Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Volume of Friendship: The Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Isabella Greenway 1904-1953

My review of
A Volume of Friendship: The Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Isabella Greenway 1904-1953
edited by Kristie Miller and Robert H. McGinnis
Preface by Blanche Wiesen Cook
Tucson, AZ: Arizona Historical Society, 2009, xvi, 325 pp.

has just been posted to SeniorWomen Web at
You can read it at that link or posted below my name.


The Private Lives of Two Public Women

Long after her death in 1962, readers remain fascinated by Eleanor Roosevelt – her life, her comments, her views. Isabella Greenway is barely known outside of Arizona – the state she represented in Congress from 1933 to 1937 – but her fifty-year friendship with ER was longer than that of any other of ERs many acquaintances.

Both came from privileged backgrounds, they met in New York as debutantes and stayed in close contact until Isabella's death in 1953. They both married in 1905; the couples spent part of their honeymoons together in Europe. Isabella was two years younger but in her 67 years she had the more challenging life, which Miller detailed in her 2004 biography. []

Isabella married three times, was widowed twice and had three children. ER was married once, widowed once, and had six children, of whom one died in infancy. Isabella moved to New Mexico with her older first husband in 1910 after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Expected to die in a few years, the family lived in a tent with their two children for four years before building a home. A year after Bob Ferguson died in 1922 Isabella married his best friend, John Greenway. A little over two years later her second husband died on an operating table in New York.

In the wilds of New Mexico Isabella had to nurse her husband and home school her kids. ER also had to nurse her husband after he contracted polio in 1921, but she had a broader support system and more ready access to medical assistance. Nonetheless, her life, like Isabella's, was punctuated repeatedly by illnesses, accidents and death.

Indeed, if these letters have a major theme, that is it. These privileged women and their families spent much of their lives – especially their early adulthood – coping with physical ailments. Presumably they had the best medical care money could buy, but to judge by their letters, major portions of their lives were spent coping with suffering, their own and that of their families and close friends. TB, whooping cough, polio and infections consumed a lot of their time and thoughts.

Illness also meant travel. I was struck by the number of times Isabella and her family took the train to New York to see doctors. She sent her children to California for high school, but there is no mention of seeing any doctors in L.A.

Except for the election of 1912 when both women supported the candidacy of ER's uncle Teddy, neither paid much attention to politics before 1920 (or if they did they didn't write about it). They weren't involved in woman suffrage or any of the other Progressive movements of the era.

ER plunged into political work in the twenties, initially to serve the career aspirations of her invalid husband. She and some of her New York friends organized women into the Democratic Party in upstate New York, the value of which became readily apparent when her husband ran for Governor in 1928.

John Greenway took his new bride to Arizona where he owned copper mines. He was planning to retire from business and go into politics when he died. In a sense Isabella fulfilled his ambitions, becoming a civic activist and Arizona's Democratic National Committeewoman. After ER's husband was elected President he brought Arizona's sole Member of Congress into his administration and Isabella easily won election to replace him.

During FDR's first term, ER and Isabella could see each other frequently because they were both in D.C. There are fewer letters, but enough to know that Isabella didn't always see eye-to-eye with FDR. Nor did she like being in Congress; she chose to not run for re-election in 1936.

Back in Arizona she pursued her civic and business interests. In 1940 she supported Wendell Wilkie for President, which caused a temporary breech in her friendship with ER. Nonetheless, their relationship survived and the two women worked together again during and after World War II.

While it might sound simple to compile a book of letters, especially of two women who were public figures, an enormous amount of work went into this book. Tracking down the letters, deciphering the handwriting, identifying the people, places and events and generally making sense of private communications is no small task.

One can see the dedication and the scholarship of Miller and McGinnis in the numerous explanatory paragraphs interspersed between the letters and in the extensive footnotes which are fortunately printed at the bottom of each page. There is as much authorship as editing in this book. We should be grateful to them for giving us this portrait of an enduring friendship and a peek into the private lives of two public women.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


THE WOMAN BEHIND THE NEW DEAL: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR'S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience

By Kirstin Downey

NY: Nan A. Talese Books [a subdivision of Knopf/Doubleday - all of which now belong to Random House - just like all your favourite brands of dessert now belong to Nestle- FW], 2009. 480 pp.

Reviewed by Jane Woodward Elioseff (Guest review reprinted from by permission of the author)

Frances Perkins (1880 –1965), suffragist and labor advocate, destroyed many of her letters and papers before she died, with the result that only archivists and historians and a few former students still remember her. Even so, Kirstin Downey, a former Washington Post reporter, has written an entirely credible biography of Perkins based on the public record, on Downey’s productive searches in various neglected archives and private collections of Frances’s letters, and on interviews with her daughter and those of her colleagues and friends who are still living. The Woman Behind the New Deal describes not only Frances’s political career, but also her marriage and her close friendships with reform-minded, socially prominent women, as well as her relationships with suffragists, settlement house reformers, socialists, unionists, combative labor leaders, Tammany Hall toughs, and such major figures as Winston Churchill, Al Smith, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

In February 1933, at the start of FDR’s first term as US president, Eleanor Roosevelt, among others, strongly recommended to her husband that his secretary of labor should be Frances Perkins, whom Franklin had known for twenty years, the past four working side by side with her while he was governor of New York. He appreciated Perkins’s intelligence, energy, and political savvy. Most importantly, he trusted her. When Frances met with Franklin in New York City to discuss the appointment, she arrived with a paper in her hand listing what she wanted to accomplish if she accepted his offer:

The scope of her list was breathtaking. She was proposing a fundamental and radical restructuring of American society, with enactment of historic social welfare and labor laws. To succeed, she would have to overcome opposition from the courts, business, labor unions, conservatives.

Perkins asked FDR to approve her legislative agenda: a forty-hour work week, a minimum wage, worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation, a federal law banning child labor, direct federal aid for unemployment relief, Social Security, a revitalized public employment service, and national health insurance. Perkins and her determined political allies achieved it all--except for health insurance. Opposition by the American Medical Association was too strong.

Few people rise to high office in Washington, D.C. without thick skins and hard work in the political trenches. It is difficult to imagine the heartless animosity and unjust criticism Perkins experienced as a woman in public life. Her views were so progressive that conservative members of the House of Representatives tried to impeach her in 1939 for failing to enforce US immigration laws, a move by the House that the Supreme Court disallowed. The unhappy congressmen wanted Frances out for refusing to deport suspected Communists and for doing her best to help the thousands in Europe fleeing the Nazis. She was single-handedly responsible for saving the Geneva staff of the International Labor Organization by persuading Canada to admit them when the state department denied them entry to the US. The ILO became the only League of Nations entity to survive the war.

