Five Things I’ve Noticed After Being Married for a Month

As of September 16, we’ve been married a month.  Here are five things I’ve noticed since then:

1.  Holy crap, I’m glad this is real life and not Gone Girl.  (But check back with us in  five years?)

2.  One of our wedding readings was this excerpt from Jazz by Toni Morrison.   Since we got married, I can’t stop thinking about it.  It’s not our vows, but in a way I find more promise in it than if it had been.  The relief of being “inward toward the other,” of there being “no stud’s eye, no chippie glance to undo them,” is profound.

Popular culture spends a lot of time telling women that we’re Doing It Wrong, especially when “it” is relationships.  And it’s awful.  It sucks.  Being told how much I suck at performing traditional heteronormative woman-as-object femininity sucks. Which is precisely why Toni Morrison’s words mean so much to me. Because for the first time in my life, I feel sufficiently safe to believe that they’re true.

3.  Misogynist catalogs of my failures as a woman, however, are no longer anxiety-producing in the slightest.  Now they offer only pure unbridled LOLarity.

4.  Romance and marriage are still hella sexist institutions, though, often to the detriment of the female half of a heterosexual pair.  Consider, for example,  this wedding that the bride didn’t know about until she arrived at it – super-romantic of the groom to do all that, right?  …But if the roles were reversed, we’d peg the bride not as “super-romantic,” but as a creepy man-shackling stalker. (Doubt me?  See these “hilarious” cake toppers:

Wilton, “Now I Have You”

Wilton, “Ball and Chain”

Weddingstar, “Roped Groom”

Weddingstar, “Bride Having the Upper Hand”

Weddingstar, “Gone Fishing”

Super-romantic.

5.  Not everyone who wants to know if I’m changing my name has a DEEP PERSONAL INTEREST in the answer.  Some of them just want to make sure they spell it right on the check they’re giving us as a wedding gift.  🙂

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Go Read scATX’s Post on Proof

This post is a MUST-READ: Proof.

“What’s that, all you lady scientists? Bias? I don’t know. Do you have PROOF?”

 

 

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Law, Literature, and Why I Left One For the Other

  I have a J.D.  I’m currently applying to grad schools in pursuit of an English Ph.D.  There are plenty of reasons for this, and one of the biggest is this:

Practicing law forces me to deal with narrative and oppression, but it never gives me a chance to think about it.

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Michigan’s Ballot Proposals: An Irreverent Progressive Weighs In

BALLOTS.

I watch TV at the gym sometimes, when I’m gasping for air and dizzy from trying to read Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL while on the treadmill.  TV at the gym has no sound and rarely has closed-captions, so I have to guess at what’s going on.

Based on a couple commercials I caught in which CONCERNED MIDDLE-AGED WHITE COUPLES sat together at a kitchen table and discussed CONCERNING THINGS (sometimes involving ballots), I’m guessing it’s time I looked at Michigan’s ballot proposals.  If you’re not hot for Michigan politics, best just to skip it.

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Labor Day Links

I guess I’m not the only one working today, as there’s a fair bit of excellent reading in my RSS feed today.  For instance:

At Tiger Beatdown, s.e. smith says some very excellent things about freelancing, self-employment, and labor.

At Sociological Images, Lisa Wade talks food stamps, welfare, and the working poor.  Meanwhile, Gwen Sharp compiles links from SI’s archives on labor for our benefit.  (Thanks!)

The alt-text on today’s xkcd is right: it is just easier to lie about that sort of thing.  Unless the asker is as geeky as you are.  (My husband (!) finds my geekery super-endearing.)

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Five Things I Noticed While Getting Married Yesterday

Five things I noticed while getting married:

  1. Our marriage license, whether read top-to-bottom or left-to-right (the way one reads English, which is the language in which our license is printed), lists the man/husband/groom/father before the woman/wife/bride/mother in every single possible instance.

    This license, from North Carolina, is much prettier and also more egalitarian than ours. But note it still lists the groom’s name first.

    Not only is my new husband’s information before mine when read top to bottom and left to right, but the names of our respective fathers are listed above the names of our respective mothers.  There was no chance to switch any of it around by re-interpreting the word “partner,” either: the form specified the groom’s information went on one side and the bride’s on the other.  (Not surprisingly, this is a state that banned marriage equality via constitutional amendment.)

