An Intellectual Orgasm: Elisabeth Badinter

I’m experiencing an intellectual orgasm of incredible proportions, my friends. Reader Lindsay (a wonderful, kind person) recommended the books of a French feminist philosopher called Elisabeth Badinter to me. I’m now reading her book Dead End Feminism, and what a joy it is! Finally, I have encountered a renowned feminist whose ideas are very similar to mine.

I have received so much criticism from the choice feminists and the “women are victims of everything” feminists, that I even started to doubt my own ideas. I have been wary of saying exactly what I want to say. Now, however, I have managed to rid myself of this silly fear. I can finally stop mincing words and being uber-polite and can begin to talk about my kind of feminism freely.

Prepare yourselves, people. I am going to be as radical and direct as I always wanted to be but was afraid to. This feels so liberating, I can’t tell you.

Thank you, Lindsay, for recommending this great philosopher to me!

A review of Badinter’s book is upcoming. It has one huge defect: it’s way too short. Now, I will be buying everything she ever wrote. And if I have to resuscitate my French to read her untranslated writings, then I’m ready to do that. I’d learn Chinese to read her, she is that good.

A New Blog to Follow

Today is a great day for me. I’ve been receiving good news since morning. Among them, is the fact that a dear colleague of mine has started a blog of his own. I always feel very happy when another fellow Hispanist joins our blogging community. We, the scholars of literature, are usually fascinating people with a wide area of interests and strong opinions. We are, of necessity, widely traveled and well-read. We also argue and produce new ideas for a living.

People often imagine us, the academics, as elitist nerdy folks who are completely out of touch with the realities of regular citizens. This is not true, though. We have a lot of non-academic interests that most people can relate to. Some of us are passionate cooks, some are dedicated soccer fans, some watch the Dr. Phil Show and love reality TV, some are into fashion and collect shoes, some are obsessed with mystery novels and horror movies, many struggle with paying our bills. We have a lot to say about these topics and, what’s really great, we know how to say it well.

Which is why I’m very happy that my colleague has now joined our blogging conversation.

You can find Professor F-B’s blog What? here.

The Wrong Time to Get Philosophical

As I mentioned before, I participate in this program (that will remain unnamed) where I get offered free stuff to write reviews. You get a list twice a month and it usually contains a few very expensive really cool items and many cheaper items. Of course, everybody snaps up the expensive stuff the second it appears, so you need to have very fast mouse-clicking skills. The goal is to grab the cool things first and think later.

So the last time around, I open my list and see that it has this extremely expensive and totally beautiful baby-feeding chair that costs $600. And, of course, instead of just grabbing it immediately, I decided that this was a good moment for me to consider the existential question of whether I want to have children. I mean, I haven’t been able to make the decision in the past 35 years. What are the chances that extra 2 minutes would help, seriously?

Of course, while I was trying to arrive at this momentous decision, people without existential hangups snapped up the chairs.

And now I’m sans the chair and sans a decision.

Now, am I an idiot, or am I a complete idiot?

An Impossible Standard of Beauty

“Our culture promotes and imposes an impossible standard of beauty on women,” people often say. “I’m expected to be a skinny, wrinkle-free, modelesque type of woman all the time because this is the only kind of female appearance that our culture accepts. This is causing me all kinds of suffering!”

Well, actually, our culture does nothing of the kind. You are simply confusing culture with trash. The culture of our Western civilization bears no relationship to the junk you are choosing to consume in its place. True culture, the one that has withstood the test of time, has nothing to do with impossible beauty standards. And the best thing is that you can gain access to it for a low price of. . . well, to be honest, for the most part, you can access it for free. Here are just a few examples.

1. “Magazines are filled with photos of air-brushed stick-thin models!” That is very true. However, your Vogue and Cosmo are not “culture.” They are trashy magazines that will end up on a garbage heap at the end of the month. Instead of obsessing over them, why not turn, for example, to the immortal art of Peter Paul Rubens.

Three Graces

This incredibly beautiful painting is what our culture has cherished, treasured and worshipped for centuries. Vogue and Cosmo are not being exhibited at the El Prado museum, while this piece of art is. Generations of people have stood in front of this painting with tears of admiration in their eyes. A crowd of people is standing in front of it right now with bated breath. You can do that, too, and forget about trashy magazines.

2. “Music videos show impossibly beautiful thin singers like Beyonce. I’ll never be able to look like she does!” With all due respect to Beyonce’s fans, performers like her are a dime a dozen. They come, they go, and we forget their names the second they stop performing. Why not turn, instead, to the magnificent art of Montserrat Caballé?

Caballé is not a “conventional beauty” by any standards. Her gift, however, is absolutely unique. Opera singers, for the most part, are not know for being thin. So if your consumption of culture makes you think of dieting, why not turn to opera? If this beautiful art does not convince you that weight means nothing, then I don’t think anything will.

3. “You only see very thin actresses with regular features and perfect makeup in the movies!” That’s not true, either. Maybe it’s time for you to realize that the garbage produced by Hollywood has nothing to do with the masterpieces of world cinema.

This is Natalia Gundareva, my absolutely most favorite actress in the universe. She died in 2005, which is a huge loss for the cinematographic art everywhere.

