Battle of the Nexus

Fraysters argue about where femininity and feminism link.

Fraysters contemplating Laura Kipnis’ critique of Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession zero in on this declaration in her nut graf:

There’s simply an irreconcilable contradiction between feminism and femininity, two largely incompatible strategies women have adopted over the years to try to level the playing field with men.
Dandelioness sounds the familiar rebuttal:
I take exception to the assertion that femininity and feminism are mutually exclusive …Femininity has never been solely about women’s helplessness and need for men. It is a sexist mindset that causes society to speak of traditionally “feminine” attributes pejoratively. What is inherently bad about nurturing, being more emotional, being peaceful and gentle, and other such traits except for their association with women?
… but her comment on the relational value of masculinity is more curious:  
Our society values “masculine” traits such as aggressiveness and strength not because these are inherently better, but because it still values men more.
BenK steps out of the box with this:
Feminine has been reduced to a strategem for selfishness. So, for that matter, has feminism.
What is the feminine ideal, then? According to Ben…
It need not be a strategy by which women differentiate themselves from men to obtain male approval and thus their rewards from society. It can be that sum of strengths that make women distinct from men, granting them different gifts and making them fundamentally attractive people. In so much as women are more similar to each other than they are to men, the traits that make them such are ‘feminine’ and the successful cultivation of these strengths makes them more attractive women. But their attractiveness is second to their being actually better people by cultivation of virtues.Being feminine, then, means to become a better person in the way that women are generally most suited, as a part of being a better person in the whole - not a way of being a more successful greedy person. In fact, classic feminine virtues include a sense of community, eschewing the most destructive aspects of individualistic competition.
ShriekingViolet picks apart Ben’s post:
This is pure bollocks. Feminists did not invent the notion of traditional femininity as destructive competition. They described the reality of the situation. Women of the Nineteenth Century did not squeeze themselves into whalebone corsets out of a desire to express their feminine virtues and sisterly solidarity. They did so because this was the only way to secure themselves a prosperous married life.

Furthermore, as you well know, one does not get ahead in a capitalist job market, or in the academy, by being dainty and accommodating to the rest of the community. Your patronizing desire to convince young women that they should steer away from the values of competition and individualism, regardless of whether your intentions are good, is profoundly sexist and opposed to equality between men and women. Because our economy and public life are structured on “masculine” terms. Traditional femininity, no matter how you slice it, amounts to a second-tier support role in society. It is the desire to smash this “feminine mystique” which stood in the way of professional achievement that motivated the feminist movement in the first place.
On Ben’s premise that “having some ideal feminine virtues helps guide women, rather than simply constraining them,” SV cracks back:
Patronizing backhanded compliments of feminine virtues simply uphold sexist mores. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay respect to the dictates of these archaic, discriminatory “virtues.”

On a parting note, paragraphs like this make me physically ill.

“I’m not at all opposed to certain women cultivating their athletic prowess… but if they have to try every single sport before they find the one they will train in, it will really hinder them.”

This is true for EVERYONE. There are female triathletes and discus throwers. There are male dancers. People should develop according to their own strengths and personal tastes. This has absolutely fuck-all to do with whether one is “masculine” or “feminine,” and women are quite capable of figuring these things out for themselves, thank you very much.
On a board chock full of stellar posts, check out—Isonomist—’s here. Getting back to Kipnis’ primary point, Iso counters:
The author’s definition of femininity doesn’t work with the author’s definition of feminism. The rest of us needn’t fall into that neurotic trap. You can too wear lipstick and be taken seriously in what you do. Just like men can wear ties, their own nonsensical cultural symbol of oppression.

In fact the author herself attempts to demolish the entire existence of femininity by pointing out that people grow old. Well, yeah, they do. But that doesn’t mean a woman (or a man, for that matter) can’t still be feminine. The author conflates femininity with youth, beauty and artifice, when none are necessary components. Neither, I would argue, is weakness. Kipnis defines femininity in relationship to men. However there are millions of lesbians who would find that ridiculous. Heck, so would Van Morrison, who noted decades ago that all the girls go out/dressed up for each other.

