How dare you

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September 28, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony and hearing yesterday was the closest I have ever seen to someone who was brought up to believe he had all the privileges (all!) suddenly being asked to answer for his actions instead of being the one asking the questions, and suddenly feeling crushed under what he could only perceive as being denied the most extreme part of his extreme privilege: one of the most important jobs in the country for as long as he wants it. So all he could do was shout in anger, and cry, and try to demean those in front of him. Interspersed with singing odes to beer. And expressing disqualifying partisan views. Ralph!

This Washington Post opinion piece on the subject, written by by Alexandra Petri, is so amazingly eloquent!

I found this also very edifying: Kavanaugh is lying. His upbringing explains why, by Shamus Khan.

No wonder that, when the poor lie, they’re more likely to do so to help others, according to research by Derek D. Rucker, Adam D. Galinsky and David Dubois, whereas when the rich lie, they’re more likely to do it to help themselves.

Why don’t we know of any famous women composers?

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November 6, 2014

Marguerite S. Pearson at the melodianDid you ever hear that question? You must have. I’m sure you did. Or if you didn’t hear this exact one, you must have encountered a variation of it: Why are there no famous women writers in history? Why are there no famous women painters? And so on, you get the idea.

Today’s post is brought to you by the harsh and sad, very sad, realities of our human history. Women’s history, in particular. Yes, I mean that history that has been barely recorded. The one we know close to nothing about because it was deemed insignificant.

A few Sundays ago, at our meeting house (a term that I much prefer to “church”) the music director, who is an amazingly gifted pianist, played a piece by Fanny Mendelssohn. Never heard of her? Understandable. Neither had I. But that day I found out that apparently she had been Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s sister. Yes, I know. That rings a bell! And she had been as brilliant a musician as her brother. Only she couldn’t publish her compositions during her life, because she was too much of a woman for that, according to her brother. Her first duty was her house, and her father and brother, the famous composer, did not approve of her music interfering with that.

These are her father’s encouraging words:

“Music will perhaps be his profession, whilst for you it can and must only be an ornament, never the root of our being and doing. [. . .] remain true to these sentiments and this line of conduct; they are feminine, and only what is truly feminine is an ornament to your sex.”

“You must become more steady and collected, and prepare earnestly and eagerly for your real calling, the only calling of a young woman–I mean that of a housewife. Women have a difficult task; the unremitting attention to every detail, the appreciation of every moment for some benefit or other–all these and more are the weighty duties of a woman.”

To be completely truthful here, Fanny herself did not question her role. Before getting married, she writes the following very sad remarks:

“art is not for women, only for girls; on the threshold of my new life, I take leave of this plaything.”

Her brother did publish a few of Fanny’s compositions under his name and, to his credit, admitted to everyone that they had actually been written by his sister, even if that caused him embarrassment when people liked those pieces more than his own works.

You can read more about Fanny Mendelssohn here.

Marguerite Stuber Pearson, The Blue DanubeI had almost forgotten the story of Fanny Mendelssohn, when, this morning, I read about the new research revealing that some of Bach’s most well-known compositions might actually belong to his wife Anna Magdalena. This does not make us doubt Bach’s genius, but it does bring to the forefront the existence of this woman that until today nobody knew about. She is one of, for sure, many, many more.

So, here, this is why you’ve never heard of women doing anything of notice throughout history. From now on, spare me that question. Thank you.

Feminism and the freedom to wear oversexualized clothing

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October 10, 2014

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Some will say that this is a battle that is over and that we won: feminists can wear as high a pair of heels and as red a lipstick as they want and still not be excluded from the club, the membership to which is awarded to them at birth. (Yes, men feminists have more to prove before they are allowed in. Tough luck!) But I don’t know if this perceived freedom is a real one or one projected to us in our slumber pods.

Sure, we can do whatever the hell we want and that is called freedom. Women didn’t have that for a very long time. Women have been prescribed what to wear since forever: cover your legs, don’t show your cleavage, hair, arms, etc. Of course we’ll celebrate the freedom of wearing whatever on earth we feel like. But are revealing clothes and heavy makeup really where we must to go? Just because we can? This choice can be empowering but the kind of power it offers is not of real value. It’s a tiny, despised power. It is not durable, it is not respected, it’s not something we can hold up in pride. It’s subversive and very demeaning.

