Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Musings on Gender, Teenage Theatre Geeks, and Playing Scrabble with Naipaul

--So, I thought I wouldn't write about V. S. Naipaul's outrageous comments about the differences between male and female authors.  Really?  We're still having this conversation?  What year is it?

Do people really think that we can tell gender just by reading the text?  Go to the Guardian site to see if you really can by taking this quiz.

And then there's the whole notion of gender.  Do you see gender as binary or as a spectrum?

My prediction:  in 100 or 200 years, people will look back and say, "How quaint.  They thought there were only 2 genders.  Luckily we have the scientific advances that help us understand that gender is nothing like those people thought it was."

--Today is Maxine Kumin's birthday.  She had to deal with similar comments about gender and writing too.  The Writer's Almanac post for today notes:  "When she was chosen as the Poet Laureate in 1980, she promptly criticized one of her fellow members of the Council of Scholars—the violinist Yehudi Menuhin—who wrote a paper about how men and women approach life and art differently. Menuhin said, 'The man is driven to strike out, to build roads—roads anywhere and nowhere in particular—sometimes leading to heaven, more often back to self—and general destruction. The woman is, on the other hand, compelled to plough and till over and over again the same plot of earth, from time to time attracting a male to ensure its fertility and, if she has captivated him, defending it together, or alone, against other male depredations.' Maxine Kumin did not take kindly to this characterization, nor to the fact that of the 23 members of the Council of Scholars, only two were women. She said, 'I felt as though I had stumbled into a stag club and ought to leap out of a cake. Creativity is not the exclusive province of this very narrow slice of society.'"

Kumin's life shows us that the best revenge may be living long and writing productively.  Let the old, poisonous men say whatever they choose.

--It does make me happy that people have responded to Naipaul's comments for the misogynous poison that it is.  Once upon a time, we'd have quivered with respect and said, "Well, he's won a Nobel Prize, so he must know what he's talking about."

Now we say, "Sexist piffle.  What is wrong--WRONG--with this man???!!!!!"

Of course, it irritates me that he gets so much attention by saying such things, even as we reject the things he's saying.

Again, I say, what year is it?  We'll know we've made significant progress when outrageous comments don't get any attention at all and don't result in extra book sales.

--I've spent the week-end plunging back through time as I enjoyed Linda Grant's We Had It So Good.  I might not have been so anxious to read this book had I not heard Diane Rehm's interview with Linda Grant.  I put it on reserve at the public library (I rarely do that) and promptly forgot that I did it.  When I went to the library to pick up the book, it was like an extra treat, that Christmas present that you get after New Year's.

If you enjoy books about the 60's and watching Baby Boomers move through history, you'll like this book.  Even as I typed that last sentence, I felt a bit of revulsion.  But these characters are worth getting to know.  It's not stereotypical, it's not two dimensional, it's not horrible in the way that it could have been.

--Yesterday, I went back in time in a different way.  I went to see a teenage drama troupe present Shakespeare to Go.  What a delight.  I talked to one of the parents afterward, and we talked about how well-adjusted these teens seem to be.  I said, "When I was a teenager, I'd have been that girl in the corner with her nose stuck in a book."

The mother said, "Yes, but that's what's so wonderful about these kids having the opportunity to be part of this group.  It gives them so much self-awareness and the ability to interact so much better."

I decided not to mention my own experience as a teenage drama geek which I've written about elsewhere

(here, here, and here).  I decided just to enjoy a chat with a woman I'll likely never see again.

--After the show, I played Scrabble at Panera with two women--what fun!

Panera was mostly deserted at 3:30 in the afternoon.  But I did overhear a pre-schooler say, "They're playing Scrabble!"  He had the kind of rapturous tone that you'd use when saying "They get to drink all the wine and eat all the chocolate that they want!"  I felt so lucky.

--If we played Scrabble with V. S. Naipaul, would he have better vocabulary words than we did?  Not likely!  Of course, vocabulary doesn't matter so much as the tiles that you get and the open lettters.

--If you want to read my thoughts on prayer as improv, head to this post on my theology blog.

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