Roxane Gay is a Bad Feminist – If By “Bad,” You Mean “Awesome”

“I am a bad feminist,” Roxane Gay tells us at the end of her essay collection Bad Feminist. “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.” People, I am so glad she’s a feminist, because she’s one of the ones we need with us. It would be awful to have her against us.

Image shows Roxane Gay sitting with her face in her hands, elbows on the table, rolling her eyes.

Bad is for badass, is my opinion. Promo photo from Roxane Gay’s blog.

I’ve been reading Roxane’s blog for some time now, which prepared me to handle this essay collection. You’ll want to be somewhat prepared, because her writing is so smooth and so beautiful, so magnificently real, that you can be taken by complete surprise when she addresses a terrible subject. That’s the problem with really good writers. They suck you in and have you looking through their eyes with little feeling of distance, and that can be harrowing when subjects like rape and murder come up.

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Flat Earth: An Astonishingly Good Book About a Very Bad Idea

When I’m reading creationist textbooks, one thing I’m grateful for is that they’re not written by flat-earthers. One wonders why they’re not: after all, a literal reading of the Bible points very much to the idea that the earth is, indeed, a plane rather than a sphere. But some ideas are so difficult to sustain in the face of plain scientific evidence that even people who, in all seriousness, claim that every living thing on Earth descends from the inmates of a single wooden boat which survived  a violent global flood, can’t bring themselves to believe it. Really, did anyone post-Renaissance ever seriously believe that nonsense? [Read more…]

Rape Apologia in Agatha Christie’s Nemesis

It’s that time o’ year again when seasonal depression settles over me like the thick gray clouds of a Seattle winter, and for some reason, this causes an irresistible urge to read old British detective fiction. There’s nothing more comforting than to curl up in bed with a warm, purring kitty and revisit these familiar tales. Every time, I notice a detail I missed in the other ten thousand readings.

Of course, now that I’ve become one of the dreaded Social Justice Warriors™, I also notice problematic elements that escaped me during prior, rather more unenlightened, readings. There’s a lot of casual racism, xenophobia, classism, and sexism infesting these stories, although their authors often weren’t as obnoxious about it as some of their contemporaries. Still. They’re definitely a product of their times, and their times saw nothing wrong with many of the things that horrify us today.

I’m in the midst of Nemesis, one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels. She’s often rather hard on women, a tendency I suspect comes from being a public woman in a man’s world, in addition to the intense cultural sexism. Nemesis reflects an elderly woman’s view of changing times, when younger women were freeing themselves from certain shackles and beginning to explore things like having careers and enjoying casual sex. I’m not expert enough in Agatha Christie’s personal biography to discern how much of the attitudes within the book stem from her own views, and how much is her being faithful to the character. So we’ll just treat the character as a reflection of cultural attitudes and leave the author’s deeply-held convictions for another day.

A paragraph leapt out at me, one which had escaped my notice during other readings. One gets immersed in the story world, and takes certain things for granted, quite often awful things (such as the many things we’ll forgive in the protagonists that we’d abhor in the villains). Characters can say things we’d find outrageous in our normal settings, but which fit with the time and mores of their story so well that they don’t stand out particularly, especially not when we’re reading for the mystery. But when the mystery’s solved, and we’re familiar with the characters and the world the author’s placed them in, and when we’re a little older and possibly wiser and have lots more practice seeing certain patterns, aspects pop suddenly, garish and unavoidable.

I hadn’t seen all the rape culture apologia when I first read this book, but now, it’s unmistakable. See, for instance, this paragraph, as Professor Wanstead is telling Miss Marple why he thinks a man imprisoned for murder isn’t the killer, despite the fact he’s a rapist:

“That told against him, of course. Not in the jury’s mind, because of course they did not hear about that until after the judge’s summing up, but certainly in the judge’s mind. It told against him, but I made a few enquiries myself afterwards. He had assaulted a girl. He had conceivably raped her, but he had not attempted to strangle her and in my opinion–I have seen a great many cases which come before the Assizes–it seemed to me highly unlikely that there was a very definite case of rape. Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insist, very often, that they should call it rape. The girl in question had had several boyfriends who had gone further than friendship. I did not think it counted very greatly as evidence against him.” [emphasis mine]

Here we have rape culture in action in what I’m assuming is roughly mid-20th century Britain. There’s the idea that if a woman enjoys sex, you can’t rape her. There’s the insistence that rape is really just regretted sex. There’s the idea that most reports of rape are false, and that consensual sex is reported as rape just to get the woman out of trouble. Throughout the book, rape is treated as a myth, a tale told by girls to get boys in trouble.

