Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Tue 18 Jan 11 12:03
Just caught up on this discussion. Wow! This kind of clear thinking is infectious. Thank you.
Rebecca Traister (rtraister) Wed 19 Jan 11 09:17
Hi Fawn, not meta at all! The answer is no, I was not thinking of writing a book at all when I was reporting on the election. I can actually tell you the exact moment that I thought I might write the book: it was in late September of 08, just six weeks or so before the general election. I was watching some pundits talk about what Sarah Palin means for women, and I was so upset because they were getting it wrong, in some way I can't even remember. That was the moment that I thought "There is a story to tell here -- an important story! about women and politics and power and this history of the United States! -- and I am going to be so mad when I hear people telling it wrong in coming years!" And then I thought, "Wait, maybe I should try to tell my version of it?" And then I wrote a book proposal VERY quickly. But that was long, long after the primary that takes up so much of my story was over. Also, I should note that when I say people will get it "wrong" I don't mean it quite literally. Everyone has different perspectives on the history that was made, and that is still being made, and I'm being sort of silly in saying that anything was wrong. All I meant is that I felt very strongly that this was a remarkable chapter for women, and I wanted to convey that in some larger narrative form than simply through the reporting and writing I'd been doing at Salon.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Wed 19 Jan 11 09:35
So that was your "click" moment!
person of crevice (obizuth) Wed 19 Jan 11 15:42
one thing i really loved about the book was how you combined your personal story and feelings about the candidates (particularly hillary) with reporting and analysis. i think it's a really tricky combo and you did it beautifully. uh, taht wasn't a question.
Rebecca Traister (rtraister) Wed 19 Jan 11 16:21
It's okay! I'll take the compliment!
(fom) Wed 19 Jan 11 20:24
I think that's part of why it was so riveting. (Sorry to use the same word twice, but I couldn't put it down.) You kept grounding the narrative in your own perceptions and insights as the story unfolded, and they were good, so it made people really think. At least it made me think!
Rebecca Traister (rtraister) Thu 20 Jan 11 15:16
Responding a bit to these compliments, I should say something: It wasn't my intention to write a memoir, or anything like it. I have no problem with first person writing, and do it often in my journalism, but it's not like I went into the book project thinking that the world needed to hear about Rebecca Traister's feelings about Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama! BUT, as I was putting together the proposal, and then later writing the book, a couple of things kept occurring to me, leading me to think that perhaps a personal perspective might be valuable. First was the amount of speculation from reporters and pollsters about how young women felt, or how old women felt, or how working women felt, or how Democratic women felt, or how thirtysomething women felt about x, y or z. In every election, it seems like the news media suddenly becomes curious about how some specialized group of women feel about politics. And then there's the steady question of "HOW YOUNG WOMEN FEEL ABOUT FEMINISM." And the thing is, I was perfectly aware that I am just one woman -- neither young nor old, by media standards -- but that I was perfectly happy to explain how *I* felt about politics, candidates and feminism. The second thing was that in interviewing so many people about how the election had an impact on them, I was reminded of how personal and emotional it was for so many of us. We talk a lot about the personal being political, and in this case -- a case of underrepresented people seeing their first glimmers of representation in the presidential process -- the political often felt really personal! I don't know if you guys noticed, but pretty much everyone in the book does in fact cry. Some people cried on the phone with me, some people (like Geraldine Ferraro) told of crying in the voting booth. Someone told me a story about Palin getting teary over why Gloria Steinem hated her! All this is just to say that I'm glad and very relieved that in your eyes, the first person thing worked out, since it was not exactly my first instinct, and I was somewhat self-conscious about the me-ness of it all.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Thu 20 Jan 11 17:06
I had NOT noticed the crying! That's interesting -- have other people noticed?
. (wickett) Thu 20 Jan 11 18:20
Interesting about crying. Any comments about a male Speaker of the House who cries and a female who didn't (as far as I know)?
person of crevice (obizuth) Thu 20 Jan 11 19:24
you could tell as you read the book taht you weren't wanking in your first-person usage. it was judicious. as i posted recently elsewhere, i'm interested in how widely mileage varies about mary roach, who i think is hilarious, but who other people feel inserts herself too much into her reporting in lazy ways. i just thought the balance in your book was perfect. and i gained clarity on my own tangled feelings about hillary, which changed wildly over the course of the campaign season, because you talked about yours. i wondered if you'd read gail collins's "when everything changed" book -- i can't remember when it came out compared to yours. i read tehm back to back and it was fascinating comparing this giant sweeping book to this narrow-in-time-period, tightly focused book --you used different lenses to look at some of the same stuff.