Perkins served twelve years as our fourth secretary of labor (1933-1945). She did not engage in self promotion, did not hold press conferences, but was loved and admired by those who knew her well. She never forgot or neglected a friend, high or low, and her dedication to the common good was unflagging. When the political tide was against her, she accepted what progress could be made and tried again the next year. In 1946, she published The Roosevelt I Knew, a biography of FDR. Her close friendship with Franklin was not romantic--it was a meeting of minds and spirits. She was the first person he wanted to see when he started his Washington workday and often the last person he talked with in the evening.

Fannie Coralie Perkins had studied physics and chemistry at Mount Holyoke College, and in 1904, after two years back home with her family, she answered an advertisement for a science teacher at a small women’s college in wealthy Lake Forest, near Chicago. Downey writes that immediately upon arriving Fannie reinvented herself. “She changed her birth name, her faith, and her political persuasion.” She left the Congregationalist Church and became a high-church Episcopalian. Joining the Episcopal Church, “placed Frances in the most upscale milieu in tiny Lake Forest . . . gave her a ready social stepladder.”

While she was teaching in Lake Forest, she also volunteered at Hull House, which gave her the social work training she had been lacking and introduced her to a large national circle of social activists, including the writer Upton Sinclair. After three years, she heard about a job in Philadelphia Talking with factory girls earning $6 a week who lived in basements and survived on bread and bananas, Frances learned, Downey says, that women were barred by their gender from union participation. Frances decided that she needed to go back to school to be able to debate economic and labor issues more effectively. “Studying alongside men for the first time [at The Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania], she realized the depth of her own intelligence.”

One of Frances’s professors at Wharton, impressed by her aptitude, helped her arrange a fellowship at Columbia University. In 1910, she earned a master’s degree in political science and then took a job heading the New York office of the National Consumer’s League. She moved to Greenwich Village, “a center of intellectual ferment.” Sinclair Lewis fell in love with her and regularly proposed marriage until she wed government reformer Paul Caldwell Wilson in 1913.

Frances attended church every morning of the week while she was working in Washington. Three or four times a year, she made a silent retreat at a Maryland convent where the mother superior was her spiritual advisor. Frances could see auras, and this was an aid in assessing character and recognizing talent. Downey writes that Perkins worried about the growing secularization of America. It was incomprehensible to Frances to think of excluding religion from public life altogether, for it was her religious motivation--to do what Jesus would want one to do--that drove her and fueled all that she had done.

This book is beautifully organized, with helpful chapter titles, footnotes divided and renumbered by chapter, a strong bibliography, a good index, and many interesting black and white photographs, though I would wish for more photos of union leaders and suffragists.


Other Frances Perkins books (from Wikipedia):

Keller, Emily. Frances Perkins: First Woman Cabinet Member. Greensboro: Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2006. ISBN 978193179891.
Martin, George Whitney. Madam Secretary: Frances Perkins. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976. ISBN 0395242932.
Pasachoff, Naomi. Frances Perkins: Champion of the New Deal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0195122224.
Perkins, Frances. The Roosevelt I Knew. New York: Penguin Group, 1946. ISBN 0670607371.
Severn, Bill. Frances Perkins: A Member of the Cabinet. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1976. ISBN 080152816X.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Feminine Matrix of Sex and Gender in Classical Athens

Kate Gilhuly, The Feminine Matrix of Sex and Gender in Classical Athens.
Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 208. ISBN
9780521899987. $80.00.


Reviewed by S. Larson, Bucknell University


In this volume, Kate Gilhuly presents a number of case studies helpful in understanding the various roles assigned to females in the Athenian imagination. This matrix, as she calls it, centers upon three categories of the feminine: the prostitute, the wife, and the ritual agent. In varying manifestations, hierarchies and conflations, this structure not only informs our understanding of how the Athenians envisioned the female but also directly pertains to issues of Athenian civic identities and attitudes toward sexuality, exchange, and female performance. Additionally, it is by examining the constantly contested and negotiated roles of the female in literary production that we can better explicate evolving Athenian
constructions of masculine subjectivity; it is in this focus that Gilhuly's book excels.

Gilhuly's Introduction contains a notable although brief tracing of classical scholarship on women to date. She deftly discusses the interplay between these works and concomitant and recent trends in studies of ancient pederasty, homosexuality, and sexuality; here she stresses the importance of the often ignored discourse of heterosexuality and rightly categorizes her own work as an all-encompassing study both in constructions of gender and in the history of sexuality. Her work concentrates not on the reality of ancient sexualities as much as on the imagination of social reality and the construction and maintenance of it through the malleable categories and performance of these three female roles. Here Gilhuly also demonstrates the polysemy involved in each role. She notes broad contexts in which each wide-ranging category served a useful function: e.g., the prostitute in
conversations about conflict and instability; the ritual performer in contexts of historical upheaval between elite and demos; the wife in the middle as the seeming lack between both these public roles.

Gilhuly's Introduction is the weakest section of the book. Here some of Gilhuly's attempts at theorizing these three female roles fall into what seem like already well-understood categories. After discussing the varied roles that both the prostitute and the ritual performer enact, for example, Gilhuly states "both the prostitute and the ritual agent played a public role and could therefore signify different facets of public feminine performance" (19). It is not clear why this relatively obvious conclusion needed so much background comment, except to serve as a possible foil to Gilhuly's next point about the wife envisioned as the female occupying the space between these two more public roles. Gilhuly's Introduction also
suffers from a problem common enough in preludes to more complicated accounts: condensed versions of upcoming chapters often fail to convince because they must omit so much of the real core of the argument; the supporting details fall through the cracks and the conclusions begin to sound like assumptions.

Gilhuly's chapters are stronger individually. In Chapter Two she discusses pseudo-Demosthenes' Against Neaira and demonstrates how the speech regulates masculine identity and its associations with various types of transactions through the lens of the "tripartitite discourse of the feminine." Gilhuly opens by noting that the same three divisions of the feminine outlined in her Introduction also operate within the Athenian penalty of atimia, the very charge which the accused Stephanos tried to impose upon Apollodoros, the prosecutor of the speech. That this evidence comes from outside the literary works that Gilhuly discusses in this book adds credence to her
argument; she could have emphasized this point more strongly.

In this chapter Gilhuly also notes the synchronicity between Apollodoros's portrayal of Stephanos's dealings with women and each of the three spheres of the feminine. She argues that through consistent portrayals of Stephanos's exchanges of women as short-term transactions, the prosecution essentially accuses Stephanos of disregarding Athenian social ideals of exchange and democratic citizenship. Apollodoros establishes both his own and Stephanos's masculine subjectivity through lengthy analysis of the kind of transactions of women both men make; this focus helps explain the speech's obsessively detailed narration of the story of Neaira and Phano.

