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text 2018-10-26 18:56
The return of the classics
The Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy,Alexander Theroux

There was an interesting thread on Twitter this morning about the pros and cons of teaching "the classics" in high school (or younger grades).  Some people felt the dead white male canon was no longer relevant, others thought there should be a new "mixed" canon, and so on.  Some tweeters made comments regarding whether or not the classics should be enjoyed on their own or just as cultural icons.

 

I'm not sure exactly when we began to have assigned readings of full-length novels in school.  In eighth grade (age ~13) I remember being assigned Conrad Richter's A Light in the Forest.  I never read it.  We also had to read Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow, but I'm not sure exactly what grade that was.  I didn't read that one either.  Somewhere along the line was Esther Forbes' Johnny Tremain.  I had seen the Disney movie on TV, so I didn't read that one either.  Oh, yeah.  And we had to read The Pearl by John Steinbeck.  It got the same treatment from me.

.

In high school we had the usual: Dickens' Great Expectations in an abridged version in our literature book along with Romeo and Juliet. Nope and nope on those, too.  I think Julius Caesar came in sophomore year.  Another nope.  Junior year was American literature, with Miss Cobb, which meant Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.  Maybe The Scarlet Letter was thrown in for good measure, but I'm not sure.  I didn't read them.  Senior year I had Miss Leonhard with her Thomas Hardy obsession, so that meant The Return of the Native.  I managed maybe 40 pages of it before I gave up.

 

This was not an issue of getting a student to read or to like reading.  I loved reading, and I devoured books like potato chips.  I read Michener's Hawaii during American history class because Miss Black's teaching was too boring.  For my senior English research paper, I read most of Tolstoy's major works -- Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Cossacks, The Kreutzer Sonata -- and even if I didn't completely understand them, I read them.

 

Later, years later, I read The Return of the Native and found it fascinating enough that I've reread it several times.  I read an unabridged version of David Copperfield and loved it. 

 

Why is it that more than 50 years after I graduated high school, these same issues keep coming up?  Why are kids still being taught depressing "life's a bitch and then you die" crap like Steinbeck and Hemingway and Shakespeare?  Why can't the canon be expanded to include women writers and writers of color and books written in the 20th and even 21st centuries?

 

I clearly remember hating The Old Man and the Sea because there was absolutely nothing in it I could relate to.  Not the fish, not the old man, not the lions that Miss Cobb said had such immense symbolism.  I didn't get it, and I didn't like it, and I couldn't concentrate on it.  The same with Thomas Hardy.  Egdon Heath was a living, breathing entity to Miss Leonhard, so much so that she and her two equally unmarried English teacher sisters made biannual pilgrimages to England and Hardy country to collect fresh specimens of gorse and heather and other plant to show their students.

 

Johnny Tremain probably had more relevance to our teenaged selves, but The Pearl sure didn't.  Yet these stories are classics.  There's something about them that has transcended the popular culture of their time to become universal.  Why didn't the teachers then -- or the teachers now -- manage to convey that universality to their students?

 

When my daughter was in high school and her freshman English teacher handed out a list of acceptable books for book reports, there were virtually no women authors on the list.  Not even Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte.  Just a bunch of dead white guys.  When I confronted the teacher, she looked at me like I was nuts.  These were the books that had always been on the list and no one had ever complained before.  Well, honey, I complained.

 

The following year, when my son was a freshman, the high school canon had been expanded, but not by much.

 

And the kids still didn't read it.

 

I'm not sure kids are even capable of understanding most of the themes of classic adult literature unless the teacher knows how to make it relevant to their limited experience.

 

There's a certain similarity between The Pearl and a silly horse story I read in fifth grade, Silver Saddles.  The ending is the exact opposite, of course, because the horse story ends happily and the Steinbeck classic is a monumental tragedy.  But is the tragedy the whole point of the story?  Is that what eighth graders should be taught, that life is a never ending struggle and you shouldn't hope to have anything good come of it because more than likely you'll just end up worse than you were before?

 

Romeo and Juliet is another tragedy.  Why is it still being taught to teenagers who are maybe just starting to experience romance and love and sexual desire?  I still remember that English teacher's rapt expression when I said I didn't think kids needed to see love and suicide in the same context without some kind of warning.  "Oh, but I just love Romeo and Juliet!" she exclaimed.  "It's so romantic!"

 

Yeah, suicide at 14 is so romantic.

 

We're a diverse society and we need a diverse canon.  But if we're going to impress the importance of that canon or any canon on young readers, don't we have to make it relevant to them?  If Jane Austen's universal truth is truly universal, shouldn't there be other examples from literature, from popular culture, from the news, from the kids' real lives?

 

Maybe I just see all this through the lens of 70 years, or maybe I'm just nuts. 

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review 2018-10-09 22:55
Everything you thought about how men silence women . . . and more
Man-Made Language - Dale Spender

Another of those books from my women's studies days that got buried.

 

It's so heavily highlighted that I can't even pick the most relevant passages, but if you ever wanted to know how patriarchal norms use language, this is a good place to start.

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review 2018-10-07 20:23
What's it all about? This!
Feminist Theorists: Three centuries of key women thinkers - Dale Spender

Disclosure:  I don't know Dr. Spender.  I wish I did.  Her book The Writing or the Sex, or why you don't have to read women's writing to know it's no good is one of the two books that prompted me, at almost age 50, to go back to college. . . twenty years ago.