Kipnis’s definition of feminism is equally shrill and monochromatic. If power means you must reject the notion of working to attract the opposite sex, what are all those middle aged male execs doing in my gym? And is Kipnis saying that fat women aren’t feminine? Or that you have to be fat to be a feminist? Ensler, and Kipnis obsess on the body weight, the externals, without truly understanding the meaning of attraction. It’s the person, ladies, not the meat wrapping.
For fans or loathers of Eve Ensler or Neil LaBute, read the remainder of Iso’s post in which she scathes the two playwrights (and Kipnis), finishing with this torpedo:
Analyzing feminism and femininity as if they were both dirty words describing incompatible sex acts, Kipnis displays her own prejudices but doesn’t enlighten us any more than Ensler or LaBute on the topics. Luckily the world’s not looking to any of them for its definitions of love and attraction.
Culturebox Fray is popping. Visit the board here. Inner Swoon: Yeah, Fray Editor is a little biased—he composes Fraywatch on a table that sits atop a Noguchi base with chrome-plated steel spokes. But Utek1’s tribute to Isamu Noguchi’s brilliant, elegant restraint as a sculptor 888 particularly in regard to “Inner Stone,” is worth a read for any and all:
Examine “The Inner Stone” more carefully, for instance, and you will find that a highly sophisticated artist’s hand is behind it. Aside from the fact that Noguchi carefully chose the stone with attention to size, shape and color … he judiciously edited it, altering its profile by drilling through it, so as to contrast the highly lacquered smooth-bore finish with the roughness of the outer surface. Just as significantly, Noguchi didn’t just design the rock, he also designed the pedestal on which it stands, making it an integral part of the composition. The red oxides of the stone are echoed in the mahogany red of the lintel, just as the rough log-like posts contrast with the lintel’s lacquered surface, echoing the smooth/rough dialogue found in the stone. Finally, the combination of stone and stand can be seen together as a kind of glyph that resembles nothing so much as a Chinese character, reminding the viewer that Chinese characters began their existence as pictograms as well, and echoing yet again Noguchi’s Asian heritage.

So the idea that Noguchi stood back and let his materials do the work obscures the fact that Noguchi was an extremely conscious artist who was able to impose his artistic sensibilities in a way that was practically invisible, so that the natural beauty of his materials didn’t get lost. He is one of the greatest sculptors this country has ever produced.
Noguchi-lovers can follow the discussion that begins with TheQuietMan’s appreciative response hereKA9:05 a.m.

Wednesday, January 5, 2004

The RAND Corporation: Elizabeth Castelli’s review of Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It sparks some contemplative examinations from Fraysters on religion and politics. Take The_Slasher-8’s query:

There are two tendencies in conservative thinking that have been clear to me since I began following politics in the 1960s. One is, or says it is, based upon the Bible and, as such, looks kindly upon acts of charity and at least pays lip service (though some would say that’s ALL it pays) to the needs of the poor.

The second tendency is what was known in the early part of the last century as Social Darwinism. Its leading spokesperson today is probably the late Ayn Rand, who was herself a militant atheist and whose works did not treat men of the cloth kindly. Rand believed in what she unabashedly called “the virtue of selfishness” and regarded charity as a waste of time. In Atlas Shrugged, one of her protagonists sinks a ship carrying food collected by charities in the United States to famine-stricken India, and does so because he (and, obviously, Rand as well) view the ship’s mission as morally repugnant.

What I’ve never understood is how you guys can work together? Is there a subtext in your relationship that lefties like me simply don’t see?
S-8 disclaims earnestly that he isn’t baiting and points out a similar incongruity within the left during the reign of the Soviet Union. S-8 closes out his post with this thought:
Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the definition of an artist was someone who could hold two mutually contradictory ideas in his head at the same time and still function. Are you guys all artists?
Kinder-gentler-Greed offers that “The social Darwinist aspect is … an outgrowth of Calvinist belief that material wealth is an indication of God’s favor. That is, wealth is an earthly manifestation of divine favor.” What do you think? Solve Slasher’s riddle here. I Wouldn’t Want to be a Member of a Club … : There isn’t a whole lot of love in the Fray for the critics’ circle of Movie Club. ShriekingViolet asks, “Is this a Movie Club or a Metacritical Orgy?” Meanwhile, mbarna reserves her vitriol for New York Press film critic Armond White:
Just reading Armond’s posting, and his “12 worst list”, turned my bullshit detector to red alert.