Gilhuly also finally and persuasively contextualizes Apollodoros's description of Pausanias, the infamous Spartan king, who appears in this speech linked to Plataia, the Boiotian city-state allied to Athens that received harsh treatment at Theban and Spartan hands both in Apollodoros's narrative and in Thucydides (although the two accounts differ on noteworthy points). Gilhuly argues that Pausanias's appearance in the speech, juxtaposed with the emphasis on Plataian loyalty to Athens, historically
grounds the present opposition between Apollodoros and Stephanos; the insane medizer Pausanias corresponds to Stephanos in terms of his extremism and his threat to the stable order of civic life; Plataia, Athens' faithful friend since the late sixth century, mirrors Apollodoros's character as a victim of aggression still loyal to the long-term goals of the Athenian community.

Gilhuly's reading provides a coherent and meaningful way in which to read the speech as a whole and those parts of it that have troubled previous commentators in terms of their length and relevance to the charge.

In her third chapter Gilhuly turns to Plato's Symposium, a work so overanalyzed that taking it on here voluntarily makes a bold statement in itself. Gilhuly concentrates, however, not only on Diotima, whose identity has encouraged countless speculations, but also on the other women in the text. To Gilhuly the auletris, the women inside the house (but outside the symposium), and Diotima herself offer a structural continuum of the feminine that simultaneously informs Plato's model of pederasty. Gilhuly's Introduction to this chapter, much like her Introduction to the work as a whole, foreshadows her upcoming conclusions too briefly; this reviewer would have rather seen less a general prelude than an immediate beginning to the
argument, which Gilhuly takes up only after nearly ten pages of introductory

Gilhuly ultimately observes that by structuring the masculine identities of the Symposium against this feminine matrix (which includes the present but absent Diotima), Plato's Socrates offers a more complex image of masculinity than merely the binary opposition often found in analyses of this dialogue. She nicely explicates the first triad of speeches (of Phaedrus, Pausanias, and Eryximachos) as ultimately espousing a negative, often hostile attitude toward women and a binary understanding of female sexuality in opposition to the purest expression of physical eros through homosexuality. The speeches of Aristophanes, Agathon and Socrates, however, are shown to offer a more nuanced approach to eros by complicating the canonical gender categories in the first triad of speeches. After persuasively problematizing the case for modern positivistic acceptance of Aristophanes' famous speech, Gilhuly argues that, by speaking through Diotima, Socrates presents the feminine matrix in the service of defining the eros of the philosopher, an eros which
should be seen as the transcendent apex of metaphysical contemplation, much as Diotima's role as female ritual agent symbolizes the topmost position in the feminine matrix imagined in the Symposium. Further, Diotima's status in this speech as a "discursive absence," rather than as a person imagined as attending this gathering, emphasizes the absent (but also formulaically real) realm of philosophic eros which Socrates espouses. This vertical hierarchy of the feminine also informs the model of pederasty, which should thus be seen as more of a mutual path of ascent toward what is philosophically beautiful and beyond the polis as opposed to a more
canonically interpreted binary power relationship. The chapter as a whole is
undoubtedly interesting, but to this reviewer at times the conclusions did
not seem fully proven but rather more suggested by the discussion offered.

Gilhuly follows her interpretation of Plato by resuscitating Xenophon's Symposium, a work which has historically suffered in comparison (Chapter Four). Here Gilhuly argues that the feminine continuum, moving from the prostitute to the priestess, structures Socrates' argument for improved relations between the demos and the elite of the polis. In doing so she details how aristocratic masculine identity is figured in the text as a spectacle with both public and private viewing in mind. Gilhuly's
descriptions of the characters involved and each spectacle make this chapter a good candidate as a reading for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. In her first section and through direct reading of the text, Gilhuly nicely explicates the latent (and historical) hostility between Socrates, Kallias, and various other guests at the party; she deftly illustrates Xenophon's creation of the erotic spectacle and the symposiasts as objects of the text's gaze; and she contextualizes the difficult position of Autolykos, the eroticized performer who both needs to exhibit elite decorum as a passive recipient of the symposiasts' gaze but also to display his individual prowess as an athletic victor and thus as a visible actor in
his own right. Throughout Gilhuly pays close attention to scholarship on civic viewing in other works by Xenophon, in other genres, and also in an Athenian context generally. She argues that Xenophon objectifies the symposium itself as a means of allowing this elite gathering to function comfortably within the now democratic civic gaze.

Working off of Kurke (1999),1 <> Gilhuly returns to the categories of the feminine by arguing that Xenophon uses the three levels of the feminine matrix to delineate the Athenian demos. She makes a particularly nice point about the demos (who historically judged Socrates) cast as the hired entertainment (read: prostitutes) and thus as a malleable group interested in furthering its own interest with the elite; the entire trial and condemnation of Socrates is thus subtly called into question. Moreover, she suggests that the entertainers embody the full range of the female continuum: from the porne as acrobat to the ritual agent as wife, seen in
the basilinna-like re-creation of the marriage between Dionysos and Ariadne.

Gilhuly thus also suggests that the troupe, in playing the role of the demos, offers a image of itself as hetairai in relation to the elite, a still-restricted status which limits any true reciprocity between the two.

In the end, however, to Gilhuly Socrates constructs a new vision of the proper relationship between the demos and the elite in his concluding speech (and here I do a disservice to the complexity of Gilhuly's argument): the philosopher becomes the erastes of the city itself, and the demos becomes a subject desiring elite culture. Complementing Socrates' redefinition of the city into a pederastic polis, at the same time Xenophon offers a speech in which the female entertainer is transformed into the quasi-ritual agent (as wife of Dionysos), thereby emphasizing the importance of heterosexual norms on which the citizenry is based.

Gilhuly's final and most convincing chapter treats Aristophanes' Lysistrata. Gilhuly nicely historicizes the play as she unpacks the multiplicity of meanings behind its display of cultic and erotic roles for women; she rightly often sees both roles as embodied within one character, such as Myrrhine. Elaborating on the work of Stroup and Faraone, Gilhuly suggests that the play's confusion of female categories, such as the cultic figure and the prostitute, leads to their convergence via complementary sacrificial and symposiastic imagery. Further, in interpreting female ritual practice in terms of potential political implications, Gilhuly argues that the ritual agents Lysistrata (as Eteoboutad Lysimache) and Myrrhine (associated with Athena Nike, chosen by lot) present an Aristophanic model of successful interaction between the elite and demos respectively. Lysistrata controls Myrrhine much as the elite ought to direct the demos; here Gilhuly draws the reader to Aristophanes' Frogs where the poet may be espousing a similar view of an inclusive demos with elite leadership. Further, Gilhuly reads Lysistrata's weaving metaphor both as evidence for the conflation of different roles of women through habitual engagement in the same pastime and also as a positive political prescription for inclusivity.