However, it does often seem like the “body celebrating” clothes are the only choice women have, if we go by the media.

I watch Project Runway religiously. I enjoy the creative process behind the making of clothes and none of the offensive aspects of the fashion industry have managed to put me off. However, every time I hear that clothes need to be “sexy” (which happens every two minutes in every single episode) I am driven up the wall. No, clothes do not need to be sexy. They do not need to make us “attractive.” I dislike that implication. That idea that’s being taught to our girls that they must “show off” their bodies is heart-breaking.

My daughter enjoys watching music videos. This happens lately every day before going to bed. Which is a problem, because it’s very hard to find strong female singers with a clean, not overly sexualized image. Why does it have to be like this?

Clothes can make us feel good (with their warmth, the feel of their fabrics, their message, their history, etc.) and they can make us look interesting, they can give us a different persona, they can play along with our moods. They can do a lot. But no, they should not have to be sexy and make us “attractive”. Give us a break.

When we can wear whatever we want, is tight, uncomfortable clothing that makes us self-conscious really what we want the most?

I don’t advocate for “modest” clothing (that sounds very anti-feminist and I don’t want to be accused) but I vote for personal comfort and pleasure. Nothing should make me feel like I need to pay attention to my clothes after I put them on the in the morning. They should not remind me of their existence throughout the day, because I don’t have time for that.

Freedom always comes with responsibility, and the choices we have to make weigh heavy on our shoulders and on those of the generations coming after us. I think in order to make a difference and really break the patriarchal puppeteer strings, we need to choose the durable, valuable power that comes not from using our sexuality but from using our brains, our empathy, our emotional intelligence, our instincts, our affectionate and caring natures.

Sure, sometimes we find ourselves in situations where using our sexuality is an advantage that we cannot ignore, and it’s our bodies, and we can do whatever we want, so we might choose to use this advantage. But let’s not make that our primary or only choice. Because it’s reductive and damaging.

Sure, there is a good time for sexy clothes: like when we explicitly go out looking for a mate. But that is not every day and in every situation, is it? Often we just go looking for a job. Or for groceries.

Because it’s not just about clothes. It never is. It ends up being about who we are to the core. And I think most of us like to believe we’re much more than just our bodies and our sexuality. We are much more complex, amazing creatures with diverse interests and qualities, with a myriad individual oddities and brilliance and follies. Our clothes maybe can represent some of that instead of just showing “sexy”. Just saying.

A woman’s life (and what history will make of it)

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August 11, 2014

book-on-outside-tableI just finished been reading Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall this weekend, because my family allowed me an evening at home by myself while everyone went to the lake for a swim and play. I don’t have that kind of time often anymore, because it appears that taking care of two kids is enough work for two parents (and two grandparents) and nothing less. Of course, things will change and this little baby grows more independent, but until then you probably should be prepared that I’ll complain about my lack of time non stop. Because it’s hard. It’s very very hard.

Anyway. I read this biography of Margaret Fuller, nineteenth century writer, woman of amazing culture and intellect who counted among her friends people like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, and I was left with many buzzing thoughts. So annoying that I have to put them down in writing.

All these men that she knew and collaborated with have become celebrated figures of literature and history and, while oftentimes they admitted to Margaret Fuller’s intellectual superiority, she was the one who history decided to leave in the shadows. She wrote a treatise about the condition of women Woman in the Nineteenth Century, in which she argues that women should not devote themselves to marriage and family as they do, because it limits them, and they never get a chance to become what they should become. She thought that women need to be educated and find employment that suits their skills, instead of working in the house. She is basically against marriage, unless it is one of equals, which was a very rare thing in that time and remains quite often hard to achieve even today. She also wrote extensively for the New York Tribune, for which she covers that revolutions in Europe and particularly Italy in 1846 to 1849.

She was quite a figure and yet I hadn’t heard of her before two weeks ago when a friend recommended that I read this book. True, I am not very knowledgeable of American history or literature, but I had heard of Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne, so . . .  yeah, if there was any fairness, I would have known Margaret Fuller’s name too, and when my daughter asked me last year about a notable woman that she could read about for a school assignment maybe I would have given her this name. Instead my daughter learned about the Abigail Adams who “didn’t really do anything interesting, mami!”