Image is a cover of Nemesis with the words RAPE CULTURE INSIDE imprinted in red.

It’s not jarring to me to run into that attitude in a book from the perspective of an elderly person during the sexual revolution, written by a woman who was elderly herself. I expect that sort of thing, and I’m willing to put up with it in older stories. What dismays me is that attitudes haven’t substantially changed. We still hear the same fucking apologia for rapists. We still hear the same slut-shaming shit. We’re still told there’s real rape, which is a terrible crime that is done to virgins mostly by strangers and involves force, but most things ladies call “rape” is just self-serving lies told by total sluts in order to destroy men. A woman’s sexual history is still considered relevant in rape cases. We’re nearly half a century on from when this book was published, and yet we haven’t significantly advanced the mainstream cultural conversation around rape.

I hope, by the time I’m an old woman boring people with back in my day stories, these attitudes about rape will be considered just as horrifying to mainstream folk as casual denigrations of Jews is. I want us to cringe in horror and embarrassment over these rape culture mores, just as much as we wince in disgust every time the n-word pops up in our turn-of-the-last-century fiction. I want people to struggle to get past the casual sexism and misogyny, have a very hard time overlooking the anti-woman attitudes even in fiction written by a woman, rather than blithely accept it or barely notice it because, really, it’s not all that different from the way things are now.

And I think we’ll get there, despite all the menz screaming about feminazis and manginas. Feminism is here to stay, and will eventually get through enough of the thick skulls to allow the revolutionary idea that all rape is wrong, no matter the victim’s sexual history or fashion choices or state of intoxication or any other favorite excuse of rapists and their allies, to go mainstream. It’s just that I wish we’d got there a lot bloody sooner.

All of the Super-Gargantuan Guides Now in One Convenient Place!

I can see by the sweat on your brow that you’ve just realized gift-giving time is almost upon you, and you haven’t even started shopping yet. Never fear! A good book will go down a treat, it’s fast and easy to get one in time, and I’ve gotcher convenient suggestions right here. That’s right! A page completely dedicated to them, helpfully broken out by category, so you can decide at a glance which page o’ reviews is right for you, and then go select a book from it. Or, if you give up trying to guess what your giftee already has and would like to have now, just get ‘em a gift card and send them the link to this page.

Image shows a cat on a ladder in a bookstore. Caption says, "Feline obedience training? That wud be ovr in fiction."

See how easy that is? Now you can wipe the sweat off, go grab your beverage of choice, and kick back for a little extra quality time for your own self.

Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Science Books Suitable for Gift-Giving II: Science for Kids!

Welcome to Part II of our Super-Gargantuan Guide! In this edition, we’ll be exploring the world of science books for kids. I attempted to cast my mind back to when I was a child, and also solicited the advice of child-possessing readers. Feel free to toss more titles my way – this list has plenty of room for growth. And it’s all about feeding kids full of science early and often, so as to ensure that their sense of wonder grows to magnificent proportions.

In each category, I’ve listed the books in order from youngest readers up to older, so it should be easy for you to find the right book for every kiddo on your list. You’ll notice that my assessments as to age appropriateness differ from those suggested by the publishers. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Help ‘em out with the big words, and don’t insult their intelligence by giving them books that are way below their mad comprehension skillz.

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Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Atheist Books Suitable for Gift-Giving (Part III)

Oh, you didn’t think we were done, did you? There may have been a time when two great-big posts would be enough to cover all the books in the atheist literature. But this is the 21st century, and we’ve been a prolific bunch o’ heathens. Why, we even have parenting books, and books for teenagers, and what religion does to the kiddies. Even after all this, we’ll have barely scratched the surface, but at least we’ll have a nice little list we may even check twice.

