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I recently completed three booklists for library customers, part of a system-wide readers' advisory project. The lists use good gender balance, and a strong representation of people of colour and LGBT themes. I did classics, award-winning nonfiction, and essay collections. I love readers' advisory, and I really enjoyed the challenge of writing about each title in about 45 words.
In the list of essay collections, I included Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me. Then I decided it was time to read it! She's a brilliant essayist, one of the best I've ever read, and an important feminist voice. This slim collection packs an enormous punch.
Reading Solnit's now-famous piece about mansplaining made me think of another, related phenomenon. Both my partner and I have noticed this in discussions online, in a context where the commenters are mostly male. Here's how it goes.
A man comments.
Many people disagree with him, including me.
The man attacks me. Only me.
This happens consistently and predictably.
We first noticed this pattern on The Joy of Sox, the popular baseball blog written by my partner, Allan Wood. For some years, I was a frequent commenter and "gamethreader" in the Joy of Sox community, so we had ample opportunity to observe this pattern.
Allan writes from a progressive point of view, and like all the best sports writing, views the sport through a larger lens -- racism, labour, the militarization of sporting events, and so on. Although most members of the Joy of Sox community share this worldview, the world of men's professional sports is notoriously conservative, and Allan's politics drive some fans absolutely insane. (A side benefit, as far as we're concerned!)
Post, progressive perspective.
Comment, right-wing perspective.
Right-wing attack, directed at me.
Let's say Allan posts a positive view of a player who is getting a lot of negative media attention. The post is likely shared in many online baseball fan spaces. A commenter appears at Joy of Sox, angrily disagreeing (as they do).
The Joy of Sox regulars disagree with the negative commenter. I am one of five, six, maybe 10 people disagreeing with him -- but his response focuses only on me. And he doesn't just respond to me. He foams at the mouth.
The attacks can be especially vicious if the commenter doesn't know that he's flinging his verbal feces at the blogger's partner. If he does, he is more restrained -- the online equivalent of not getting harassed on the street when you're accompanied by a man.
To be clear, no member of the Joy of Sox community does this! JoS is an inclusive, egalitarian space, where a feminist, anti-racist perspective is the norm. The angry commenter is an outsider. Everyone disagrees with him -- sometimes quite derisively, mocking his ignorance. No matter. He focuses his attack on me.
Apparently the male commenter cannot abide being "contradicted" by a woman, no matter how polite or respectful her comments. He cannot bear her voicing an opinion, so he tries to bully her into silence.
I don't feel the slightest bit bullied or harassed in these situations. I have nothing but contempt for these regressive men with their delicate egos and myopic worldviews. But they are clearly attempting to bully me.
Back to Rebecca Solnit. In a powerful and deeply disturbing essay called "The Longest War", Solnit quotes the writer Laurie Penny: "An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet". (What a brilliant line!)
When I read this bit, all I could think was: poppies. Do you remember poppygate? It was during the 2018 Ontario election, when I was the NDP candidate for my riding. A right-wing rag ran a hate-piece on me, focusing on something I had written four years earlier, pulled out of context and (of course) purposely misinterpreted.
The response was so intense that the NDP took over my email, so I could focus on the campaign without reading daily threats of rape and murder.
Men arguing with me in comments on a baseball blog has never risen (or sunk) to this level. But it's on the same continuum. The other end of that continuum is murder. If you feel that's an exaggeration, give that essay "The Longest War" a spin. Trigger warnings galore.
Men arguing with me in comments: I wish I came up with a great word for this, the equivalent of mansplaining. Any ideas?
Like many writers, especially those of us who grew up before the digital age, I keep a notebook. I use it to capture ideas, capture thoughts about I'm reading, take notes on experiences, and take notes on various activist or community meetings I attend.
I've learned that I have to make notes while I'm thinking of something, because I am unlikely to remember the thought at another time, out of context. Before the digital age, I carried a small spiral memo pad with me almost all the time.
These days, however, I don't always have a notebook with me, so I do whatever is quickest -- type a note on my phone, scribble it on a scrap of paper, save an email in drafts, or email myself from one address to another.
Later on, when I'm blogging, I check my notebook to see my notes. But I don't look at the notes on my phone or the scraps of paper sitting in a neat pile on my desk or any other form of notetaking. My note-capturing process has changed, but my writing process has not. (And apparently cannot.)
Then I write something and post it.
