Sunday, March 23, 2008

Meme - Movie Quotes

When I was younger, my dad and I used to quote movies to each other and then try to guess which movie it was from - he still occasionally tries to do this, but I don't rewatch movies over and over again like I used to, so I usually just ignore him now. Anyway, I found this meme on Reading is My Superpower, and decided to play.

Here are the rules:
1. Pick 10 of your favorite movies.
2. Go to IMDb (Internet Movie Database) and find a quote from each movie.
3. Post them here for everyone to guess
4. Strike it out when someone guesses correctly, and put who guessed it and the movie.
5. No Googling or IMDb-ing. That's cheating, and that's no fun!

1. I have no where to send this letter and no reason to believe you wish to receive it. I write it only for myself. And so I will hide it away with all things left unsaid and undone between us. - Legends of the Fall

2. You prefer a book to your husband's company? Well no wonder, I'm only flesh and blood - that's no match for the printed page! - Quills

3. Tell you what, we coulda had a good life together! Fuckin' real good life! Had us a place of our own. But you didn't want it, - - -! So what we got now is - - -! Everything's built on that! That's all we got, boy, fuckin' all. So I hope you know that, even if you don't never know the rest! You count the damn few times we have been together in nearly twenty years and you measure the short fucking leash you keep me on - and then you ask me about Mexico and tell me you'll kill me for needing somethin' I don't hardly never get. You have no idea how bad it gets! - Brokeback Mountain

4. Because it's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die. And then dies. But if a man does know he's about to die and dies anyway. Dies- dies willingly, knowing that he could stop it, then- I mean, isn't that the type of man who you want to keep alive? - Stranger Than Fiction

5. Please let me keep this memory, just this one. - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Superfast Reader

6. Boy, it sure would be nice if we had some grenades, don't you think? - Serenity

7. I owe you nothing. And you are nothing to me. Thank you for curing me of my ridiculous obsession with love. - Moulin Rouge

8. You never understood, why we did this. The audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It's miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you... then you got to see something really special... you really don't know?... it was... it was the look on their faces... - The Prestige

9. It's okay for guys like you and Court to fuck everyone. But when I do it, I get dumped for innocent little twits like Cecile. God forbid, I exude confidence and enjoy sex. Do you think I relish the fact that I have to act like Mary Sunshine 24/7 so I can be considered a lady? I'm the Marcia fucking Brady of the Upper East Side, and sometimes I want to kill myself. So there's your psychoanalysis, Dr. Freud. Now tell me, are you in... or are you out? - Cruel Intentions, Superfast Reader

10. Well I was just wonderin' why you would throw home when we got a two-run lead. You let the tying run get on second base and we lost the lead because of you. Start using your head. That's the lump that's three feet above your ass. - A League of Their Own, Dad

Just for my dad:
Dyin' ain't much of a livin', boy. - The Outlaw Josey Wales, Dad

Not a movie, but from one of my favorite TV shows:
No weapons... no friends... no hope. Take all that away and what's left? - Me. (Such a great scene!) - Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2 Episode 22 ("Becoming Part II"), Dad

Update: I guess it helps to have readers for this kind of stuff . . .

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Another Post on Women's History Month