I used to respond to questions of why doesn’t history mention more extraordinary women by showing the person (usually a man, to say the full truth) that women did not have access to education and they were not allowed to be active in the public sphere even if they did somehow become highly educated. Now I realize that even if one managed to overcome all these obstacles, her achievement, no matter how extraordinary, would simply be overlooked by history, because how great can a woman be? Not that great. Just all right, for a woman, I guess. Sad. Very sad, dear humanity! I feel embarrassed for you.

(I have illustrated this post with a photo on my newly “redecorated” backyard deck. The cafe table and its chairs got a new coat of paint and new fabrics to cover them. I made the chair cushions myself from old sofa pillows and a new indoor/outdoor tablecloth. The deck suddenly became a biggish attraction for the whole family, when just a few days ago, and for most of the summer, it was just a hangout for recyclables, trash, dirty diapers, and, at night, adorable racoons. P.S. No, I don’t expect history to note my tableclothing skills, as phenomenal as they clearly are.)

Read women

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May 8, 2014

books on the sidetableYou know the feeling when you think you’re having a brilliant idea that is so original and so perfect it sends shudders through your spine? And then you find out that many other people have had that same thought much before you, and their version was also much better than yours? Right. One of those moments has been brought to me by the generosity of my very average, unoriginal mind (which is, however, delusional and overestimates itself all the time) when I came up with the idea to read only books authored by women, which was maybe a year or more ago.

It actually started for me organically, if I am to be honest with myself. It was not the proverbial light-bulb moment. I slowly began to feel that I didn’t want to pick up books written by men. I was not interested anymore in men’s worldview. Not because it’s not valuable in itself, but because I’ve had enough of it already. I’ve read the classics of literature throughout my youth, and they were overwhelmingly men, of course. Which is fine, I think: for the longest time very few women wrote anything more than diaries and letters, mostly because they were not permitted anything more–they were not allowed education and if they somehow got that, they were not allowed to show it beyond the confines of their homes and salons.

But these days women write extensively. They write in every genre, on every possible topic, with all imaginable degrees of success, from garbage to Nobel-prize worthy.  So I don’t feel I am limiting myself in any way by choosing only from probably half of the books that are being published. Well, I don’t actually know how many books are being published by women compared to men, but you know, women are a little bit more than half of the world’s population, so reading only what half of the population is writing doesn’t seem so restrictive, does it? I don’t feel that I am missing on big works of genius, because the chances are, for every brilliant book written by a man, there will be a woman’s book just as amazing, even if not touted as such by the painfully patriarchal and biased system of the literary establishment.

Besides, let’s not forget that many men would never read a book written by a woman. For disgusting reasons that I feel nauseated to explain here. But that is why so many women writers feel like they have to hide their identity if they want any readers of the opposite sex to pick up their tomes. And nobody makes a fuss about that. It’s normal to not want to read women. They just think silly thoughts about love and dresses and such. They are not working with the big, universal truths. But to not read men? Isn’t that just extreme and doesn’t it make you miss out on too much? Yeah, I’m crying myself to sleep because of how much I’m missing, let me tell you.

Anyway, it seems that many other women have reached similar conclusions and are making an effort to support literature by women. On Twitter, there is a #readwomen2014 campaign. We should join. It just makes good sense.

P.S. For those who wouldn’t know where to start, here is a list from The Atlantic of 21 books written by and about women that men would benefit from reading.

You want to be taken seriously as a writer? Then be(have like) a man!

by , on
July 19, 2012

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This article published on the website of the National Book Critics Circle is so disturbing that I have a hard time rereading it even if it was just to order my thoughts for a rebuttal. It makes me very upset and while strong feelings are a good base for fiction, they are not a good starting point for a reasonable, civil discussion. But I am a woman and I am going to own my strong emotions. I am going to accept them and use them in my favor (hopefully). For too long women have been dismissed as hormonal and unbalanced.

I am tired of seeing all the spheres of women’s interests being ridiculed, disparaged and considered unworthy. I am tired of having to defend crying, pink and other “girlie” accoutrements in front of my daughter who has started rejecting them in an effort to fit in the judgmental kindergarten social space.