I understand that writing for an alternative newspaper requires that you sometimes take out-there views and present perspectives that are greatly divorced from the common. But of all the pretentious criticism from hack writers—and I worked at a college newspaper, so I’m quite familiar—this is truly the most self-masturbatory orgasm of the written word that I’ve seen. (And, to boot, I’ve even read “The Hours.”)
In that vein, Zathras composes the most compelling, somewhat populist, critique of the critiques:
I never thought popular entertainment needed to be this obscure. Maybe the critics this week are merely reflecting a cinematic world grown alienated from most Americans; at least so far it seems the movies they are most passionate about most Americans would never pay to see. I can imagine what this says about most Americans from the critics’ point of view, but can’t help reflecting that most of the movies we now consider the very greatest were in fact able to attract large popular audiences who didn’t need to tie themselves in literary knots to explain why they liked them. And the very worst movies? Why dwell on those?

Members of any specialized group need some amount of validation, an assurance by other members of the group that they belong. That need shouldn’t come at the cost of irrelevancy to the great number of people under no illusion that movies will ever represent the pinnacle of human thought or decisively impact great affairs.
Getting down to specifics, lucabrasi is amused by the
Sideways backlash … A sudden navel-gazing realization that most critics are “middle-aged schlubs” who enjoy the fantasy of middle-aged schlub “wine critic” Giamatti getting the pretty girl? Why didn’t you folks tell us this when you were raving about it three months ago?
For another good read on Sideways, check out JACK-12’s post here. The Amazon Giver: On the matter of those Yushchenko-ish orange-tinted internet ads featured in Seth Stevenson’s Ad Report Card, rob_said_that jumps to the company’s defense:
Why pick on Amazon? They’re such a first-class operation in every other respect. They don’t bug you with spam; they hold your shopping cart items indefinitely, or at least until you work up the gumption to pull the trigger and order; they rectify all returns and disputes in your favor in a pleasant, expeditious manner. So can’t you cut them the teensiest bit of slack on this latest experiment in short-film flim-flammery? …The films (and I’ll grant you they are every bit the empty nothings you describe) are just another experiment by Amazon in trying to (a) move product, and (b) ingratiate themselves with their customers. I’m sure these will pass in time. Remember that idiotic Gold Box that used to blink at you from the top of their front page? It didn’t have the desired effect and eventually they gave it the heave-ho. You should trust that they won’t keep doing these film shorts a minute longer than they have to.
Pile on Amazon (or rob) here. … KA9:40 a.m.

Monday, January 3, 2004.

The Fray saw two outstanding exchanges in Best of the Fray, the more metaphysical prompted by Ender’s confession:


I suppose confessing to what everyone else is thinking ain’t no big deal, unless you’re the only one willing to admit to it. I think that’s probably the situation here—more or less—so don’t disparage/applaud me too much. This next sentence wants to start with, “Forgive me, but…” But I don’t feel bad for thinking the following thoughts, even though I know many of you will be more than satisfied to the point of posting that I should.

The thing is, the human story of the tsunami tragedy doesn’t really interest me. When I go searching for photos, I’m not looking for pictures of orphaned children or even piles of dead bodies. What I want to see is pictures of the wave*, and the wave wreaking destruction. So there’s that, and the science behind it as well that I’m finding interesting. To make matters worse, even though the death toll at the time I’m writing this post is somewhere in the vicinity of 155,000, I can’t help but reflect what little good such a paltry number will do in remedying the regions problems with overpopulation. Simply put, in a world with 6,410,333,861 people**, 155,000 isn’t even a meaningful percentage. Honestly, I’m more distressed by the potential damage to the region’s dwindling coral reefs than I am the human toll.

I suppose if there is a larger point I’d like to make, it is that human life simply isn’t that precious these days (see Iraq), and considering the relative scarcity of just about everything else—I’d say the value of a human life is clearly in negative territory. Now I imagine many people are simply ignorant, and so simply react humanly to this disaster. But for those people who do see the bigger picture, isn’t it their duty to argue—the real monsters are those who will leave nothing for future generations in their blind compassion to sustain the unsustainable.

It’s not the tsunami’s fault millions of people were trying to eek out a living in its’ path.