In order to celebrate Women's History Month, one of the units put together an hour-long presentation.  I was one of the few people who showed up that wasn't under an obligation (for example, if someone cancels a meeting because it's at the same time as an event, that tends to mean you should show up to the event instead of the meeting).
I can't complain too much because honestly, I should have tried to get involved - I asked our company rep if there was anything planned, but didn't follow up and ask how to participate.  I'm not sure how much of a difference my input would have made, but I still should have tried.
I'll also admit that when I think Women's History Month, I don't think of only a celebration of Women's History, but also of a celebration of Feminism, even though the two aren't the same.  There are many strong women that don't identify as feminist (unfortunately).
Basically, it wasn't bad, but I was disappointed.  The fliers all had the topic "Women's Art, Women's Vision" printed on them so I was expecting a discussion of women in the arts and the different messages that women might try to convey when using art for political purposes (I guess someone else predetermines the topic for the year).  I showed up expecting a college style lecture, forgetting exactly where I am.  Instead there was a long program beginning with an invocation and the national anthem and ending with a benediction.  In between, there was a slide show, a poem, a skit and a guest speaker.  The guest speaker was entertaining but definitely took the topic in a different direction than I would have expected (she went straight for the word vision, and made the statement "I visualize" to connect her speech to the topic).
Of course, I would have been happy with an hour long lecture but since they added all the extra pieces, I think they could have used a slightly different approach.  Being the military, I understand that there will be more of a focus on women's history in the military, and that's fitting - but the slide show should have reflected that.  It should have included portraits/pictures of women in the Revolutionary War, Clara Barton's nurses, the WACs of WWII, and chronologically included everything in between and up to now.  Instead, it was a bunch of pictures of women that are in the Brigade - women that are making history right now, as they put it.  The slide show should have culminated with that but it also should reflected the history of women's service in the military.  Also, they chose the song "You Gotta Be" as the background music for the slide show - it just didn't set quite the right tone for me.  Too obvious; too empowerful.  I'm probably being too harsh on the song.
They used the skit to highlight women inventors - I think I would have chosen either different inventions to discuss, or introduced the inventors by some other means.  I understand the difficulty, though - given that people still tend to make comments along the lines of "what's the point of women's history month?  They're 51 % of the population," it can be rather hard to do something to keep the audience interested without preaching at them (I probably would have ended up preaching).  As a result, they used comedy in the skit in a way that I found slightly obnoxious ("work it, girl") but the rest of the audience laughed.  It's important to keep people entertained as well as educate, and I think my idea of entertainment might be slightly different than most (I don't like most Will Ferrell comedies, or anything that involves a man wearing a cross-gendered fat suit).
I actually almost didn't go because I was afraid I wouldn't like it - now I know that next year when we are back in Germany, I should make sure to volunteer far ahead of time and maybe put some of my vision into affect.  I wonder if they do anything for V-Day on military posts . . .

Grief and Indulgence

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion


Didion wrote this book after her husband's death, and uses it to detail her first year of coping with her loss and her grief.  I haven't lost anyone that's been particularly close to me, but I liked the book.  She repeats certain comments throughout the book to demonstrate the impact it had, and how her thoughts just keep going back to the same thing over and over again.  She also describes the need to avoid certain places or memories because if she isn't careful, they will lead to other thoughts.  In addition to losing her husband, Didion's daughter was suffering from illness and was in and out of the hospital in first few months of this year.  As a result, she doesn't even begin mourning until much later because she didn't have enough time to deal with her shock and her grief.


She also talks about the idea of indulgence and self-pity, "the most common and the most universally reviled of our character defects" (192), and how it is looked down on, and yet very necessary.  As she says, "only survivors of death are truly left alone" (192).  As part of this, she also mentions the idea of dwelling, and how there is this fear of dwelling on things, or being called out on it.  I admit I have a tendency to dwell on things, so I don't even want to know how I'll deal with death.  Honestly, is it bad that some of the things she described I could relate to on a minor scale as part of a break up?  Such as when she talks about the fact that she used to just randomly tell her husband things as they came up and now she can't - similar things happen during break ups, divorces etc.  Except, of course, in the case of a break up, you can still tell the person things; you just don't get the same reaction anymore.


Of course, now I'm being self-indulgent - but then again, that's part of the point of reading - you can get different things out of a book based on when you read it.  Or if it's personal like this one, you can try and relate it to your own experiences even if the situations aren't completely equivalent.  Didion actually describes rereading many of her husband's novels, and in retrospect, they all seemed darker.  Did her mood make them darker or had she missed certain things in her earlier readings?


In addition to discussing her relationship with her husband, she discusses their work and the influence they had on each other.  There were one or two of her novels in particular that I'm kind of interested in now.  If it weren't for the fact that as two writers, their work was going to play an important part of their relationship, it would almost look like self-promotion (I'm kidding).

Coming of Age Story

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


After I read Half of a Yellow Sun, I saw a few reviews that compared Adichie to Chinua Achebe (including the back of this novel).  I read Things Fall Apart in high school, so I had a hard time seeing the connection (partially due to lack of familiarity with Achebe, partially due to an inability to remember the novel very well).  I actually thought that comparison was more obvious and accurate in this novel.  It appears to take place in the '90s after a military coup (I checked Wikipedia first, and then found this site to confirm my suspicions - she writes of the death of a reporter in the novel and I had assumed that was the real name -Nwankiti Ogechi - but even that was fictionalized).  The coup served as a backdrop to the rest of the novel, which focused on a much more personal story.


