The New York Times sounds disappointed at how much time women spend at not-home

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The New York Times published an interesting graph about how Americans spent their time in 2008.

Disappointingly, you can't filter by multiple variables -- you can look at "black" and "high school graduates" and "age 15-24", but not, for example, "Hispanic women with a postgraduate degree".

The "women" filter has this annotation:

At any point during the average day, more than 80 percent of women are doing something other than household chores or caring for children.

This is nonsensical and weird. Did I say weird? I meant stupid. It is stupid that, even though the data shows and the sentence technically states that most women are not doing traditional housework and childcare, our activities are still defined in relation to...traditional housework and childcare.

Do you have something better to do? Huh? Didn't think so. 


Sainsbury's Local, Tottenham Court Road

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

That's the kind of ready meal I'm talking about.


Austen and Arrogance and Exploitation

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

I am less than thrilled to see that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Jane Austen/gore flick mashup novel that came out earlier this year, is receiving sequel treatment in the form of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

"Whaaaaat? But it's about clever Regency ladies fighting zombies! Why the hate?" you may ask.

Hey, I love clever ladies kicking ass, too! But I love clever ladies kicking ass in the real world. The "Austen & Male Rewriter & Monsters" formula is no way empowering. Quirk Books, a male-edited and owned publishing line, is hiring male authors to co-opt women's fiction and marginalise women's voices to achieve press, visibility and shitloads of money. And I mean shitloads of money. New York Times-bestseller-list, movie-deal shitloads of money.

And they do it by stomping all over women's genre fiction. The authors handwave a bit about how Austen is a "brilliant" writer and blah blah blah, but far more frequent are comments such as:

"Traditionally, men tend to avoid Austen, dismissing it as chick-lit. Certainly, the BBC's acclaimed adaptation in the 1990s did nothing to counter this with its almost gratuitous shots of Colin Firth in his britches, designed to draw in the oestrogen-fuelled female audiences."

(Anthony Harvison, some idiot reviewer)

NOW WE KNOW: Colin Firth diving into a lake in old-fashioned trousers = sop to the hysterical underpants-flinging girls. Halle Berry's boobs in Monster's Ball, Mena Suvari's boobs in American Beauty, Brenda Vaccaro's boobs in Midnight Cowboy = Oscar-winning art. Got it.

"Most people have a great sense of humour about it, particularly the 'Jane-ites', who must prefer this to the 60th or 70th Mr Darcy's private thoughts collection that seems to come out every year."

(Seth Grahame-Smith, co-author, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies)

He is referring to the female authors have been writing derivative fiction based on the works of Jane Austen for at least 160 years., a Jane Austen fansite, has a list of 68 sequels and continuations, 61 of which were written by women. The first was published in 1850. Re-envisioning and rewriting Austen's novels is not some new edgy trend; it's just that the media has only started to pay attention to it now that male authors are co-opting it and putting it into traditionally male frameworks. "I think we've started a mini-trend of literary mash-ups," Grahame-Smith said in a BBC interview. No you haven't! And you know you haven't, because you were talking about all those other lady-penned reworkings like five seconds ago!

So ladies, I think we need to do some co-opting right back.


Saving Private Ryan From Her Dead-End Desk Career
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Tailored Trousersuits
Full Metal Jacket and Cubic Zirconia Earrings
Gladiator Sandals are Actually Really Uncomfortable
Dye Hard: One Knitter's Craft Fair Struggle
The Great Escape out of a Lower Salary Band
Blade Runner, Speed-Skating Ice Dancing Champion

Let's go, big movie houses! I can knock out a few spec scripts by Monday.


Five red wines under £5

Monday, 13 July 2009

Like many other urban social butterflies, I am sure, this weekend I found myself walking that tightrope between "good guest" and "financially solvent". I had three house parties scheduled, which was very exciting! However, house parties, while cheaper than going to the pub, still carry the etiquette of BYOB.

While some supermarkets have fairly inoffensive own-label booze ranges, the recession has not yet hit deep enough to be able to waltz into a dinner party with a box of Tesco Basics "Australian Red" and a fistful of straws.

But, as I have discovered in my lengthy searches up and down the Sainsbury booze aisle, there are still lots of supermarket wines that are both tasty and affordable. We'll call them "social climbers".

5. Canaletto Pinot Noir (£4.49)

Italian. I am usually not a fan of reds with strong cherry flavors, because of cough syrup flashbacks. But this one has really lively light fruit flavors that keep you from feeling like you're five years old and gagging on a spoon. Fairly easy-drinking. Also, its website is hilariously ESL, describing "soft and gently tannins" and announcing that "Our aim is that each Canaletto wine should be a direct reflection of its terroir".

