Book Review: Difficult Women, Roxane Gay (2017)

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Stories about survival; stories we need now more than ever.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for domestic violence, child abuse, and rape.)

There once was a man. There is always some man.

You too have always been popular. I have seen the evidence in your childhood bedroom, meticulously preserved by your mother. Even now, you have packs of men following you, willing to make you their strange god. That is the only thing about you that scares me.

“I want a boy who will bring me a baby arm.”

“Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.”

Difficult Women brings together twenty-one short stories by Roxane Gay, all of which have previously been published elsewhere (or multiple elsewheres), most in slightly different forms and some under different titles. (I included the TOC at the bottom of this review; alternate titles are listed last, in parentheses.) However, the publications are so varied that it’s unlikely that you’ve seen, read, and/or own them all.

This is actually rather surprising to me, since the stories – published over a span of ~5 years – gel so well together. It really feels like each one was written specifically with this anthology in mind. The collection’s namesake, “Difficult Women,” perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the whole. Like the short story, this is book about loose women and frigid women; difficult women and crazy women; mothers and wives, daughters and dead girls. Women who have faced the unspeakable – rape and sexual assault; miscarriages or the death of a child; abuse and self-harm; alcoholism and alienation – and come out the other side. Not unscathed, but alive. These are stories of survival.

Usually I find anthologies to be somewhat uneven, but not so here. Every story grabs you by the heart and threatens to squeeze until it pops, right there in your chest cavity. Gay’s writing is raw and naked; grim, yet somehow, impossibly, imbued with hope. While some are straight-up contemporary, other tales are a strange, surreal mix of the real and unreal: In “I Am a Knife,” a woman fantasizes about cutting her twin’s fetus out of her body and transferring it to her own, the way she once did with the heart of a drunk driver who collided with their car, nearly killing her sister.

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Book Review: Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire, Amber Dawn, ed. (2009)

Monday, January 12th, 2015

“My terror is terror’s ubiquity.”

three out of five stars

(Trigger warning for rape. Also, some of the individual story descriptions may contain vague spoilers. Read at your own risk!)

In Fist of the Spider Woman, fifteen daring authors frankly ask themselves, “What am I afraid of?” The aim is not to quell our fears, but to embrace them. In doing so, their work takes on an entirely different form than the familiar thrills of contemporary Hollywood horror films.

Between the blurbs on the back cover and the wonderfully creepy artwork (by Julie Morstad) gracing its front, Fist of the Spider Woman is not at all what I expected. For starters, most of the stories aren’t particularly scary. With a few notable exceptions, you won’t find many supernatural baddies or serial slashers here. The fears explored within these pages tend towards the mundane as opposed to the otherworldly: Carrying on after the death of a loved one. Embracing vulnerability by learning to trust others. Accepting help. Being caught by karma. Our culture of fear. All of which is sprinkled with a liberal helping of sex. In fact, many of the stories in Fist read like erotica over horror (e.g., “Every Dark Desire” – vampire dominatrix porn; “Slug” – worm porn; “In Your Arms Forever” – ghost porn).

Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not what I thought I was getting when I picked this anthology up. (Though I must admit that many of the rape scenes turned my stomach; not for the mere presence of rape, which is disturbing enough on its own, but because the victims often come to enjoy their non-consensual abuse.)

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Why not just liberate the fucking farm, hmmm?

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Butch Dog Food Ad - Full of Meat

An ad for Butch dog food, in two parts. The panel on the left shows neatly wrapped sausage, over which is superimposed the following text: “I’m as guilty as the next girl of licking the odd bone. But believe me, there’s no substitute for being stuffed full of meat.” In the right panel sits a small pug, an expectantly eager look on her face. Just in case her gender isn’t readily apparent, the ad is dripping in pink.

Writing about the life and death of porn star Stephen Hill – perhaps most famous for his role as Barack Obama in Palin: Erection 2008 – in Salon, journalist Susannah Breslin bemoans the fate of male porn actors, or “mopes”:

If porn is a joke — and, particularly these days, it most assuredly is — male porn stars are its punch line. Reams of text have been written about how porn supposedly victimizes the women who work in this branch of the sex trade, but inside the straight porn industry, it’s the female performers who have the greater power, higher status and bigger paycheck. […] So-called woodsmen are paid significantly less than their female counterparts, for their efforts are treated like props on the movie sets where they perform near Herculean sex acts of which most men can only dream […] and more often than not end up as decapitated, frantically thrusting tubes of meat in this industry’s final product. Due to the hardcore nature of the porn business and the toll it takes upon all its workers, the porn industry functions as a meat grinder for the human condition, and men are its offal. They may score bragging rights as professional cocksmen, but the reality is these are the working stiffs of a business that has virtually no interest in the men it employs and all the interest in the world in the women with whom its movies are forever preoccupied.

