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Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Breaking, Not Yielding

So, I convinced Chris to watch Nanette , which is Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special. (Here’s the trailer.) I had heard from a number of women that it was remarkable, and I assumed that they meant remarkably funny. And I was reminded of the show when this image popped up in my Facebook feed:

Seriously, this is my kind of humor, and now, I will never look at a beautiful bald baby without assuming they are a feminist. What a lovely gift from Gadsby to me (and everyone really).

And Nanette is funny, but it is also so much more.

***

Before I go on, please note that the rest of this post will have SPOILERS for the show, so abandon ship now if you don’t want to be spoiled.

I’ll even give you until the count of three to ignore this post and pretend that you never actually received it.

1…

2…

2 and a 1/4…

2 and a 1/2…

2 and 3/4…

3…

Okay, so that’s way more of a warning than I give my kids.

***

So, Nanette is remarkably funny, rife with jokes about sexual identity, the difficulty of coming out in a small town in Tasmania, feminism, the privilege of straight white men, trauma, and also art history. But, Gadsby shifts gears on the viewer in the second half and you can kind of, sort of, tell what’s about to happen. There were glimmers and glimpses. And yet, I wasn’t entirely prepared and neither was Chris. We hadn’t expected her meta-discussion of what comedy can and can’t do. Or her devastating critique of comedy as a genre that focuses on beginning and middle but never really lets us see how a story ends. Or that instead of laughing our way to the end that we would actually be shocked and crying by the time Gadsby walked off stage.

I finished Nanette, and all I could think was: Holy shit, I was not prepared.

I was not prepared for Gadsby’s realer-than-real discussion of trauma, assault, and the attempts of men to annihilate women. I was not prepared for her to dwell in the tension of what seemed like a joke but to never deliver a punchline. I was not prepared for her masterful critique of deprecating humor and how it further marginalizes already marginalized groups of people. I was not prepared for her jokes about Picasso to reveal the nasty truth of misogyny. I was not prepared, and Chris and I had to pause Nanette often to take a breath and process what we just heard. At the end, we looked at each other shell-shocked and decide we were done for the day.

I tried to escape into a paranormal romance novel to no avail; he picked up Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning (an excellent book that also deals with personal and historical trauma and what it means to survive).

What I found is that I keep thinking about a particular line from Gadsby. Near the end, she says, “To break and not yield is strength.”

When I heard her say this, those words resonated in my head, To break and not yield is strength. There’s truth in her words that I’m still grappling with, even as I want to embody what she’s saying. I kind of want to have her words tattooed on my forearm as a reminder to myself that we can break but we can also not yield. Something I can glance at as I make my way through a world that encourages men to break and annihilate women just because they can. Just because women appear as objects not people. Just because we still have to fight for our humanity.

To break and not yield is strength, I think and remember a conversation with a friend last week. He told me  that I have managed to write about mental illness and trauma in a way that refuses to center on brokenness, my brokenness in particular. Somehow, I keep telling stories about my experiences that avoid the pervasive narrative of brokenness as a story all of its own. Even when I write about how people attempted again and again to break me or tell a story about my broken brain, I don’t appear broken; that’s not the center of my story. And I wondered how I managed to do this.

His insight astonished me because I used to think that I was broken beyond repair. I spent years believing that I was an irreparable, deeply flawed person. My biological father and his mother, my grandmother, needed me to feel that way, so I did. Until I didn’t. It’s no coincidence that I feel more and more compelled to write about my early life and shape my story from one of supposed brokenness to survival.

I might have broken, but I never yielded.

Gadsby gave me a new way to think; she gave me words that I didn’t know I needed. Breaking but not yielding is strength, and moreover, it is a hugely powerful way to interpret those stories that we tell ourselves over and over about the things and people who break us and all the damage we manage to survive.

