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Posts Tagged ‘misogyny’

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.

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…)

My Favorite Essays of 2016

Last year, I pulled together my favorite essays that I wrote in 2015. This year I thought I would do the same.

While some writers like to direct readers to their most popular essays of the year, I like to remind you of the essays that proved to be my favorites. Some of the essays listed are essays that I still can’t believe that I wrote. I read them and wonder how those sentences landed in that particular paragraph in that particular essay. They make me proud because they show how far I’ve come as a writer. Other essays are the ones that I’m proud to have written because they felt impossible to write. They required me to step outside of my comfort zone, required new skills, or were hard to write because of the vulnerability and emotion that they required.

What’s striking to me is how much things have changed for me in 2016, this dumpster fire of a year. I thought 2015 was bad, but 2016 proved to be both worst and better. Last year, I had applied to an MFA program. Hannah, our 15-year-old dog, died in March. She missed 16 by a little more than a month. She witnessed my life, so I witnessed the end of hers. Some day, I’ll write about what she meant to me, to us, but not yet, I can’t.

By mid-year, I received a rejection. Over the summer, I curated a series of essays on albums and our feelings, which was pretty damn amazing. By fall, I became editor of Women in Higher Education.  In November, Tr*mp became president, and suddenly, my work on white supremacists seemed relevant. After Thanksgiving, I even had an op-ed published in The New York Times, which led to white supremacist trolls calling me a race traitor (and much worse) on Twitter and in email. (more…)

Track 13: Shut Up, Meat Loaf

Shut Up, Meat Loaf

Jennifer W. Spirko

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any music is improved by being played in a fast-moving car at night with the windows down. When that music is metal ballad, the speed, the darkness and the loudness of highway wind are all but required to fully enjoy it.

That might have summarized my relationship with Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell in college had it not been for a classic Mustang and a good friend.

By the time I was in college, Bat Out of Hell had been in release for a decade or so, its singles soaring through the local rock station of my youth. But, I didn’t really listen to the whole album until a friend copied it on a cassette. Some songs, we insisted, were “car songs,” and these were the obvious examples, since the longest and most fun of the bunch was about having sex in a car. (more…)

On Amusement and Misogyny

Over the winter break from school and preschool, we took the kids to an amusement park an hour and half away from our house. Our daughter loves to ride the rides. She’s fearless and wants to ride every roller coaster that she can. She’s not quite tall enough for the roller coasters that boast speeds of 60 or 70 miles per hour and turn you upside down. Their names evoke wild cats and/or natural disasters. As she impatiently waits to grow another inch and a half, I get queasy just thinking about them. She’s so close to being able to do something but not there yet, which frustrates her. There’s a lesson here that many adults I know haven’t quite mastered.

I’m her partner for roller coasters, side winders, flyers, raging rapids, and any other ride that catches her fancy. She screams in exhilaration as I wonder at what age these amusements no longer seem fun. For me, amusement parks offer up creative ways to die. While I hold onto bar across our laps tightly, I also trying to touch her hand to assure me she’s still there. As we are tossed side-to-side, I hope that it is actually not possible for us to be thrown out. When we confront gravity, she finds joy. I find terror. Mostly, I try to figure how I became an older, more easily frightened version of myself.

I used to love amusement parks too. Hardly any ride scared me. Defying gravity was perfect. Roller coasters were simply the best. I loved the feeling of hanging upside down. I couldn’t wait to be strapped into a cart on a rickety track.

As my kid and I joined the line for yet another roller coaster, we found ourselves behind four boys, who each looked to be 10 or 11. They were telling each other jokes followed by raucous and loud laughter. I attempted to ignore them while I asked my kid what she wanted to ride next. Her brother fell asleep, and Chris was holding him while she and I tried to ride as many rides as possible.

She listed the rides in order of her preference. The boys got louder and louder. They were telling each other “your mama” jokes. (more…)