>Gender and Housework

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So as we can see from this table, even when both partners are employed full-time, women still do a lot more housework than men. Why does that happen?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and according to my observations, women themselves are often to blame for this state of affairs. In my experience, most if not all men are more than willing and capable of cooking their own meals, doing the laundry, cleaning their place of abode, etc. Granted, I haven’t spent much time with fundamentalist freaks, so I’m mostly talking about normal, educated men who do not believe actively that women are inferior by nature.

What I often observe is that women go to great lengths to do everything they can and more around the house and stifle any attempts that men make at doing their share of housework. Often, when I visit a couple I know I observe the following scene: when we finish eating, the male partner gets up to remove the dirty dishes and the woman immediately jumps up and almost screams: “Don’t! I’ll do it myself!” Usually, these are very progressively-minded, feminist women.

The myth that you have to be a good housewife to be loved and appreciated is too deeply ingrained in our minds. It’s often difficult to get rid of the feeling that a sink full of dirty dishes is somehow your problem just because of your gender. As much as we might advocate for gender equality, we often end up doing everything we can to infantilize men and prevent them from learning to fulfill their household obligations. In a way, it makes sense. If a man feels completely useless around the house, it makes a woman feel more indispensable.

What we have to do is learn to give up on this fake feeling of indispensability and remember that we are valuable not for the amount of household work we perform. We shouldn’t strive to be useful and convenient to the detriment of our equality. Contrary to what the title of the above-quoted table says, men do not need looking after. They are perfectly capable of doing that for themselves.

>Wildlife in Southern Illinois

>One thing I can’t get used to here in Southern Illinois is the wildlife. First, there was a fox (ar at least that’s who I think it was) that lived in our trash can. It seemed to be very unhappy there and I kept worrying about it until some nice neighbor found a way to help the fox get out of the trash can. Then, I was waiting for a bus next to a corn field and a deer ran out of it. It passed right next to me and ran in the direction of financial institutions that are located next to the corn field. I really identified with the deer because it must have forgotten to withdraw its money the night before and had to run to the bank in the morning.

Then last night I went to take out the garbage and I saw this really ugly and scary animal which I later identified as an opossum (with the help of a student). It has a very nasty, pointy face and it leered at me. It scared me so much that I had nightmares all night long. I dreamt that I had to go on a date with Gorbachov and I had no nice shoes. And the store where I went in my dream only sold very ugly shoes. In the morning, I felt completely exhausted. That’s what the stupid opossum did to me.

When I lived in New Haven, CT, I got used to seeing police chasing criminals, pimps dressing down their workers, or armed criminal running around. So that doesn’t really bother me any more. Seeing all these animals, however, will take a lot of getting used to.

>Mondays in the Sun

>Mondays in the Sun is my favorite movie in the entire world. I watched it a dozen  http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=clasblo-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B001DN0UY4 times already and still want to watch it again and again. It starts the incredibly gifted Javier Bardem before he sold out to Hollywood and became the silly Penelope Cruz’s plaything of the month.
This film is not the typical Hollywood-style face-in-a-cake happy-ending fare. Mondays in the Sun is a very profound and realistic portrayal of the lives of laid-off shipyard workers in Spain and the ways in which unemployment damages their male identity. This amazing film is a reminder that movies don’t have to be just one more brainless and tasteless kind of mass entertainment. It is still possible to make films that are works of art.

Every actor in this film plays beautifully and poignantly. The economy of artistic means is impressive. There are no stupid special effects, no excessive sentimentality that kills most Hollywood productions. Altogether, this is simply an incredibly well-made work of cinematographic art.

>Christina Stead: The Man Who Loved Children

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I have no idea why Christina Stead’s amazing novel The Man Who Loved Children: A Novel
(1940) is so unknown and rarely read or discussed. Without setting this as a  goal, Stead’s novel is a feminist manifesto of an incomparable and breathtaking power. This book could be handed out to students instead of an entire course on the history of gender relations. No amount of numbers, figures and historical data could give a fuller understanding of the tragedy of female existence before reliable birth control.

