Wonder Woman and Break from the Usual

Mostly this blog space is dominated by my work for Cannonball Read. Over the years more and more of my free time and energy has been placed in that wonderful community and our goals.

Over there, many are comics aficionados. It was never something that worked for me as a reader. I did not grow up going to the comic book shop, I never read the stories of the legions of heroes.

I also spent my cartoon years in a Disney rabbit hole. Gummie Bears. The Rescuers. Darkwing Duck. What can I say, I’m a child of the early 80s. Batman: the Animated Series was just not on my radar even though by rights it should have been.

But as an adult I have found and crafted an interest in the mechanics of pop culture. I am endlessly fascinated with actor’s processes, the production web, black listed scripts, Hollywood history, media representation, and the comings and goings of each year’s movie offerings by major studios. I have probably consumed 6 hours of podcasts and many articles on Alien: Covenant and I have never watched a single Alien movie. But the process, the lore, and the production decisions interest me. I’m the gal having an in depth discussion about sequels v universe stories with friends and colleagues, regardless of whether I’ve watched the product in question. The theory is enough.

It also means that over the past decade (thanks Marvel Cinematic Universe) that I have educated myself in the worlds of comic characters. I am by no means a scholar on the subject, but I am conversant. My experience as an MCU fan though, has taught me that sometimes the theory isn’t always enough.

Marvel has its fair share of powerful female characters. Sometimes we even get to see them on screen. But in its 25 years of existence Marvel Studios (formerly Marvel Films) has never produced a female led property. Reasons are given, excuses are made, media forecasters have their opinions and we are left without even this much in representation.

I admit to being late to fully understanding the disparity in representation and its cornerstone in modern feminist movements. As a young person I had Leia. She already was. Many of the books I read as a young person (after being a late reader to begin with) were female focused and driven. My movie and television intake was relatively limited, but in all honesty the “token girl” in movies and television shows didn’t feel weird to me because I was so often the only girl hanging out with the boys in my neighborhood.

Then we moved and I went through puberty and I started to see the world through slightly different eyes. But in my immediate life I was more concerned with racial issues with my best friend being of a different race than me, and dealing with constant blow back in some cultural arenas (that friend and I – over the course of 26 years – have rarely NOT been separated in a crowd. People assume we aren’t together).

But now my focus has been brought to seeing women as we are, and as heroes. Jessica Chastain in the closing ceremonies at Cannes just railed against the way women are portrayed, still, in media. 

So I will be going to see Wonder Woman. Even though I have never seen the 1970s series or read a single word over her many stories.

It might feel small, like a pebble tossed into the ocean, and in some ways it is. But, it is also me using my limited consumer dollars to support something I believe in. The MCU has done its fans a disservice, and for that I will take my money to the competitor for the first time since the current model DC Cinematic Universe has been underway. I was going either way, but I am ecstatic that the reviews are so glowing. It will make those dollars even more sweetly used.

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The Geek Feminist Revolution (CBR9 #20)

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Kameron Hurley’s collection of essays is incredibly prescient to the world around us, as women continue to suffer an unheralded epidemic of violence. In The Geek Feminist Revolution Hurley isn’t just focused on that, but she brings around the idea that the type, quality, and diversity of pop culture we consume and produce is directly affected by the cultural norms which lead to the erasure of women in public spaces, and the violence experienced by this group and others who are erased.

I wish I hadn’t returned this book to the library already. This book clocks in at less than 300 pages, but it is broken up into four sections, and each of those sections contains probably a dozen essays. Hurley writes sci-fi/fantasy novels, is a copywriter for a Marketing firm as her day job, and is a consistent blogger who writes 1500 – 3000 words a day. What that translates to for this work is that there are far more essays than I can recall to tell you about (that, and a fair amount of awe.)

Instead, I’ll talk about the themes these four sections bring together. The first section, Level Up includes essays about improving the craft of writing and the importance of persistence. It was very good, but not necessarily, what I had signed up for with this book and took a bit of time to get through. The Geek section discuss various media and conversations around them. The essay Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max particularly spoke to me (so much so that I took a photo of the opening page) and the next chapter about True Detective season one and the monsters as men narrative it tells had me nodding my head in agreement, even though I never watched that show. These chapters break open important discussions about what behaviors are normalized in society.

Let’s Get Personal is exactly what it says, stories about Hurley’s life to this point and the personal struggles and victories that got her to now. Probably my least favorite section because by this point it felt very repetitive.  The last section, Revolution deals with fandom’s recent dust-ups and a call for revolution, for change, in how fans and creators alike deal with reckoning with their privilege.  This last section includes Hurley’s Hugo Award winning piece for Best Related Work in 2014, We Have Always Fought which discusses the ways in which tropes do the erasing of lived experience.