  2. All the info that came with the license about name changes specified that the name change in question was the bride’s.

    Until men entering a marriage have an equally easy time changing their name to their spouse’s as women have, I’m calling patriarchal shenanigans on this one.

    There was no mention of whether the groom wanted to change his name or not, much less whether that would be as easy for him following a wedding as it would be for her.  (My understanding is that it wouldn’t; our state would require him to petition the court separately, incurring the necessary hours of time, hundreds of dollars in fees, and potential to be charged with a felony if someone came up with probable cause to believe he had lied on the name change form – and he’d still have to do all the Secretary of State and Social Security paperwork as well. Compare that to what I, as the bride, would have to do: sign my new name on the marriage license and make a trip to the Secretary of State and the Social Security office.)

  3. My decision not to change my name is still the number-one wedding-drama subject, even among people who have known my husband and/or me for decades.

    Rawr!

    So far, it has caused more drama among acquaintances to hear I wasn’t changing my name than did my choice to have an immediate-family-only ceremony; to forego any kind of reception; to skip flowers, music, favors, and a “theme” (I started telling people the theme was “dinosaur disco waterslide” just to mess with them); to skip being “given away” by any of my four parents; not to do the cake-smashy-in-the-face thing; to wear a short purple cotton dress I found on the L.L. Bean clearance rack; to omit any mention of God or any other divine power from the ceremony; the fact that my husband and I are not having children; or to serve a gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free carrot cake.  (It was damn tasty.)

  4. It’s hard to find wedding readings that are not about “becoming one life” or otherwise subsuming your identity into another person’s.  It’s not impossible – we managed to come up with five of them – but it’s not easy.

    “When you are two balloons, and your common direction is ‘lazing around a field on a Saturday morning being equally full of hot air,’ chances are you’ve found the right person.” – with apologies to Richard Bach.

  5. Professional porn-esque photos for your new husband: empowering ladybusiness or more of the same “hi, I’m your new sexual property” patriarchy?  Based on my experiences yesterday, I recommend the empowerment of self and pocketbook that comes from bucking expensive wedding trends of any flavor.
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Goodreads and Bullies, Or “It’s Worse to Call Someone Racist Than to Be Racist!”

My personal Twitterverse directed me to this post at Stop the GR Bullies this morning.  It’s a collection of reviews by Goodreads readers (Goodreaders?) focusing on Victoria Foyt’s Revealing Eden Part One: Save the Pearls.  

Revealing Eden Part One: Save the Pearls is a book that apparently aims to turn Western racist tropes on their heads by making light-skinned people the oppressed class and dark-skinned people the oppressor class, in a world where darker skin gives its possessors the ability to better withstand UV radiation (thus making light-skinned people more likely to die horribly; ergo, they are shunned by the darker-skinned folks).

(Feel free to ignore the awful science behind that notion. It is fiction, after all.)

Thing is, a non-trivial number of readers concluded that the book trades in a whole lot of real-world racist (and sexist) tropes.  Many of them took this opinion to Goodreads, where, in the view of Stop the GR Bullies and Foyt herself, the reviewers failed to draw a sufficiently distinct line between “this book trades in racist tropes” and “this author is racist.”

Here’s what Foyt had to say about the race-related criticism of her and her work, as quoted by Save the GR Bullies (similar comments appear in an article by Foyt at HuffPo):

In the novel I aimed to turn racism on its head, hoping to portray its horrors and its inevitable road to violence. The dust jacket photo shows Eden’s face half white and half dark. She is shedding a false cover, and learning to accept herself—a journey we all must take, regardless of race.

To say that a Pearl’s dark skin covering represents blackface could not be farther from the truth. It is not a comic travesty or patronization of any race. Rather, it is a cautionary tale of the dangers of racism and of the rampant destruction of Earth.

The titular character, Eden Newman, progresses from a girl who hates her white skin to someone who understands that real beauty comes from within. I believe that anyone who reads the entire book will understand its testament to man’s brotherhood and the need to respect our planet, as dozens of reviewers have noted. Quick judgments and fear-mongering bring about misunderstanding – in this case, targeting a novel with racism when it has a strong anti-racist message!

I highly respect all races, and abhor racism. I sincerely hope that you will read Revealing Eden and grasp its message of love and hope for the planet and for all men.