If I’m a monster, so is God.

In response, TheAList utters his indignation, and Demosthenes2 charges Ender of assuming:
that we can properly circumscribe the intent of the infinite in finite terms as well as assuming that everything that happens is of God directly—a relatively common error that assumes that the making of all things possible is the same thing as directly making all actualities.
Fritz_Gerlich offers a compelling explanation (through the filter of Nabakov) for Ender’s indifference: “compassion fatigue.” On the sub-continental mainland, TheAList invites Fraysters to weigh in on the cinematic chastity of Bollywood starlet Aishwarya Rai, who has never shot so much as a screen kiss:
She’s debating whether she’d do it in an American film if the role called for it.

… Isn’t sex and nudity a standard part of the motion picture making process, even for the most accomplished actresses in the best roles? Hasn’t even the most chaste starlet engaged in some mouth-to-mouth?

Alas, in India, even kissing on screen is considered sacrilegious and verboten, no matter that you are the world’s most beautiful woman. If Ash decides to take the plunge (so to speak) here in America, it will certainly cause a major controversy amongst her fans in India and in the Muslim countries where she is enormously popular. A deeply religious woman herself (she still lives at home and refuses to talk about her personal life), Ash has quite a dilemma on her hands.

The choice is obviously hers to make. If she doesn’t want to offend, she can play it safe in rolls that do not require her to be amorous. If she wants to accept some risk, she might take something mildly romantic …

But what do you think? If presented with a great role that calls for some amount of onscreen frolicking, should Ash take the role or should she decline?
AdamMorgan’s response:
Standards of decency, I believe, are largely dictated by the majority. India, till the early 90’s, willingly isolated itself from almost all foreign influences. There are now public debates about traditional Indian values and those that have become increasingly popular and are foreign. This debate, in some ways, is similar to the debate in the US, between conservatives who want the government to restrict onscreen sex and those who think it’s censorship.

The question you’ve asked about Rai, then, is only about her, and I don’t think there’s a parallel between the debate in the US. Because she’s chosen to work in Hollywood, this decision affects only her. Whereas, if she were to make a film in India, the debate would be broader, about questions of censorship, foreign influence, and traditional values.

A parallel comparison would be if an American actress were in a Swedish film. On screen sex in these films is relatively common – as it is on television. In the US, you could argue that it’s considered sacreiligious and verboten. If this American actress were asked to be nude and simulate sex, would she feel uncomfortable, and would this affect the debate of how American films are made?
New stars will be posted tomorrow morning in the Fray. Apologies for the delay … KA5:25 p.m.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Who’s in Charge Here? Fray_Editor loves nothing more than seeing potentially partisan flame bait evolve into a quality thread. Responding to a query by Taller as to whether the “radical left” has taken over the Democratic Party, ShriekingViolet writes:

The policies put forward by Clinton, Daschle, and Kerry would generally have been considered conservative 30 years ago, back when the words “radical Left” applied to people like the Weathermen. Consider the Chomsky and Nader wings of the Left, or the Nation editorial page and the agenda they advocated for America—no invasion of Afghanistan, defunding Israel, nationalizing health care, living wage laws, etc. etc. These people are so marginalized in the Democratic Party that they generally don’t consider themselves Democrats anymore.
But in politics—as in any marketplace—perception equals reality:
the more relevant question is whether the 527 groups and Hollywood volunteers representing the Michael Moore wing of the party controlled too much of the party’s PR during the last campaign and gave voters the impression that they had too much power in the party.
JLF insists that “there isn’t a ‘radical left’ left in American politics,” and subscribes to “a rule for voting that I think was attributed to David Dellinger: ‘Vote for the left-most candidate with a realistic chance of winning.’” Travelociting the Tragedy: Today’s moral conundrum comes courtesy of StormyWeather who is outraged that, according to news reports:
For some tourists yesterday, however, the tragedy was becoming a memory, albeit a vivid one, as they made the most of the weather and topped up their tans. Many in bathers and bikinis, some lounged on sunbeds and others took a dip in the water that had claimed so many lives a few days earlier.
–Isonomist– plays devil’s advocate, suggesting that:
in a country that depends mightily on the tourist dollar, I’m sure the people who work at that resort are thanking GOD someone has the courage to show up on the beach and act like everything’s back to normal. I’m sure you’ve had disasters in your life. Doesn’t being able to restore the routine help?
SW responds:
We are watching a situation where, perhaps, 20% of a local population has been wiped away. Hunger, disease and the lack of the necessities of Life are rampant. It is this kind of “indifference” which allows Genocide to continue in the Sudan and atrocities to be tolerated in much of the Third World.
Is there some ancillary benefit for the locals when a Western tourist pays 200 bahts for a Mai Tai on Karon Beach? Get in on the debate here. The Name Game: The decimalization of time has always been a curious exercise. Publius, for one, thinks it’s silly:
This whole business of naming decades—and, I think, of referring to the march of time and events as if it fit neatly into decades—began with the 1920s being dubbed by the press “the Roaring Twenties,” which happened in part because the period following the slaughter of the first world war was a genuine boom time for many, as well as a time of noteworthy social changes …

