Book Review: The Funniest Thing To Hit Feminism

The Book Itself
Eddy and I really should be finishing Khoon Pasina after my self-declared obsession with Amitabh's cheetah-print-lapelled leather coat (what will he wear next to top that?!) but I had, instead, to write about the funniest book I've read in a very long time.  I suppose we could call it a post-colonial centre's exploration of the subjugation of a traditionally oppressed subaltern group, but honestly, it's easier to say it's the first time I've seen humor hit feminism.   Hard.  And it's fabulously, hilariously, amazing.

This isn't a book for the faint of heart; all the physical and emotional discomforts of a female body are described with blistering honesty.  Overstatement is part of Moran's trade, but I say, "Carry on!" because finally someone agrees with me that "what had once been the one most exciting, incendiary, and effective revolution of all time had somehow shrunk down into a couple of increasingly small arguments, carried out among a couple of dozen feminist academics, in books only feminist academics would read" (11).  Wow.  Someone just got why I left graduate school!  Moran had my attention there, and held it all the way through her anti-strip clubs, pro-cabaret, pro-porn (the creative kind), anti-bikini waxing, anti-wedding, pro-fashion (the attractive kind), and pro-choice arguments.    

A Pinch of WWII
And amongst all the funnies were some real gems.  On housecleaning:  "The hiring of domestic help isn't a case of women oppressing other women, because women did not invent dust.  The sticky residue that collects on the kettle does not come out of women's vaginas, it is not estrogen that covers the dinner plates in tomato sauce..." leading her to the earth-shattering conclusion that running a household doesn't have to be "done out of love, and never for cash, because that somehow 'spoils' the magic of the household'" (78).  And for encountering sexism itself?  "Don't call it sexism.  Call it 'manners' instead.  When a woman blinks a little, shakes her head like Columbo, and says, 'I'm sorry but that sounded a little... uncivil,' a man is apt to apologize.  Because even the most rampant bigot on earth has no defense against a charge of simply being rude'" (128).  Problem solved!  No more dithering around with the internal dialogue: "Was that sexism?  Did he know that was sexist?  Should I tell him that was sexist?  How do I tell him that was sexist?  Is there some sort of sexual harassment policy I should be following?" Simply catch him in the act and say "That's rude!"  So simply ingenious.  (And yes, not to be overly sexist myself, sometimes that "him" being sexist is actually, and often, a "her.")

"Would I Be Happier Pregnant?"
Moran became my new hero, though, when I discovered an entire chapter devoted to the topic of society's unrelenting pressure upon childless women to have children.  I stumbled into this unpleasant realization upon turning 33 less than a month ago.  Suddenly everyone's got a license to ask me about the "proper" end goal of my sex life.  I counted three consecutive weeks this summer when I was asked by acquaintances and complete strangers when I was planning on having children, followed by a record-breaking day when I was asked three different times in the course of six hours when I was planning on getting pregnant.  Honestly, people started asking me about my reproductive plans during job interviews (illegally) ten years ago, but hitting your early thirties definitely speeds up the questioning.  "When women are asked when they're going to have children, there is, in actuality, another darker, more pertinent question lying underneath it... it's this:  'When are you going to fuck it all up by having kids?'" (233).  Which perhaps explains why I spent a ridiculous portion of my actual birthday explaining why my desire not to get pregnant this immediate-red-hot-second does not mean I will eventually become a horrible mother who will emotionally abuse her children.  As Moran says, "Batman doesn't want a baby in order to feel he's 'done everything.'  He just saved Gotham again!  If this means Batman must be a feminist role model above, say, Hillary Clinton, then so be it" (239).  And for the women who choose not to have children?  More power to them, because I can't even imagine answering that question, with increasing panic on the part of the questioner, for the next ten years.

So Close, Yet So Far Away
But she leaves us with a real critique, not just a displacement (for a change!) of the Disney princess phenomenon.  "I didn't think I had to work hard to be a woman-- which is scary, but, obviously, eventually achievable.  I thought I had to somehow, magically, through superhuman psychic effort, transform into a princess instead.  That's how I'd get fallen in love with.  That's how I'd get along... in the last decade, the post-feminist reaction to princesses has been the creation of 'alternative' princesses:  the spunky chicks in Shrek and the newer Disney films, who wear trousers, do kung-fu, and save the prince... [but] the tropes of 'princess women' are still the same.  The residual hold they have over the female ability to image our own future is sneakily harmful" (294).  Tell me about it!  I groaned all the way through Brave, which was supposed to be a "real" feminist Disney movie.  Does our hero save anyone?  Do anything?  Become heroic?  Only in so far as she ends up rectifying the magical mess she created by "selfishly" demanding her independence and returns happily to the bosom of her family upon realizing it's her job to mend familial relationships and settle into an eventual marriage, as she's expected to do.  Sigh.

So the gig is up, and the truth is out.  It's damn unpleasant and inconvenient to be a woman in a society shaped by thousands of years of entrenched misogyny in a country where women have been allowed to vote for less than a hundred years and have had access to reliable birth control for fifty.  Feminism is over?  You've got to be kidding me.  It hasn't even begun.  And if you don't believe me, check out the news.  What idiot believes that "women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in 'a legitimate rape' and that conception is rare in such cases?"  Oh wait, that'd be a current six-term Congressman from Missouri.  What in the world do we do in response to such madness?  Vote.  Educate ourselves.  Support like-minded individuals.  And get on with it.  "I know that--from personal experience-- that the thing that has given me the most relief and freedom in my adult years has been, finally, once and for all giving up on the idea that I might secretly be, or will one day become, a princess.  Accepting you're just some perfectly ordinary woman who is going to have to crack on, work hard, and be polite in order to get anything done is-- once you've gotten over the crippling disappointment of your thundering ordinariness-- incredibly liberating" (294).   

Ah Yes, The Role Models of My Childhood
I promise to stop reading Real Simple magazine, because I fly into endless self-righteous rages about how they really don't understand how to organize a closet and I should be editing the magazine instead (I really do think about these things, but it's an honest side effect of growing up in Iowa).  And I think, as a birthday present to myself, I'll stop pretending "one day" that I'll be well-adjusted enough to watch an episode of Mad Men without spiraling into a rant about gender inequality (which kills me because I really, desperately, want to see the fashion.  But I just can't handle the sexism.  And I probably won't ever be able to.)  And instead, maybe I'll try something really radical like saying "It sucks!  It shouldn't be this way!  But it is and I can't, honestly, change the whole damn thing."  This saves me from becoming so neurotic that I can't fend for myself (hello Disney-princess-land-from-the-other-side).  Instead, I'm going to try something very, very feminist instead.  And it's the opposite of a rant. It's choosing to be content despite the mess and despite the obstacles.  "I'm talking about the common attitudinal habit in women that we're kind of... failing if we're not a bit neurotic.  That we're somehow boorish, complacent, and unfeminine if we're content."  Because if you're content, honestly, you've won.  No amount of idiocy on the part of others can take that from you.  Boorishness, complacency, and unfemininity... here I come.