Then sometime later, I find the other notes, the ones not in a notebook. And these notes bother me. I don't throw them away, and I don't delete them. And every time I see them, they remind me of my sloppy, haphazard, non-methodical writing methods.
And so, in what is sure to be an ongoing but occasional series, I bring you: a post of orphaned notes.
what i'm reading
I wrote about David Blight's huge and brilliant biography of Frederick Douglass here: what i'm reading: frederick douglass, prophet of freedom. In my phone, a note called "frederick douglass susan b anthony" says:
Huge rift btn Douglass and Anthony/Stanton re suffrage
Racist and white supremacist speeches
Douglass and drunken Irishman speech
Anti Indian in many speeches
Ignorance of what was happening to native americans
Also Douglass imperialist re annexing DR, Cuba, Haiti, what his reasons were
What does the moral purity crowd make of this? All it means is no one is perfect. Not even the best.
xref: extend more compassion to others' imperfections and our own.
A note called "frederick douglass" says:
lincoln re emancipation / JFK re civil rights
JFK was no lincoln but good parallel
both making political decisions, delaying moral decisions
both: standard history credits white men for movement they were dragged into, support only when there was no other option
A note called "running the books" (book reviewed here) says:
compassion as most defiant/radical act
complexities of rules - broken bent adhered to - conseqs
books are not mailboxes
"havens for all variety of loners and outcasts" = daytime library
what i'm watching
A note called "shameless uk" says:
learning the source of pain that drives bad behaviour eg monica's mum
A note called "bob newhart show guest stars" says:
len lesser (seinfeld uncle leo) (also get smart)
howard hesseman (early gay character)
S3 change in open, now shows emily
A note called "intellectual superheroes" says:
bletchley - fantastic four - superfriends - ea. w super powers
gets around pre-computer age
A note with no title says:
red dwarf waiting for film to be developed - limited imagination!
star trek TOS ep 15 "in accordance w/ our laws and our many beliefs"
malcolm dumb irritating people are often bigots
shows used to be 50 mins now 42 shows used to be 22 mins now 18
An ominous note with no title says:
where do their husbands and kids disappear to?Cultural appropriation
A note called "cultural appropriation?" has a brief intro from me, then copy/pasted text from letters to the New York Times Book Review.
letters to nyt book review about the ridiculousness of applying cultural appropriation to fiction
Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
I wish your reviewers would keep to the business at hand of reviewing books. I am not interested in Lauren Groff’s anxiety and fear about reviewing “American Dirt” (Jan. 26), or her lack of Mexican heritage or migrant experience. Or the author’s lack of Mexican heritage or migrant experience, for that matter. We are all human beings, regardless of racial or ethnic background. Human beings love to tell and listen to stories. It’s in our makeup. It’s as simple as that, no matter who’s telling it. Writers have the great pleasure and privilege of creating worlds for us to enter, whatever color they are, or where they were born.
Please urge your reviewers to actually critique and/or praise books, not give us all their feelings about doing so, the controversy behind the book, or questioning the author’s right to tell the story. Save the hand-wringing and the virtue-signaling for the opinion pages.
To the Editor:
In her review of Jeanine Cummins’s “American Dirt,” Lauren Groff wondered whether she was the right person to review the novel, being neither a Mexican nor a migrant. If this were the case, then only an African-American should have reviewed DuBose Heyward’s novel “Porgy,” a Holocaust survivor William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice,” and a classicist Mary Renault’s novels about ancient Greece. If the critic represents the reader at his or her highest level, then Groff has succeeded admirably. She realizes she is not reviewing an art novel but a work of commercial fiction and judges it accordingly. She admits her ambivalence about it but cannot deny its emotional impact. Groff should be commended for navigating the troubled waters of cultural appropriation without hitting a reef.
Bernard F. Dick
To the Editor:
I haven’t read “American Dirt,” but the whole debate about cultural appropriation strikes me as ridiculous and dangerous. What’s next: telling a female author she doesn’t have the right to write from a male point of view, or vice versa? Was John Steinbeck an Okie? Was Harriet Beecher Stowe an African-American? And yet, “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” were powerful works that helped shape public opinion.
In the end, the only thing that really matters is: Is the work of fiction effective or not? Beyond that, it shouldn’t matter in the least who tells it.