Samuel Pollit, the main male character of the novel, is obssessed with the idea of having children. He baselessly believes himself to possess valuable intellectual and personal characteristics that he wants to pass on to posterity at any cost. He professes to love his 7 children but doesn’t invest much effort into feeding or clothing them. These burdens fall on the shoulders of his wife Henrietta (or Henny, as everybody knows her).

Henny hates her husband. She hates her life and she hates her body that keeps producing children, the children that chain her forever to the man she despises. There is a suggestion that in the early days of Henny’s and Sam’s married life Sam raped his wife to achieve the central goal of his existence: making her pregnant.

The contrast between the lives led by Henny and Sam is striking. Having seven children doesn’t prevent Sam from travelling the world, participating in scientific expeditions, pursuing hiis social and intellectual interests, etc. The children adore him because their father isn’t burdened with much work and can spend a lot of time playing with them and making up stories and adventures for them. Henny, however, has none of these things to brighten her life. She has to worry constantly about putting the food on the table and keeping the whole family out of financial ruin. She is miserable, angry, loud, and unkempt. She beats the children and they hate and fear her.

Henny experiences her own body as a prison, as a dark force that keeps her subjugated to the man she hates: “Look at me! My back’s bent in two with the fruit of my womb; aren’t you sorry to see what happened to me because of his lust? . . Didn’t he fix me up, pin me down, make sure no man would look at me while he was gallivanting with his fine ladies? . . What do I care, Jinny? You’re a mother yourself. Haven’t you done the horrible thing three times yourself for a man?” As you can see, Stead’s novel is brutally honest. There is no mellifluous bleating about the joys of motherhood. For a woman who has absolutely no control over her reproduction, childbearing is “the horrible thing” that pins her down and locks her forever in the prison of  her physiology.

I cannot recommend this beautiful novel highly enough. It’s a heartbreaking, cruel, painful and messy text. And you will never be sorry you read it.

P.S. Here I want to add a very pertinent quote from a discussion at Hugo Schwyzer’s blog (thank you, Anonymous reader, for bringing it to my attention): “Whatever the exact figures, childbirth has probably killed more women than any other single cause in human history. Until very recently (a miracle two millenia ago in Palestine notwithstanding), the only possible cause for pregnancy was heterosexual intercourse. So if childbirth kills women, and sex causes pregnancy, then by the logical transitive property, heterosexual intercourse has been, not so indirectly, the most lethal of all human activities for one-half of the population. To put it even more bluntly, men have killed far more women by ejaculating inside of them than they have by any other method.” You can go here for the rest of this insightful post.

>What’s Feminist about Steel Magnolias?

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Yesterday I felt absolutely exhasuted after all my classes and meetings. So I felt like spending the evening watching some good old feminist classic by way of relaxation. http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=clasblo-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B00004TJKK
was on, so I decided to watch it because I always heard people refer to it as a profoundly feminist film. It is also a perennial staple of “Feminist Film” courses.

Boy, was I in for a disappointment! This poorly made, boring flick is nothing if not profoundly patriarchal. The main story line revolves around a young woman who is willing to risk her life and die (which happens in the end) in order to produce a baby. Because the central goal of a woman’s life is to make babies. Unless you can fulfill this goal, you are incomplete. So of course, the only reasonable thing to do is for a woman literally to kill herself in an attempt to produce a baby.

There are many other female characters who are mainly dedicated to endless hen-like clucking around the protagonist’s attempts to have a baby, as well as interminable conversations about hair-styles, weddings, husbands, etc.

Since the movie was excruciatingly boring, I started investigating the reasons for why some people see this patriarchal piece of rubbish as a feminist film par excellence. The only reason offered by the scholarly articles I encountered on the subject is that the movie “celebrates female camaraderie.” This is a very weird understanding of feminism. Female friendships are great but the film is obviously not about that. In Steel Magnolias, we see women of all generations inhabiting a world of their own. It’s a world of babies, beauty, and homemaking. It’s a world of things that the patriarchal societies always mark as exclusively female. Men are supposed to be detached from these “womanly” interests and concerns, while women have no interest in the pursuits of men. The view of genders as profoundly divided by an unbridgeable chasm of difference is patriarchal. There is nothing feminist about it. Just as there is nothing feminist about this silly movie.