So according to the author of this article, women writers should behave more like men if they want to be taken seriously: they should not do girlie chat on stage in front of an audience, speaking about going shopping, doing yoga and having lunch, like Elizabeth Gilbert and Ann Patchett did recently in Portland. They should not write about the mundane, the domestic, although it is a big part of their life, because such topics will always fail to produce the kind of literature that is appreciated and valuable. And they should not, by any means, sit comfortably with their legs tucked up on cushioned chairs. Horror of horrors! Can you imagine? Chatting “like girls at a slumber party?” (I can feel my blood boiling just by writing this quote.)

I personally would have loved to be in the audience and see these two women act like women, be natural and offer me a slice of understanding of what they really are about as people. I would think it shallow and close-minded to considered them less competent and worse writers because they put their feet up and created a more casual atmosphere in that lecture hall. Since when have we stopped allowing even the creative people to manifest their creativity?

I am suspecting a generational issue here, although I do not know who the “admin” of this blog is. The comments on the blog are also closed. What’s wrong with girls and their slumber parties, pray tell? Why is that so bad, while the image of grown up men playing like boys is so endearing, heart-warming and thoroughly acceptable?

The thing that bothers me the most, however, is the idea that a book written around topics that are, for whatever reasons, closer to a woman’s heart are deemed of less importance than topics that are more “manly,” like war, let’s say. We are returning here to that spiny problem of the domestic life and work being seen as less valuable than work outside of the home. It is a prejudiced attitude that doesn’t take into consideration the huge impact on humanity that the domestic work and home life have. Nurturing children and families has been a woman’s problem for … ever. I am not going to comment on why. But this work of women has been keeping our children and families feeling whole, happy, safe and sane. Why is working outside of the home and bringing in money more valuable than that? Why are the problems of the world bigger and more important than the  microcosm of the home and family, when all the world’s bigger problems stem from here? Why do we, women, always try to change ourselves to fit some external, male-generated value system instead of realizing that maybe we are not that flawed and maybe we can change a tiny bit of that system so that it incorporates our point of view too? There is nothing inherently wrong with us, is there? Our perspective is just as valid and valuable as any other.

I believe women writers need to write about whatever makes their lives full, be it yoga, politics, healthy diets, fashion, economics or war. I don’t think we need to feel embarrassed of denigrating labels anymore and just do what’s right for us. That is how value is created. Change will happen and real value will become visible. Someday. Right now, let’s just start by folding our legs in armchairs and telling ourselves that we are not broken and what matters to us is important and serious, and it simply matters.

 

The Female Advantage, by Sally Helgesen

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March 27, 2012
I finally finished this book that I have been reading for a while. It is not a bad book, but it lost my interest a few times throughout. That is maybe because I have very little tolerance for “business talk” and this book is about business management. As a matter of fact, what I enjoyed the most was the beginning and the end, the analysis of the study, and less the “diary studies” themselves.

The book, originally published in 1990, is written around the case studies of four women managers from different types of organizations, like the Girl Scouts of America, a broadcasting company, a contractor business and Ford. The author follows these women throughout a typical work day and notes down their methods. Some of them give a very headstrong and direct vibe, some are more subtle and creative approach. The analysis and discussion around the observations gathered by the author is facilitated by the comparison with a similar study of the workday of men managers done in 1968 by Henry Mintzberg, which became the basis for the book “The Nature of Managerial Work” in 1973.

Two things have remained with me after reading this book. One is that women in power tend to see themselves in the center of a net, while men managers place themselves at the top of a hierarchy. I think this is a very interesting distinction, isn’t it? Women have a more integrative view of the world, where we are all interconnected and interdependent, while men need a more structured world, classified, prioritized, one way. I am sure there will be many perspectives in between and this involves a lot of generalization which is not fair to everyone.

Anyway, the other particularity of women’s way of managing a company and their work  that fascinated me was that all the women schedule frequent breaks in their work day, while men just go on and on with their long workdays. The way the author justifies this difference is that historically women’s work has been one that never ends. Nowadays is the office/home/children trilogy that never lets you catch rest, earlier was the agrarian type of work as opposed to the hunter men, who could clearly see the end of their efforts, when the game was loaded and carried back home.

Another intriguing difference observed by the author is is that the women managers considered important to disseminate and share the information, for the good workings of the company, while men managers tended to gather as much information as they could in their no-break workdays but would have a difficult time sharing that. Men managers also tended to identify with their work completely. Because of the overwhelming nature of their work and the fact that they all tended to sacrifice family time to and personal interactions to strictly work-related activities, men could not separate from their job, while the women, being mothers, could not afford but to see themselves (and their employees) as complex individuals and would allow time for personal matters during their encounters and workdays.