To the Editor:
I have read about all the controversy associated with “American Dirt” and whether it is an appropriation of “Others’” stories. This is my question: I have read all of Tony Hillerman’s novels about the Southwest and the Navajo in particular. They gave me insight into the area and peoples that I never received from my undergraduate and graduate history education. Has anyone ever questioned Hillerman’s appropriation? Was he given a pass because he is a man? And recently male writers have been praised for their novels that featured female main characters.
There needs to be more discussion of these issues.
To the Editor:
The idea that certain groups have an exclusive right to certain stories is a critical fallacy; Shakespeare was not a woman, not a Moor, not a Jew, not a medieval — or ancient — English king. Nor was he unable, as a white Christian male of his time, to write sympathetically about them. Let’s get back to judging works on their merits, not by our personal politics.
A note from antiquityI have a note to myself from when I read The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead's first novel, in 1999! Yes, not only did I save this note from 19 years ago, I actually know where to find it! I may have sloppy writing habits, but I am very organized!
When she goes to see Coombs (Natchez) he tells the receptionist to her pass.
Vol I and II as old and new testament. Vol III "truly understands human need". shanti?
"It is important to let the citizens know it is coming. to let them prepare themselves for the second elevation."
Fulton as god or prophet, christlike figure. Lila Mae as prophet p 255
listening to joni
mingus, blasted for thinking she could play jazz and "be black"
1 mingus approached her
2 jazz has always been multicultural, first culture in US to be integrated
3 shut up you idiots
review her love life or her personality (which they imagined they knew based on songs) or criticized her for not doing ... ?
did critics hate her because they didn't understand her and she made them feel stupid?
anthology supposed 2 b walkthru of joni chronology but no revw of blue or c&s?
Orphaned blog ideas
These are notes for posts I've never written, and since I never see these notes, probably never will.
dr said choose habits that involve movement
why this is not practical or good advice
in btn 2 miles davis albums
incredibly fertile periods of great musicians: joni, dylan, coltrane
what years for each?
to find out which one deserves it most, a series of tests
everyone deserves it!
love, meaningful work, decent life, 2nd chance or 3rd or 4th chance
individual/anecdotal stories determining policies
one @ time - luck - policies for better
individuals vs better society
when could you get quality food at a decent price?
when could one earner support a family?
is this only true for white people?
role of unions
who is the news for?
price of oil
layoffs vs stock market
"growth" - shareholders
who produces the news
These have been sitting in Blogger drafts for ages. I don't write them, but I don't delete them.
thoughts on listening to bob dylan while driving through the [ends there]
what i'm reading: galileo: watcher of the skies by david wootton
seeing the night sky
five assumptions urbans make about rurals and vice versa
the trudeau government should create green jobs, not bail out the fossil-fuel industry
the strange and circular concept of electability
athena is organizing against amazon, and you can help -- even if you use amazon. especially if you use amazon.
mass demos are ineffective and have been for more than two decades
Here we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and I feel (to paraphrase my favourite baseball player) like the luckiest person on the face of the earth.*
I'm healthy, my partner is healthy, and no one in our extended families has gotten covid.
Thanks to my union, and to my partner's very decent employer, we have a comfortable income, and we didn't lose any income during the pandemic.
I have a safe, comfortable, spacious place to ride out the lockdown and the pandemic in general, with plenty of indoor interests to keep me busy.
I live in an area with very low covid incidence, where it's easy to enjoy the outdoors while maintaining social distancing.
And that's just my covid-related good fortune. In general my privilege is vast. My young life had many challenges, and perhaps my future holds more (who knows), but in the present I am incredibly fortunate.
I hope many of you reading this also enjoy lives of privilege, and that you have strong support for the areas of your life where you don't.
The thing about privilege is you don't choose it. You can't lose it. And even if you did, what good would that do?
The thing about privilege is recognizing it.
The thing about privilege is what you do with it.
* * * *
This month, I encourage you to use some of your privilege to advocate for people who have none, by participating in Write for Rights.
Write for Rights is Amnesty International's largest annual event. It's easy to participate in and it gets results.
These are the 10 cases -- the 14 people -- that Amnesty Canada has chosen to highlight this year. You can read about each one here.
The great thing about Write for Rights is you can participate in a way that works for you.
You can write on your own, as I do.
You can write one letter.
You can write 10 letters.
You can write by email.
You can type, print, and send a paper letter.
It's not difficult to do.
It makes a difference.
* Many years ago, I wrote "on luck," one of wmtc's greatest hits. This is one of the posts that lost dozens of comments. But it's still a good post.