“The Good News is You”

This speech by Sarah Schulman is a must-read for queer writers

As we make our work, we also have to model behaviors and ways of having personal and social relationships that can facilitate a whole new and completely different way of living, a kind of – to be old-fashioned – liberation way of living.  And you know that for me, as I expressed in my most recent book, Conflict Is Not Abuse, part of liberation means a community ethic to stop shunning, pick up the phone and talk about your differences, get together in person with the people you’re in conflict with instead of enlisting your clique or community or religion or corporate shield or race or nation to obliterate them. Stop being mean to a person or a group because someone you identity with told you to hurt them. Instead, ask the contested person what they think it going on. Why do they think this is happening? And whether that is your friend’s ex-friend, or people excluded by the Muslim ban, hear what the excluded person is experiencing. And we have to stop calling the police as a way to cover up our own unjust anxieties. Because what we have got in America right now is a system that is just cruel, in which the people in power are criminals, and people’s basic needs are ignored, and lives are ruined at whims of political game playing. So, any queer individual making it in that system is not a signifier of actual change. It’s great for that person, which has its own value, but it’s not enough.

Sarah Schulman, Publishing Triangle Award Speech

Blistering critique followed by uplifting hope.

Read the whole thing!

The Malignant Melancholy

Individual loneliness is a fickle, nebulous sensation. Like other emotions, it is deeply situational—it makes a difference whether you feel lonely because every time you walk down the street a slur is shouted at you or you feel lonely because the spouse you beat every third night has finally left you. As individuals we are not owed freedom from loneliness any more than we can demand love from those we want it from. But collectively we can recognize patterns of loneliness as symptoms of awful structural injustices. And we can use our loneliness as impetus to work toward systems that ethically meet our social and emotional needs. The way to help alleviate the loneliness of the oppressed is to continue to destroy oppressive structures and support organizing and resistance. The only way to ethically survive loneliness is to look at labor: to ask who performs care work for me, who I perform it for, what systems are viable and where I transmute being abandoned to resistance.

Amba Azaad, New Inquiry

Slowly, self-care has moved from “doing the things you need to do to keep functioning” to “buying loads of luxurious stuff and pampering yourself”. In doing so, it’s stopped being helpful for the people who need it most – having a bubble bath is lovely, but if you feel crushed by your own sadness, it’s not going to make you feel OK again.

The Goopification of self-care misrepresents how hard looking after yourself can be 

The Many Ways in which we are Wrong about Jane Austen

She never expected to be read the way we read her, gulped down as escapist historical fiction, fodder for romantic fantasies. Yes, she wanted to be enjoyed; she wanted people to feel as strongly about her characters as she did herself. But for Jane a story about love and marriage wasn’t ever a light and frothy confection. Generally speaking, we view sex as an enjoyable recreational activity; we have access to reliable contraception; we have very low rates of maternal and infant mortality. None of these things were true for the society in which Jane lived. The four of her brothers who became fathers produced, between them, 33 children. Three of those brothers lost a wife to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Another of Jane’s sisters-in-law collapsed and died suddenly at the age of 36; it sounds very much as if the cause might have been the rupturing of an ectopic pregnancy, which was, then, impossible to treat. Marriage as Jane knew it involved a woman giving up everything to her husband—her money, her body, her very existence as a legal adult. Husbands could beat their wives, rape them, imprison them, take their children away, all within the bounds of the law. Avowedly feminist writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and the novelist Charlotte Smith were beginning to explore these injustices during Jane’s lifetime. Understand what a serious subject marriage was then, how important it was, and all of a sudden courtship plots start to seem like a more suitable vehicle for discussing other serious things.

No more than a handful of the marriages Jane depicts in her novels are happy ones. And with the possible exception of Pride and Prejudice, even the relationships between Jane’s central characters are less than ideal—certainly not love’s young dream. Marriage mattered because it was the defining action of a woman’s life; to accept or refuse a proposal was almost the only decision that a woman could make for herself, the only sort of control she could exert in a world that must very often have seemed as if it were spiraling into turmoil. Jane’s novels aren’t romantic. But it’s become increasingly difficult for readers to see this.

My favourite paragraphs from Helena Kelly’s fantastic essay, The Many Ways in Which we are Wrong about Jane Austen 

Women & Writing

Women often resist being described as “women writers,” and with good reason. The need to prefix “writer” with a tag suggests that writer really means male writer (or perhaps, more specifically, white, straight male writer). It implies that readers need to be warned; that women are intruders on the default terrain — which, in the pages of many magazines, they are. Similarly, the idea of “women’s writing” provokes ambivalence precisely because it implies that women are writing only from, and about, their experience as women (unlike men, who are asking the big universal questions of interest to all, in their great American novels-to-be). The implication is that women are trapped within their particularity, unable to speak to those who don’t share it, while the writing of (straight, white) men is universal rather than particular. But everyone is shaped by their experience of gender, whatever that experience is; there is no view from nowhere. Men’s experience is no less specific than women’s; it’s just that we fail to see it as such.

Katherine Angel, Gender, blah, blah, blah 

Millennials, the Boomer Mentality & Weaponised Self-loathing

The boomer mentality goes like this: get a good education. Get a well-paying full-time job. Find a stable partner. Buy a house and a car. Preferably, have a child. Failing any stage of this process is a reflection of your self-worth and indicates a lack of moral fibre.

With regional variations, millennials have absorbed our parents’ world view. We consider these expectations reasonable, and we blame ourselves for not living up to them.

Of course, it’s all a trick. The global conditions that enabled a middle-class existence are evaporating, and are being replaced by an economic system whose function is the transfer of wealth to the lucky few.

The boomer mentality has an odd amount of sticking power considering it only briefly bore any relationship to reality. For thousands of years, wealth has been concentrated in the hands of a select few, who have used this power to exploit and oppress everyone else. The economist Thomas Piketty writes that in all known societies, the bottom 50% of the population has owned virtually nothing.

Globally, this is still true today. The situation grows ever worse. Knowing this about human history, it seems profoundly delusional for the boomers, a generation permitted a fleeting taste of a dignified existence, to believe this occurred because of their superior work ethic.

Yet this is what boomers want us to think, and we oblige. Never mind that none of it is true. Never mind that believing these toxic fictions is making young people sick, sad and hopeless. Never mind that this is exactly the same process that causes poor people of all ages to believe they are at fault for their poverty.

And never mind that the point of this ideology is to discipline young people’s behaviour through weaponised self-loathing. Instead of demanding better, we engage in futile competition over crumbs. Instead of questioning why life often feels meaningless, why we feel so alienated and inadequate, we turn these beliefs inward. Instead of using this shared experience to build solidarity with each other, we feel shame.

Eleanor Robertson, Why are the Baby Boomers Desperate to make Millennials Hate Ourselves 

I’m not a millennial. I’m at the tail-end of Generation X and my parents were war babies. So this doesn’t apply to me directly, but there are important points made here I think.