Just two paragraphs previous, Breslin described a visit to the set of a porn film, circa Valentine’s Day 2001:

From the outside, it’s one more stucco building on a suburban street in the San Fernando Valley. Inside, some 90 men have congregated to masturbate on a young woman for the making of an adult movie called “American Bukkake 13.”

Sabrina Jade, who has long, reddish brown hair and emerald green, catlike eyes, is seated on a towel in the middle of the floor. A plastic cone has been duct-taped around her neck like a funnel, or an Edwardian collar. Jim Powers, the director, came up with the idea when he saw a dog wearing a similar apparatus around its neck after a visit to the vet.

(Links and emphasis mine.)

Um, yeah. If men are “tubes of meat,” women are the farmed animals who are force-fed the least desirable pieces of their murdered and dismembered cousins. Forced into carnism and/or cannibalism; at once “meat” and “meat-eater.” Enslaved, caged, tortured. Right up until the time when they’re hoisted into the air, hung upside-down by a hook through the thigh, and left to die, throats slit, bleeding out. In the meantime, maybe some randomly passing slaughterhouse worker decides to jerk off into the dying animal’s eyes. Just so he knows, in that 30 seconds, that it’s not he at the bottom of the shitpile, nosiree.

Maybe, maybe not.

And that’s all I’ll say about that.*

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Lady Pork: The Other Other White Meat?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Firstly, a big, shiny hello to everyone arriving here from The F-Word! (And can I just say how stoked I am to see yet another vegan feminist guest-blogging on yet another kickass feminist blog? More, please!) In addition to the posts singled out by Amy, you might also enjoy browsing the Intersections post category. And if you’re feeling especially adventurous, check out this list of vegan/vegetarian bloggers who regularly discuss the intersections of human and nonhuman oppressions. It’ll keep you occupied at least through the summer, I tell you what.

So. On to today’s vegan feminist WTF. While searching for a related image last night, I stumbled upon a rather disturbing poster for the movie Saw IV:

Saw IV Poster 01

Shot in tones of black, gray and red, the poster is rather macabre (and quite fitting for a horror flick). Highlighted by a dim ray of light, in the middle of the poster sits a masked figure. She is confined to a torture device of some sort. Seemingly homemade, the instrument – similar in shape to a small chair – looks as though it was cobbled together from pieces of various mechanical devices, including a push mower. There are knobs, tanks, wheels and blades galore. The victim sits facing forward, her arms confined to her sides, ankles chained to the chair.

Masked, robed and photographed from behind, the prisoner’s gender is impossible to determine. However, the figure does sport some obvious trappings of femininity, including knee-high, black stiletto boots (“fuck me boots,” if you will) and tight, black stockings or leggings. The robe is red, possibly velvet. Clearly, the audience is to assume that the victim is a woman (or one very “emasculated” man).

Oh, and the mask? It’s of a pig. Holy woman-as-meat / meat-as-woman meme, Catwoman!

Having only watched the first installment of the Saw franchise, this poster initially sent my head reeling re: its possibly significance, if any. Luckily, Wiki has the answers (some of them, anyhow):

That evening, Rigg is attacked in his home; upon awakening, a videotape informs him that Matthews is still alive, with ninety minutes to save himself, with Hoffman’s life at stake as well. He finds Brenda (Sarain Boylan), a female pimp, chained to a chair with a pig mask covering her face. The first test, “see what I see,” is for him to leave her there; he ignores the message and ends up triggering a device to begin peeling her scalp off. He manages to free her, but she attacks him; she had been told that she would be arrested if Rigg saved her unless she killed him first. He throws her into a mirror and leaves; her corpse is later found by police.

