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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Is Feminism a Bad Word?

There it was again, in an interview in Parade magazine last Sunday, with Emma Thompson and Dotson Rader:

Rader: When you were at Cambridge, you became a feminist. I don’t mean that in a negative sense.

Thompson: No, it’s not a negative word.

Well, Emma, it wasn’t originally, but now I think it is.  Younger women start their sentences with, “I’m not a feminist, but...” In Lean InSheryl Sandberg writes,

We accepted the negative caricature of a bra-burning, humorless, man-hating feminist. She was not someone we wanted to emulate…In our defense, my friends and I truly, if naïvely, believed that the world did not need feminists anymore. We mistakenly thought that there was nothing left to fight for.

Feminism has fallen out of favor. This is partly because it has been taken over by extremists. Lately, for example, it’s considered bad feminist form to diet, lest one be perceived as selling one’s soul in compliance with cultural norms of beauty. (Dang, right after I started back on Weight Watchers!) According to an article in Elle Magazine this month, Marisa Meltzer says,

There’s a thread of old-school feminist thought that says taking pleasure in being admired for our looks is participating in our own oppression…

Lynne going crazy 002

Daughter, please. There’s also a thread of feminist thought that says make up your own mind about what you want to take pleasure in. Just don’t let anybody limit you based on gender.

The feminist movement (a) made some mistakes and (b) got co-opted by the forces of capitalism. Unfortunately, the message of feminism was perverted from “you can be whatever you want to be” to “you must be a spectacular over-achiever.” Women are expected to be perfect mothers and partners while running corporations, and they’re freaking out and opting out.

Although we’ve opened up classrooms and board rooms, allowing women to go where only men have gone before, we’ve ignored the fact that women have wombs, ovaries and breasts, plus the talent for perpetuating the human race. This requires a little more effort and time, which they’re not getting. They’re expected to pop out babies on their lunch hours and get right back to work, pumping breast milk in the ladies’ room while wolfing a sandwich at their desks.

It’s horrendous. A nightmare. I’d be pissed, too. But instead of competing with each other for the title of Superwoman, we should recognize that women face similar difficulties and challenges in work and life. That used to be the basis for feminism. Our common difficulties impelled us to band together and fix things. We rejoiced in our collective power to shape a society that for too long had taken our contributions for granted while barring us from real power.

Back in the day, we wanted to be liberated from stereotypes that said we couldn’t be astronauts or fire fighters, and from rules that we should act or look a certain way to keep society from feeling threatened. Yes, some of us took it too far. Some of us became narcissistic assholes. If you were raised by one, I apologize.

But here’s one of the coolest, most empowering things I, as an old broad, can share with you. If you don’t like something? Change it, alone or collectively. Remember, there is more power in numbers, so you might get a couple hundred thousand sisters to join you in your mission. Call it whatever you want, but do something. Make yourself proud.

You can wallow in the nastiness of what is, or stand up, hose off the mud, and create a better world for yourself and other humans. If not for yourself, for your daughters and sons. At least, please try.

Leave a comment

29 Comments

  1. I am SO with you on this…great post Lynne..

    Reply
  2. Powerful post, Lynne!

    Reply
  3. Tell it like it is. Well said. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Exactly … good job!

    Reply
  5. Sue Shoemaker

     /  December 20, 2013

    It wasn’t until I was doing research for an Underground Railroad tour, that I “realized” that women in the US have only had the right to vote since 1920. I was 61 at the time and had voted for forty years…not actually understanding that women had only been exercising that right for 50 years prior to my first visit to the polls.

    There is a tendency to “take for granted” the accomplishments and “hard-fought-for-gains” younger generations “inherit” as a birth right. The word “suffragist” disappeared from common usage long ago…and perhaps that will eventally happen with the term “feminist.”

    Maybe the feminist movement has done what it was supposed to do…make life better for those who follow behind.

    Reply
  6. An organizational behavior PhD I worked with told me it is part of being young to change whatever came before. Change the path, the color, the words. We all benefit from the work done before, as you say, whatever you want to call the changers, and if we want to improve stuff at our age, we can do it still. I wrote a letter this week to a 501(c)3 we use services from when I found on their website a Board and executive officers with all white men. We’ll see if I get an answer. All I can do is ask the question. Thanks, Lynne for another thoughtful and wise post! Happy holidays!

    Reply
  7. I understand this post TOTALLY especially trying to be a “superwoman” and to “fix things” … and so it became MY fault when things did not fix!!
    My daughters-in-law and nieces-in-law have it easier than our generation I think as the new-age male definitely takes more responsibility with the domestics and childcare than our generation. Still there is still a lot for us (the baby boomers) to recognise and being proud of the softer parts of being woman. In this new era of my life, I am enjoying bringing that to the surface again.

    Reply
  8. PS. I am off air for three weeks so please have a Joyous Christmas and I will see you again in the new year.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth, after working hard all my life, I am now enjoying the softer side, too! I provide childcare for my toddler grandkids a couple times a week, and it has allowed me to play at being a stay at home grandma.