Admitting how we break and how other people have broken us is not weakness. Rather, we show that their attempts to hurt us—to annihilate who we are—aren’t the end of our stories; they might be the beginning or the middle, but they aren’t the end. We get to decide where our story begins and ends. We might break, but we are also unyielding. We get to find and understand our strength. We get to tell our story, not them. Never them. We can’t control what breaks us, but we are narrators of our own lives, not those who harmed us.

Gadsby’s Nanette made me stop and consider the place of trauma in my stories and the stories of other women that I can’t help but read. In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay wrote how she loved stories about girls who survive some shit, and I do too. There’s potential and power in survival and stories of survival. We, they, survived other people trying to break us, them, beyond repair. We are always reparable, if it doesn’t seem so at the time. Stories of survival show us the way.

But, what really struck me about Nanette is how a supposed comedy show gave me clarity about my reticence to detail all of my trauma in essays. How I don’t want to catalog for readers all the ways I’ve been broken because I would rather focus on survival. How I would rather write about learning not to yield. How I would rather document what it is like to repair myself, all those jagged edges, and how those repairs made me who I am today. Maybe, my story of survival helps too.

My trauma isn’t up for an any audience’s consumption. The horrors I’ve faced aren’t yours; they are mine. I decide what to share. I decide whether I can make suffering into art. I decide whether writing about what broke me is useful to me or whether it will do more damage than good.

Writing about trauma, and also mental illness, is my method to shape my own story. I attempt to make sense of what happened and what I continue to struggle with today. Some editors of some publications urged me to appear more broken and less reparable. More trauma and less survival is supposedly what I need to be publishable. And now, Gadsby gave me the language to respond to them: I broke, but I also didn’t yield, and that is strength. Show my strength alongside my wounds, not just my wounds and scars.

Not yielding is, perhaps, the crux of my story and maybe yours too. It’s where our strength lies.

Thank you, Hannah Gadsby, for helping me, us, realize that.

***

This post was originally a TinyLetter from August 15, 2018, the day I turned 38, for real this time. If you want to subscribe to my TinyLetter, Cold Takes, you can right here.

Nail Polish and Boys

*My kiddo had his first memorable brush with gender policing.*

Last week, the kiddos and I were watching a movie in our living room strewn with stuffed animals and the occasional Lego. While they watched a movie we’ve already watched at least a dozen times, I tried to finish an assignment on my laptop. (This never really works, and yet, I keep trying.)
The three-year-old stepped closer and closer until he was standing right next to me. He sighed a deep, dramatic sigh and looked at me.

“What’s up, kiddo?,” I asked quietly.

“I’m tired of people asking me about my fingernails,” he said with remarkable frustration.

I closed my laptop and looked at him. His response concerned me. He’s my easygoing, laid back kid who inherited my partner’s easy smile and sense of humor. He doesn’t get frustrated easily, so I knew something was wrong.

“Who asked you about your fingernails?”

“Everybody,” he almost growled.

“Who’s everybody?”

“My friends and my teachers.”

“What did they ask you?”

“Why my fingernails were painted? Why, why, WHY?,” he noted with a belly flop onto the couch. I looked at his blue fingernails and resisted my own urge to sigh dramatically or growl.

(more…)

The Problem With Nice

*Nice pretends to be a virtue, but kindness actually is.*

“I was just trying to be nice.”

“I just wanted to be nice.”

“Not nice,” I say to the toddler after he bludgeons his sister with a random toy, “NOT NICE.”

I find myself thinking about “nice” a lot lately, often before recounting a story of something gone terribly awry. Exasperation lingers in my tone. Frustration coats my words. I was just trying to be nice, but things go sideways. They tend to when I start with nice.

I’m not sure why this happens. Maybe, my attempts at niceness appear as sign of a polite weakness. Maybe, nice renders me a pushover, a people-pleaser, who will go out of her way to remain pleasant. Initial friendliness suggests the desire to be agreeable at all costs, even when other people become increasingly unpleasant. Being nice shows that I can be dismissed without much effort or time. Being nice makes me easy to overlook, ignore, and disparage. (more…)

Sexism Ed Redux

*The academy has a gender problem. And it’s not new.*

So, Sexism Ed has been out for 28 days. (Who’s counting? I am clearly.) And there are few things that I want to direct your attention to.