This reviewer would have liked to hear more on the weaving metaphor, as the brevity of Gilhuly's account did not answer a niggling concern I have always had with its appearance: how might the Athenian audience have perceived a feminine weaving metaphor applied to the demos in 411? Could a positive message from Aristophanes about inclusivity (via imagery of female weaving) really have resonated at this time?

Gilhuly's historical analysis of the Lysistrata, however, remains impressively convincing. The convergence between ritual and sexual agents, together with Gilhuly's plausible identification of Lampito as an allegory for Sparta (through the very real Agis II) also suggests to Gilhuly that the women from Sparta, Boiotia, and Corinth introduced in the beginning of the play represent Athens' main enemies at the time of the play's production. This supposition is nothing new, but Gilhuly's reading of these historical enemies through the lens of the sacrificial imagery that is involved in the language of relevant passages as well as through the identities of
Lysistrata and other Athenian characters as ritual agents, underscores a dark yet simultaneously comic brutality against Athens' enemies inherent in Aristophanes' presentation. Likewise the language denoting the Spartan, Boiotian and Corinthian women transforms from hetairai-like descriptions to their literal embodiment at the end of the play as Diallage, an anatomically and geographically-divided porne and thus as a "sacrificial surrogate" for the earlier women; the end result of these embodied women is a complete physical objectification and thus metaphorical subjugation of Athens' traditional enemies. On the basis of these and other details of the play, then, Gilhuly concludes that the while the women of Greece presented in the Lysistrata are overtly involved in suggesting peace with Sparta, in a less obvious but deeper way, the women at the same time present a dark critique of the enemy in terms of ritual sacrifice and subjugation.

In this chapter Gilhuly also details the various animals with which women are associated and explicates the sacrificial and sexualized imagery that each animal evokes in the play: the heifer, the Boiotian eel, and the white horse. By unpacking various references to the eel in both the play and other literature, Gilhuly argues for the eel as symbol of the female as a sexualized ritual victim. Gilhuly also nicely contextualizes Lysistrata's joking about acquiring a white horse as a reference to Spartan women: not only to the Leukippides but also to the white horse involved in Tyndareus' oath before marrying Helen, as described by Pausanias.

Aside from matters of content, at times Gilhuly's writing confuses the issues. Occasionally she seems not to return to themes promised in the beginnings of chapters or describes them obliquely with a confusing result. In discussing Xenophon, for example, Gilhuly spends many pages dealing with issues not directly related to this matrix of sex and gender, at least on the surface. In setting up her argument (Chapter Four, pp. 100-10), then, it would have been nice for her to reassure her reader how these larger issues would bear more directly on the themes of the book, since it is not always clear where the argument is heading. At times this chapter reads more like a series of erudite discussions than complementary parts of a coherent picture. The middle sections of Chapter Two in particular would benefit from reminding the reader how the discussion pertains to the strands of argument that Gilhuly identifies as her goal in each subsection (pp. 100-19). Such confusion could have easily been cleared up by adding incisive concluding commentary at the end of each internal chapter division instead of immediately turning to the next subsection.

Minor typographical errors are minimal (p. 102, fortitude, in quotation at top of page; p. 119, problem in printing elision in the first line of the Greek text; p. 130 aspazomenon printed with a grave accent instead of a smooth breathing). Certain more substantive errors occur in bibliography and citation. Kurke is incorrectly cited on p. 112 by both date of publication and page number for a quote of huge length (footnote 41; the proper citation should be Kurke 1999, 219). Moreover, at the footnote's end Gilhuly shortly adds that Xenophon actually inverts the paradigm Kurke outlines in the quote. To this reader an explanation of this assertion would have been preferable . In terms of the symposium (not to mention Aristophanes), Gilhuly is also missing the work of Nick Fisher from Harvey and Wilkins' collection The Rivals of Aristophanes (London 2000; Chapter 22: "Symposiasts, fish-eaters and flatterers: social mobility and moral concerns"), in which Fisher argues that the symposium of the late fifth century, precisely the time in which both Plato's and Xenophon's works are set, was not at all an elite event. More also could be made, particularly in Gilhuly's discussion of Xenophon, of the historical distinctions between the terms polis and demos, which are not synonyms. Less important but also
missing from the bibliography is my own article on the anonymity of respectable women in Herodotus (CJ 101.3, 1-20), which, although not entirely relevant to any of the authors Gilhuly treats per se, would have strengthened Gilhuly's tangential remarks, made repeatedly throughout the book, about the general tendency of fifth and fourth-century Athenians to refrain from naming citizen wives in public.2 <>

Gilhuly's work concentrates on four pieces of literature dating from 411 to 343, but she treats them in a confusing chronological order: Demosthenes first; followed by Plato; then Xenophon; with Aristophanes last. This order was not satisfactorily explained, particularly in light of the focus of Chapters One, Three, and Four on the feminine continuum in relation to themes of long-term civic order. Chapter Two on Plato's Symposium understandably rather more concerns the world beyond the polis. The reader would have liked more of a stated rationale for this thematic and chronological scheme.

Whatever the weaknesses of the book, however, Gilhuly has written an admirable study of the interplay between the three female roles of prostitute, the wife, and the ritual agent in late fifth and fourth-century Athenian literature. The implications of the combination and conflation of these roles in the works she has selected should have far-reaching effects on how we read additional texts that depend on these roles as part of their cultural code in defining both the female and also the masculine subject constructed upon it.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
2 Collapsing Order: Typologies of Women in the Speech "Against Neaira"
3 Was Diotima a Priestess? The Feminine Continuum in Plato's Symposium
4 Bringing the Polis Home: Private Performance and the Civic Gaze in
Xenophon's Symposium
5 Sex and Sacrifice in Aristophanes' Lysistrata
6 Conclusion



1. <> L. Kurke 1999, Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold: The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece, Princeton.
2. <> Cp., D. Schaps 1977, "The Woman Least Mentioned: Etiquette and Women's Names," CQ 27, 323-331.