      Reply
  9. glendanp

     /  December 20, 2013

    I am a woman pure and simple and as such have a responsibility to continue to raise up women in every part of our lives. I am always proud to be called a feminist and NEVER say “I’m not a feminist but. . . “. I believe in the love and power of women to advance all human causes to a better way for everyone. Our society and our world have too many problems that are threatening us as a species and we have the power to make change. Living from our true feminine self with love, kindess and compassion is the way to be a power-filled, powerful, feminine, woman. Thanks for the blog!!!

    Reply
  10. Beyonce’s new album should help spur the national conversation.

    Reply
  11. Terrific post. I’m proud to be called either a sister or a feminist! Anita

    Reply
  12. Lynne,
    Powerful and eloquent. It’s hard for me to find myself in the current wave so I have to be comfortable with the way I define feminism and how I ‘show up’ in my life. With 2 granddaughters I am eager to see women work together and make the necessary changes–’cause we’re not done yet! Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
  13. There seems to be a societal trend, when a good idea threatens the status quo, to apply a label to that idea and then denigrate everything bearing the label. So it has been with feminism. The original idea, which you express very succinctly as “you can be whatever you want to be” was twisted into an insistence that one not be anything traditionally perceived as feminine.
    My earlier professional life was a series of challenges to limits – the first young professional to work in my state’s Game and Fish Department, the first young woman to teach college in the (all male) penitentiary. Later, I moved into a more traditionally female endeavor (health care) but still chose to lead in my own fashion – encouraging growth and learning and “moving up and out” in my staff.
    Perhaps the important lesson now is neither to remember the effort of those of us who have gone before, nor to redefine the future as a different type of challenge, but rather to persistently resist being labelled. Feminist, supermom, tool of the corporations, rebel, nonconformist, conformist, liberal, conservative – every label is inherently a limiting factor. Let’s refuse to accept limits to our accomplishments – by not using labels.

    Reply
  14. Excellent topic, Lynne. I was in my early 20’s at the start of the feminist movement and embraced its doctrine at the time. I have seen the change it has brought over the years which is amazing. But I have also come to realize what it lacked. It focused for women to be “equal” to men and to have the same jobs formerly relegated to men. What it left out, I believe, is the recognition of the special qualities women have that they bring to the workplace. Even though women have opportunities, many times they are still operating under men’s “rules.” In order to stay in her job a woman must abide by these. I always think of what it would be like if the heads of state were all women and how they would negotiate conflicts. I don’t think we would have as many testosterone driven wars.

    Reply
    • Kathy, you are right, that recognition of our uniqueness was missing. I’m your age, and I remember feeling like I had to act like the boys in order to be respected. It was so new and precarious, and then as you say, we were young, too. Remember the suit blouses with the big bows? Our attempt to suggest a necktie. We were scared. We’re not anymore and, as a gender, we need to feel more confident. Enough to demand respect for our childbearing, lactating, collaborative abilities.

      Reply
  15. Well said. What I think we need to remind ourselves is just because I choose something different from your choice doesn’t mean I think you are wrong. It doesn’t mean I am criticizing your choice. It just means we now have more options open to us.

    Reply
  16. Lynne, I’m just catching up here and I’m glad I didn’t miss this one. I appreciate the message here about embracing the power of choice. We can each define feminism in a positive, life-affirming way, a way that works for us.

    Reply
  17. Feminism was a catalyst for finding my voice at age 20. Who I am now (at age 48) has changed and evolved and grown, as has what I define as “feminism”. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    Reply
    • And thank you, Diane, for stopping by and joining the conversation. I can see that you have your own going at BeingTrulyPresent.com. It looks wonderful. Best wishes.

      Reply
  18. Reblogged this on alm383 and commented:
    النساء شقائق الرجال المشكلة في التربية الخاطئة

    Reply
  19. I am a feminist and proud of it. I have worked for the Feminist Movement for my entire life. If it wasn’t for the women dedicating their lives to this cause this conversation wouldn’t be taking pace because the only time a woman’s name would be in print was when she got married or died. To turn your back on feminism is to turn your back on the suffering and dedication of our foremothers who gave so much so that we could have the rights that we have today (which could be taken away AGAIN if we stop paying attention). To denigrate the word feminist and the Feminists themselves is exactly what the establishment and status quo have tried to do for years. So I’m a RADICAL FEMINIST and I raised my daughter to be one as well and I’m proud of it.

    Reply
    • I love your energy, HAR! I go nuts when young women say something stupid like “I’m not a feminist but I’m all about equal pay, right to choose, non-objectification….” Like Sandberg said, it’s not about hairy legs and hating men. But just to lighten things up, in a few days I’m going to post something about feminism that will make everybody laugh and high five each other. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Reply

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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • my read shelf:
    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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