 

Feminist Theorists was one of the reference works I used both directly for women's studies classes and indirectly for a lot of others.  There are any number of collections of biographies of individual theorists and their theories, and I have several of them, but this is my favorite.

 

I had taken a lot of notes from it and copied several pages, but it's a fat paperback and the pages didn't photocopy well.  As I'm going through this project of scanning my photocopied books and notes and papers, this was one that stood out as "I think I need to see if I can buy a copy and just transfer my notes."  Last week I did just that, and my very nice copy arrived from ThriftBooks in no time at all.

 

As I'm transferring my notes from scribbled pieces of paper and barely-legible photocopies, I'm also rereading a lot, remembering the thrill of discovery that I was not alone and that women had been thinking these same troubling thoughts for literally hundreds of years.

 

My favorite, though, has to be Matilda Joslyn Gage  (1826-1898), the least well-known of the nineteenth century American triumvirate [sic] who led the women's rights movement.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are almost household names, but not so Matilda.

 

[Man] does not yet discern [woman's] equal right with himself to impress her own opinions on the world.  He still interprets governments and religions as requiring from her an unquestioning obedience to laws she had no share in making.

That's from 1893. 

 

Gage's biography in this 1983 volume is written by Lynne Spender, the editor's sister.  She describes Gage as "a grass-roots activist," who opened her upstate New York home as a station on the underground railroad to help escaping slaves reach freedom in Canada and who was active in the temperance movement, which was  of vital interest to women who were victims of alcohol-related violence and poverty.  She was also an intellectual, who researched and wrote voluminously about how what she called "the Patriarchate" oppressed women's lives.

 

It's a fun bit of trivia, I think, that Gage's daughter Julia married Lyman Frank Baum, who had not yet written The Wonderful World of Oz, with its intrepid girl hero, Dorothy Gale of Kansas, who manages to get along pretty well without swooning at the first hint of danger or needing the assistance of, ahem, men.  (Let's face it, Dorothy already had plenty of brains, heart, and courage and only showed how over-rated these were in, ahem, men.)

 

Feminist Theorists is still in print and used copies (like mine!) are readily available for modest sums.  I highly recommend this particular book to anyone wanting a historical overview of the continuing battle for the rights of women.

 

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text 2018-09-29 03:48
In answer to the oft-asked question: How can they do it?
Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men's Violence, and Women's Lives (Feminist Crosscurrents) - Dee L. R. Graham,Dee L. R. Graham

I was almost literally on my way out the door to go to dinner when I posted this a while ago. 

 

"Stockholm Syndrome Writ Very Large" is indeed the topic of this book, though not the literal subtitle.  But if you're wondering how some women can support and defend the very system that denies them full personhood, allow me to recommend this book.

 

I haven't read it for almost 20 years, and I only had time this afternoon for the briefest of skims through its pages.  It's not a new book -- my edition is copyright 1994 -- and I read it in 1999.  But its premise is fairly simple: that women, as a class, are held hostage not by individual men but by the patriarchal system and that to survive in that system, they often feel they have no other choice but to defend it.

 

This is not an open, admitted, conscious decision.  Many women would deny that they are hostages.  They will claim to believe the same things the patriarchy asserts about superiority and subservience and submission and inequality.  Their sincerity is often beyond question. 

 

Knowing and understanding the reasons why they do what they do may help you in interactions with them.  It may help you just walk away from unproductive relationships.  It may just help you deal with the world.

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text 2018-09-27 21:36
Yeah, I own this one, too
Real Rape - Susan Estrich

I'm struggling today, really struggling.  I may not even post this.

 

My back spasms came back yesterday.  It's bad, really bad.  I know the reasons, and I can't do anything about it until it at least gets better this time.  More exercise.  Lose some weight.  Get off the couch.  Heaven only knows what else.

 

But there are other things.

 

I own these books because borrowing them from the library wasn't enough.  I had to have them for myself.

 

I turned on MSNBC for a few minutes, hoping to see Nicolle Wallace.  But it was still Brian Williams and the coverage, and I had to turn it off.  I don't know who the woman was that was commenting, a young Black woman talking about how she had to take the day off work because she was so emotional, crying, because of all the phone calls and texts calling to ask if she was okay.

 

Dear goddess, are any of us okay?

 

What is "real rape"?

 

Is it only "real rape" when the victim is pure as the driven snow, a virgin martyr to the lust of an evil man?

 

If she wears a short skirt, it's not real rape.

 

If she has a drink, it's not real rape.

 

If her life's not in danger, it's not real rape.

 

If she didn't fight to the death, it's not real rape.

 

If she's had sex with him before, it's not real rape.

 

If she didn't report it to the cops, it's not real rape.

 

If she's married to him, it's not real rape.

 

I'm sitting on the couch with the heating pad on my back turned up to high.  I'm shivering.  I can't cry because it will hurt too much, will trigger the contractions in my back that feel like knives.

 

I can't talk because no one will believe me, and because if they do believe me other people will be hurt who have no reason to be hurt.

 

 

It's never really "real rape."

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