As the story progresses, the narrator, Kambili, begins to question her upbringing, and become more independent.  In the beginning, she worships her strict father.  We soon learn that her father is not only strict, but abusive and fanatically religious.  His beatings have induced miscarriages upon his wife, and he is quick to punish his family for what he sees as wrong-doings (for example, he beats his wife for having to be asked more than once to go into the minister's house when she was feeling naseuous).  He is intolerant of different beliefs and has even cut off contact to his father because his father holds on to the old religion.  His children have a daily schedule and are expected to be first in their class - he doesn't care that his controlling all their time leaves them no time to develop friendships, and actually earns them ridicule as "snobs."  Kambili and her brother Jaja visit their liberal aunt's family, and through interacting with these relatives, they begin to question their own lives and enjoy themselves and new freedoms.


The reason I felt this novel seemed more reminiscent of my faint recollections of Things Fall Apart, is that in both there is the struggle between new and old, and the intolerance of certain religious-minded.  They also both showed very controlling patriarchs that took things too far and felt it was their right and duty to discipline their families.  Still, I am curious if people simply compared these two authors because they are from the same country so it was just easy.  It's not as if these two authors are the only to explore these themes, though there are probably comparatively fewer that set them in Nigeria.  I can't wait to see what else Adichie will write - I enjoyed both her novels and hope there will be more.
The idea of the incredibly strict religious patriarch also reminded me of The Poisonwood Bible but in Purple Hibiscus, everyone in the community loved and admired the father, while in The Poisonwood Bible, the people he came to convert see him as the prejudiced tyrant he is.  The difference, of course, is that Eugene, Kambili's father, tries to do good for the community, while the father of The Poisonwood Bible is a missionary that looks down on the black community he came to spiritually lead and help.

Shakespeare and Existentialism

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard


This play was recommended to me by another person in the company.  He, too, plans to go back to grad school for English eventually, but he wants to focus on creative writing.  I figured I'd check it out since I like re-imaginings of old stories and I like Shakespeare.  I love Margaret Atwood's piece "Gertrude Talks Back" which tells the story of Hamlet from Gertrude's perspective.


As the title suggest, the play is about the characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and their view of the court and life during the play Hamlet.  Parts of it were funny, but I am not always that good at imagining what's happening on stage, so I'm sure it would have been a lot funnier performed since there seems to be quite a bit of slapstick in addition to the intellectual discussion on fate.  As the play progresses, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern realize that they have no free will or choice in their fate and are simply caught up in the action.  The back cover compares this play to Waiting for Godot, and I can understand it.  Of course, I'm not sure if that's really a comparison one should make if they are recommending something.  I didn't enjoy Waiting for Godot very much - there were definitely funny bits, and some entertaining play with language (in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as well), but it was just so pointless - I didn't see that one performed either.

The Activist, the Hippie and the Reader

The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez


I enjoyed A Feather on the Breath of God quite a bit so after searching Amazon, this novel seemed to be the next most popular of Sigrid Nunez's works.  This one had a different set-up and was much more plot driven, though not completely linear.  Overall, I liked them both but A Feather on the Breath of God reached me more on an emotional level.


As noted above they were quite different, even though both novels must have taken place at a similar time - The Last of Her Kind begins as the story of two college roommates in the late '60s.  The parents in A Feather had met during the occupation of Germany, so their children would have been growing up in the '60s as well.  While A Feather almost ignores the time period in favor of personal relationships and character analysis, The Last of Her Kind shows how radicalism, class consciousness and idealism shaped Georgette and Ann's experiences.  The narrator, Georgette, and Ann end up taking completely different paths in life, but stay in touch until a falling out.  Due to a high profile trial, Georgette of course knows what happens to Ann, and occasionally reflects on their friendship, and Ann's influence on her.  While Georgette at first couldn't believe some of Ann's political views, and even writes that some things that people could say in the '60s or '70s sounded completely ridiculous only a few years later, she never doubted Ann's sincerity.  In fact, long after all the other hippies and idealist had gone corporate, Ann held on as "the last of her kind . . . her sensitivity and compassion aren't all just a pose" (226). 