As I mentioned, these four sections are linked by Hurley’s main thesis: that all we have to better ourselves in this world is persistence, hard work, self-awareness and perspective. She is not wrong, and while this book is far from perfect, it is a good and healthy addition to your reading diet.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Men Explain Things to Me (CBR9 #17)

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I do not really do New Year’s resolutions, but my informal one this year was to read more about topics I should be more informed about, and specifically more feminist reads. As with most of the good things I read these days, Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit was already on my radar. I was familiar with the eponymous essay’s conceit: that Solnit was treated to an older gentleman explaining her book to her without realizing that she had written it, or that it had in fact been written by a woman. But, I hadn’t taken the time to find the essay or this collection. It was time to remedy this.

The best compliment I can give Ms. Solnit is that she has a definitive voice to her writing. I watched an interview that she gave (about climate change and other things), and in it her voice sounded exactly as I had expected it to, based on reading her writing.

This book (a quick 150+ pages) is a collection of essays, nine in total in this updated version, and the first was great. But perhaps the ones that hit closest to my heart were the ones where Solnit talks about the staggering statistics of violence perpetrated against women by men. We aren’t discussing an epidemic. A public health crisis which seemingly never ends in the United States, due in no small part to the fact that we won’t name the beast. The silencing of women is at the core of this book, the concept linking the essays. We are silenced in personal, professional, political, and cultural spaces, and this book gives some discernment into this shared experience. Of course I suggest this book to everyone, but it should absolutely be read by all the men, even the good guys. We need them calling out the “nice guys” and general asshats.

Read it.

And his name is Voldemort, you might as well use it. He’s going to try and kill you either way”. – Minerva McGonagall, Deathly Hallows part 2

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Trainwreck (CBR9 #10)

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I’m rating this one 5 stars not because it’s perfect (although I feel it is pretty close) but instead because it is perfect for right now. In Trainwreck, Sady Doyle unpacks the ways that society judges women who dare to live too big a life and how historically “too big a life” has been pretty darn small.

I was already in an angry feminist headspace last November when I read badkittyuno’s review and her description of the book as a journey through the cycle of trainwrecks in modern pop culture and the stories of the historic trainwrecks who came before sounded right up my alley. When I finished All the Single Ladies and We Should All Be Feminists at the end of last year I decided to add more feminist reading to my list, and Trainwreck moved to the head of the line.

Badkittyuno was exactly right; Doyle’s style of writing will make you angry at how we treat women, and how we always have. But, the tone of the book isn’t “look at all these terrible things that others have done to women” its “look at how our societies have been built to bring down women”. It is a distinction, which is important, and changes this book from what could have been an angry rant into a well-paced, well-spoken examining of culture. The women she chooses to highlight, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Billie Holiday to Britney Spears (the ultimate modern trainwreck), are perfectly encapsulated and Doyle makes sure to highlight that almost all of these women have written for themselves. Doyle takes the time to point this out in order to tell us that we should go back to the source, as she should not be the end all be all of these women’s narratives.

I still believe the patriarchy harms everyone, and feminism aims to heal through equality of options and choice. However, it’s also incredibly important to realize what internalized messages we have all taken onboard and work to undo them. Trainwreck is a place to start, because recognizing the pattern means we can begin to undo it.

Even if you aren’t in an angry feminist mind space right now, this is still a funny, sharp-witted book and I would completely suggest making time for it in your reading diet.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

We Should All Be Feminists (CBR8 #78)

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Raise your hand if you have been called a feminist as a derisive term.

Raise your hand if you have ever had to explain to someone that feminism is, in fact, not the hatred of men or the wishing to take something away from them but rather believing in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

Raise both your hands if you’ve experienced that from someone younger than you.

My hands are raised.

I am, on the best of days, probably a lazy feminist. It has taken me a long time to reckon with the idea that the idea of equality, and not pressuring any gender into socialized expectations, is apparently radical. I just didn’t fully understand that I had to be out proselytizing the good word about feminism. That’s where my privilege shows.

Ms. Adichie, in her 50 page book-let, lays out for her audience (and it is a rather specific one, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t extrapolate out to a larger one) what this crazy feminism thing is, and how it’s for everyone. It’s both as simple and as beautiful as that. The patriarchy harms everyone, and feminism aims to heal through equality of options and choice.

