18 Dec 2009

Why am I not surprised...

...when a book that purports to have a feminist agenda, actually ends up promoting the opposite? For my recent birthday, I asked for the book "I'm with Stupid: One Man. One Woman. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up", under the misapprehension that because one of the writers was Gina Barreca, an (alleged) feminist writer and humourist, it'd be a cut above the average Mars/Venus reactionary bollocks. How wrong I was. All I got was 240 pages of teeth-grindingly predictable gender stereotypes which were eye-poppingly offensive to both sexes, and no new ground covered on the knotty topic of how the sexes might peacefully interact with each other.

By page 13, we've already heard Gene Weingarten, the male writer batting for his kind, assert that women 'cannot seem to parallel-park a car'. Wow. Like that one hasn't been trotted out about 30,000 times already. Then we've got Gina asserting that women 'care about the color of sheets and towels' (I don't), that 'the idea of two men having sex doesn't do a thing for a woman' (Oh, it does a LOT for me, missus - see my earlier post on Adam Lambert) and that men are 'frightened of menses' (most of them really don't care, get over it). Sigh. Even if this is supposed to be done in jest, it's just not funny - at best, it's tired. This kind of crap has been flung around for the 30 or so years since paranoid men decided that sexist jokes were the best response to the crazy assertion that women deserved equal treatment, and it's pretty depressing to see a writer who claims to be a feminist going along with it.

As if the book hadn't got off to a depressing enough start, we then hear from Gina that women's ideal shoe shop would be a twenty-acre palace (is anyone else bored of this stereotype that we're all shoe fetishists? for me it got tired round about the second series of SATC back in 1999). Gene also gets a nice bit of naked misogyny in by labelling Gina's feminist responses as 'shrill, self-pitying, phallophobic blame flinging' (bet the conservative right are wishing they'd copyrighted that phrase); and then trots out the oldest, most wearisome stereotype, namely that women use sex to get love, and men use love to get sex. Newsflash, my unenlightened brother and sister - some women actually like sex, even when unencumbered by love, and some men are actually pretty hung up on this love thing. Some of us even like the two happily cohabiting side by side in a functional relationship - the one thing that never seems to get a mention in this book, presumably because the idea that men and women can get along would make the existence/purchase of this book entirely unnecessary.

The insults to men contained in this book probably come even thicker and faster than those flung at women - men are portrayed as dumb, emotionally retarded, knuckle-dragging, beer-chugging nitwits, who only buy women presents 'when he has done something wrong and wants to have sex' and cheat because they are 'overlibidinous, snarfling horndogs'. You probably won't be surprised when I say that most of this book seems to consist of attempting to tackle sexism by levelling the playing field DOWN rather than up - levelling it down to the most insulting portrayal of humanity possible.

Maybe I am a humourless old harridan and I'm failing to see the fun that's supposedly woven into this tome, but if I were black and expected to laugh at a book at why whites and blacks can't get along, I don't think anyone would be pushing me to squeeze out a chortle. It's not funny because there's still far too much hatred and oppression acted out in the name of this supposedly cute 'battle of the sexes', and it's not even interesting because no new suggestions are made here, only old tired unfunny stereotypes trotted out. And I'm suspicious of stereotypes, especially gender based ones, because most of my life they have totally misled me. I'm a strong, smart, feminist woman who doesn't own pot-pourri, who can change her own spark-plugs, who likes porn more than her other half, who can read a map, calculate my tax bill and pass a shoe-shop window without drooling. And I fucking hate the film Pretty Woman. I hoped I might see some similar stereotype-smashing in this book, but all I found was the same old shite. Disappointing, but never surprising. Think before you next call yourself a feminist, Ms Barreca.


geneweingarten said...

Of course you found this book offensive and filled with stereotypes -- how ludicrously female of you.

Madam, I am sorry it disappointed you and will be honored to refund the purchase price. Please send me your name and address at weingarten@washpost.com.

Chas said...

Wow, a published author commenting on my blog. This takes All That Chas to new heights!

If you consider taking offence at sexist stereotypes to be a solely female preoccupation, then you do your sex a great disservice, sir.

However, what I was mostly disappointed by was the misrepresentation of feminism by your colleague, Ms Barreca. Were she not portrayed as a feminist writer, I probably never would have bought the book, as I would have assumed from the outset that I'd find it offensive and tiresome.

No need for a refund though - the book was a gift. If I asked for a refund every time a piece of written material offended me, most of the UK and US media would be in constant debt to me.

disconaplondon said...

This review and comment exchange is hilarious. It's hard to tell if Gene's response is tongue in cheek or not.

The book does sound obnoxious. I am just as tired of hearing women trot out stereotypical complaints about men as if it empowers us somehow.

I do care about towels and sheets though, sorry. I guess mathematically speaking they had to get one thing right about woman after however many hundred pages.