The emergence of the mass media may have been the most important of these changes, since it was the media that named the decade. …Of course, the truth is that there is no particular unifying quality about a decade save for the numbers. To identify the first decade of the 20th century, it works well to say “in the period before the great war” or “during the Progressive Era” or “in the Edwardian period” or “in the last years of the Romanov dynasty” or whatever, depending on what it is you are talking about. I suspect the same will be true of the years we are now experiencing.
For the record, Fraywatch likes Mycenea’s entry: The Ground Zeroes. In Memorium: Not surprisingly, Susan Sontag’s death has incited a range of responses on the Fray—and not necessarily along partisan or critical lines. Fray_Editor was surprised to see this rebuttal from MarkEHaag, who calls Sontag a “pompous ass” in his subject line (and takes down Christopher Hitchens in the process):
I know it’s wrong to speak ill, but there’s no point in hiding the truth … Sontag was mostly a grandstanding popularizer, a little too clever by half and a little too successful for her/his own good. That is, if they ever hoped to become real intellectuals. What they possess in abundance is a pithy writerly facility, a certain gift (and, truly I’m not pooh-poohing this) for bringing home off-the-rack ideas with brio and panache, and conversely, for liquefying original thoughts propagated by others just so that they could fit more easily into the most conventionally shaped linguistic and rhetorical vessels.
On the flip side, jerseyman confesses that while Sontag was “on the polar opposite of me politically,”
Against Interpretation meant more to me as an undergrad than about anything else I read … God rest her. Let us be glad that there are people to whom thinking still means living, a special kind of New York of the mind. I think her best work will live. What more can be said of a writer?
Frozen-Pie-Crust sees Sontag as a guardian of democratic principles:
In this democracy of ours that constantly toots its own horn as the defender of freedom, the words and actions of people like Sontag can be a useful measure of the actual politico-cultural climate versus the recycled Johnny Tremain-like hype…

Dissent has a value of its own in that it can stand as a canary in a coal mine. When the pie-in-the-sky intellectual dissenters start to be silenced, that’s when the rest of us can start worrying about when it is that our own more moderate views might no longer be permitted.
But MarkBrown has no patience for Sontag’s brand of litcrit:
The late Susan Sontag was an author of decay, of intellectual malaise. Her essay “On Camp,” celebrates a vision in which aesthetics triumph over morality. This vision “neutralises moral indignation”. Sontag told us that camp divorces beauty from truth. She maintained that aesthetic pleasure was morally inert (although by appreciation of the beautiful she maintained we are morally edified). A more recent essay, “An Argument about Beauty”, was no more enlightening. She wrote of “the beautiful [being] colonized by moral judgments”, as if ethics were an invading army raping and oppressing the poor put-upon aborigine that is beauty. She was a vanguard of radical chic and the drivel that proceeded from such a sensibility. …
In tribute to Jerry Orbach, check out BML’s account of the actor’s stage career, and lucabrasi on life after Orbach at Law & OrderKA11:10 a.m.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Between Christmas and New Years, the Fray resembles the Los Angeles freeway grid—abnormally devoid of traffic … except for that guy three lanes over who got into the cooking sherry at the Rotary holiday bash. FrayEditor took his vacation before the holiday and just missed this thread initiated by Fritz_Gerlich:

