Women We Read This Week

Eva Saulitis’s “Wild Darkness” in Orion

For the past twenty-six years, Eva Saulitis has hiked trails along streams in Prince William Sound observing humpbacked salmon. She sees the salmon cycle through her own experience with incurable metastatic breast cancer. Saulitis is a whale researcher, and in September, when the salmon are spawning and dying, she’s at the end of her field season.

Now that her own death is near, what is usually the end of the field season now feels like a beginning of insights she could not have any other way. For example, because she spends portions of her life in hospitals and under doctor care, she feels cut off from the rhythms of nature that she’s used to. Still, the medical experiences remind her: “As we inhabit bodies of flesh, blood, and bone, we are wholly inside nature.” As someone who has lived most of her life in wild nature, she realizes, “Death may be the wildest thing of all, the least tamed or known phenomenon our consciousness has to reckon with.” Saulitis meets death head-on, not with courage but with complexity. She knows that “something has stepped toward me, some invisible presence in the woods.” She finds in her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy a lesson in letting go. Just as the body knows how to give birth, it knows how to die. Her essay’s power comes from the conclusion, where she accepts that wild nature is beyond our human knowing. “In the end—I must believe it—just like a salmon, I will know how to die, and though I die, though I lose my life, nature wins. Nature endures. It is strange, and it is hard, but it’s comfort, and I’ll take it.”


Molly Crabapple’s “Photo Real: On Photoshop, Feminism, and Truth” in Vice

This piece packs a lot of punch. First, Crabapple challenges and complicates the idea that exposing original, un-retouched images from celebrity photoshoots (à la Jezebel) is a particularly productive feminist move; “fuck Photoshop,” she writes. “Photos are already lies.”

So it becomes, also, a rumination on truth, art, and particularly photography, which was “no sooner touched than it was retouched.” It’s also about surveillance, of a kind, and in this sense it’s a constructively discomfiting piece of writing – it forces a certain degree of self-awareness, an expanded understanding of how we view and are viewed:

To get a “true” photo, you need to remove artifice. This means removing art. Art’s opposite is bulk surveillance. Drones, CCTV, ultra-fast-ultra-high-res DSLR, our fingers stroking our iPhones or tapping at Google Glass. Omnipresent cameras suction up reality without curation. We’re at the finest time in history to see stars, or anyone, photographed looking like hell.

For women, this surveillance is far harsher than posed artificiality. Under the regime of phone cams, you must be ever photo-ready. Never wrinkle your forehead. Never let your belly out.


Alexis Okeowo’s “The Troubled Search for Nigeria’s Stolen Girls” in The New Yorker

Okeowo captures the double victimization of the Nigerian school girls – first they were kidnapped by an Islamist terrorist group, and then they were subjected to government and media accusations that questioned their worth and the worth of their families. This is a familiar narrative, regardless of the country. Okeowo describes:

Last Sunday, twenty days after the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than three hundred girls from a school in Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan spoke at length about the abduction publicly for the first time. He admitted that he did not know where Boko Haram was holding the girls and proceeded to place some of the blame on their parents for not providing a “clear identity” for their missing daughters.

Shortly after the kidnapping took place, Boko Haram began to sell the girls for $12 a piece as wives, which made the question of value literal. As for the protesters who marched against government inaction, “The First Lady allegedly accused them of belonging to Boko Haram themselves, and fabricating the schoolgirl abductions to embarrass her husband’s government.” #BringBackOurGirls has become a hashtag and a media battle cry in recent weeks, but this conversation is about much more than the girls – it is about racism and equality, about the way we value some lives much more than others.



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