Reading out, I hope, is like leaning out: a practice of centering the writing of women that lays the groundworks for other kinds of political possibilities. In any case, this is the second week of an effort to turn over this blog completely to the circulation of work by women and especially women of color. As noted before, I’ve laid out the rationale for this redirection here and here.
I’d like to talk briefly about five different pieces today, all of a piece in a powerful way.
The first is Rebecca Traister’s extraordinary exfoliation, “Summer of Rage,” from The Cut, which has been publishing some amazing longish-form material. Like a number of other writers, Traister, an already accomplished cultural critic with a focus on women’s politics, has discovered a new, even more potent voice in the age of Trump. Here, she explicitly builds a conceptual case to see white men as a class of bad actors and as a besieged minority, and pinpoints the out-in-the-daylight work of this class to rebuild and restore patriarchy one last time, no matter their professed political positions. Right or left, everyone gets implicated. “One reason, she writes at the close, “that the fury of women is regularly dismissed as theatrical and marginal and unserious is precisely because, on some level, the powerful must sense that it is the opposite of all of those things. That, in fact, it presents a very real threat . . . The reason the anger of a majority gets suppressed is because it has the power to imperil the rule of the minority.”
Stacey Patton’s piece on “How to Survive White Supremacy” is a practical guide to endure in the face of eliminationist histories and what is now mainstream racism. A chorus of writers has chronicled the refusal of white society to provide space for anything like “ordinary” black life – no napping in the campus common areas, or BBQ-ing, or mowing the lawn, or selling lemonade, let alone starting a business, excelling at anything, or writing so honestly in public. I love that Patton is an avatar for a black feminist politics that is defiantly, resolutely disorderly, and also, in its own way, as critical of liberal self-indulgence as it is of conservative anger. “We were never meant to survive,” Patton writes, “If we really hold that and meditate on that and believe it, then what comes after? How do we live knowing this?” Bonus cut: this probing meditation on the white savior complex and multi-racial adoption, written after the Hart family murder-suicide. Searing.
In keeping with last week’s excitement over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in a democratic Congressional primary, this piece by Ginia Bellafante in The New York Times caught my eye. Bellafante – who also co-wrote this great piece on the need for more statues of women – profiles Elizabeth Holtzman, a New York City legend who, like Ocasio-Cortez, was a political upstart, and who also out-hustled an out-of-touch incumbent in the early 1970s. This is a short piece, but it reminds us that everything has a history, even those things that seem fresh and new and exciting. As significantly, that history doesn’t get forgotten – it gets erased. Bellafante is a subtle writer, so when she notes that Holtzman co-sponosored the Refugee Act of 1980 – a bill that opened the doors a little wider for political refugees from Southeast Asia – you can’t help but sense the coming tragedy. “Ms. Holtzman left Ms. Ocasio-Cortez a message of congratulations right away,” Bellafante adds at the end; “She has so much to tell her.” But the debt goes both way, because Holtzman’s considerable political legacy – a spirited New York City liberalism rooted in the Civil Rights Movement and women’s liberation, and extended outward to others – is in jeopardy.
Lili Anolik’s provocative piece on “Lorena Bobbitt’s American Dream” in Vanity Fair is sure to raise eyebrows. Partly for the unique prose style, in which she uses a sweeping, historic narrative style that is really interesting and different. And partly because of the ending, in which she counters the assertion that Lorena Gallo should be understood as a #MeToo pioneer, and instead argues that this moment – rightly or wrongly – belongs to John Bobbitt – and to Trump. “John and Trump are the gold standard for this new kind of fame,” she argues,”I admire Lorena for her nose-to-the-grindstone, up-from-the-bootstraps ethic, much as I admire Hillary Clinton for hers. But it makes them feel like figures from a different era, an era I wish wasn’t gone but is. Somehow John and Trump are the primitive men who are, paradoxically, the modern men.” A very moving, offbeat meditation on celebrity and fame and domestic violence in the age of white nationalist patriarchy and 24/7 celebrity gossip channels. In a way, a reminder of just how much has been lost.
Finally, Mari Uyehara’s fabulous “Blacklist Every Last One of Them,” published in GQ, is a food writer’s critical take on the debate over the Red Hen, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the limits of civility in this exact moment – where statist authoritarianism runs rampant and is unchecked. Uyehara reminds us that there is a long history – one never before recovered so deftly – of blacklisting in the restaurant business. She also reminds us that that the stakes, right now, are epic. “This is not politics as usual,” she tells us; “We’re not debating infrastructure or tax policy or environmental regulation; we’re talking about an administration that is attempting to enact, for all intents and purposes, ethnic cleansing.” Time to make a choice and stand for something big-hearted, she concludes. Time to dine at the Red Hen, that is.