Even though Georgette is married twice, the novel is much more concerned with friendships.  She mentions her marriages briefly, but except for one lover who is discussed close to the end of the novel, all her most important and defining relationships were with other women.  She discusses the betrayal and hurt she felt after her adored boss Nicole refuses to speak to her when her husband makes a pass at Georgette - in fact, Georgette forgave the husband his transgression long before forgiving Nicole.  Much of the novel also focuses on her sister Solange, and her struggle with her mental health.  While Ann portrayed the radical, political side of the '60s and '70s, Solange is the wild flower child who travels across the country, tries to go to Woodstock, and practices the idea of free love.  Georgette experiments with her fair share of drugs in college, but she is the more timid, shy one.  When she begins working at a Vogue type women's magazine, she loves it.  When comparing herself and her life to Solange's adventures she says,


I have gone through bad spells, times when, thinking about others' lives, the challenges faced and the risks taken, I have felt shame and loathing for myself.  I have accused myself of cowardice, lack of imagination, of ambition, of will.  (And if truth be told, it has not always been I myself making such accusations.  I have been blamed by others for my timidity; I have heard my passionate love of reading denounced as an addiction, a vice, a cowardly avoidance of the challenges, dangers, and even duties of real life.)  (164)


I just really liked that quote because honestly, I can completely relate.  It sometimes seems like everyone else is doing more with their lives than I am.  Or people will talk about the crazy things they did in high school/college, and my response tends to be, "I read a lot."  I don't regret that at all, but sometimes I do feel like I missed out on something.  It's crazy listening to how much traveling some other people have done, studying abroad and so forth, and I never did that kind of stuff.  I was always much more solitary so I didn't go on any crazy road trips.  Some things I plan on doing once I leave here, and other things I just missed out on.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing - but every once and a while, it seems like reading disconnected me from people.  Which is why I can't wait to get back to grad school where I can discuss books with other people who've read them (although I've been looking around online more lately - which that's another comment I've received lately: people that blog are losers, and the people that comment are even worse - gee, thanks).


In addition to exploring the '60s and '70s, the novel shows how these values later shaped the lives of those that came of age during that time.  After reading those two Ken Follett novels back to back, I enjoyed that Sigrid Nunez, while perhaps having a similar voice, wrote two novels that were very distinct from each other.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm Still A Klutz

Remember how back in the beginning of the deployment I talked about all my random klutziness? Well, it hasn't stopped by any means. In fact, I busted my lip open a second time recently - although, at least, it happened in an entirely new way so at least I learn from my stupidity. (In fact, Mom and Dad, if you take a close look at those pictures my PSG sent you, you might even see the scratch/scab above my lip.)

We were in the motor pool earlier this week doing PMCS (preventive maintenance checks and services) on all our vehicles. I was in the cab of one of the trucks, and I had my ACH on. Apparently, I left it a little loose, or it wasn't completely snapped, even though I could have sworn it was, because when I jumped out of the truck, the front of the ACH came forward and smacked me right in the lip (there's a metal attachment at the front of the ACH to attach NVGs to, so naturally that's the part that hit me). As soon as I landed, one of the specialist in the platoon was trying to hand me some papers to look over, so it took me a second to orient myself and focus on what I was seeing. And then I started bleeding all over the place.

It's healing nicely, though. I wonder how many broken bones and scars I would have if I hadn't quickly realized as a child that indoor hobbies such as reading were much safer for someone with my coordination.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Random Thoughts and a Speech

In honor of Women's History Month, the DFAC has decorated its tables with new place mats, or more accurately pieces of paper, with biographies of different important women. I haven't seen them all yet, but so far I've noticed, Janet Reno, Oprah, a few groundbreaking women in the military, and other names I don't recognize (I hope they included Margaret Sanger, Lucy Stone, Mary Wollstonecraft - hey, I don't see the word American in Women's History Month - just to name a few). I think if I were in charge, not only would I have wanted to include biographies of influential and important women, but I'd also want to have pieces of writing by women throughout: excerpts from A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex, and pieces of poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich. Of course, when it comes to this kind of stuff, I'd be worried about overdoing it - too much poster board, and it could easily feel like a elementary or high school class project. We used to have an annual "Sex Out Loud" fair at my university, and while some of the groups and events were interesting and tried to raise awareness about a sex-related issue or simply celebrate sexuality, there were also a few that just seemed thrown together - a title, a few pictures and quotes.