Rebecca Traister (rtraister) Fri 21 Jan 11 07:44
Funnily enough, Wickett, Gail Collins wrote the funniest column about Boehner crying, asking us to take a moment to imagine Pelosi doing the same thing. It's so telling that we simply CANNOT IMAGINE Nancy Pelosi crying. My current beef with Boehner and the tears has to do with the fact that Mr. Waterworks didn't manage to muster even a bit of dampness when issuing statements about the 19 people shot in Arizona some weeks ago. He cries over the drama of himself, his own moving story, and somehow can't manage a tear for those injured and killed in an assassination attempt on one of his own colleagues? For some reason, this really drives me insane. Anyway! On the subject of Gail Collins: The first book I went out and bought when I got my contract to write Big Girls was America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, which is a history of women in the US until mid-twentieth century. When Everything Changed was published in the last months of me finishing up my book, and I confess that in that haze of stress and anxiety, I picked it up, thumbed through it longingly, but didn't have the time or ability to break my concentration by reading it. As soon as I was done with my own book, I tore through hers. Here is what I aspire to have in common with Gail Collins. Her work seems to reflect her belief that if you're going to lodge complaints about the state of affairs -- especially with regard to gender injustice -- it's imperative that you also acknowledge the distances we've traveled. A lot of people seem to believe that accounting for both the good and the bad somehow weakens an argument, whereas I think it makes it much stronger and more plausible, and more honest. I would LOVE to think that on the very small, narrow scale (compared to the 60 years GC covers in When Everything Changed, or the 400 years in America's women) the story I tell in Big Girls does a version of what GC does: show that progress happens even amidst the regress, that the story of moving forward is also one of moving backward, that the good and the bad can be simultaneous, intertwined even. But again, obviously, the story I tell is a very brief and specific one. She does this for all of American history! She is a wonder, and one of my writing heroes.
Pamela McCorduck (pamela) Fri 21 Jan 11 08:36
I haven't yet read your book (though I will!) but I want to bring up a slightly different issue: Michelle Obama. So far as I'm concerned, she walks a razor's edge as the first black First Lady, and her balancing act has been admirable. But a friend, a strong Hillary supporter, who has never forgiven Obama for winning the primary, is particularly contemptuous of her. Gardens! Nutrition! Why isn't she doing a fraction of what she did as a brilliant lawyer? Where will women be if all Michelle Obama does is fall into the same old role? What's your take on the politics of this?
Grasp the sorry scheme of things, entire? (robertflink) Sat 22 Jan 11 05:53
This is great discussion and I look forward to getting the book. It has set me to wondering, though, how people might receive comments from a man about another man not toeing the line as to how men should be or vote or work or behave or succeed or do the spouse role or take a supporting role or etc. etc.. Perhaps a time will come when everyone is liberated enough so they can just be human and not be expected to fulfill the stereotype or anti-stereotypes we all seem to hold so dear.
Rebecca Traister (rtraister) Sat 22 Jan 11 15:43
Pamela, re: Michelle Obama. An excellent question! I actually do deal with her story in some depth in the book, addressing it better than I'll be able to here. I would say two things in response to your friend's comments about Michelle: First, as to the contempt for "Gardens! Nutrition!" I understand (will get to it in a second) but want to point out that these things are, at their heart, actually radical in their own way, though granted it's a way we never ever ever hear about. The focus on childhood obesity and food politics gets at the heart of class and racial divides in this country -- who has geographic, economic, and educational access to what kinds of food is a question that is at the very heart of a lot of the health inequity plaguing the country. So there is an argument to be made, and I think a very valid one, that Michelle is actually tackling a spectacularly difficult and crucial socio-political divide here perhaps more aggressively and progressively than a lot of the other things her husband's administration comes under fire for. But yes, there is no denying that the way these projects have been sold to us have nothing to do with anything radical OR progressive -- gardens! nutrition! kids! We're actively being encouraged to see this work as very traditional, and very traditionally first-wifely. I write a lot in the book about Michelle's path. She started out as pretty much my favorite person on the campaign trail -- brilliant, outspoken, independent, electrifying on the stump. But she was addressing a country that -- no matter how much we like to tell ourselves otherwise -- still reacts in fundamentally racist and sexist ways to women who break molds. She bore the brunt of so much prejudice, was characterized widely, and not subtly, as an entitled black princess and then as an angry black woman. By the time her husband was through the primary, she was undergoing a major image reworking -- in her convention speech, she was all about being a wife, a mother, a sister a daughter, and nothing else! It's not that she's not truly, authentically, a devoted mother and wife, it's just that the independence, the opinions, the excitement and brilliance and star power were all stripped away. But I don't hold Michelle in contempt for any of that. I hold our country and its standards for women in contempt. It makes me very sad that this is the only way her popularity ratings could stay high. It's like we had made such a big step forward in electing her husband president, that she had to move several steps backward (way behind where Hillary had been able to go as First Lady, not that she had a smooth path) into very old expectations for First Ladyhood in order for us to embrace her. To Robert Flink, regarding the question of turning this stuff around for men: another excellent query! I would argue, though, that the hypothetical reversal doesn't quite translate, because we have to remember that the reason we have such a microscope on how women vote and what they believe is because we have so few of them in power, so few of them to represent us. It's an entirely different equation when you're talking about men, both because there are so many more of them, and always have been -- so that the whole rainbow variety of good, bad and ugly doesn't surprise us, it's just the norm. But also, women have been treated as a power minority is treated. A stand on reproductive rights is so fundamental to how we judge the women who represent us because women's reproductive rights are curtailed in part because women have historically not been represented equally. I realize it seems like I'm talking in circles, wish I were being clearer. But the fundamental fact is that men -- as a gender -- do not have the same kinds of issues of political, social, sexual imparity. That doesn't mean that there aren't men who are treated badly, individually or in groups, especially men who fall into non-straight-white racial, religious, sexual, ethnic and class categories. It just means that broadly, based on their gender alone, men do not have a history and present that means that political issues revolves around issues like unequal pay, unequal physical or mental ability, damaging sexual stigma, unjust domestic expectations, a curtailment of the ability to control their own bodies, health care, and the shape of their families. All these things foreground a discussion of gender in politics for women, even though female politicians of course also represent us when it comes to things we don't think of as gendered issues so much as issues -- war, peace, infrastructure, diplomacy, the environment, etc.. Does any of that make sense?
