Monday News: RIP Nancy Friday, disappearing women, and race in Wuthering Heights
Nancy Friday, 84, Best-Selling Student of Gender Politics, Dies – If you’re a Romance reader who has never heard of Nancy Friday, you’re not alone. Despite Friday’s groundbreaking work on women’s sexual fantasies (especially rape fantasies), when 50 Shades came out, Katie Roiphe seemed to think that talking about female sexual fantasy was brand new. And so, apparently, did a lot of other people, given the shock over her Newsweek cover article. Yet Friday’s first book came out in the early 1970s, and I remember her writing something about how a male psychiatrist she consulted insisted that women don’t have sexual fantasies. Even still, her work was diminished, demeaned, and dismissed as ‘soft core porn’ (sound familiar???!). While not perfect, Friday is an important figure in the path to female empowerment and sexual freedom, and she had some important insights about how women are de-sexualized – insights that may be even more important and relevant now. In 1991(!), for example, Friday comments on the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas case, noting how women were learning that sexual freedom they were ostensibly expecting after the women’s movement wasn’t so readily available:
“There’s this extraordinary hypocrisy. They are finding out right now that society didn’t mean it. We are split right down the middle.”
Friday saw disturbing evidence of that split in the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. “We tend to slip back sexually and give up things we take for granted sexually without even being aware that we’re doing it,” she said. “Because these freedoms have been so recently won, if you aren’t consciously aware of what matters to you sexually, they can be lost without you ever deciding to give them up.”
Something like a sexual second-class citizenship results, she contends.
“There is tremendous pressure to make women feel ashamed of their sex,” said Friday. “God knows as valiant as Professor Hill was, you couldn’t help think they were trying to make her feel ashamed of being a sexual person, noticing or remembering these things.” – Tulsa World & The New York Times
It Might Be a While Until There’s a Female President – Forget the title of this article, because it’s needlessly distracting. Carmen Maria Machado (whose debut was featured in last week’s ‘creepy books’ link) gave a podcast interview, discussing a range of subjects, all of which link, in one way or another, to the ideas she explores in her book, Her Body and Other Parties. And not surprisingly, those themes are also central to many of the issues women perpetually deal with, and which, I would argue, genres like Romance are also tackling (to different extents and on different levels). After you’ve read/listened to Machado, you might want to check out this piece from The Cut on the way men continue to control cultural narratives. And then maybe check out a Nancy Friday book.
“We want women to disappear, we want women to not be taking up any kind of space—either literal space or emotional space or mental space.” . . .
“I was just talking to somebody about autofiction, and thinking about the guy who wrote My Struggle—Karl Ove Knausgård. It’s this multi-book series, just this very meticulous recounting of his life. And I can’t even imagine a woman writing a book like that, not because I don’t think a woman could write a book like that, but because we would never permit a woman to engage in that sort of self-love and self-obsession. Women are punished for doing that. We call them ‘divas,’ we’re like, ‘Ugh, she’s so self-centered.’ We don’t allow women the range of artistic expression that we permit men. … And I think if art was reflecting more of that space-taking, then yes, I think there would be kind of a trickle-down effect.” – WIRED
Was Emily Bront?’s Heathcliff black? – I’ve had this post sitting open on my desktop for a while now, determined to read it without prejudging it. Not the central premise of Heathcliff’s racial, ethnic, and cultural identity(ies), because the novel is clearly working around something there. But as Corinne Fowler points out, it is a longstanding debate, and where it’s going is perhaps more important than the initial question. And while it’s difficult to do justice to questions about race, slavery, miscegenation, colonialism, and prejudice in a short essay such as this one, I think Fowler is at least on the right track in her approach to the mystery of Heathcliff as one leading to a historical analysis of colonialism and the culture of slavery in and around Yorkshire. Although it is complicated by the way in which “black” was used more broadly than we tend to use it today, and by the ambiguity Bront? builds into and relies on in Heathcliff’s characterization and role in the novel.
Wuthering Heights was published in 1847. It was written in the shadow of two formative international political events which alarmed the British public: the late 18th century French and Haitian Revolutions. Many of Bront?’s readers would have known that the violent Haitian Revolution ended in independent rule and led to the decline of the plantation economy. Christopher Heywood details the ways in which the Dales were shaped by the “plantation economy”, with well-known local families making their money from the slave-trade and slave-produced goods, also lobbying parliament against abolition. – The Conversation