Maybe I'm just being an elitist here, but I also think that in celebrating these events, be it Women's History Month, African-American History Month, etc. there are two dangers:

- An Oversimplification of History - all these displays are simply quick snapshots of a larger historical period, and ongoing debates. There is usually much more going on than can be seen in a one page bio of someone. It also removes the complexity - for example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton may have been very important to the Women's Movement, but that doesn't mean we can't question her stance and willingness to use racist sentiments to further her cause. And it's not just about her - how often do we really look back at historical figures whom we adore and actually evaluate them, and take them as a whole person? Abraham Lincoln, for example, was incredibly important but that doesn't mean he didn't have flaws. He, too, had racial prejudices, but nobody hears about that in high school. I don't think this should/would diminish his status by any means (product of the times, and yet I hate that statement, it seems like it excuses so many things because not everyone has the same views, no matter what "the times") but instead, would allow us to see the real man instead of a mythical figure. However, I guess when it comes down to it, it's better that people be introduced to the history, inspired to research it more on their own, than not have any events like these at all.

- I also think it can let people think that these struggles are in the past when in fact sexism/racism still exist, and these events are not about looking at a distant past but rather illustrate the progress made thus far. (As we discussed in a college class long ago, it's easy to say "I'm not racist" when comparing yourself to the crazy White Supremacists featured in the media; it's easy to say "Things are so much better, what else do you want" when comparing today to a century ago).

Still, if I ever were in charge, I would, of course, include this piece:
Ain't I A Woman?by Sojourner Truth
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

The reason I like this speech so much is that it is simple and to the point. After all these other white women were unable to answer men's arguments, Sojourner Truth (whom some of these white women didn't even want at the meeting) gets up, and using simple logic, shuts them all up. Furthermore, she demonstrates the fact that the idea of womanhood was based on the white middle class - for black women, their gender didn't matter, the masters expected the same from them; lower class white women equally had to work, be it in factories or on the farms; it was only in the middle and upper class that the illusion of the delicate woman could really exist (due to the important role women played on the frontier, many Western states granted women the right to vote long before the 19th Amendment).

While very different from each other, it also reminds me of the simple eloquence of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: they both get right to the heart of the issue in only a few sentences and don't talk around the issue or say more than needs to be said. Maybe I should learn from their example.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fashion Statement

I just had this conversation a few minutes ago:

Commo guy: "Do we have a meeting today?"
Me: "No, why?"
Commo guy: "You're in ACU's."

Fortunately, my unit isn't incredibly strict about uniform wear. By this I mean, we aren't too strict about which uniform we have to wear. When it comes to actually wearing the uniform, the soldiers better wear whichever one they have on correctly or else. I've taken advantage of this as much as possible, and can often be found wearing my PT's around the FOB rather than ACU's. There are, of course, situations when PT's are out of the question, such as going to Battalion, briefings, working in the motor pool etc. but outside of these instances, I prefer PT's, especially in the heat (then again I was also walking around in APFT shorts and jacket at 30 degrees). I've been wearing ACU's more lately, but as the comment above shows, it kind of throws people off.

In fact, I've become the running joke in the Battalion, possibly the FOB, due to my uniform preference. My commander has jokingly threatened to inspect my room to see if I own any ACU's, and one of the other LTs in the company has made a similar remark (my first reaction was to go out of my way to make sure that lieutenant never saw me in ACU's). Apparently, even at Battalion, they've commented about this, and recently, after an OPD (Officer Professional Development), one of the other commanders good-naturedly joked about seeing me in ACU's. Actually, even some of the DFAC workers have asked me what's going on when I'm not in PT's (yes, for some reason, the DFAC workers remember me distinctly despite the hundreds of people they must see on a daily basis - might have something to do with my eating habits - I'm pretty sure I'm one of the only people that goes in the burger line, and then orders a bun with bacon, no burger).

