Just Because the Book’s Not Pornographic, Don’t Assume There’s Nothing Obscene Going On

As a former high school English teacher — and longtime analyst of the US’s weird dance between puritanical prudery and enthusiastic sexualizing of…well, EVERYTHING — I shall forever find entertaining the books parents want to ban their children (and everyone else’s) from reading. I mean, the most challenged book of 2013 was Captain Underpants, for heaven’s sake. Captain Underpants!

So this recent headline was guaranteed to catch my eye: Tennessee Mom Calls Book On Cervical Cancer Cells ‘Pornographic’

Turns out the book in question is Rebecca Skloot’s New York Times bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, described by the author as “a story of race and medicine, bioethics, science illiteracy, the importance of education and equality and science and so much more.”

immortal life_skloot

I’ll come back to Henrietta Lacks (and why you should know who she is, if you don’t already) in just a moment. First I need to alert everyone to Tennessee Mom’s disturbing discoveries: Bodies have insides.

Those insides have organs. 

And sometimes those organs develop cancer. 

If this is ‘porn,’ I’ve been doing masturbation all wrong

The mother’s objection to this book being read by her 15yo son [and, lest we forget, by all his classmates at a Knoxville magnet school for STEM education — and all the other students in Knox County, period] centers on two passages: 1) the first describing infidelity on the part of Henrietta’s husband, and 2) the other detailing the moment in which Lacks discovers the lump on her cervix.

Curious to hear the wording that’s too “graphic” for teenagers? Cuz I sure was! Thankfully, The Guardian‘s got us covered:

Continue reading “Just Because the Book’s Not Pornographic, Don’t Assume There’s Nothing Obscene Going On”

the (un)funny feminist gets her Regency on: Manfeels Park

I laugh because I love.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a feminist in possession of a news feed, must be in want of a laugh.

Lemme get right to it — I struggle when it comes to understanding funny.


My all-time favorite movie to quote from is this one. I once gave a college boyfriend one of these for Valentine’s Day. (Shoulda known he wasn’t The One when he was too confused to even manage a smirk.) As a kid, my favorite comic books weren’t written in English; and no, I didn’t read French at the time. Nothing has ever made me laugh harder — NOR WILL IT — than Greek gynecology.

My favorite joke goes like this:

Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb? 




Q: …?

A: That’s not funny. 


[Also has a side benefit of outing undesirables, as in: people who hear that joke and immediately jump in with their own “feminists are just THE WORST, amirite?!!”-brand of humor. Pro-Tip, for that old high school chum I defriended faster than one can say Lucretia Mott: if I’m the one telling a joke on Facebook, it’s unlikely that the punchline actually means “liberated women are stooopid,” mmmkay?]

Back in the Dark Ages of my blogging career, otherwise known as “12½ months ago,” I briefly tried out a recurring feature called the (un)funny feminist: posts wherein I introduced you lovely people to my favorite feminist funnies. And today — finding myself in need of a giggle — I’m bringing it back!

So without further ado, allow me to present: MANFEELS PARK


Brainchild of Mo and Erin — who describe their creation as “an exercise in flogging a pun for all it’s worth” — Manfeels Park combines line-drawn portraits from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (as adapted by the BBC and starring Colin Firth as the Darciest Darcy who ever Darcy’ed) with “web commentary by hurt and confused men with Very Important Things To Explain, usually to women.”

Continue reading “the (un)funny feminist gets her Regency on: Manfeels Park”


Yknow how folks have been claiming the Internet was ushering in the End of Days ever since the Internet ushered in, well — itself?

Yeah. All this ish.
Yeah. All this ish.

I’m hear to tell you: it just ain’t so.

But! This being my blog, and me being a story-telling type, first I’m gonna tell you a story. (Don’t forget that “ruins relationships / ruins everything” stuff, though, cuz I’ll be coming back to that.)

* * *

Back when I was 8 or 9 — you might recall it as the time when mastodons roamed the plains and phones were things you actually dialed — my folks and I spent a summer weekend in upstate New York, at a gathering of extended family members. The house where we stayed belonged to the parents of the wife of a second-cousin on my father’s side, if memory serves: though at the time, I was pretty fuzzy on how all these people fit together.

Or where I fit in with them. It’s always awkward, being 8 or 9 years old in a house full of grownup strangers.