And, from the character description:

Brenda was a prostitute who appeared in Saw IV as a victim in Daniel Rigg’s game. Brenda was placed in a machine designed to tear her scalp from her head and Rigg was instructed to simply walk away from her as she was not worth saving. After her scalp was partially torn away, Rigg managed to save her but Brenda then attempted to kill him, instructed by Jigsaw that if she didn’t Rigg would send her to jail. Rigg overpowered Brenda and threw her into a mirror. She was later found dead.

I suppose the overriding purpose of the pig mask is to conceal the “scalping” contraption, but one has to ask…why a consumable (i.e., “food”) animal? Why not Ronald Regan or Freddy Krueger instead? Is Jigsaw (or his torture porn confederate) making a statement about women who “pimp out” other women? (e.g., Such people are “not worth saving,” much like “worthless,” “dirty,” “gluttonous” nonhuman animals such as pigs.) Or is the pig mask merely a handy prop for upping the film’s shock value? (Meat and corpses and slaughterhouses, oh my!)

There’s a vegan feminist analysis lurking here somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. Perhaps someone who’s actually seen the film(s) can clue me in?

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Ask not "Are Animal Lovers Sexist?," but "Can Animal Lovers Be Sexist?" (Answer: duh.)

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

lol kaylee - just needs a hammer

Don’t fear, Ms. Kaylee is here! lol dog sez, “wonder beyatch – be hear 2 smash ur kyriarchy, mkay?” She brought her Wonder Woman undies, but she’ll need to borrow a hammer. You got a problem with that, human?
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Last November, I penned a brief letter to the editors of VegNews, in which I questioned Rory Freedman’s casual use of the term “fur hag” – “hag” being a sexist, ageist and lookist slur. (VegNews subscribers can read the exact quote in context in Freedman’s column, “Prison or Bust,” which appeared in the December 2009 issue.) Fast-forward several months; my letter was published, albeit with several edits, in the March+April 2010 issue.

Not surprisingly – given the popularity of the term, as well as PETA’s “fur hag” campaigns – some readers disagreed with my comments, including Annie Hartnett of change.org’s newly-rebranded Animals blog. (Many thanks to Marji of Animal Place for bringing the post to my attention!) In Are Animal Lovers Sexist?, Hartnett argues that, ahem, attacking women for their femaleness is not sexist because most fur-wearers are women.

While I have previously deconstructed the term “fur hag” – as well as the campaigns’ associated imagery – what follows is a line-by-line response to Hartnett’s piece. Rather than rehash points that I’ve made elsewhere, however, I’ll use this as an opportunity to build upon my previous argument. If you haven’t already, please go read last January’s On “fur hags” and “fucking bitches.” before continuing on; doubly so if you’re surfing on over here from change.org. (Also related, and referenced in passing below: ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur and ARA PSAs: Attack of the Killer Cosmetics.) (1)

Before we begin, though, I’d like to reprint my letter, as Hartnett did not/would not do so, even upon request.

Here is the original letter, in its entirety:

As a vegan feminist, I’m increasingly disturbed by the number of animal advocates who are willing to engage in sexism (and other “isms”) in the course of their advocacy – “for the animals,” of course (as if women are not sentient beings as well). Take, for example, Rory Freedman’s use of the term “fur hag” to describe those who wear fur (“Prison or Bust,” December 2009 issue). “Hag” – a gendered slur that is synonymous with “witch” – literally means “an ugly old woman.” While fur-wearers may indeed be ugly on the inside, a person’s gender, age and physical appearance say nothing of her character. If Ms. Freedman – or any other animal advocate – feels the need to resort to insults, please keep them “ism”-free. “Jerk,” “loser,” “asshat”: all convey a point – without further marginalizing already-marginalized groups of animals, human or non.

Kelly Garbato
Kearney, MO 64060

kelly.garbato [at] gmail.com
http://www.easyvegan.info

By the way, I wrote a lengthy piece on the term “fur hag” last year, wherein I expound upon the sexist, ageist and sizeist nature of the phrase in much greater detail than is possible in 250 words or less. Additionally, I employ PETA’s associated “fur hag” campaign imagery to further illustrate my point. You can read the post in its entirety at http://bit.ly/vl8sB

Seriously, tho’, enough with the misogyny!

