfem. I may have a future post explaining exactly what radical feminism is and isn’t, and how it’s not at all what many folks falsely assume it to be. I know I definitely had the completely wrong ideas about it until finally getting to know actual radfems and reading so many wonderful radfem blogs and news stories.

I’d considered myself a Marxist–Socialist feminist since age 15, never a libfem (a.k.a. a funfem). There are huge differences between radical, Second Wave feminism and liberal, Third Wave feminism. Even as a teen who read too much and understood too little, I knew liberal feminism was milquetoast and didn’t go nearly far enough.

not-right

I’m still grieving and in shock over what happened on 8 November. That was not an outcome I nor any of my friends were expecting or wanting. It was the first time I and many of my friends ever cried at the results of a presidential election, instead of just feeling upset and disappointed. I actually thought i was going to throw up that night.

We’re all extremely scared about what’s going to happen to us after 21 January, particularly those of us who are women, Jewish, African–American, Hispanic, Muslim, gay or lesbian, and disabled.

afraid

On 11 August, I sadly had to retire my beautiful navel piercing. It had been red for awhile, and not only wasn’t getting better, but had reached an obvious, advanced state of rejection. I was able to screw off the top opal and remove it myself. My wonderful piercer, who’s no longer local, only uses internally threaded jewelry, which prevents microdermabrasions and the subsequent risk of infections.

This is what it looked like the day it was done, 24 November 2015:

navel-closeup

I will be having it redone eventually. For now, I’m glad it’s out, since it just didn’t want to heal, and I don’t have to worry about it catching on my clothes or getting knocked. I’m also really superstitious about auspicious vs. inauspicious dates and numbers, which wasn’t helped when I discovered I’d had it pierced on Freddie Mercury’s Jahrzeit.

For now, I’m down to 10 piercings, my nostril plus nine in my ears (four right, five left). If only the nearest APP studios weren’t 64 miles away in either direction!

Lois Weber

If you’re here for the Dust It Off Bloghop, please scroll down!

Words on Paper

Thursdays in the Blog Me MAYbe blogfest have the theme “May I tell you something about someone else?” I decided to go with one of the people I spotlighted on my old “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire page. Baruch Hashem, I seem to have saved all the pages while my pages were still cached in the immediate aftermath of that whole fiasco with that pathological nutcase and her sycophantic friends.

Lois Weber lived from 13 June 1881 till 13 November 1939, dying at 58 years old. From the mid-Teens to the early Twenties, she was the most popular, successful, well-regarded film director in America.

During the early decades of cinema, there were many women in positions of power, success, prestige, and immense popularity—actors, directors, screenwriters, scenarists, title card writers, producers, etc. Lois made films her way, even though many people in her era regarded many of these subjects as strictly taboo or offensive to polite, decent, normal, civilised society. She covered the whole gamut—prostitution, promiscuity, poverty, domestic abuse, homosexuality, birth control, abortion, the gap between the haves and have-nots, racism, sexism, child abuse, capital punishment, feminism, you name it.

She owned her own company, as well as discovering a number of great actors. Lois was also the very first woman to direct a full-length feature, The Merchant of Venice, in 1914.

Sadly, after her heyday, for decades she went ignored, her praises unsung. First, because the types of hard-hitting issues films she was making fell out of favour after the early Twenties. People began to prefer lightweight fare about jazz babies and their necking parties, not heavy-duty stuff about issues like domestic abuse and the evils of capitalism.

The second, more major reason was precisely because she was a woman. Women ruled Hollywood until about the Forties, but suddenly all of that began changing, and people’s lists of their favourite actors began to be composed of mostly men. Previously, the huge majority of actors on such lists were women. Institutionalised sexism pushed women to the back burner, and suddenly there were no longer as many female directors, producers, and screenwriters.

And in addition, all of the great groundbreaking techniques she’d discovered and put to use first, such as putting a camera on wheels, were suddenly attributed to people such as D.W. Griffith. That man never even thought about doing some of these things till after she’d done them, yet today people swear by him as though he were this great innovative director who did all of this stuff first. He copied it off of a woman and took credit where credit was most severely not due!

Thankfully, when more women began entering Film Studies courses at colleges and universities after women’s lib came along, they began looking for female role models, and found a wealth of them in the early filming industry, Lois among them. Lois never made a film unless she agreed with the issue or thoughts being presented. She was true to herself and her principles, even though that may have turned some people off, either because they thought the topic wasn’t one for polite society or women or because they found the tone preachy.

Some people have suggested she went into decline because she divorced her husband Phillips Smalley in 1922, the man with whom she’d run her studio. The old sexist belief that a woman can’t really be that great all on her own and has to have a big strong man standing behind her doing the stuff she’s taking credit for. However, Lois continued to direct and write on her own terms after the divorce, even with diminished success, whereas Phillips never found success again, at any level. Now who’s riding whose coattails to success?