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-- Creatures of a day! What is a man? What is he not? Man is a dream of a shadow.
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Friday, September 04, 2009

Mythogyny: Canadian women elders' stories

real lives far more impressive
than myth could ever be

An anthology of personal stories and lessons learned by women elders in BC
Oral histories produced by the Women Elders in Action

* I watched my mother be abused, psychologically, and saw her lack of choices in life and how everything was based on my father’s life. I was conscious of that but I didn’t really see it in my life – I lived it – and while I was living it, feminism arose. And so the words started being there…—Marjorie Drayton

* I’ve had everything done to me imaginable and I’m not an abuser and I’m not an alcoholic and I’m not a drug addict. You don’t have to be what social workers tell you you’re going to be.—Sheila Baxter

*I walked out of the marriage with nothing, he owned everything. But I didn’t have to write him out a cheque at the end of every month.—Colleen Carroll

Available September 15, 2009 from Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT) with financial assistance from the Women’s Program, Status of Women Canada and 411 Seniors Centre Society. To pre-order: call 604-684-8171 x 228 or email:

Read more on Mythogyny. Click on the link below.

Jan Westlund, Coordinator
Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT)
411 Dunsmuir Street
Vancouver V6B 1X4
p: 604-684-8171 ext 228
f: 604-681-3589


Seventy-eight low-income women elders of BC’s lower mainland have oral histories in the new anthology Mythogyny. Thanks to a project by WE*ACT (Women Elders in Action), these women relived dramatic experiences of the 1920s through to the present day.

Senior women who underwent extensive training in interview techniques helped choose the subjects, record and transcribe their stories, and then edit them into a book that had cohesion and nothing unnecessary in it.

What turned out as a predominant theme are the myths they grew up with, especially in marriage, the realities they faced and how in debunking and surviving the falsity of myths, these women lived lives more impressive in their reality than myth could ever be.

The myths uncovered included the shocking discover that marriage is not happily ever after, the idea that $9 an hour is a living wage, fighting myths of racism and that women can't drive forklifts. Also, bomb shelters can be a good place to party.

A number of the storytellers recall “patches of Eden” in places they grew up as they moved in BC like the Doukhobor communities. Some poignant events have also turned up like a woman finding her biological mother who, it turned out, was the caregiver her adopted parents had hired for her as a baby.

Most of the storytellers are now in their seventies, a few in their sixties and four in their nineties. In the course of the book’s production, two have died.

Most turn out to be immigrants from Europe, and England, a few from the US, four from Asia including three from the Philippines. A lot of them live in Vancouver, a number in Abbotsford, Burnaby, Langley, Maple Ridge, Nelson, and Smithers. One or two come from Delta, Grand Forks, Nanaimo, Port Moody, Sooke, and Telkwa.

Mythogyny is the output from a story gathering project called “Lessons Learned: the Lives and Times of Women Elders in BC”, which Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT) undertook with financial assistance from the Women’s Program, Status of Women Canada and 411 Senior Centre Society in Vancouver. WE*ACT is an initiative of 411 Senior Centre. The book will be available in late September.

For more information, call Jan Westlund at 604-684-8171 local 228 or email

Monday, July 27, 2009

Body Politics in Development: Critical Debates in Gender and Development

by Wendy Harcourt (London: Zed Books, 2009)

This is a new book that just came out in June of this year. The UK ordering site is here: - it's available in both hardback and paperback.

Zed summarizes the book thus:

Body Politics in Development sets out to define body politics as a key political and mobilizing force for human rights in the last two decades. This passionate and engagingly written book reveals how once tabooed issues such as rape, gender based violence, sexual and reproductive rights have emerged fully fledged into the public arena as critical grounds of contention and struggle. Engaging in the latest feminist thinking and action, the book covers a broad range of key gender and development issues, including women's human rights, fundamentalism, sexualities and new technologies. It describes the struggles around body politics for people living in economic and socially vulnerable communities. The viewpoints are diverse - from the self, family and community to the public at national and international levels. The book's originality comes through the author's rich personal insights, her own engagement in feminist activism, global body politics, women¹s movements, and gender and development policy debates.

The book has been blurbed by Cynthia Enloe, Gita Sen, and Peggy Antrobus among others - all revered authors in the study of women and development.

Thanks to Bernedette Muthien in South Africa for sending out a review of the book from the AWID website, which I quote extensively below. AWID is the Association for Women's Rights in Development Please also visit the review on the AWID website. There, you will find links to most of the organizations that are listed in this review, and a question and answer session with the author. - FW

What have we done to Bodies? Wendy Harcourt’s Reflections on Body Politics

AWID shares highlights from Wendy Harcourt’s new book Body Politics in Development and speaks with the author about the implications of her arguments for women’s rights activists, advocates, academics and development practitioners.

by Masum Momaya
[Masum Moyama is the curator of the International Museum of Women]

In Body Politics in Development, Wendy Harcourt re-centers what has become invisible through processes of advocacy and action: bodies. Bodies that are reproductive, productive and caring, violated, sexualized and rendered through technologies.

As Harcourt points out, historically, women’s experiences of their bodies, whether violated, exploited or commodified, have long catalyzed their political engagement; and, in aggregate, “body politics [has been] a key mobilizing force for human rights over the last few decades” (p. 24).

Harcourt argues that unpacking and understanding body politics is particularly important because, in the process of bringing women’s multiple needs and concerns into the development discourse, female bodies have often been essentialized and robbed of their agency - even within the global women’s movement.

To curtail this in the future, Harcourt takes both a retrospective and prospective look at how bodies are taken up in gender and development discourses and practices - and suggests self-reflective, alternate approaches that seek to re-center embodied experiences in development processes and policymaking, without essentializing them.

In Body Politics in Development, the author organizes her discussions of how the female body has been and is positioned in gender and development discourses into five categories of bodies: reproductive bodies, productive bodies, violated bodies, sexualized bodies and techno-bodies. For each category, she traces both how the body is positioned and what this means for activists and advocates working on various issues.

Below are highlights of Harcourt’s arguments for each of the five categories, accompanied by a partial list of organizations** that are working with alternate approaches.

Reproductive Bodies

Historically, policymakers and practitioners have tied the agency, experiences and needs of women to their biological abilities to give birth and their social roles as mothers. In the developing world, women have been targeted as sites of medical and social intervention in policies aimed at curbing population growth.

After decades of lobbying by feminist activists, the 1975 Cairo Programme of Action represented a shift from a longstanding paradigm focused on population control to one that emphasized reproductive rights. Gains were made in terms of reproductive rights agendas, which viewed women as subjects with agency rather than simply as sites of intervention, but social and economic inequities related to reproductive rights and health remained unchallenged and unaddressed.