First, The Revealer published an excerpt recently, which is one of my favorite essays on all the men who pretend to be allies, but really aren’t. Here’s a glimpse:

A man, who claims to be an ally and/or a feminist, has become a red flag for me. Especially if he loudly proclaims to be an ally. Especially if he looks around to see if everyone is paying attention to him. Especially if he insists on telling me about his feminism in detail while ignoring my arched eyebrow.

Second, David Perry was kind enough to interview me about the book and sexism in higher education more broadly at The Pacific Standard.  We talked about the push back I received for even bringing up sexism in academic circles:

I received emails, comments, tweets, and messages from academic men, who wanted me to know that sexism wasn’t a problem in academia. They told me about how their universities (or colleges) had women presidents. Or how their departments had a lot of women. Or how there were women in their grad programs. Or how they knew a women academic once. They sent me anecdote after anecdote about how women were doing fine in the academy to tell me that I was wrong. It was bewildering to see so many men try to shout me down for mere mention of a gender problem, which really just seemed to prove my point.

Previously, David also hosted my cover reveal, in which I wrote a whole essay (of course!) about how I came to write the columns for Chronicle Vitae that eventually became the foundation for the book:

What I found instead was that I would write about sexism, and later contingent labor, in the academy for the rest of my life. The limits that I thought I would encounter were not there. The academy has a gender problem. And it’s not new. This shouldn’t have surprised me. We live in a patriarchy, but I had hoped that academia was somehow better than the culture surrounding it.

Third, I am guest hosting this week at Nonfiction Fans: Illuminating Fabulous Nonfiction over on Facebook. I’ll be giving away a copy of Sexism Ed and a copy of Grace Period later in the week. So, make sure to pop by and ask me questions. Here’s part of my interview that started off the week:

You’ve written books on very different subjects. How did that happen?

Oh, boy, I do *write* on very different topics from white supremacists to zombies to sexism, which tends to surprise people, who, I guess, think writers stick to one topic or two. I write about what interests and fascinates me but also I write about topics that make me nervous and uncomfortable. It’s kind of like, “What’s keeping me from sleeping at night? Yes, I’ll write about that.” But, I also like to write about topics, in which we already assume we know the shape (narrative) of the story, so that I can show how the topic is always more complicated than the popular assumptions about it.

Check out the full interview here.

And finally, I wrote about my very complicated feelings about this particular book in my most recent TinyLetter:

An author is supposed to be elated when her book is published. She’s supposed to shout from the rooftops (or tweet or email or message) about her accomplishment. She’s supposed to be beaming with pride. She’s not supposed to look weary when you congratulate her about her new book. She’s not supposed to seem bummed.

(If you haven’t signed up for my sporadic newsletter, you can here.)

Lovely readers, I have a small request for you. If you pick up Sexism Ed (or any of my books), please let me know. It is the best feeling in the world to know that someone is reading my book or books.

 

Sexism Ed, Coming Soon

*We live in a patriarchy, but I had hoped that academia was somehow better than the culture surrounding it.*

So, I’m late on this (because deadlines and life), but Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia is now available for pre-order. As you might already know, this is my newest book, and it will be published on April 2. (Eek! That’s less than two weeks from now.)

Here’s the blurb:

Why aren’t more women at the top of the ivory tower?

The academy claims to be a meritocracy, in which the best and brightest graduate students gain employment as professors. Kelly J. Baker, a Ph.D. in Religion, assumed that merit mattered more than gender. After all, women appeared to be succeeding in higher ed, graduating at higher rates than men. And yet, the higher up she looked in the academic hierarchy, the fewer women there were. After leaving academia, she began to write about gender, labor, and higher ed to figure out whether academia had a gender problem. Eventually, Baker realized how wrong she’d been about how academia worked. This book is her effort to document how very common sexism—paired with labor exploitation—is in higher ed. (more…)