Pamela McCorduck (pamela) Sat 22 Jan 11 18:13
Re your answer on Michelle: it not only makes sense, I find it brilliant! Thank you for making me think about issues I hadn't thought about, because I'd bought into the press spin of "Gardens! Nutrition!" in the most simplistic way. I was dismayed to open my hometown newspaper today and read how the GOP is all excited about the anti-abortion legislation they now feel they're in a position to pass easily. I see this not as a pro-life issue--else why not preserve the life that's born with decent medical care?--but as an anti-woman issue. But sorry--this takes us away from your book.
What fools these mortals be. (robertflink) Sat 22 Jan 11 18:41
>Does any of that make sense?< It does indeed. I see your comments as giving important context to the subject.
. (wickett) Sat 22 Jan 11 21:13
Michelle Obama has taken on the purveyors of processed food, junk food, the corn lobby--some of the biggest special interest groups in the USA. I have nothing but respect and admiration for what she is doing in her low-key way and under the cloak of traditional womanly concerns.
(fom) Sat 22 Jan 11 21:45
What I keep wondering is whether Michelle could pull a Hillary and one day run for Pres.
Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Sun 23 Jan 11 16:53
i hope so!
Rebecca Traister (rtraister) Sun 23 Jan 11 20:35
fom and Madgalen: I understand the desire, but based on everything I know or read about Michelle, it seems like there is nothing she wants less than her own political career. My impressions are that she is a woman of vast personal, intellectual, professional ambition, but that politics is not a business she has ever held in very high regard. The comparison to Hillary is apt in many ways, but Hillary always loved and wanted to be involved in politics.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 23 Jan 11 22:57
On literally the penultimate page of your book, you refer to Hillary as being "in a state of diminished power" after having "lost the big prize" and getting a certain amount of approval for what some people perceived as humbling herself in order to be named Secretary of State in the administration of her former rival. But at the same time, you make it clear that Secretary of State certainly isn't a position that gets handed out as a consolation prize! And while she's not the first woman in the job, she's the second. So I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on Hillary the diplomat, especially now that she's spent a little more time in the job.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 24 Jan 11 08:15
WARNING -mini rant I had what I think is a deep reflection which was generated from this conversation, during my morning soak in a hot tub, which I hope you will appreciate. (I don't do candles or bubbles or duckies - my Metrosexual score is quite low). So I'll throw this idea out and see how it floats. It occurred to me that there is a whole new dynamic in cyberspace that effects everything you are talking about. Culturally and sociologically, prior to now, our histories have been shaped by the hunter-gatherer/domestication breakdowns which have had a determining factor in gender roles, especially affecting women. But digital culture is not defined by gender. We now collaborate, network and interact with one another w/o respect to one's gender (for the most part, of course there is some bias, but nothing like in Flatland). And I think that all of that dynamic is going to play back in a forceful and powerful way in respect to the issues you have been discussing. You probably have already thought of ways to use all the social medias available to spread your messages. Hope everyone is following @rtraister on Twitter, eg. Perhaps I'm overly optimistic here, but I think this dynamic will hasten the day when we are all treated with respect simply for who we are everything else being incidental. I realize this is a simplistic and possibly naive meta-view, but I like the possibilities. What do you all think?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 24 Jan 11 08:33
I don't want to sidetrack the conversation with this, just wanted to offer some empowerment.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Mon 24 Jan 11 08:41
And we're supposed to take a guy with no duckies seriously?
person of crevice (obizuth) Mon 24 Jan 11 08:51
oh, ted, ted, ted. fawn, excellent question -- would love to hear about rebecca's take on hillary and diminished power now.
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