Another LT (who used to be seen in PT's almost as often as me, but has since started wearing ACU's regularly) and I were actually stopped a few months back. We always walk by a certain unit whenever we go to lunch or dinner, so a captain wanted to know what our jobs were - apparently, we had become a running bet at their TOC - which uniform we'd be wearing that day, and whether or not we'd be wearing the same one - whatever they need to break up the day.

I'm pretty much in a no-win situation now - no matter what uniform I'm in, I get a smart-ass comment from someone. ("Oh, I see you lost your ACU's again.") I actually get ripped on more when I'm in ACU's then APFT's ("We need to wait on LT K; oh wait, she's here. I didn't recognize her in ACU's"). As one might imagine, there really isn't much going on here entertainment-wise other than heckling and we all tend to dish it out regularly, be it about uniform wear, someone's PT excuses (such as "I can't do PT because I'm waiting on my new shoes" which became "I can't do PT because I'm breaking in my new running shoes"), or whatever else happens to be an easy topic that day.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Englishmen don't know what a tongue is for*

The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction by Rachel P. Maines

Way back towards the beginning of this deployment, I read Laura Kipnis's The Female Thing (this was back before I was regularly blogging about my daily reading, but let's just say it was pretty entertaining), and in her section entitled "Sex," she repeatedly referred to this book. So of course I had to read it.

It's a pretty quick and short history of women's orgasms as defined by the medical community, hysteria and vibrators. Maines finds evidence of the women's disease hysteria as far back as the ancient Greeks, and even some of them recommended genital massage as treatment. Many physicians throughout the years saw a connection between sex and hysteria but they differed in whether it was from too much or too little sex or both. Physicians would manually manipulate the clitoris to relieve the stress and cure the patient but due to the fact that sex was defined as penetration, it didn't raise any eyebrows (the speculum and tampons had more of a reaction). Many physicians didn't actually enjoy doing this (though they liked the money) so they often recommended to have midwives take over for them, and then started using different tools such as douches, and in the later 19th century, vibrators - naturally, they wouldn't tell women to do it themselves because masturbation is bad.

She describes the "five basic strategies [used] to reconcile perceived female sexuality with androcentric norms" (50), or the concept that penetration is the climax of the sex act. The least common was to simply acknowledge that women needed clitoral stimulation, and to recommend that it "be provided during or before coitus, not through masturbation" (50). Another was simply to equate enjoyment with orgasm. Her definitions of the third and fourth approaches go hand in hand: some doctors didn't recognize female orgasm (for example some of the ones using massage therapy didn't realize that the reactions their patients were having were orgasm, not seizures). Since they can't recognize female orgasm, they are more likely to then conclude that "women lacked sexual feeling or desire" (51). Lastly, Maines mentions that the final way to deal with the presence or absence of orgasm was to completely ignore it in their discussions.

As seen through all but the first of these ideas, the doctors' views of female sexuality were very much based on male sexuality. Penetration makes men come, so as a result, it should work for women, too. If they don't, that's because there's something wrong with them or women just don't react that way. Obviously, they couldn't have been too concerned with women's satisfaction if they couldn't even recognize an orgasm. Maines uses several different statitistics to show how what apparently should be considered normal for women is not. She cites two men's reactions to Kinsey's study: these men "insist that there is no scientific difficulty with arguing that 80 to 90 percent of all women are 'abnormal' . . . real women are only satisfied by penetration" (62). She states that "more than half of all women, possibly more than 70 percent, do not regularly reach orgasm by means of penetration alone" (5) but despite these stats, many women still feel the desire to do so - or at least, protect men's egos, and pretend they did. Apparently it is okay to "suggest that half of the heterosexual couple . . . sacrifice orgasmic mutuality in order to avoid the inevitable stresses on the relationship caused by rocking the androcentric boat" (119). Even people that realize the importance of the clit don't necessarily see the point of burdening the man: "women who need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm are thought to be making unfair and unreasonable demands" (113). Here, specifically, she is referring to a text from the 1960s but it seemed to be a prevalent idea at different points in time.

