Sunday, November 7, 2010

This Week=Rock-n-Roll vs. Feminism

This week has been funny. I've been reading Life by Keith Richards, which Liz Phair reviewed in The New York Times on Thursday

Then the new translation of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir came in at the library and now the two books are at war with each other for my attention.

This is literally "Rock-n-Roll vs. Feminism" happening in my apartment. Of course, Rock-n-Roll is winning! I learned the open G "Keith Richards" tuning this weekend and have been playing guitar non-stop. I guess me playing guitar is feminist, but as this is happening, the feminist theory is going unread and I feel crazy, like I need to do the dishes or something. I really hate that feminism is becoming a chore in this sense. It's not that I don't love Simone de Beauvoir, but reading that stuff takes concentration and the Keith Richards autobiography (while totally offensive and sexist and often ridiculous) is pure entertainment/mythology that is super fascinating AND it's teaching me how to play guitar better, so it's also instructive

Last week I was re-reading Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought by Elizabeth Spelman

It examines the white middle class bias in (north american/euro) feminist theory and spends quite a bit of time discussing why The Second Sex is biased even though de Beauvoir had a race and class analysis. It's a great book, the first two chapters are pretty history-of-western-philosophy heavy but you can skip around if that's not interesting to you. It came out in the late 80's and was really groundbreaking in arguing that all feminist theory needs to have an inter-sectional lens at its core, meaning that there is no gender without race or no race without class, no sexual identity without ethnicity etc etc. As a result, feminism that tries to isolate gender and universalize along those lines is not really useful because no woman exists outside of when women are talked about in general terms, "white women" are being referred to--following this line of thinking-- "middle class" women and "straight women" and "abled bodied women" become the norm and everyone else is an exception to the norm, "the other" (which, paradoxically, is what The Second Sex is trying to say about women in relation to men). Spelman traces the tendency to falsely represent reality in this way back to the beginning of western philosophy and her analysis of The Second Sex explains why de Beauvoir, who was one of the most highly esteemed thinkers in the world at the time, was not able to wholly escape the philosophical tradition she was trying to question.

I was also reading feminist theory essays in a few different anthologies and came across Cherie Moraga's classic piece From a Long Line of Vendidas: Chicanas and Feminism, deals with a lot of issues of race/gender/sexuality and takes the authors' specific experience of growing up queer and Chicana and situates it within a larger historical/social framework --she then uses that understanding to critique white, middle class hetero feminist theory of the time period--as well as the white, middle class lesbian culture/radical feminism of that era, arguing that bias and assumptions need to be examined in order for the movement to be inclusive. C. Moraga is pretty famous for being one of the women of color/queer feminists whose writing actually changed things in the early 80's. She co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color with Gloria Anzaldua. Her writing is complex, the opposite of dry, poetic, personalized...vivid. She uses her skills to take apart the world and present a fresh, inspired vision. It's cool reading it now, knowing how much of an impact her words had on feminism.

Other than this I've been reading a lot of gluten-free cookbooks and stuff about mortgages and the housing crisis. Maybe I'll post about that later, but maybe it's sort of boring...well it bores me since I don't know how to bake and try not to worry about money/the future. One thing that did occur to me in my research is that I don't understand why the "for dummies" books are so popular. Using the "for dummies" approach makes sense--breaking down a subject matter into an easily understandable, digestible format--but the writing style in all the books is pretty terrible...lots of stupid humor and a weak author personality, that is supposed to make it more conversational and "fun" or less intimidating? I've always liked the "An Introduction To" series or "For Beginners" or anything with comics/illustrations...but "for dummies" kind of gets on my nerves, although I do find them useful. I wish everything was just a comic book instead of a "for dummies" book.

Maybe I'll have more to say about Keef later, but Liz Phair did a pretty good job, though she fails to examine his sexism at all. He calls women "bitches" or "baby" or "dear" or "honey" in every other sentence. If you heard his recent appearance on NPR's Fresh Air, then you probably noticed he had some cringe-inducing moments with Terry Gross. It's like he's your weird uncle or grandad and you don't want him to embarrass you, but then he keeps doing it and your like, oh I get it, he really IS a big sexist asshole...duh! But then he gets around to talking about guitar playing and it's so awesome...way better than "guitar playing for dummies"!!!


Mark said...

Strangely the one place I've seen take Richards to task on that is in a fake review of the book by Mick Jagger in Slate, which btw is awesomely cynical. Fake-Mick-Jagger complains: This is all from a guy pushing 70 for whom gays are still "poofters" and women "bitches."

Actually I take that back, while I was googling to make sure this comment wasn't lying, I found that the Guardian review also mentions it: It often reads like a historical document of another time: a lost world in which women were always "chicks" or "bitches", an inflatable giant penis was a non-ironic stage prop, and a bottle of Jack Daniel's was the de rigueur rock'n'roll accessory.

Tobi Vail said...

This post probably deserves some kind of comment about Keith Richards/The Rolling Stones relationship to black culture/appropriation...but in all honesty, I don't have an analysis's funny to read Keith's perspective, he's such a genuine fan of American blues/jazz/soul/r&B musicians and then he moves to Jamaica in the early 70's and gets heavily into the scene there...of course he says some typically stereotypical things throughout the book, but it's coupled with such a deep respect for the music/musicians that it's hard to articulate his point of view without going into a lot of detail.
Basically he really is a student, a fan, a disciple of black music...but he also made millions off of it, so there's that classic colonial dynamic of cultural appropriation going the same time as this celebration of the music itself, that The Rolling Stones are the ultimate example of this yeah, it's complicated, I am still thinking about it and am looking forward to what Victoria Yeulot will have to say about it all!