By the 1980s, neoliberal policies were undermining the reproductive health agenda. Pressured to invest more in growing their economies by international lending institutions, governments in developing countries cut back on spending for social welfare, including health and education. Resources for ensuring reproductive health diminished.

In the late 1990s, women’s rights activists were, for the most part, left out of the construction of the Millennium Development Goals, a set of priorities adopted by United Nations member states to spur development. The Cairo language, based in autonomy and rights, was replaced by technocratic language focused on service provision. An example of this is the emphasis on reducing maternal mortality.
Currently, given the paucity of government money available for service provision almost everywhere in the world, most services have been privatized, opening up a commercial market for biomedical goods and services and potential exploitation of women’s bodies. This includes, for example, the provision of health-related information by corporations rather than governments or civil society organizations and the testing and “dumping” of pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines for disease prevention and treatment.

Some feminist and women’s rights organizations are fighting for an approach based in autonomy and rights in which structural inequities, as well as legacies of racism, homophobia, fundamentalism and militarism are considered and addressed.

Examples of Organizations Working From Alternate Approaches
African Partnership for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women and Girls (AMANITARE)
Articulacion Feminista Marcosur
Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW)
Catholics for Choice
Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR)
Engender Health
International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)
International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)
International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC)
Isis International
Reproductive Health Outlook (RHO)
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective

Productive Bodies

Historically, development practitioners and policymakers highlighted women’s economic contributions in order to position them as agentic subjects in development processes rather than simply as passive recipients of aid. International lending institutions such as International Monetary Fund and World Bank began to view making “investing in women” as important to furthering development and achieving returns on loans and investments. Interestingly, recent language from the United Nations, governments and even NGOs has paralleled this, emphasizing that women are “good investments” in business, government and development projects.

In some cases, this rhetoric reaffirms that “poor women from the South are a source of globally flexible, docile and cheap labor” (p. 69) and that women are valuable as sources of free labor and producers of goods that bring money into economies - but not necessarily as human beings, in and of themselves, with human rights.

Alternatives to this rhetoric include a rights-based approach, in which women and all people are seen as bearers of rights with intrinsic value. Also, community economies, whereby producers and consumers are local and means of exchange can be more closely monitored, provide alternatives to exploitative global production chains where women are trapped in a “race to the bottom.” Furthermore, transnational feminist solidarities, especially amongst workers organizing across borders and economies, serve to resist this rhetoric and its accompanying exploitative practices.

Examples of Organizations Providing Alternatives to the “Investing in Women” Rhetoric
Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)
Feminist Dialogues at the World Social Forum
Global Women’s Strike
International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE)
WIDE Europe

Violated Bodies

Over the last half-century, sexual and gender-based violence has been mainstreamed into gender and development discourse through its framing as a health issue, causing organizations such as the World Health Organization and government ministries of health to pay attention to it as part of achieving health outcomes.

This framing raised the visibility of multiple forms sexual and gender-based violence, including domestic violence, rape, femicide and honor killings, amongst organizations and the general public, sometimes through shock. It also catalyzed a charity approach, in which people acted and donated to “help poor, pitiful victims over there in that remote, primitive part of the world.” This approach often supplanted an approach that holds perpetrators, governments and legal systems accountable for human rights violations or allows or recognizes agency for those who have been violated.

Furthermore, celebrities made the issue visible via films and campaigns for NGOs. In considering these campaigns, Harcourt wonders if there is a “risk of confusing real life misery and tragedy with the glamour and fictional lives of the stars? (p. 103) And, she asks, “are we just adding one more story to a billion dollar industry based on violence and sexism?” (p. 106)

Moreover, recently, military aggression has been justified in the “guise of protecting subjugated women and bringing civilization and prosperity to natives who are unable to govern autonomously” (p. 115) as is the case of the United States’ military intervention in Afghanistan.

Alternatives to solely health-based, celebrity-driven, charity-oriented approaches to sexual and gender-based violence include rights-based approaches that recognize longstanding legacies of power and domination across lines of gender, socioeconomic status, membership in religious communities, nationality and global positioning.

Examples of Organizations Employing a Rights-Based Approach to Counter Gender-Based Violence
African Partnership for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women and Girls (AMANITARE)
Articulacion Feminista Marcosur
INCITE Women of Color Against Violence
Pathways of Women’s Empowerment
Shirkat Gah
Women Living Under Muslim Laws

Sexualized Bodies

Within development discourse, black and brown bodies are sexualized and characterized as needing to be saved, rescued and re-educated, e.g. in discussions around FGM and prostitution. Sex, particularly amongst those in the Global South, has been articulated as problematic, i.e. “people are having too much sex,” “people are having unprotected sex,” and “people are engaging in nonconformative sexual practices.” These opinions have validated and legitimated intensified regulation of bodies and sexual practices and harnessed anxieties about sex.

Some governments and NGOs based in the Global North, sometimes in conjunction with some religious institutions in the Global South, have pushed to enact policies that, according to Harcourt, “further advance imperialist ambitions,” for example the George W. Bush administration’s Global Gag rule.

Activists have been working to reclaim the subjectivity of their own sexuality. For example, sex worker rights movements speak of “selling sex as a livelihood choice through which people have agency, including the right to self-determination, to work and to self-express” (p. 141). Some of them fight for erotic justice. According to Harcourt, erotic justice “recasts sexual pleasure as a source of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual well-being; instead of othering traditional practices or sexual minorities, [it] conceptualizes everyone as having potential for diversity in sexual desire, including same-sex desire” (p. 154)

Examples of Organizations Employing a Sexual Rights and/or Erotic Justice Framework
Network of Sex Workers Project
The Pleasure Project
Sexual Policy Watch


Through technologies, bodies are fragmented and commodified. The process of development often entails delivering technologies in ways that are racist, gendered and heteronormative. An underlying assumption is that if money and skills are available, inserting high-tech solutions into the mix is the best option to address any problem, regardless of ethical and environmental consequences. In most cases, given global power inequities, developing countries have no choice but to embrace these technologies if they want to build successful economies.

With the advent of new methods of research and intellectual property laws, life and life forms (e.g. seeds, genes, etc.) are privatized and can be owned. Common heritage is no longer off-limits to either commercial or scientific interests seeking exclusive control.

Moreover, biotechnology has made the entire notion of the body more fluid. A new eugenics and enabling of building the perfect self, body and abilities labels any deviations as deficient. Further research is needed to unpack the gendered dimensions of rapidly developing technologies.