>Degrassi

>I love Degrassi: The Next Generation. Not only is it a great show, it also reminds me of the differences between Canada and the US, the differences that I love and celebrate.

Degrassi addresses the problems teenagers encounter in real life with a lot of common sense and with a profound understanding of today’s realities. The show is supported by the government of Ontario and this tells us a lot about Canada.

Degrassi addresses the issues of teen sexuality with a lot of honesty. There is no attempt to demonize adolescent sexuality or to condemn it outright. The show doesn’t have the boring preachings about the evils of having sex for young women that plague similar US teen dramas. The kids on Degrassi experiment with sex, have numerous partners, and explore their sexuality in a variety of ways. Several characters are openly gay and the show promotes the idea that this is perfectly normal and anybody who fails to accept this is wrong and unenlightened.

Unlike its American counterparts, the show doesn’t condescend to its young viewers. It doesn’t treat teenagers as little idiots who need to be preached to and admonished on a regular basis.

I love watching Degrassi because it shows the teenage experience the way it should be. Everybody in the show is kind, tolerant, and understanding. People make mistakes but always repent and come back to a message of kindness and acceptance of difference.

>Sarah Langan’s The Keeper: A Female Horror Novel

>The Kindle store of Amazon has become my favorite online place after my own blog. They often offer books absolutely for free so that people can get acquainted with new authors. This is how I came across The Keeper, a debut horror novel by Sarah Langan. The genre of the horror novel has always been very productive for female writers. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Charlotte Bronte’s profoundly feminist Jane Eyre set a very high standard for the writers who want to create a work belonging to this genre.

Initially, a was a bit leery of this novel. I was afraid that this debut work would be a disappointment and a waste of time. I have to read a lot as part of my job, so taking on a new novel by a writer I know nothing about means taking time away from more pressing readings that need to be done. However, I am definitely not sorry that I read this book.

Langan is great at descriptions of everyday life in a small town in Maine. A disillusioned, washed-out teacher who is drinking himself into an early grave, a high-school girl trying to come to terms with abuse within her own family, a mother trying to avoid the knowledge that her husband abused his own daughter, the slow disintegration of life in the town that inhabitants of Bedford attribute to its being haunted: this is all narrated with a great economy of artistic means and produces a very powerful impression.

Where Langan fails, however, is in the creation of horror scenes. She is a powerful realist writer but for some reason Langan must believe that adding horror scenes will make her book more powerful. That doesn’t happen. I almost abandoned the book at the very beginning when I encountered a very sloppy and overdone horror scene. It seems like the author watched many bad Hollywood movies and is guided by the imagery they suggested to her. Often, you can practically see the writer attempting to create a text that could be turned into a movie. This, of course, doesn’t make for good writing. Everything is exaggerated, to the point of becoming obnoxious. These insistent and extremely ornate horror passages come into a sharp contrast with the beautifully simple prose of the rest of the novel. Stranngely, Langan understands the power of understatement everywhere except in the horror scenes. If she had paid closer attention to her famous predecessors in the genre, she would have noticed that the atmosphere of horror is best created not through detailed descriptions of blood and gore but by a mere suggestion of something scary lurking in the background.

Another problem I had with the book were the chapter titles that reminded me of the way TV show episodes sometimes are named: “The Husband of the Woman Who Jumped Out the Window (Fall from Grace)”, “Guy Walks into a Bar”, “Excruciatingly Tight Acid-Washed Jeans.” This seemed completely out of place in a novel like The Keeper. I am happy that I didn’t see the table of contents before I started reading the book (thanks to the Kindle it’s possible to skip the table of contents), or I wouldn’t have even begun the novel.

I’m not sorry I read http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=00FFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=clasblo-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=006087290X, but unless Langan decides to turn to what she does best – a straightforward realist narrative – I don’t think I’ll read another novel by this author.