At one point early Saturday afternoon, the woman who owned the house — and who had stepped out for a moment, from the living room where everyone was gathered — stepped back in, carrying a basket.

“Isn’t my new basket lovely?” she asked the room.

No one seemed to notice. I noticed no one noticing — and felt bad for the tall woman, whose husband had promised to take me blueberry picking the next afternoon.

“Yes! It looks very pretty!” I piped up.

The tall woman smiled warmly at me for a moment, and I smiled back, relieved she knew that she had not been ignored.

Also? It really was a lovely basket, of fine brown and black wicker woven into ornate patterns.

The basket in question was MUCH COOLER than any of these.
The basket in question was WAY COOLER than any of these.

Continue reading “In which THE INTERNET. RUINS. NOTHING!”

Fierce Truths. Necessary Stories.

Two young girls chase each other exuberantly, flush with the thrill of play and life and laughter. A writer watches them from a distance:

“In them, I glimpse the girl I fleetingly was. I want to take them by their small, sweaty hands, sit with them on a stoop littered with bubble gum wrappers and cigarette butts and show them where I’ve been and hope my words may offer some protection. Give them a story that is confounding, contradictory, and truer than any other stories they will hear.”

“Girls Run Circles” from I am a red dress, by Anna Camilleri^

Last fall, I bought a book in Portland. I bought it almost at random: the famous bookstore was famous; the resonant title was resonant.

Or maybe a whisper in my bones told me I needed it.

“Give them a story that is more true, most true, true blue. I would say: You may lose yourself. Life is about finding much of who we once were and there are many lost girls who eventually find something of themselves again. I would tell them, you are precious and special and beautiful, not because you are girls, good girls, pretty girls — just because you are.”

red dress_book jacketAnna Camilleri’s I am a red dress: Incantations on a Grandmother, a Mother, and a Daughter was the first (and final) book I read last year. The first book I had read in over 18 months. I hadn’t made it past more than a few pages of anything since the ethnographic and cultural study of African-American women’s politics I read in glassy-eyed panic during the long nights of June, 2013, spent in Unit 6 — a book I read mostly to prove I was not crazy.

I was not like the young woman in the room across from the admitting station, who stabbed a nurse in the arm with the three-inch pencil she’d been given to fill out her meals-request form for the next day. (Though after the first day spent alone in my silent room — I too mighta stabbed myself in the leg with a pen, if they hadn’t all been taken away together with my shoelaces.)

I was not like the large man in the flapping-open hospital gown, who migrated about the dining area eating pudding cups off the trays of anyone not yet arrived. (Though after the second day of eating only institutional food — I too was eyeing other patients’ unsupervised desserts.)

Crazy people, I reasoned, don’t bring critical feminist analyses of race and politics with them to the psych ward. 

Continue reading “Fierce Truths. Necessary Stories.”

One of these questions is more rhetorical than the other.

I’m just not saying which.

Wonder Woman: pop culture's greatest Amazon.  (via)
Pop Culture’s Greatest Amazon (via)

Here’s what I keep wondering about this week:

(1) Why are the most prevalent — and financially lucrative — fantasies produced for women consistently some version of “if I hang around the assh*le who treats me badly LONG ENOUGH, he’ll stop being an assh*le and become the dream lover/boyfriend my mother and I always hoped I’d find”?

[This trope long predates FSoG, obvs. It predates the first Harlequin romance that ever slithered onto land. And the issue is as much about what — and why — women choose to consume as it is about what gets marketed to us; these two factors are always intricately and inextricably related. Duh.]

(2) Given the utter — and annoying — obviousness of Question 1, how is that women have not yet risen up in a violently Amazonian worldwide coup and installed their own matriarchal feminist utopia?

[Please please PLEASE, let this be the plot of the next…uh, I mean FIRST (IF THEY EVER ACTUALLY MAKE ONE) Wonder Woman movie!]

Jeez Louise.

Here’s a key point, though, about all those mega-sales numbers for the FSoG books (and now movie), as Hannah McCann points out: ample evidence suggests that some folks are buying the books to hate-read as ardently as others are to fantasize.

And those hate-readers (plus others) are creating some mighty fine entertainment of their own, in response.

A few of my favorites:

Continue reading “One of these questions is more rhetorical than the other.”