Harcourt asks, “what are the responsibilities of companies, scientists, policymakers and the public in the global north towards poor women and men in the global south who are bearing the brunt of the unregulated and unethical practices of biotech research and industry?” (p. 188-189)

Examples Organizations Monitoring the Technologization of Bodies through a Feminist Lens
Center for Genetics and Society
Committee on Women, Population and the Environment
The Corner House
Generations Ahead
Population and Development Program at Hampshire College
Related AWID Resources
Factsheet on Why New Technology is a Women’s Rights Issue
Factsheet on Facing the Challenges of New Reproductive Technologies
Factsheet on Nanotechnology
Factsheet on Gender Equality and New Technologies

In conversation with AWID, Wendy Harcourt reflects on what her analysis means in practice for women’s rights advocates. [Please visit the AWID weblink to read the interview portion of this review, as well as to find links to the organizations listed above - the original site is: ]

For more information about Body Politics in Development, see Wendy Harcourt’s website.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dahlia Cassidy

by Anne Cameron (Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2004)

This book is highly unusual, and the picture on the cover (left) has absolutely nothing to do with its content.
There's not one word about lipstick in the book. It's actually all about work. I imagine the heroine, Dahlia Cassidy, as looking a lot like the author, Anne Cameron (right) only really tall and strapping, as she would have to be to do so much, so much, so much work.

For one thing, Dahlia is a single mother of a vast brood of bastards (they use the term themselves) by various fathers, plus she's the primary support at least part of the time for some of her sisters' kids as well. As best I could count them, there were 9 children living in her house by the end of the story.

When we first meet Dahlia, she's just had a pretty horrendous sexual experience with a "Frenchman" and more or less decides to just give up on sex and concentrate on making a living for everybody. She plays music in a bar, but also does "fungus plucking" (wild mushroom harvesting) and tree-planting, each in their season. Luckily she has a childless, child-loving sister who stays home with the kids while Dahlia goes out for weeks and maybe months of tree-planting under the most grueling conditions of labour and weather. Later in the story, the family ends up on a farm, and ex-farm-girl Dahlia gets to show her chops doing a remarkable roster of grueling chores including cleaning out a cow barn and a chicken shed and harvesting hay (2 crops per year) on a miserably uncomfortable tractor, and in the off-season has a job clearing brush. I'm reminded of a saying the old folks used to use: "It's a great life if you don't weaken."

Reading all these descriptions of how hard and rather painfully but pretty much uncomplainingly Dahlia works to support her family was really interesting, but it left me feeling very uncomfortable about myself and my capacity for lying around reading books. The very gratification I felt reading about the work felt vaguely like reading pornography, my body living vicariously through the descriptions.
The work descriptions were longer and more realistic than the descriptions of the child-rearing. Maybe because the children grow up quite a few years' worth in just 264 pages, their personalities, while distinct from one another, are pretty much sketched in. Their behaviour problems are also almost nonexistent, and that was to me the part that was hardest to believe. Nevertheless, tales about large families are enjoyable. I did find the book hard to put down.

Anne Cameron has written lots of books - you can find a list of them on Wikipedia. Her most famous was apparently Daughters of Copper Woman (1981), which according to her current publisher has sold over 200,000 copies. Harbour Publishing's website also gives this generic author description:
Anne Cameron was born in Nanaimo, BC. She began writing at an early age, starting with theatre scripts and screenplays. In 1979, her film Dreamspeaker, directed by Claude Jutra, won seven Canadian Film Awards, including best script. After being published as a novel, Dreamspeaker went on to win the Gibson Award for Literature. She has published more than 30 books, including the underground classic Daughters of Copper Woman, its sequel, Dzelarhons, novels, stories, poems and legends - for adults and children. Her most recent novels are Family Resemblances, Hardscratch Row, and a new, revised edition of Daughters of Copper Woman. She lives in Tahsis, BC

I didn't mention yet that Anne Cameron is a lesbian. In Dahlia Cassidy, there is some lesbian interest, but it's really rather slight; as mentioned, it's the work - low-paying intensely physical labour - and the very successful fulfillment of family responsibilities - that occupies most of the space.

One final note about publishers. Harbour Publishing is "an award-winning independent book publisher owned and operated by Howard and Mary White. The company was established in 1974 and is based on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast." They are not the original publisher of all Anne Cameron's works, although they seem to be trying to get all her books under one roof now. Daughters of Copper Woman was originally published by the feminist-operated Press Gang in Vancouver - a press that survived in various conformations until 2003.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America

by Jane S.Jaquette (Editor, Contributor), Marcela Ríos Tobar (Contributor), Jutta Marx (Contributor), Jutta Borner (Contributor), Mariana Caminotti (Contributor), Gioconda Espina (Contributor), Beatriz Kohen (Contributor), Flávia Piovesan (Contributor), Julissa Mantilla Falcón (Contributor), Virginia Vargas (Contributor), Teresa Valdés (Contributor), Alina Donoso (Contributor), Gabriela Montoya (Contributor)

This book is coming out July 1. Maria Suarez forwarded the link to advance ordering on - I find it very interesting that Amazon tends not to list the publishers of books it is selling. Perhaps this is to keep you from ordering directly from the publisher? By googling, I was able to discover it's from Duke University Press.

Here's the blurb from the Duke catalog

Latin American women’s movements played important roles in the democratic transitions in South America during the 1980s and in Central America during the 1990s. However, very little has been written on what has become of these movements and their agendas since the return to democracy. This timely collection examines how women’s movements have responded to the dramatic political, economic, and social changes of the last twenty years. In these essays, leading scholar-activists focus on the various strategies women’s movements have adopted and assess their successes and failures.

The book is organized around three broad topics. The first, women’s access to political power at the national level, is addressed by essays on the election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile, gender quotas in Argentina and Brazil, and the responses of the women’s movement to the “Bolivarian revolution” in Venezuela. The second topic, the use of legal strategies, is taken up in essays on women’s rights across the board in Argentina, violence against women in Brazil, and gender in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru. Finally, the international impact of Latin American feminists is explored through an account of their participation in the World Social Forum, an assessment of a Chilean-led project carried out by women’s organizations in several countries to hold governments to the promises they made at international conferences in Cairo and Beijing, and an account of cross-border organizing to address femicides and domestic abuse in the Juárez-El Paso border region. Jane S. Jaquette provides the historical and political context of women’s movement activism in her introduction, and concludes the volume by engaging contemporary debates about feminism, civil society, and democracy.