The blogger at Save the GR Bullies is quick to jump to Foyt’s “defense”:

Now, criticism of a book is not bullying, but calling the author racist (when she has clearly stated that she is not) … that is bullying.

About that.

Merely saying “I’m not racist and I never meant to be!,” when one is white in America, is nonsense. Unless you were raised in a Skinner box, you’re racist. The U.S. has a deeply racist culture, and every last one of us is indoctrinated with those ideas. The point is not to deny our racism (there is no plausible denial); the point is to actively put in the work to decolonize our own minds, to fight the stereotypes and tropes.

Writing a book that relies on those very stereotypes and tropes is not fighting racism, but perpetuating it. Some of the racist tropes in the book pointed out by Goodreads “bullies” (all of these are taken from the reviews “called out” in the GR Bullies post):

On top of that, the black male lead, Jamal (seriously) is described as beastly and exotic evoking the “Mandigo” [sic] stereotype while the “one nice Coal” is named Peach and might as well have a big ol’ sign on her saying “Mammy.”

…It’s a poorly-veiled excuse to feed into old prejudices and fears and it’s being promoted as kid literature.

(Further reading: “Mandingo,” “Mammy.”)

Her racism shines through on every page, but that’s about all that’s clear. …Add in the one dimensional characters rooted in stereotypes, the plot twist straight out of a soap opera, & the complete failure to build a believeable mythos for her world…. The offensive plot devices are all that make this train wreck remotely interesting & they’re not being deployed with any skill. It’s poorly written, poorly plotted, & after a while it even fails at being offensive simply because it’s so boring.

And, from the comments on the GR Bullies’ blog post:

That many racist undertones (Referring to Black people as “them” and “their kind,” using Blackface, ignoring the voices of PoC when she herself is white, associating the Black love interest with animalistic/beastial/dehumanizing imagery, etc) can’t just be a coincidence.

To this, I would add the criticism that calling the light-skinned characters “Pearls” and the dark-skinned ones “Coals” is problematic.  Foyt argues in her HuffPo post that “Pearls” is meant as an insult while “Coals” is meant as praise – in a post-apocalyptic world, which do you want on your side, the shiny gem that shatters easily and can buy you nothing, or the tough rocks that can keep you warm at night?

But the reason this setup fails is that, to the readers in this world, the pejorative/praise dichotomy goes the other way round.  “Pearls” are associated with value in our minds.  “Coal” is not.  Foyt’s set-up passes off a de-valuing of dark-skinned people as a compliment.  This is a well-known oppressive tactic, and one with which PoC (and other oppressed groups) in the U.S. are all too familiar.

The final commenter I quote above points out that the proliferation of oppressive tactics in Revealing Eden Part One: Save the Pearls is no coincidence, and it isn’t.  It does two things: it demonstrates that these racist tropes and stereotypes are alive and well in Foyt’s mind, and it demonstrates that this is a novel that supports the entire system of institutionalized racist claptrap. With elements like these, this work does not challenge racism, no matter how badly its author wants it to or believes it does. A book that contains racist elements works to perpetuate racism.

It is of course entirely possible to include racist tropes in a work without a full-blown “screw you, [insert racist slur here]s, I’ll show you” clarity of intent. It’s entirely possible, even probable, that Foyt abhors the idea of racism because she equates racism with pointy white hoods and cross-burnings, and that these are activities she would never personally engage in.

What protestations like Foyt’s overlook is that racism isn’t always clear. It’s not always overt. And it’s not always fueled by active hatred or fear of other races. Sometimes, an author includes racist tropes in a work not because zie actively believes them, but because zie hasn’t bothered to examine them critically and realize that they are, in fact, stereotypical nonsense that doesn’t apply to real-world individuals of color.

But no amount of protesting “I’m not racist!” will do that intellectual heavy lifting.  The author has to do that work hirself.  Without it, zie risks producing books that perpetuate racism, even – or in Foyt’s case, especially – when they claim to be challenging it.

Foyt’s refusal to see the need for this intensive self-examination is what makes charges of “racism!” toward both her and her novel appropriate. Yet what neither she nor the GR Bullies bloggers seem to realize is that Foyt has the power to shut down those charges. The first step is to stop defending the problematic elements of the work. The next is to acknowledge and fix them.  Whinging about “bullies!” won’t make Foyt’s writing less racist.  Only Foyt can do that.

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