Photo: Nicolas Winspeare

Women We Read This Week

1. Patricia Lockwood’s “Escape From the Convent” in New York Magazine

Raves about Lockwood’s work have been all over my Twitter feed for months now, but I have to admit that I had that knee-jerk skepticism about a cultural figure who looms so large. Then I read and I understood: she really is that good. This brief excerpt from Priestdaddy was hilarious, lyrical, biting, and not at all frivolous in spite of the casualness of her tone. Caution, writers, because Lockwood’s is a voice that could easily pollute your own–her tone inflected mine for hours after I’d read–and in fact I would bet that in a generation or two there will be a whole genre of Lockwoodian imitators. Read the original now. (Plus, fellow Ohioans, her description of Don Pablo’s is genius.)

We tiptoed upstairs to my spartan little room. When we kissed, perhaps because we had so many teeth, it was exactly like two birdcages touching together. We laughed quietly, almost into each other’s mouths, and slipped out again to explore the neighborhood. Conspiracy had arrived to us, whole, intact, and just large enough for two people.

An hour later, we convened again in the living room. My father sat in a brocade chair, as richly embroidered as the Sun King’s underwear. He adopted his most lordly and intimidating position, with his thighs spread so wide it seemed like there might be a gateway to another dimension between them. Jason unconsciously adopted this position also. A person looking down from space might have thought they were having a squat contest.

2. Lyz Lenz’s “Lead Me On” in Hazlitt

It’s bizarre how these brief weekly reviews tend to take on themes, and this week’s seems to be women and religion, and particularly women confronting the men who want to keep them submissive within the confines of religion. Lenz’s piece details her discovery of Amy Grant and Grant’s rise to fame, first as a Christian singer and then as a mainstream pop idol. Lenz’s story parallels Grant’s, as each push back against the pressure from their religious communities to “just believe and submit,” trying to hang on to parts of their pasts and their creeds while also pursuing their own dreams and ambitions. Lenz uses these parallels to explore the nature of faith, coming of age, and cultural expectations of femininity.

Like Grant’s, my revolutions were as equally bland as they were radical. I went to a college that was Lutheran, not Baptist. I watched the Vagina Monologues, I skipped school to play tennis and read The Communist Manifesto. I smoked cigars when I was eighteen, I said the word “fuck” a lot. I know, I know. I kissed a boy I barely knew at a concert. But most revolutions happen in inches. They might appear small but they are no less fundamental. Amy Grant became the vehicle through which I was able to see myself as something more than the lines of orthodoxy that had been drawn around me. Grant was a woman with ambition, true, but she was also a girl who just wanted to sing about her faith and her God, and somehow wound up inside a revolution. I felt that way too. I was just a girl who wanted to read books, and somehow that forced me into a fight I hadn’t bargained for. What we both learned was that finding joy always seems to be a political act for the women pursuing it.

3. Alice Wong’s “My Medicaid, My Life” in The New York Times

A phenomenal and very prescient op ed on the reality of being a disabled person on Medicaid, and the repercussions–personal, economic, moral–of denying disabled people their independence and self-sufficiency. If you have only fifteen minutes of spare time this week, read this.

When you are disabled and rely on public services and programs, you face vulnerability every day. This vulnerability is felt in my bones and my relationship with the state. Fluctuations in the economy and politics determine whether my attendants will receive a living wage and whether I’ll have enough services to subsist rather than thrive. The fragility and weakness of my body, I can handle. The fragility of the safety net is something I fear and worry about constantly.

This piece contains a lot of in depth reporting and can be a bit thick to work through, but such careful attention to detail is important in unraveling the story of systematic sexual assault, and this is well worth your time and focus. Essentially, Meyers reveals that the system U.S. gymnastics put in place just before the 2000 Olympics, and which endures today (though somewhat tamer now, as certain practices–like searching gymnasts’ bags for food–have been discouraged), encouraged a culture of paranoia, competition, and secrecy that fostered the long-term sexual assault of many female athletes.

If gum chewing and listening to music could potentially be held against you, what would’ve happened had Dantzscher stepped forward to complain about the emotional abuse she endured at the Ranch? She probably wouldn’t have been on the team. Dantzscher, in her Senate testimony, explained, “They were in control of taking my dream away in a second.”

Even if Dantzscher or any of the other gymnasts—another alleged Nassar victim, Jeannette Antonlin, attended the training camps during this period—suspected anything was amiss with their medical care, would they even feel empowered to say anything? “Why would you speak about a strange medical procedure and hope to be heard if no one really wants to hear about your acutely painful ankle, including yourself? Even the athlete had every motivation to pretend to be fine—or miss out,” Knight-Nagel wrote.

5. Alexandra Schwartz’s “The Art and Activism of Grace Paley” in The New Yorker

This essay explores the complicated relationship of Paley’s political life and her politics to her writing. Schwartz posits that Paley’s writing allowed her to ironize and explore the contradictions inherent in political rhetoric and action, while at the same time expressing her fundamental political concerns. There could not be a more sadly relevant moment to consider the ways in which a political life is and is not compatible with artistic production.

Activism, like alcoholism, can distract a writer from the demands of her desk. Actually, Paley didn’t even have one. She liked to type at the kitchen table, right in the messy heart of family life, rather than cloister herself in a Woolfian room of her own, though her characters often long for the luxury of a closed door. In her early stories, they are immigrants’ children, Jews mixing with the slightly more established Irish, Poles, and Italians in the tenements and row houses of Coney Island or the Bronx, where “every window is a mother’s mouth bidding the street shut up, go skate somewhere else, come home.” Privacy is out of the question. Brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors crowd around; lurking everywhere are adult “spies,” like Mrs. Goredinsky, with flesh “the consistency of fresh putty,” who stations herself in front of her building on an orange crate, or the palsy-handed “Mrs. Green, Republican poll watcher in November,” who spends the rest of the year scanning the street for kid trouble.

6. Ashley Ford’s “My Father Spent 30 Years in Prison. Now He’s Out” on Refinery 29

This is a poignant essay about getting to know a long-lost parent, but beyond that it’s about the limitations of contemporary technology, and the way in which certain people force us to question our relationships with that technology.

I stayed in Indiana for a week. My dad and I went shopping for new clothes for him. Stores were a lot for him. He didn’t understand why everyone walked around looking down at their phones. He couldn’t fathom what could be happening on the phone that kept them so entranced. I tried to explain that there were often other people to talk to or look at on phones. Sometimes those people were far away, or people they didn’t even know. There were mostly no long-distance fees; there were photos and videos — basically the whole world could be on these screens. He thought about that for a minute and said, “But there are people all around right here. A lot of people we don’t know. Why not just look at them?” I didn’t have an answer to that. I thought about taking my phone out of my bag and showing him, but I also didn’t want to bring my Phone World into Our World.

Layden, a professor at a small Midwestern college, uses a thought experiment she once did with a class–in which she pretended that the school was banning Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and asked the students to hand over their books while an armed security guard loomed nearby–to explore the impact of words and stories on our complicity and resistance under oppressive regimes.

One student, a woman in her early fifties and back in school to finish her undergraduate degree, raised her hand. She had scars along her jaw that gave the appearance of a permanent smile. She frequently volunteered in class, always with that hint of a smile on her face. Even then, while her eyes were tearing up. “All I know is that you can never give up,” she said. “You have to keep trying. You have to keep going. Always.”

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