Silently Screaming

February 28, 2010

W stands for What, T stands for The, and F stands for F@#!

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  After reading Jeanette Winterson’s “The Stone Gods”, I am left with one overwhelming sentiment, wtf? In a future dominated by technological advances and a the discovery of a utopian planet, humans still find ways to mess things up. Between the loss of reading/writing, pedophilia, and “Big Brother” type government, this is a future I for one would never want to live in. I think it is through this feeling (this massive “what is going on?”) that Winterson provides her commentary on society today.

  In the novel, everyone and everything has been modified by technology. Robots are a part of everyday life, doing everything from housework, to police work, to traffic control. Humans have been genetically modified to look a certain age for the rest of their lives. Food (livestock and crops) have been modified to be in constant supply and meet everyone’s dietary needs. But the trick to all this awesomeness is: humans are still human. Since everyone looks beautiful, men have resorted to getting their sexual pleasure from young children. Women, on the other hand, have decided to go after rapisits and soupse abusers because the average joe, who treats his wife properly, has become boring. While this seems totally disgusting and hideous, when looking at the world we live in, it isn’t as farfetched as it seems.

  One of the most disturbing aspects is the role of the government. The main character, Billie, lives in the Central Power, representing what seems to be the Americas and Europe. While it claims to be a fantastic democracy, it is scary as hell. Not only do all citizens of the Central Power have data chips implanted in their arms, allowing for instant access of one’s personal information, the have the ability to make people ex-citizens, effectively making them nonexistent. Ex-citizens can’t purchase anything, can’t get a job, heck, they can’t go anywhere without a satellite tracking their every move. For a democracy, that is some freaky personal invasion stuff right there.

Natire

We messed this up once, should we be allowed to do it again?

 The book left me with a question. In the story, the Central Power had found an idealistic planet for humans (technically only members of the Central Power) to move to. One with a clean atmosphere and pure food sources. An actual Garden of Eden. My question is, do we deserve it? After royal screwing up the planet we have, do we have the right to get a second chance? Do we have the right to leave one planet destroyed and move on to possibly destory another? When looking at our track record, and considering the possible move, if I was an intergalactic power observing the situation, I think all I could say is “WTF!?”

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February 21, 2010

Who Let the Alien Into the Meeting?

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 I’ll start by bringing up something I mentioned in an earlier post: Octavia Butler is fantastic. Now to the rest of my post. After reading Butler’s Dawn, I’m left thinking about what psychology calls ingroups and outgroups. Ingroups are social groups one belongs to (race, sex, age, etc.), and outgroups being everyone not in the same group. This is a common theme touched upon in feminist sci-fi, being that women are the outgroup in a patriarchal society. The outgroup is always viewed of as bad, different, or weird; never good, helpful, or normal.  The biggest ingroup/outgroup aspect at work in Butler’s novel is the disgust of the ingroup when it is mingled with the outgroup.

  In Dawn, humanity has nuked the planet and the survivors have been wrangled up by aliens. The protagonist, Lillith, is told that she will lead the humans back to Earth when the time comes (that time being deemed by the aliens, known as Oankalis). The Oankalis have cured cancer in humans, restored Earth, and genetically enhanced humans to live much longer, healthier lives. In return, Lillith is told that they have traded genes (humans and Oankalis), and their children will resemble the other race more so than before. Instead of being thankful for all the Oankali have done, Lillith is horrified that human children might resemble Oankali. Seem a little racist to anyone else? The genetic wonders the aliens have provided seem useless to Lillith if humans like anything like something different, something alien. She pictures the human offspring looking like “grotesque, Medusa children” (43). This is prevalent in ingroup/outgroup ideals as well. No matter what good the outgroup does, any type of mixing is a “grotesque” thing. Generational age-difference relationships, biracial children, a female president of the U.S.: all things viewed as weird or different because it involves the outgroup mixing with the ingroup. Heaven forbid anything good that could come of it.

  One of the lasting parts for me is when Lillith says “A rebirth for us can only happen if you let us alone! Let us begin again on our own” (43). This is coming from a member of a group who tried to eradicate themselves. Clearly, their way of thinking was totally flawed, but, any help from an outgroup would just be wrong. Maybe it is time to step outside the groups and start listening to common sense. Maybe it is time for there to be no groups. But, maybe that is just a utopic dream.