Ready for more? Let’s go!

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Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Atheist Books Suitable for Gift-Giving (Part II)

We covered a lot of territory with Part I of our super-duper guide, and yet it’s only a tiny fraction of the available awesome. There’s still a universe of books to be explored. Today, we’re going to fight some culture wars, become even better social justice warriors, and then gorge on some history with a little mythicism for dessert. Let’s go!

Image shows a cat sprawled full-length in a library. Caption says, "They'z alphabetized. U happy now?"

 

Table of Contents:

Culture Wars

Diversity and Social Justice

History of Freethought

Jesus: Myth or Man?

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Crowdsourcing Science Books for Kids and Teens

What kind of science books do you get for kids these days? I had a brief gallop through the Kindle store, but I can only guess what books kids really love. I haven’t got kids, I’ve got a cat. She doesn’t care about what’s inside books, she just wants to sleep on them. And it’s been over 30 years since I’ve had direct experience with being a child. This isn’t very helpful when one is trying to come up with a handy list of books for people to buy for kids.

Have you got kids? Have you got nieces, nephews, cousins, honorary versions of same? Are you a teacher or caregiver or otherwise plugged into the part of the universe that includes small people? Awesome! They must have at least one science book they love. Gimme the title!

And what about teenagers? Are there any books out there specifically written for them that’re taking their minds by storm, or are they skipping straight to books marketed toward adults? Are there any science books in particular the teenagers in your experience love?

Hey, are you a teenager? Great! Tell me which books you love best. This will help me gently steer adults away from giving you things that insult your intelligence. Give me some hard data I can wave in the faces of those convinced teenagers don’t do complex, so I can prevent them from stuffing your stocking with stuff that’s more suitable for grade school kids.

Image shows a cat lying under an Xmas tree with a book tented over it. Caption says, "Next year, I want more books for my book fort."

Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Science Books Suitable for Gift-Giving

It’s the gifting time o’ year! You’ve got science readers on your list, but you’re not sure what books to get them, right? For those of you who can’t just say heck with it and buy a gift card instead, I’ve got some ideas for ye. Our main focus will be the earth sciences, but I’ve got a variety of other disciplines on tap as well. Settle in with a nice mug or glass o’ something, click your desired category, and see what leaps out at you. If you still can’t decide, go with a gift card and a link to this post.

And feel free to bookmark this page for future reference when the time comes to spend your own gift card. Also feel free to recommend your own favorites for future incarnations of this list.

Image shows a cat resting its chin and paw on a printed page. Caption says, "Multum legendum non multa."

 

Table of Contents

Earth Sciences

Biology, Paleontology and Evolution

Neurology, Physiology and Medicine

Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry

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Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Atheist Books Suitable for Gift-Giving (Part I)

It’s about that time when we begin contemplating the necessity of buying gifts for the readers in our lives. That is, if you’re one of those who plans ahead. Even if you’re not, you can just bookmark this page and return when the ZOMG-it’s-nearly-Xmas-Eve! panic sets in. Gotta love buying for readers. Books are easy, Amazon and other online retailers are quick, the local bookstore may even be stocked, and you can get someone in your life a gift that will give them more than a moment’s pleasure, all in time for the solstice, even if you leave it for the last possible instant.

You may be a reader whose family gets them a certificate to a bookstore online or off. Huzzah! Your shelves, virtual or real, will soon be groaning under brand-new bookage!

Only problem is, there are lotsa books. Sooo many books!

I’m here to help you pick just the right one. Or ones. Many of these, I’ve read. Some, I’ve only read bits of, but heard much about from other sources and thus feel comfortable recommending. I’ve split things into categories, so you can more quickly make a match between the book recipient’s interests and the right book.

If I’ve reviewed the book, I provide a link to said review. If I haven’t, I’ve provided a brief synopsis to assist you. As always, feel free to add any favorites of your own in the comments – the more, the merrier!

Let’s begin!

Table of Contents:

Religion

Leaving Religion

Atheism

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