The photo is from one of her best roles in the film Autumn Marathon that you can find here. Actually, all of her performances were magnificent. Gundareva was not a conventional beauty and she was never thin. Actually, I look a lot like her and have the same body type. (When N.’s mother asked him what I looked like, he said I looked like Gundareva. This was the best compliment I could have ever received.)

Or take, for example, one of Spain’s leading actresses Carmen Maura.


This is how she looks on her brilliant role in the film The Promise. You could be watching her outstanding performances instead of insipid films starring the incredibly talentless Jennifer Anniston.

People ask me how I manage to be so much at peace with my body when society keeps telling me that my body type is ugly. The truth is, though, that society has immortalized the paintings of Rubens and the acting of Sara Bernhardt, and not inane TV shows and glossy magazines. If you choose to consume the performances of Rihanna and J Lo instead of all the available alternatives, whom can you blame other than yourself for limiting your reality so much?

How to Raise a Teenager?, Part II

4. This is not about you. There will be days (or weeks) where all you get from your teenager will be a resentful glare, an eye roll, and – if you are lucky – an angry growl. The teenager will address you with completely spontaneous, “I hate you!” on regular occasions. Remember: it isn’t you he hates. It’s the hormonal storm that is driving him nuts and that he can’t verbalize or comprehend. Please, see point 1 of the first post in this series for suggestions as to what to do.

5. Provide assistance that is being asked of you. Don’t try to correct the teenager’s mess-ups according to what you think will be a good way to do so. At this point, the help that matters is the kind that has been explicitly asked of you.

A real-life example: Once, Molly called me on the phone at 11 pm.

“My boyfriend is a jerk!” she declared. “Can you tell him he is a jerk and scream at him if I hand him the phone?”

Molly’s boyfriend was always extremely polite and respectful to me. As for me, contrary to what people might believe after reading my blog, I don’t walk around insulting people and screaming at them. However, if that’s what the kid needed at that point, that’s what I had to provide. She passed the phone to the boyfriend.

“You stupid MF, FY from here to hell!” I ranted. “You, horrible, nasty jerk!” I swore at the poor guy for five minutes and then asked him to give the phone to Molly.

“Cool,” she said. “Thanks.”

When she came back home, I didn’t ask any questions, of course. (See rule 1.)

“My boyfriend and I made up,” she informed me. “Thanks for putting him in his place.”

It is very difficult to restrain oneself from lecturing and sharing one’s profound wisdom. You have to do that, though, if you want to preserve your relationship with the kid and not just have them call you on Christmas and Mother’s Day.

How to Raise a Teenager?, Part I

At the age of 22, I was left penniless after a bad divorce in a new country whose language I barely spoke. On the day that happened, my 16-year-old sister came to live with me. She had gone through the trauma of emigration 3 months before and was starting to go to a CEGEP (a Canadian pre-university college type program) where she was the youngest kid of all. She also had to study in a language she never had a chance to speak before. We were so poor that going to Tim Horton’s was the most extravagant, chic thing we could imagine. And it was also the best time ever in our lives.

I had to come up with ways of dealing with the typical teenage stuff pretty much overnight. I believe I did exceptionally well. Today, my sister, let’s call her Molly,  is 29. She is an entrepreneur, a brilliant businesswoman, a professional, a true intellectual, and a wonderful mother. I messed up quite a bit in the process of bringing her up but, overall, my results are really great. We are best friends today, which is significant, given that most people fail to maintain closeness with people they raised during the difficult teenage years.

So here are the principles of dealing with a teenager that I arrived at for myself:

1. The most important thing one can do when dealing with a teenager is uphold the three wise monkeys principle: I see nothing, I hear nothing, I say nothing. The poor kid is going through intense hormonal changes. She can’t help being in a vile mood most of the time. All one can do is breathe in and look the other way.

2. But what if she gets in trouble??? Yes, the teenager will get in trouble. That’s pretty much a given. S/he will either get involved with a bad crowd, or get drunk, or experiment with drugs, or get into debt, or stay out all night, or let the grades slip, or antagonize the teachers, or start dating some horrible person (or two, or three, or fifteen.) If everything goes the way it should, the teenager will do all of these things and, probably, all at the same time. This is a sure sign that, until now, your parenting has been really good.

Teenage years are the time of figuring things out, trying on different roles, and messing up. People who didn’t have all these experience during their adolescence will try to catch up later. And the later one lives through a teenage rebellion, the more painful and damaging it is. I’ve seen people who begin their teenage rebellion at the age of 40, and that is a sad sight to see.

3. But what if this teenage experimentation destroys her life??? When a person is 14+ years old, it is way too late to inculcate any foundational moral and ethical principles in them. This had to be done before. It is way too late to start lecturing a person at this age. Also, you need to remember that part of rebellion is doing precisely what the parental authorities specifically prohibit one from doing. Your kid needs to play at rejecting your way of being as a necessary step on the way of figuring out who they are.

I remember when I was 15-17, I rejected the experience of my bookish father by not reading. At all. Books and learning were an anathema to me. I would almost give my father heart attacks by loudly declaring, “Books are stooooopid!” Now, twenty years later, I’m a professor of literature. As we can see, this was simply a stage I had to go through to figure out if reading was something I needed outside of my father’s influence.