February 16, 2010

So True You Can Only Laugh

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   Have you ever heard something that is so true all you can do is laugh? While what actually happened isn’t humorous in and of itself, the fact that it is true is hilarious. Examples that come to mind are personal things children share in public or writing the federal government a 5 dollar check for an amended tax return (the latter, me knowing first hand the humor of the situation). Well, if I’ve ever read a book that is full of moments like this, it has to be Joanna Russ’ The Female Man.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Joanna does a fantastic job utilizing humor to make a serious statement. One of the main characters, Janet, lives in a future where men no longer exist. Her journey back to 1969 opens the door for the hilarity to ensue. She runs around the house nude because she’s trying to keep herself cheerful (okay?). She is astonished by a nude male child, having never seen a male before, and feels it’s more natural to make love to a dog than a man (because they are too similar to women). Another great example is the scene where she writes on the walls with lipstick. She is perplexed as to why it won’t wash off. Now, to people who grew up with wallpaper and know that it cannot be washed, it seems rediculous that anyone would write on it with lipstick, considering lipstick’s notorious staining powers. But to someone from a culture that has mastered efficiency and usability, unwashable walls seems ludicrous and ignorant. When we stop and think about it, it does seem completely stupid that we would use a product (wallpaper) that is impossible to clean yet has a myriad of ways of getting dirty. These examples do a great job of showing how people from different cultures can view the exact same thing in two totally different ways. Russ then takes these hilariously true situations to another, deeper level.

  Janet breaks a man’s arm after a scuffle at a party. When asked why she did it, she says “he called me a baby” (pg. 47, Beacon Press). While it’s an entertaining scene (a drunk macho man has his arm broken by a woman because he called her “a baby”), it makes a larger comment on the interactions between men and women. Men can use derogatory language towards women and continually get away with it. When a woman finally retaliates, it is socially unaccepted (Janet and Joanna leave the party immeadiately afterwards, with Joanna disapproving of Janet’s actions). While it seems a little extreme, I feel it does a great job of getting the point across. Women don’t have to put up with degrading comments, and men deserve any type of retaliation that comes from it.

  I could go on and on about the scenes from this book that illustrate this technique beautifully, but I’ll try to wrap this up. In a nut shell, we (humans) laugh at situations that are so true, we can’t find another way to react. When sexual discrimination is involved, we laugh it off when we are either actually pissed (because a man would act that way), or a bigot (patronizing a woman’s attempt to react to discrimination). Russ put her finger on that, making us uncomfortable and giving us situations that are so true we can only laugh. My last question is, when is it time to stop laughing and start doing something about it?

February 8, 2010

Which is Better: Survival or Independence?

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After reading Karen Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See”, I’m left with an interesting question to ponder: is it better to survive or be independent? The question arises when examining the two females in the story. One is a faithfully married woman while the other is a rambunctious single lady. One is there for support while the other for adventure. And, in the end, one survives and one is “independent” (I’ll get to the quotation marks in a minute). The lasting question is which one is better?

It becomes even more of a confounding question when neither one is portrayed very positively in the story. The narrator is the faithful wife I described in the first paragraph. She is deeply committed to her husband in what seems like a very healthy and positive marriage. Although she starts to seem like a strong, independent woman, that picture breaks down by the end. She avoids bathing because she doesn’t want to be seen naked (different from your run-of-the-mill bra-burning feminisits) and she cries after a game of cards. Even when she runs away, she still shows her husband’s influence on her by admiring and preserving a spider’s web. However, she survives in the end.

It's a long way up in the fight for survival...or independence.

Beverly, on the other hand, is much more independent. She came on the trip to kill a gorilla and get her picture in a museum. She possibly sleeps with one of the men, and flirts with others. She does what she wants. But, she seemingly runs away into the jungle and never returns, thus the “independence” I brought up in the beginning. The story never tells us what happens to Beverly. She could have been abducted by gorillas, kidnapped by the natives helping with the trip, or who knows what else. All of the possibilities leave me with a bad feeling. While she is independent, she doesn’t live long to enjoy it.

To apply this to a patriarchal society, is it better for a woman to go along with her role and survive, or strive to be independent and risk both life and limb? I think both aspects of human nature are important: everyone has a built in survival instinct, and everyone wants to be their own person. But when you can only choose one, which one wins? The answer to that still eludes me.

January 31, 2010

Hey, “Normal” People, the Outcasts Can Play Ball Just as Well as You!

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Let me start by saying that after reading two of Octavia Butler’s work, I regard her as a genuis. Her style is impecable and her storytelling in remarkable. She has become one of my favorite science fiction writers, period. After reading “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” she really got me thinking about the way society treats it’s outcasts and rejects. The way she handles the position of women and people with disabilities in a male/”normal”-functioning dominated society is extremely powerful and relevant. She makes me think, what are our (the “norms” of society) real views and values of those outside our norm?