4. The Little Penguin Shiraz (£4.69)

Australian. Firstly, the name is adorable and the label is super-cute too, which in wine is half the battle. At least, it is the way I do it. Little Penguin Shiraz is a little spicy and dark, and it is one of the few under-£10 wines I've had that is tangy and intense without going overkill on the oak. I would pair it with barbecues and bad ideas.

3. Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon (depends)

Spanish. How much do I love Cab Sauvignons? They're so friendly. I think this wine is technically like £7/bottle, but it's one of those ones that is on sale every single time you walk past the supermarket wine aisle, so it might as well be £4.50 or whatever. Anyway, this is a little darker than I like my Cabs, but it's super-fierce and very punchy. It's like the Xena: Warrior Princess of el cheapo reds. Muy bien.

2. South Cab Sauvignon (£4.99)

Chilean. No-nonsense and bright. Okay, this spring I discovered this drink called tinto de verano in Spain, which means "the red wine of summer". It's red wine + (European) lemonade + ice, and it's just this really nice fizzy fruity refreshing drink. But! You can't make it with boring wine, you have to have something zingy and full. Which is what this is! South America is really good for zingy wines.

1. Frontera Cab Sauvignon (3 for £10)

Chilean. This is amaaaazing. It is probably my favorite wine ever at the moment – it's the perfect combination of all my favorite wine aspects (red fruit flavors, round, full, easy-drinking) and regularly costing less than £4/bottle. It is on sale at Sainsbury's for 3 for £10 about every other week, and I buy it every time and bring it to every single dinner party to which I am invited. . Also, it has a screw-top, which is very important if you are (for example) bringing it out to a park or outdoor concert or something. Or if you have reached the point in the evening where operating a bottle opener would not be such a safe idea. Which, with Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon, it is very easy to do.


Political yelling (or, I love Nancy Pelosi)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

I was just thinking today about how much I like Nancy Pelosi. The crazy people on Fox News and at Free Republic have dubbed her "the Mafia Queen", which I guess is supposed to be an insult, even though it actually sounds like a superhero name (or a TV show I would watch every week). She is probably one of the top three most-hated lady politicians in the US, with Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

Political yelling

Now, I am a big fan of politician-hating in general. I do politics like I do sports, which is a trait I inherited from my parents. There is Team Us, and there is Team Them, and you all yell a lot and then go into the voting booth and vote with your conscience. Or play "Here comes Carolina-lina" and jump over things on fire. Whatever.

The purpose of political yelling is to let the voter both blow off frustration with everything that's wrong with this damn country, and celebrate everything that's great about this damn country. Like, "Oh my god, can you believe what a smug asshole Mike Huckabee was on the Daily Show last night? I want to punch his stupid face! FUCK YOU, MIKE HUCKABEE!", that actually means "It is not reasonable to pretend that the way to fix the many issues surrounding unwanted pregnancies is to simply say 'Don't do it'. The arguments you are making are misogynist, and you are smearing your class, race and gender privilege all over the place."

On the other side, "Oh my god, can you believe how hot Gavin Newsom is? Look at that suit! GAVIN I LOVE YOU" actually means "Health care for everybody is important, and so is environmentalism, and gay rights."

Lady politicians
However, political yelling gets really problematic when the politician is a woman, and that is because sexism comes out roaring.

Sarah Palin is the obvious first example. Now, I dislike Sarah Palin for a lot of reasons, none of which have anything to do with her being a woman. And yet, the vast majority of insults that my lefty brethren sling at her are gendered. They may be trying to code "Comfort in ignorance is dangerous and should be corrected, not praised", but they are actually communicating "I hate women." Weird! And most of the attacks on Hillary Clinton are about her effect on men, whether by busting up the patriarchy ("ball-buster") or failing to conform to the beauty standard ("boner-shrinker").

Which is total bullshit. You know who doesn't get that so much? Nancy Pelosi. I don't know why! But I'm glad of it. Okay, she gets a few plastic-surgery cracks, but most of the political yellers are angry at her because they're anxious about her policies, and not because she's a woman at all!

Pelosi also wrote an awesome book for young women about how to kick ass and be a girl, called Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters (great title), and puts hilarious videos on YouTube.

So, way to be, Nancy Pelosi. Many people hate you for being a Marxist socialist mafiosa, but I think you're great.


An American Fourth of July in London

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Fourth of July is great. Really great. It's a Great American Holiday (tm). It is a celebration of strongly-worded letters and moral imperative. It commemorates an allegory of democracy, when a brave band of thinkers created a truly republican government that represents the interests of all the people, and Stood Up For What They Believed In in the face of a big hefty global empire. It is about smashing through the steel ceiling of economic oppression and giving white guys everywhere the freedom to make their own futures. (That said, many of the white guys were, for the time, fairly excited about equal rights for everybody, including ladies and non-white people [except for the non-white people who were already there], but theoretically they were in favor of universal civil rights. Mostly.)