This was a fascinating read. I’ll probably mention it in conversations for a long time — it’s that kind of book.

The Beauty Myth, by NAOMI WOLF

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March 25, 2012
thebeautymythUnlike many other books, I find it difficult to review this one. I have mixed emotions about it and it’s somehow become very important to me. Obviously, I am a little late in reading it–it was first published in 1991, so almost two decades ago. I am sorry to say, however, that not many things have changed since that time and the book is still, (and horrifically in many ways) accurate and current.

I consider myself a feminist, maybe because I come from a culture where feminism does not have as many terrible connotations as in the U.S. Some negative aspects of it are represented in Romania, too, and I guess throughout the world, and it makes me wonder why, but I do not want to succumb to the conspiracy theory of Naomi Wolf. Because I find that is the weakest and most debatable part of this book: all the negative  actions and effects of the beauty myth are decoded as a devilish master plan to keep women out of politics, to make them weak and submissive and prevent them from ever attaining any sort of real power. Of course, this is her interpretation of the facts, and the facts are what matter, and they are very powerful in themselves. Many are not new (the women’s magazines fabrications and how they are more or less controlled by advertisers and by their need to make women feel bad about themselves so that buying products can save them, gift them happiness) but many are shocking (how studies show that for women a certain amount of weight is not such a big factor in decreasing health, but on the contrary, it is important for their health and may prolong their lives–how come we never hear about that? Apparently, the National Institutes of Health studies that linked obesity to heart disease were based on male subjects, and when women were finally included in the research, the results showed very little correlation in their case.) Even very simple ideas, like the fact that cellulite is just how a woman’s flesh tends to look like and is just natural, not the mark of ugliness, seem so outrageous for our indoctrinated minds.

I do emerge, after reading this book, with a more liberated sense of self, more entitled to be who I am and how I want to be, regardless of what society expects of me. I am nowhere completely free of my years of conditioning to be an “acceptable” woman of our world, but I did come a few steps closer, and that is invaluable. I think it is a book of great value that does help you pull down a few layers of the veils that obstruct the truth of a woman’s condition and conditioning in our society today. I will put this one of the pile of books that I save for my daughter, when she’s the right age.

Women turn to (men) politicians for reproductive guidance

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March 23, 2012

Hilarious video created by the Paper Rats (authors Kristen J. Tsetsi and R.J. Keller).

The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine

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March 28, 2009
femalebrainI hated this book. I was expecting some great revelations from it and in the end… nothing, nothing at all. There is nothing new that you would learn from this book. The same old stereotypes that are given a scientific shape, brainy explanations. I was laughing with my husband that he has a female brain and I have a predominantly male one, because in our family h is the one who loves to talk, who is more social while I prefer solitary activities. Actually, apparently there has been a recent study which shows that men and women use roughly the same amount of words daily.

So what do we find from the author of this book? That women are conditioned to be interested in good looking men to have sex with. Wow! Really? Isn’t that the big bomb? We also find that our brains turn to mush when we become mothers and our whole world of interests changes for good. Aha. Who would have guessed?

I was hoping to get some insight that would help me with the Mutiny of Violets but I was not that lucky. Still searching.

I wonder about the relevance of this book and how could anybody decide to publish this in 2006. Well, I wasted my time with it and I am not happy. I hope that my next book will make up for it. Let’s wait and see what comes up next on my reading table. Until then, I forgive this book for taking up my precious time and I hope others will be smarter and will stop reading in time or simply not even take this book from the library shelf.

Oh, searching some more online I find out that the author of this book has been under quite some attack for not fact-checking her book. Also for citing fake sources (that don’t actually support her assertions as she wants to make her readers believe). All right. And another thing – if you start reading the bad reviews the book is getting on Amazon, you will certainly run far, far away from it, never to touch it in your life. I enjoyed reading the bad reviews much more than I enjoyed the book itself. At least it stirs some discussion. That is most times constructive. Wow. I am impressed by how critical people can be and by how lovely that is sometimes, in the world. I am happy to see that actually there are not so many the ones that take everything written to be God-spoken truth.