Butler describes a world in which a diease known as DGD causes people to mutilate and kill themselves and others. The disease comes about after using a drug that cures cancer (which, the commentary the story makes about science and medicine in our culture could fill another whole blog post). We see the world through the eyes of a female protagonist who is a double DGD, meaning both parents had the disease. She is thus in both outcast categories: female and diseased. People with DGD can live controlled lives, but eventually “drift” into themselves and snap. Because of the violence associated with the disease, they are considered extremely dangerous and treated like animals. Wards for people suffering with the disease use restraints and drugs on “patients” (although, I would say “patients” and “inmates” is interchangeable here), and when a patient shows the signs of no return, they are locked in a bare room to tear themselves apart. This is a powerful statement about our treatment of the handicapped people in our soceity. We lock them up and hope they don’t do too much damage. They lose their status has human beings and become potentially dangerous animals. They lose their value to us, so humane treatment isn’t necessary. In that situation, who is the real animal?

Could you stay sane being forced to live here?

We also see soceital values appear when we see the achievements made by people with DGD. They are given a condescending pat on the head and told “good job.” They make great advancements in science and art, but yet their contributions are viewed as inferior because their brains operate differently. The same thing happens to women and handicapped people in real life. If a woman makes a scientific discovery, we (again being soceity’s “norm) tell her she did a good job…for a woman. She has to work twice has hard to earn half the recognition and respect as her male counterpart (I was going to use peer, but felt that was too even of a playing field). Why? Becuase she has a different chromosome than we do. Does any of this sound rediculous to anyone else?

Again, I can’t praise Butler enough for her amazing insight. She has a phenomonal way of making us confront the problems our social norms have. Not everyone is the same as you are. Not everyone fits into your definition of “normal.” They doesn’t make them any less capable or any less worthy of respect.

January 27, 2010

Language= The Most Dangerous Weapon

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Language is the most powerful device known to the human race. It starts wars, begins relationships, and creates laws. It is how we communicate and it effects everyone’s lives. So obviously, the words we choose to say and write are extremely important to the world around us. This is something that I’ve always known in the back of my mind, but not something I usually think about. Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time made me think about it.

Piercy’s novel uses language as a weapon in so many different ways. Language is something than can both be liberating and oppressive, depending on how it is used. I see two major concepts challenged by Piercy with her use of language: race gender. The main character in the novel, Connie (who is actually named Consuelo in Spanish) is a Latina living in New York. The language associated with race is greatly examined by Piercy. Connie goes by “Connie” instead of “Consuelo”, showing her sympathies toward English-speaking Americans. She remarks that she dreams in both English and Spanish, and she cannot believe herself when she introduces herself as ” my name is Connie” to a Mexican-American in her dream (instead of introducing her self as “me llamo Consuelo”). The novel blends the two languages (English and Spanish) at many times as well. Connie is described as having perfect brown skin, followed by a sentence saying “La gente de bronce.” (pg. 25 of the Ballantine books, Fawcett edition, for those interested). This flow between English and Spanish shows the nature in which Connie functions and helps point a finger at racial issues. Connie hates her brother Luis, who she accuses of forgetting where he came from. He is proud that he “forgot” Spanish, and he pronounces his name “Lewis” (a distinctly English way of pronoucing the name). While holding on to one’s native language and culture can be liberating, chosing to “forget” a native language and assimilate into a different culture can be oppressive.

Gender is something highly affected by language. Words like “mother”, “father”, “policeman”, and “housewife” all carry gender-specific connotations. Throw in words like “slut” and “faggot”, and more gender-specific connotations come to mind (obviously negative ones). It is when Piercy challenges gender-specific language that I have an issue with her. I commend her for depicting a future where gender does not matter. People are judged by what they are best at, not what two chromosomes they have. She does a great job at replacing gender-specific references by using “person” instead of “(wo)man” and “per” instead of “him/her”. It’s great to think of a society that does not focus on whether it’s a man or a woman that does something, just a person. The issue I have arises when she speaks of the raising of children. She uses the word “co-mothering.” All the attempts to degender language, and yet she uses a strongly gendered word? Clearly “co-fathering” is out of the picture, even though there are males in the future society. The connotations associated with fathers have been lost, keeping only the connotations with mothers. I feel like “co-parenting” would have been a phenomonal choice, thus leaving all gendered connotations out of it. Obviously Piercy knows what she’s doing, and she’s using the power of language to exploit the differences (or lack thereof) between genders.