Maines admits herself that in some cases her writing might be a little unorganized due to the fact that the medical communitity's views were conflicting and often changing. Mostly, it's easy to read, and she also displays a sense of humor and sarcasm throughout. When she discusses Freud's failure in using the massage treatments used to treat hysterics, she remarks, "it hardly seems surprising that the man who, notoriously, did not know what women wanted was less than successful as a gynecological masseur" (44). While some of the doctors that Maines describes believed sexual satisfaction derived purely from vaginal intercourse, and didn't recognize other actions as sexual, Freud recognized the importance of the clit in achieving orgasm but then pathologized it. After all, it was Freud's theory that as girls grew up, they were supposed to mature into a vaginal orgasm rather than a clitoral orgasm. Women that continued to need clitoral stimulation to orgasm hadn't fully accepted their role as women, and needed psychotherapy to help them embrace proper feminity, gender roles and sexuality as defined by men. Some of his predecessors were ignorant about women and sex, and Freud made it more acceptable to talk about sex. But instead of using his influence and ideas to help liberate women sexually, he too succumbed to the androcentric view and defined their sexuality according to male needs.

In comparison, Alfred Kinsey was the truly ground-breaking researcher. Freud based all his theories on a handful of patients, while Kinsey conducted thousands of surveys, gathering as much data as possible. He questioned the existence of the vaginal orgasm (before the women's movement of 1970s), and supported experimentation - he had no issue with masturbation for example. Some of his figures were, of course, flawed, and even he had a bias - he probably analyzed the data in a way that made the existence of homosexuality more prevalent than it was, but he did not attempt to judge. (Some felt maybe he should have judged a little more, since he interviewed pedophiles, and was also interested in child sexuality - to see when it started developing). He also introduced the Kinsey scale ranging from 0 to 6 to determine how hetero- or homosexual one's interests are, and he believed that sexuality was fluid, and that one's number could be different in different times of life.

I definitely enjoyed the book, and it was kind of thought-provoking. I'm not sure if completely agree with everything she says (perhaps my own reluctance to let go of the androcentric view) - I definitely agree with the importance of the clitoral orgasm, but it seems like perhaps more women can achieve vaginal orgasm than she gives credit. Of course, this is purely anecdotal. Perhaps, more men are also now making an effort to make a woman come than before. While Maines could perhaps argue that some people, and even women, are confusing what an orgasm is, I hesitate to make that argument even though I think it might be true in some cases, especially if the woman hasn't ever attempted to masturbate or used a vibrator. Mainly, though, I don't want to presume to tell other women what they are or are not experiencing. Maybe it's time for another sex survey a la Kinsey to figure out the real numbers.

I also thought this quote about the notion of confusing enjoyment and orgasm (or the second of the approaches listed by Maines) was interesting but it didn't quite fit into the rest of the analysis (partially due to its length), so I'll just wrap things up now, and leave it here, for anyone interested. As noted above, when she says, "popular discussions," I'm not sure if she is also hinting that women themselves might confuse the two or at least conflate them for simplicity's sake.

"A propensity to equate enjoyment of coitus with orgasmic satisfaction remains embedded in both medical and popular discussions despite nearly a century of study of female sexuality . . . For most men, apparently, orgasm is satisfaction. Women, however, traditionally have been expected to find enjoyment in an activity - coitus - that results in orgasm for women in only a minority of instances. Thus women's pleasure in sex, which may consist of arousal, enjoyment of physical intimacy, or the expression of affection it represents for both partners, is routinely interpreted both by scientists and even by some historians as orgasmic experience, whether or not it actually is" (63).

*Yes, that would be two Braveheart references in a week.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Pillars: Part Deux

World Without End by Ken Follett

There is no doubt that Ken Follett knows how to write an entertaining story, and to keep it moving. He definitely knows what works for him, but that is actually to the detriment of World Without End because it is too much like what he has done before. It is not uncommon for authors to have certain stock characters that reoccur throughout their body of work. That alone wouldn't be a problem but World Without End not only reuses the same characters from its prequel but it also has similar themes and plots. Sometimes, when reading a series or a novel spanning several generations, I even enjoy when certain situations or lines of dialogues repeat themselves in the descendants of characters, since it shows how their lives parallel, and it also seems like a self-referential nod to the loyal reader. In some cases, it can get lazy, though, such as when the whole novel seems to just be a copy of its predeccessor. Basically, was the novel original? No. Would I have enjoyed it more if I had never read The Pillars of the Earth? Definitely. Follett knows how to weave an interesting tale, and even if he retreads a story he's already told, it's still an engaging book. I've read The Pillars of the Earth four times now, why not a fifth under a different name? In complete isolation from Pillars, it's a good story though not as strong.

