May 2010


bitch, bitch, bitch

I’ve spent more time than usual the last couple of months reading feminist literature trying to understand it and the good news is that, in general, I do get it.

Maybe not completely, but here’s the deal: I accept and acknowledge the fact that women have not always been given a full voice in history and that history, as it tends to be presented in American culture, is dominated by the white, male, heterosexual perspective.

Then again, it’s pretty clear that a lot of perspectives have been shunted to the side in America: queer culture, Latino culture, African-American culture, and the physically challenged; just to name four off the top of my head.  One could come up with a very long list of lost voices.

However I’m pretty broad minded and I take my perspectives into Germany and am occasionally dumb-struck by German culture and things that happen here, like, for example, the fact that applicants for jobs include photographs and birth dates.

I also try to imagine what it must be like to be in a wheelchair in Weimar and I get depressed: few establishments are handicapped accessible—of the places I regularly visit, the only places that are always accessible include the supermarkets. Even the brand-new Burger King has a step inside its door—although the step can be avoided if the shopping center it is located in has its doors open, then it can be rolled around, so-to-speak.

This is important because I am trying to understand the essence of feminism right now. If feminism is a movement to establish equal rights between men and women, then I am all for it: equal pay for equal work, no glass ceilings, and full legal rights. These are things that should be granted without question or debate: we are all created equal.

I picked up a copy of bitch the last time I was in the States; bitch is “feminist response to pop culture”—and to be honest my like-dislike ratio for the magazine was about average for all magazines—it’s better written and thought out than Time or Newsweek, but it’s no Economist. It is, in my ranking, slightly better than a Rolling Stone.

The issue I picked up (The Old Issue) featured ruminations about Judy Blume—a long essay entitled “Judged Judy”. It’s actually a fascinating and interesting discussion by Joanna Miller. She talks about the impact of Judy Blume’s books, including “Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Strangely I remember reading this book although I focused more on the religious quandary aspects of the book than the menstruation parts.

It turns out that Judy Blume’s books are often challenged—people trying to remove the books from school libraries:

In her introduction to the 1999 collection Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers, Blume remembers a phone call that she received around this time [early 1980s], an unidentified voice asking if she was the person who wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. When she replied that she was, the caller declared her a communist and hung up.

When I read this passage I was immediately taken back to my vacation last fall. Whilst in Wyoming I had a conversation with somebody and when I tried to talk about how some aspects of German life were better than in America, I was dismissed out of hand: “They’re all socialists.”

Really?! If that’s the worst thing you can say about Germans and Europeans in general, it must not be that bad here. By the same token, blasting somebody as being a communist because they wrote a book about periods and God seems incredibly… silly.

By the time I finished reading bitch from cover to cover, I realized that I can communicate and understand feminists. That doesn’t mean I’m going to subscribe to bitch – I find the prospect of $60 for 4 issues a year to be a bit steep (international pricing for delivery outside the US and Canada) – it just means that feminism makes sense to me.

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