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Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 14: Human(ity, or lack thereof)

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

King Kong (2005) - Kong & Darrow 02

Bitch Magazine: Trans Spotting—The media’s myopic vision of transsexuals

Not exactly “new,” but this piece from trans activist/artist Julia Serano (http://juliaserano.com) is an excellent complement to the “Our Bodies and Lives” series posted by Ida at The Vegan Ideal several weeks back (see Transsexual Knowledge and Resistance; Transphobic Trauma, Transsexual Healing; and Questioning Cissexual Politics). Serano directly challenges feminist stereotypes which hold that male-to-female transsexuals serve to reinforce the gender binary with their uber-feminine wiles. She also offers a few choice words for defenders of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s “womyn-born-womyn only” policy.

The article isn’t available online, though, so you’ll need to order a back issue of Bitch (Issue 26, Fall 2004: The “Fake” issue) to read it. Or, for just a few bucks more, check out Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, published in 2007. It’s on my wish list!

The Vegan Ideal: Mirha-Soleil Ross on Justice for Sex Workers and Nonhuman Animals

In honor of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (December 17), Ida highlights the words of Mirha-Soleil Ross, “a vegan, transsexual and sex worker justice advocate.” In snippets from several interviews, Ross addresses the topics of (radical) feminism within the animal rights movement; similarities between society’s demonization of prostitutes and coyotes; and the objectification of women and nonhuman animals – from all corners.

Johanna @ Vegans of Color: Don’t Use Classism and Anti-Sex Worker Rhetoric to Protest Fur;

The Vegan Ideal: Class Privilege in Anti-Sex Worker, Anti-Homeless Activism;

The Vegan Shoe Lady: Fur is for Beautiful Animals and Scary Hookers; and

Taste Better!: On framing fur

Johanna and Ida critique a recent anti-fur post written by The Vegan Shoe Lady (and later picked up and enthusiastically expounded upon by Taste Better!) in which the author encourages readers to engage in classism and sexism, as well as the shaming of sex workers and homeless people, in the course of their anti-fur activism. Because this just what the animal rights movement needs – to be perceived as a monolith of exclusionary white elitists, yes? Lovely!

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White Castle: Now with edible porcine strippers! (1983 vintage)

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Vegan Butterfly sent me a link to this detestable White Castle ad a few months ago. I meant to blog about it straight away, but naturally procrastinated. The video has since made its way ’round the interwebs; see, for example, I Blame the Patriarchy and Suicide Food.

No matter. ‘Tis never too late to deconstruct some Grade A kyriarchical Homer shit. Let’s get started, shall we?
 


 
In case you can’t view the video, here’s a breakdown.

Cue the scene: a bevy of skeevy, college age, white dudes sits in a smoky, dimly lit dive, hooting and clamoring expectantly. Onstage, a pig (!?) appears. Our “pig” is clearly a human decked out, head-to-hoof, in a cheap plush pig outfit. But let’s forget about that for a moment. This is one sexy stripper pig. She – we assume the pig is a she, since men are rarely reduced to sex objects – bursts into a sultry dance, thrusting her ass towards the audience, hips grinding to and fro. The camera pans around to two guys – and an animated White Castle paper bag (!?) – sitting at the front table. Miss Piggy shimmies herself onto a strategically placed chair, opening a creepy ole can of Flashdance on our asses. Still dancing, she thrusts a leg into the air, then back down to the floor.

Suddenly, a flirtatious female voice over:

“Introducing tempting pulled pork…”

Here, Piggy reaches for a chain, dangling down from the ceiling – and gives a good yank. Barbecue sauce rains from the sky, covering Piggy (whose back is predictably arched at this point) and splashing the audience, which doesn’t seem to mind a bit.

“…in barbecue sauce.”

The audience cheers! Piggy twirls and dances in triumph!

Cut to shots of murdered, dismembered, processed and cooked pig, i.e., “meat.”

“Shredded pork in a come-hither barbecue sauce. Sweet. Saucy. Oh so naughty. White Castle – what you crave.”

The ad ends with a fadeout of the aforementioned white dudes – sitting with a now grease stained White Castle bag – licking barbecue sauce off of themselves and enjoying the “entertainment.” Happy ending, anyone?

Where to start, where to start?

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Dear God, MAKE IT STOP!

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Via Suicide Food, I bring you what is possibly the most obscene animated gif in the history of the internets. You know it’s bad when an atheist starts praying to the Big G.

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