Friday News: On Women
Awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Belarusian Svetlana Alexievich is a bold decision – I like this piece by Arifa Akbar because it focuses on the way Alexievich’s win “recalibrates the status of ‘non-fiction’ in the literary canon. I agree that there remains a perception that non-fiction is somehow less artistic than fiction, and that whatever it takes to write a beautifully written and researched book of non-fiction is substantively different from what it takes to write a work of fiction, even if it’s not beautifully written and researched. And that Alexievich’s win challenges that perspective:
The New Yorker writer, Philip Gourevitch, wrote an article on Alexievich last year entitled “Non fiction deserves a Nobel” in which he criticised the fact that it had been more than 50 years since a non-fiction writer had been distinguished by the academy.
He argued that this was due to an elitist and artificial separation between fiction and non-fiction. “There is a kind of lingering snobbery in the literary world that wants to exclude non-fiction from the classification of literature – to suggest that somehow it lacks artistry, or imagination, or invention by comparison to fiction.” – The Independent
During World War II, Sex Was a National-Security Threat – It’s probably no surprise to learn that during World War II, female sex workers (and let’s face it: all women) were seen as “polluted” and “polluting” to men, so much so that women could be quarantined against their will and basically forced to undergo treatment for, among other things, syphilis. Despite habeas corpus petitions arguing that the detention was unlawful, these quarantine were upheld by the courts and the U.S. government actually created an entire agency — the Social Protection Division — to focus on “prostitutes” and the “danger” they posed to male U.S. soldiers during the war.
Technically speaking, the “it” referred to sexually transmitted diseases, which the government had recently declared to be “military saboteur number one.” In practice, though, the real saboteurs were considered to be the women who carried them. Over the course of the United States’ involvement in World War II, federal authorities detained hundreds of women in quarantine centers across the country, determined to protect the country’s fighting men from sex workers and other women who flocked to the towns that housed army bases, known as “Khaki Wackies,” “good-time Charlottes,” “camp followers,” and—in a portmanteau coined by a the U.S. Public Health Service—“patriotutes.” – The Atlantic
The Public Shaming of Chrissie Hynde – I generally avoid using the same publication twice in a news post, but I’m making an exception today because the previous piece on women, sex, and shame resonates through Sophie Gilbert’s article on the backlash against Chrissie Hynde’s comments on sexual assault and the general resistance to nuanced discussion of any issue that tends to catalyze anger online. First to Hynde’s remarks, I was shocked and pretty horrified by them myself (she even refused to classify her own sexual assault as rape), although I’m reading her book (actually listening to Rosanna Arquette’s narration of it), and it’s a complicated narrative, one that resists easy judgments about both Hynde’s actions and her perspective.
However, Gilbert raises some good questions around where we draw the line between “advocacy” and “self-gratification.” At what point do our judgments, especially about other women, becoming their own kind of morality policing? Especially when a woman who does not fit easily into a certain “Box” is at issue. Although I wish people would stop invoking Jon Ronson, especially when he makes a comment like the one below about democracy. Because he’s dead wrong – democracy is the often clumsy, even brutal domination of the majority. Which is why some legal scholars are quick to point out that the U.S. is a “constitutional democracy,” a system that is supposed to protect the political rights of the minority. Whether or not that’s always been achieved. On social media, it can go either way – boosting the volume of a particularly vocal minority or claiming the all-powerful will of the majority.
Wayne cites a study conducted at Beihang University in 2013, which found that anger spreads more easily than any other emotion on social media, and considerably more rapidly than joy, the next most viral emotion. The study also mentions homophily, or the social phenomenon wherein groups of like-minded people band together, validating each other’s ideas and supporting each other’s reactions and feelings. On social media, this encourages ferocity and discourages nuance, particularly when thoughts are limited to 140 characters. “Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine,” Ronson said in a TED Talk in June. “We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out. And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.” – The Atlantic
Interview: Ruth Reichl on identity, Twitter and her new book, “My Kitchen Year” – I’ve always been a big fan of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs, in large part because I think she does a good job of translating what is intensely personal into something much bigger. And her comments about having to re-establish her own identity after the folding of Gourmet Magazine are very interesting. But reading this interview in the context of the piece on Hynde also got me thinking about different patterns of interaction we see on social media, especially Twitter. You can get people to bond in a heartbeat over recipes and restaurants and their favorite dishes. It’s like the anti-outrage machine. Not quite as good as puppies and other cute animals, but close. And given the fact that it’s often women having these discussions, it’s kind of an interesting phenomenon.
Twitter has played a big role in your life, and you chose to weave many of your tweets into this story. How did having that audience make working on this book different from your others?
I didn’t realize how important Twitter was to me until the day the magazine closed. I got this outpouring of support from the community. And I realized, I’m not alone in this. And then later, there we are in rural New York, half the time snowed in, the electricity would go out and the only thing working was my iPhone. It was like, ‘Oh my god, I can still ask a question about cooking.’ One time when the power went out I had just made bread dough, and the oven went out. I would have thrown it away, but instead I posted the question on twitter and everyone wrote back, ‘No! Just keep punching it down!’ It’s amazing, no matter where you are, you’re not alone. – Indie Scoop SF