>Why I Hate Garcia Marquez

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the greatest Latin American writers. He is so popular that even some people in the US (like, for example, Oprah who chose his Cien anios de soledad for her book club) might actually recognize his name. And as we all know, this is not an easy feat for a Spanish-speaking writer to accomplish.

The way Garcia Marquez uses language is unbelievably beautiful. It's mesmerizing, hypnotic, heart-breaking in its power to move you. This is why the ideology he puts forward in this amazing language becomes extremely dangerous.

Garcia Marquez is profoundly machista. He despises women and this comes out in every page of his writing. To give just one example, in his novelĀ Amor en los tiempos del colera, one of the female characters is raped. Her rapist assaults her from behind and she never gets to see his face. Of course, she falls profoundly in love with this unseen rapist and spends her entire life searching for him. She has sex with numerous men in an attempt to relive the wonderful feelings she had while being raped. It is impossible to read this and not cringe in total disgust. The author's chauvinism is blatant and apologetic in every single one of his works.

Another problem I have with Garcia Marquez is his absolute indifference to the horrible social and economic realities of his continent. He pretends to have a social consciousness but in reality all his socialism is limited to a hypocritical friendship with Fidel Castro. (Of course, how anybody could go to Cuba and not feel a profound hatred towards the system in place there is beyond my understanding.) As a bestselling author and a Nobel Prize winner, Garcia Marquez could do a lot to reveal the painful realities of Latin America to the world. That, however, wouldn't sell as well. So Garcia Marquez cutesifies and prettifies horrifying realities of his continent in order to make them attractive to his affluent American and European readers.

It is so incredibly sad to see such an amazing talent serving some really irresponsible and hateful ideological goals.

>Merce Rodoreda

>One of the reasons why I love The Nation is because they always publish reviews of books by really amazing writers. I was very happy to find out that they published an article on the incredibly talented Catalan writer Merce Rodoreda*.

Rodoreda’s most famous novel has been translated into English under the title The Time of the Doves. The central conclusion that this beautifully wirtten novel draws about being a woman in a patriarchal society is that

the only way for a woman to preserve her dignity and even simply to survive is through a total rejection of her sexuality.

Natalia, the protagonist of this unconventional female Bildungsroman, leaves her kind and loving boyfriend for the sake of an abusive and profoundly chauvinistic man called Quimet. She is drawn to Quimet because of a powerful sexual attraction he exercises over her. Natalia’s marriage to this man is disastrous in all respects but one: she reaches profound sexual fulfillment with him.

When Quimet dies in a war, Natalia finds herself on the brink of starvation. She feels so desperate that she decides to kill herself and her two small children. A kind shop-owner figures out what she is trying to do and offers Natalia to marry him. Natalia does not love this man and has nothing in common with him. Besides, the war has left her new husband impotent.

The new husband is nice and kind to Natalia and her children. She, however, cannot be satisfied with this tepid relatiosnhip and has to struggle long and hard to get used to her empty existence where the only thing her marriage gives her is food.

This is a truly tragic novel about painful choices, about how the patriarchal society traps a woman and offers her no way out of an existence that will always be based on compromising her interests, desires, and her very possibility to be happy.

*Thank you, my dear friend Oli, for bringing this review to my attention.

>Olive Kitteridge

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The great thing about being a tenure-track faculty member is that you have tons of time to read for fun. Thanks to my Kindle (which always informs me of exciting new books at very accessible prices), I discovered a great book titled Olive Kitteridge: Fiction by Elizabeth Strout, a wonderful author I never even knew existed.

Olive Kitteridge is a collection of stories bound together by the figure of Olive, a powerful, unbending woman who victimizes her husband and alienates her only son. The stories cover a period of 30+ years and depict the central moments in the lives of Olive and her neighbors, inhabitants of Crosby, Maine.

This book is an exploration of the topics of life and death, the loneliness we experience in and out of human relationships, lack of understanding between parents and children, husbands and wives.

At times, the book is melancholy, sad and even heartbreaking. Sometimes, it is also extremely funny. I strongly recommend it to anyone in search of good English prose.