In more specific terms, the characters for the most part were simply copies from the previous novel, so that Jack has become Merthin, Aliena Caris, and William Ralph. The heroes face the same type of amibitious, greedy and treacherous characters as obstacles. Some of the plots happen differently but are still reminiscent of the other book. For example, it is Caris, not Merthin, who has to use the church as a final refuge and recourse in a hopeless situation, thus recalling Jack. While William has a life long obsession with Aliena, Ralph focuses his attentions on Gwenda and her family. Also, in some ways, Caris has similarities with Philip since she is the most innovative church member, concerned with the welfare of the town rather than just furthering her own ambitions. She doesn't share his religious conviction or faith, though. Caris and Merthin's love story has similarities with Jack and Aliena's, especially the prolonged delay (I preferred Aliena and Jack, though), but it got a little ridiculous when there was a line of dialogue repeated almost verbatim. In response to Jack's wish to marry Aliena, she argues that she made an oath (to her father), and marriage is an oath so if she breaks one, how can he trust that she will keep the second. Caris makes the exact same point except that she replaces the word "oath" with the word "vow," referring to her vows to the nunnery. After all the other similarities, it just seemed too much Follett was recycling dialogue rather than making a reference to Jack and Aliena's situation. I admit I actually kind of liked comparing and contrasting the two novels while I was reading.

Of course, the novel was also kind of depressing to a degree (not only because Ken Follett has become lazy). One advertisement for World Without End claimed that "finally, after 18 years, the wait is over." I didn't know there was a wait. As far as I was concerned, The Pillars of the Earth completely and satisfactorily wrapped up everything, and didn't need anything else. Obviously, Follett must have felt similarly since he set World Without End two hundred years later: nothing else needed to be said about Jack, Aliena, Philip or the town of Kingsbridge. After more than fifty years of struggle, a sleepy village had transformed into a thriving town and built its cathedrale. That's why it was so depressing to come back two hundred years later and discover that all they did was for naught. Parts of Jack's cathedrale are being rebuilt, the priory is once again broke and mismanaged, and the city once again is struggling for survival. I didn't really need to know that everything the citizens of Kingsbridge had accomplished was only temporary.

As far as setting, the novel occurs in the 14th century shortly after Edward II had been deposed by his wife and her lover (for all you movie lovers, remember Braveheart? Edward II was the son of Edward Longshanks, and, rumor has it, gay; the wife in question, of course, was portrayed as sleeping with William Wallace in Mel Gibson's version of history). It then covers one of the many wars that England had with France as well as a few instances of the plague. One thing I liked about the novel was Caris, and how Follett used her to portray options that women had - she chose work over marriage, and her interest in medicine and healing went along with the plague plot. He also used this to show some of the ideas about medicine that were prevalent among people who learned from books rather than experience and demonstrated the conflict between the people with hands on learning vs. old establishment theories. Of course some of the view points and conversations seemed perhaps a little too modern and anachronistic, but I don't really have an issue with that - I don't want to read Middle English after all. Besides, I remember an article from one of my theory classes that argued that historical fiction and science fiction tend to show concerns with the present more than anything else. If this is the case, perhaps Follett is channeling a fear that conservatives are repressing innovative ideas and attacking people that want to make changes in the world by using weak arguments based in tradition rather than logic.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mochas! Lattes!

We finally have a Green Bean coffee place on Taji! It's like the best thing ever to happen out here. The grand opening was Monday, and I finally made it out there today after lunch. So exciting!

Only problem is that they currently only take cash, and I refuse to get an Eagle Cash Card (there aren't any ATMs out here), so I'm going to run out of cash very soon. They also apparently have gift cards so I'm thinking once the credit card system is up and running, I'll just buy myself a few of those and avoid any other issues.