So that's good! But there's a problem with the allegory, and that is that it's the national myth and it needs a bad guy. To prove how free, equal and good the United States is, the myth has to set up another country as the antithetical Bad Guys, to represent tyranny, oppression, and general dickishness. In the American founding myth, that's the Brits. And that's awkward.

In 1776

That black-and-white allegorical underpinning of the holiday is why there is only one way to describe the tone of the citywide American barbecue I attended in Battersea Park: sheepish.

As I walked through the west gate, a couple was looking over their shoulders as they read the map, as if a south London mob were about to turn up and yell at them for generalizing about their ancestors.

Picnickers at tables were hunched over, elbows tucked in to protect their internal organs. Rather than spread out by the lake, attendees clustered under the trees, seeking shelter and protection from the changing, threatening sky.

We knew the Independence Myth about the Big Bad Briton wasn't true, and we knew they knew we knew.

That's the problem with making other people the supervillains in your mythology: you have to actually deal with them the next morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that, because of globalization, and how it turns out there really isn't such a thing as a nation of Bad People.*

If, however, we refit the national myth so it focuses on Bad Ideas (economic interests trumping humanist ones, disinterested or oppressive governments) versus Good Ideas (equality, voting, strongly-worded letters), not only do we stop vilifying perfectly nice other nations, but we are better equipped to stop ourselves when we are in danger of committing Bad Ideas.

For example!

Bad Idea: Lying signs

(there was in fact a nice big picnic, as I said)

Good Idea: Barbecue

Great Idea: These shoes

Those are my good-luck Patriot Shoes. I wore them on election night with a Michelle Obama-style Carolina blue sheath dress, and look what happened! Freedom happened, y'all.

Happy Good Idea Day.

*There can still be groups of ideologically-linked bad people, of course. Like Al-Qaeda, and Duke fans.


Inclusive patriotism in America

Friday, 3 July 2009

Hello, the Fourth of July is tomorrow! I'm going to a picnic in Battersea Park. I'm looking forward to being conflicted (and also drunk). America is a cultural empire, and the whole point of the holiday is "Fuck you, giant English-speaking capitalist empire who controls most of the world's trade routes!", which is ironic and uncomfortable! On the other hand, it is also about "stodgy older-generation Europeans versus brash young vigorous New Worlders" which is kind of still applicable?

America, circa 1775


Anyway, for me it is a holiday about ideas more than anything else, and it's really excited that you get to marry the ideals of "personal liberty" and "governmental accountability" and "all people are created equal" with "drinking beer on the lawn" and "blowing harmless yet loud stuff up" and "bombastic marching-band music".

And edgy patriotic songs, which I love most of all.

America, the Beautiful

America, America, God mend thine every flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law
The first verse, which everyone knows, is pretty and inoffensive, but in the later ones, man, this song gets down to it. This one is my favorite because it implies that America has flaws, a shitload of them. Like how it lacks self-control and doesn't have laws that confirm liberty for everybody. Which, oh, wait, it still doesn't! Oh my god! It is especially awesome because the lyrics were written by Katherine Lee Bates, a "literary spinster" living in a "Boston marriage" with her "lesbian girlfriend".

This Land is Your Land

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple
By the welfare office, I saw my people
And some were stumbling, and some stood wondering
If this land was made for you and me
POOR PEOPLE ARE CITIZENS TOO?! I just, I love all imagery where the nation is acknowledged as a community of disparate origin, means and gender. And Woody Guthrie is so optimistic. He tells you about these problems, introduces this tension and that uncertainty, asks the question of whether it's going to change, and then rolls you into the affirmative chorus of "yes! This land is your land!" The inclusiveness of "my people" is just lovely.

The Ghost of Tom Joad

Tom said, Where there's somebody fighting for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helping hand
Wherever somebody's struggling to be free
Look in their eyes, Ma, you'll see me.
Less optimistic, and also more explicitly patriarchal, with Tom Joad as the breadwinning social justice champion and Bruce Springsteen hanging around the campfire listening to him. But. It's still hopeful, and it puts the onus on the individual to take action against social injustice, instead of describing how things should be and hoping they'll get there eventually.

Here, have a manifesto: Let America be America again, Langston Hughes.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
Hughes is probably my favorite writer of all time, and this poem. I used to cry over it in university because I didn't think it was true, or possible. I do now, though. In January I went to Barack Obama's inauguration and it was just so fucking special, you guys. I remember sitting in a Tex-Mex bar around the corner from the Lincoln Memorial with one of my best friends, drinking El Cheapo margaritas and singing the above "This Land Is Your Land" with the other young people in the bar, and the million people out on the grass, and we were all crying and laughing and cautiously hopeful and impoverished and tipsy and that, folks, I think is what America is all about.


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