Whatever Christians say theologically, as a practical, devotional matter, they in fact treat Jesus as someone who can be known personally, like a best friend. This is a common “witnessing”-type statement, which I certainly have heard, and you probably have, too: “I came to know a man named Jesus.” Similar statements have been multiplied ad infinitum in various ministries and popular publications, especially in America. Everybody in the world has a standing invitation to come up, shake Jesus’ hand, and get to know him. The implication is that, at some level, you can relate to him as you would to another human being.
Rarely does a revelatory top post get its responding equal, but Montfort rose to the occasion with this:
Jesus isn’t a personality; he’s a fully realized human being. And you’re just like him, only you don’t realize it. That’s what he’s telling you, only you don’t realize it. …Jesus doesn’t want you to look at him as if he were outside you and you outside him; he wants you to look through him, with his eyes. There’s no meaning to him—ascribe meaning to him and you’ve already pulled the blinds down. Don’t look at him in the context of biblical bagasse—this-that-this, walker on water, scourge of the money-lenders, raiser of the dead, loaves and fishes, foot-washer, crucifyee—but at what he says he is: the way, the truth, the life.
Montfort closes his remarks with this:
If you meet Jesus on the road, kill him, because meeting him means you’re seeing him as separate and distinct from you. The biblical Jesus, the historical Buddha, I don’t care—you see him on the road, whack the sucker. He’s not real. He can’t be hurt, and you can only wake up.

What he is, you are; that’s what he’s being trying to tell everybody for 2,000 years. He’s no savior; he’s an alarm clock. What do you do when the alarm clock finally wakes you up? Whack that summabitch, toss it out the window, you don’t need it anymore, from now on you can wake up on your own.
Read Montfort’s entire post—with poetic litany—here.On the List: If it’s the last week in December, then it must be time for a bevy of Bests ‘n’ Worsts. Check out rob_said_that’s “Bombs and Gems,” which include:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Charming, poignant, surprising all the way through. A bizarre fantasy that had such true-ringing nuggets of reality all the way through (especially the great interactions of the memory-erasure technicians at Jim Carrey’s pad). This was one of those movies you just sit and grin through. Charlie Kaufman is a sly genius.
And …
Alexander Was there ever this much huffing and puffing to absolutely no purpose? You’d think Oliver Stone could have found at least one tiny facet of Alexander’s character to reveal in three hours, but if he had any insights he kept them to himself. The film looks as if Stone realized in the cutting room that his narrative line was tawdry and opaque, and decided what would fix it would be to scramble the time sequence. Pure horseshit. Colin Farrell is exposed as a star of the dimmest magnitude. And I wish someone would have sneaked up behind Anthony Hopkins while he was intoning his banal lines and given him a gigantic wedgie.
Administer your own critical wedgies hereRed Province, Blue Province: Buried in a thread on Canadian nationalism is a revealing post by Schadenfreude on Canada’s own “tainted” history, something forgotten when “Canadian chauvinists” wax poetic on Canada’s legacy of tolerance:
You seem to be unaware of the KKK influence in Western Canadian politics, the overwhelming influence of the Orange Order in Ontario politics and the strong fascist following in Quebec.

Should we be talking of the internment of Japanese during WWII? Or the treatment of Chinese immigrants?

Our history is just as tainted and suspect as anyone else’s. It is plain dishonesty to suggest otherwise.

Always remember that when you say things like “Canadians are more tolerant”, you’re dealing on the margins (as in Canada 51%-49%, US 49%-51%) to the point where you’re mouthing meaningless platitudes.
Holiday ELFs: AdamMorgan initiates a discussion on whether the Earth Liberation Front’s tactics amount to “terrorism”:
I don’t believe this is terrorism; primarily because vandalism and arson, which are the primary instruments of sabotage used by ELF, don’t cause terror. ELF has explicitly stated that they will never harm any human—or any life form. If it doesn’t cause terror and if the only damage is to property, the classification of a terrorist group is inappropriate. …this form of sabotage isn’t any different from what was done in British India and Apartheid South Africa. That is, it’s a way to politically lobby when you have no other options.
Read AM’s entire post and get it on the discussion here. Department of Astral Affairs: Fifteen new stars are up for nomination hereKA 10:35 a.m.