Following the election results here in the United States I have realized that I need to be better educated about the causes I believe in, and willing to put some skin into the game. In that goal, there will be a lot more books in my CBR9 reviews about issues of social justice and feminism. Ms. Adichie’s book is a great place to start in order to give your brain some food. The Read Harder Challenge task I used this book to complete is “read a book aloud to someone” so I now have a recording of it in my own voice, to go along with her TEDxEuston talk.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for Cannonball Read 9 is open through January 13, 2017. You can sign up to read and review 13, 26, or 52 books for the year. Think of it as a personal challenge with the philanthropic side effect of saying “Fuck Cancer!”

All the Single Ladies (CBR8 #77)

Cannonball Read is the best for getting good books in front of your eyeballs.

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I read expandingbookshelf’s review of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation this summer and added the book to my to read list on Goodreads. Then I read Lollygagger’s review early this fall and I put in my library hold. I hope some of you will do the same.

I am a single lady in my 30s. I have never been married. I am one of many data points that make up a new demographic in American society. For the first time since data has been kept on the subject (and possibly EVER), single women outnumber their married counterparts. A cursory view of my friend group supports this. In fact, my friend group supports most of the points that author Rebecca Traister makes throughout All the Single Ladies. We are educated, often career minded, and for a variety of reasons not with partners, except the quarter of us who are. We come from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of us want kids, some of us do not, some of us want partners, some of us do not.

From Goodreads: Today, only twenty percent of Americans are wed by age twenty-nine, compared to nearly sixty percent in 1960. The Population Reference Bureau calls it a “dramatic reversal.” All the Single Ladies is a remarkable portrait of contemporary American life and how we got here, through the lens of the single American woman. Covering class, race, sexual orientation, and filled with vivid anecdotes from fascinating contemporary and historical figures.

Rebecca Traister does a really interesting job of speaking to a variety of viewpoints in this book through ten chapters that explore different facets of being an unmarried woman in the U.S. My favorite sections were probably where Traister explores the role of single women throughout modern history – but that’s because I’m a history nerd. But the stories of women who didn’t marry, or married late so that they could be activists, leaders, and artists really interested me.

Moving into the contemporary era, Traister also interviewed 100 women of various education, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds to provide anecdotal evidence to go along with the studies she references as she examine the reasons for the increasing number of single women, as well as how the trend affects not just women – economically, socially, psychologically – but also men and society as a whole. It’s fascinating, well-researched, and broad. And that may be where the second half of the book suffers, just a bit.

But, there is one very important reason that I rounded this book back up to a 4 and not down to a three: Traister gets intersectional feminism and discusses the ways that different stimuli in different groups are creating the same overall effect. Is it perfect? No. Traister covers a variety of different viewpoints, but not always thoroughly. Specifically, those that would consider themselves Conservatives.

This book is a good introductory tome, but it is a bit overstuffed and a slow read. I took a break while reading The Count of Monte Cristo, but this was still at times a well-written slog.

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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (CBR8 #35)

This is another in a long series of books which I picked up to read solely on the recommendation of my fellow Cannonballers, however I probably should have paid slightly closer attention (again, nothing new there).  While Carrie Brownstein’s memoir chronicles life from an interesting perspective, it did not hold my attention and instead left me wanting.

ModernLove read this book earlier this year, and gave it four stars. It was her assertion that she was not someone who had listened to Sleater-Kinney (Brownstein’s band) or seen more than an episode of Portlandia (her show with Fred Armisen) and still found this work relatable and well written which convinced me that since I shared those qualities, I too should read this book. ModernLove wasn’t wrong, Brownstein constructs her narrative in a manner which does not assume that you are overly familiar with her work or the Pacific Northwest. This was all good.

The problem for me was in the actual writing of the book. This memoir was too focused on the subject, it was too focused on the “me” and the “I”. Yes, Brownstein does many things well – she is critical of herself and her place in the narrative she is telling us. BUT, I found this book to be simultaneously overwritten and narrow in scope. It was very disappointing because Brownstein obviously has talent and a great vocabulary, but other than being impressed with her word choice I found myself skimming overly long paragraphs waiting for Brownstein to return to her through line. She also does not expand her story out to the universal, in being circumspect and critical of her own self-importance Brownstein appears to miss the opportunity to bring in outside perspectives.  As janniethestrange said in her review “she repeatedly says that she spends ‘too much time’ in her head and that disconnect is evident throughout the book, leaving me little to connect with on an emotional level.”

This leaves me sorrowfully ranking this book at two stars, I wish I enjoyed the book as much as I was interested in the story of someone who has managed to navigate the minefield of being a woman and simultaneously living an artistic life. If only all the chapters were as moving as the chapter about the sexism , much of it backhanded, which she has experienced along the way.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.