Like I said, language is the most dangerous weapon we have. It shapes everything in the world. While I have one bone to pick with Piercy, I think she does a fantastic job utilizing the power of language and getting her audience to think about that power. So I challenge you, think of the enormous power of your words. Maybe it will change your mind before you call someone a “whore” or a “dick”. I’m just “saying”.

January 17, 2010

When Did Being a Wife Become Being a Slave?

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According to Biblical principals of marriage, women and men are equal. Sure, it instructs wives to submit to their husbands, but it calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (which He spent His whole life honoring, and, in the end, dying for). This type of relationship is one of equal standing: humble leading and unconditional love. However, this ideal for marriage changed along the way. Man, and by this I literally mean man as the sex, found a way to mess everything up. He focused on the “wives, submit to your husbands” part, and left out his “loving” part of the deal. He turned his wife from a cherised partner to an endentured servant. Lisa Tuttle’s “Wives” provides a commentary on the position of a wife as a domestic slave.

“Wives” portrays men as invaders from another world who overpowered women and forced them into a life of mindless domesticity. Women don’t have a say in what goes on in the house and are forced to make their every deed pleasing unto their husband. Women were thus turned into household slaves used for cooking and sex. “Wives” examines the situation using a heteropatriarchy lens. Heteropatriarchy is a social system in which heterosexual men are dominant and anyone not conforming to heterosexual norms are marginalized. “Wives” views sex in the context of marriage as a vulgar, painful experience. Men use their wives for their quick sexual gratification, leaving their wives to be unsatisfied sexual and otherwise frustrated. The only real, emotional sexual experience occurs between two wives.  Tuttle is trying to show the audience the selfish nature of men in marriage. They don’t care about their wives’ sexual or emotional needs; they only care if they get off. 

Another form of servitude addressed in the story is the forced conformity women undergo in marraige. They are forced to change their names, give up their desires, and be on their husbands beckon call. How many men in society change their last name when they get married? How many men willing give up aspirations to stay at home and take care of domestic duties? How many men parade around in painfully uncomfortable clothing just to please their wives? I would venture to say that if it occurs at all, it occurs in less than 1% of all marriages. Women are forced to do all of these things just to please their husbands. Apparently being themselves is out of the questions.

Marriage in a heteropatriarchal society has told women they aren’t good enough on their own. Their ideas and desires aren’t important, and they must live to make their husband happy. Someone along the line, man took advantage of an equal situation, making it gratifying only to himself. He took his equal life partner, and turned her into a domestic slave. Lord help us if/when those slaves revolt.

January 10, 2010

Nuclear Family: Fantastic Fantasy or Fiery Reality?

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Mushroom cloud The American Dream is built upon the notion of the nuclear family: a father, a mother, and children.  The nuclear family, as a unit, is the driving force of the archetypal society the American Dream establishes.  A strong family unit helps keep a Capitalist Democracy running smoothly.  The father works and supplies for the family’s financial needs, the mother does house work and takes care of the children, and the children obey their parents and learn from the example of adulthood set before them. But what if that unit is not cohesive? What if the members are not satisfied with their respective role? This is the concept explored by A.E. Jones in “Created He Them.”

Jones depicts a setting of America after a nuclear attack.  Food and electricity are in short supply and the weather has been drastically effected, with winter-like conditions in September. The most compelling aspect is the fact that the societal dependency on the nuclear family is at an all-time high. The main character, Ann Crothers, fills the role of the 1950’s housewife, fixing breakfast for her husband while also making sure the children are cared for.  Her husband, Henry, fulfills his role by working and supporting the family financially. Their children, Robbie and Lennie, do their duty by obediently sitting in a playpen.  This is where the ideal family breaks down.  Henry is a male chauvinist who criticizes Ann for everything she does. Ann puts forth upmost effort to meet both her children’s needs and her husband’s demands, while running herself ragged.  The children are not able to grow up under their parents rearing due to the government’s decision to raise any child without defects caused by the nuclear attack.  Ann cannot fulfill her role as mother, since her children are taken from her at the age of three, and does not want to fulfill her role as a wife due to her husband’s abusive nature. The nuclear family is anything but a positive way of life for Ann.

Jones’ depiction of the nuclear family brings to question the reasons behind why American society upholds it. Why does a “free country” endorse a lifestyle that turns its women into household slaves? Why does the societal norm support women being house cleaners and baby makers instead of having careers? How can a nation be considered progressive while it systematically restricts half of its population simply because of sex? Jones leaves the reader with the dilemma Ann faces: killing her husband or herself for her own good, or continuing the relationship to produce more children for the nation. The effects of the nuclear family leave its value up to debate. Is it a great societal unit, or a deadly societal disease?

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