Contributors. Jutta Borner, Mariana Caminotti, Alina Donoso, Gioconda Espina, Jane S. Jaquette, Beatriz Kohen, Julissa Mantilla Falcón, Jutta Marx, Gabriela L. Montoya, Flávia Piovesan, Marcela Ríos Tobar, Kathleen Staudt, Teresa Valdés, Virginia Vargas

“This is an important, timely, and fascinating examination of women, feminism, and democratization in Latin America. It is also a terrific read and another major contribution by Jane S. Jaquette, who has brought together a first-rate team of authors with extensive knowledge of the countries about which they write.”—Valentine M. Moghadam, author of Globalizing Women: Transnational Feminist Networks

“Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America gives one a sense of the dynamism of feminist thinking in Latin America. The essays address national and regional women’s movements’ significant yet partial successes over the past twenty years as well as the ways that the movements have more recently confronted urgent political strategy choices such as whether to rely on judicial solutions or to engage with the World Social Forum.”—Cynthia Enloe, author of The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire

“Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America is a timely intervention in debates that should matter to feminists everywhere. Using freshly collected data, the authors evaluate questions like the impact of gender quotas on politics, the relationship between global feminism and national policies, and the impact of neoliberal restructuring and democratic transition on specific women’s movements. Engaging and clear, the essays offer new insights into issues that demand our attention.”—Gay W. Seidman, author of Beyond the Boycott: Labor Rights, Human Rights, and Transnational Activism

Jane S. Jaquette is Bertha Harton Orr Professor in the Liberal Arts and Professor of Politics, Emerita at Occidental College in Los Angeles. A past president of both the Association for Women and Development and the Latin American Studies Association, she is the editor of Women and Gender Equity in Development Theory and Practice (also published by Duke University Press), Women and Democracy: Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe (with Sharon Wolchik), and The Women’s Movement in Latin America: Feminism and the Transition to Democracy

Monday, June 22, 2009

I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

by Nora Ephron (NY: Knopf, 2006)

Nora Ephron may be a very good writer, but this is not a very good book. Luckily, I was given it for free by my sister Dina, because if I had paid Canadian $26.95 I would have been really mad. The text is so relaxed and shallow, it would be even slightly sub-par if it were a blog one could read for free. Nevertheless, as I was stuck with only this to read on a 9-hour bus ride followed by a cross-country flight, I finished the whole thing.

There were three interesting points at which I turned down the page, and in order to save you $26.95 (less 30% off because it's remaindered), I'll just tell you what they are.

1. The chapter Parenting in Three Stages. Actually, now that I look at it, it wasn't that good - maybe I turned down the corner to mark my place when I fell asleep.

2. On page 119, Ephron writes that after college she read Doris Lessing's novel The Golden Notebook and it changed her life, giving her "epiphany after epiphany." This is really interesting, because typically Betty Friedan gets the credit for kicking off the US feminist movement in 1963 with her nonfiction book The Feminine Mystique, but The Golden Notebook was published a year earlier, in 1962. Ephron writes "just before the second stage of the women's movement burst into being, I was electrified by Lessing's heroine, Anna, and her struggle to become a free woman. Work, friendship, love, sex, politics, psychoanalysis, writing - all the things that preoccupied me were Lessing's subjects, and I can remember how many times I put the book down, reeling from its brilliance and insights."

This passage shed light for me on Lessing's denial of being a feminist. Not only was she sick of isms after her stint with Communism, but she had arrived at the feminist insights without the feminist movement and could take credit for having published them first. It reminds me of my refusal to join the National Organization for Women when it arrived in Austin, Texas, and found its home at the already existing Women's Center I'd helped to create. No, I'm not joining you, I insisted, you are joining me.

3. Two pages farther on, the last turned-down corner. I think it was because Ephron touted Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White as "probably the first great work of mystery fiction ever written." I couldn't remember if I'd read it or just tried to read it, and was thinking I would check my perception. Or maybe it was because at the end of the page Ephron compares coming to the surface from dipping into a great novel to "the rapture of the deep." I myself use the term "the rapture of the deep" to refer to what happens to poets at poetry readings when they can't stop themselves and they lose sight of what the audience is thinking about their work or how long they've gone on. I know for a fact this is not a new phenomenon, because I remember seeing an 18th-century drawing on the wall at the Robert Burns museum in Scotland. It showed a poet reading to an audience, half of which was comatose and the other half yawning.

Maybe putting an audience to sleep is not such a bad thing. My reading of I Feel Bad About My Neck didn't even make me feel bad about my own neck, which is both wrinkled and double-chinned now even though I'm a bit younger than Nora Ephron; it just made me sleepy enough to go back and back to my airplane nap - which, while not as relaxing as an actual lying-down nap, has at least being oblivious to boredom to recommend it.

--Frieda Werden

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story

by Hanan al-Shaykh (London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; NY: Random House, 2009)

Judith Weiss sent a link to this US review of a book released in the US yesterday.

It was also released in the UK June 1 - a British review is here:

Al-Shaykh, who is from Lebanon, was estranged from her mother as a child, when the mother divorced her elderly husband from an arranged marriage and married a man she loved. Having no leverage, she had to give up her two daughters to be raised by the husband's family. Years later, the mother followed the daughter's career as a writer, and eventually challenged her to write a book based on the life of a woman who did not have privilege or many choices - herself.

I have not read this book, which was only released in the US two days ago, and probably isn't even available yet in Canada. However, it has been warmly reviewed and should be of great interest.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

397 Ways to Save Money

by Kerry Taylor (HarperCollins Canada, 2009).

I haven't read this book yet, but Leah McLaren gave it a plug in the Jun 6 2009 Globe & Mail (yes, in the dreaded Style section, which has only McLaren and the horoscopes to make it worth opening at all). Apparently, saving money is now stylish. For poor people, this means all those rich and formerly rich people have started competing with us for the most economical stuff. And that makes all the economical stuff go up in price faster than the expensive stuff. In 2007, the Canadian government admitted there was about a 2% cost of living increase; however, the price of the cheapest lunch on campus had risen from $4 to $5 - a 25% increase!

Anyway, here's a link to more about Taylor's book:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement

by Ruth Milkman (New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006. 244 pp.)

This book is co-reviewed with another US labour writer's book here (thanks to Ernesto Aguilar for posting the link on Facebook):

Here's a quote from the review (by Steve Early):

Now a professor of sociology at UCLA and director of its Institute of Industrial Relations, Milkman has watched how the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC), and Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HERE) have revitalized themselves and/or the L.A. County Labor Federation. In her view, looking to union members to rebel against corrupt, ineffective, or undemocratic unions and refashion them into something better is an exercise in wishful thinking and existential frustration—”Waiting For Lefty” reborn as “Waiting For Godot.” According to Milkman, proponents of the rank and file approach long championed by Moody naively assume “that if only the legions of top union brass would step aside and allow the rank and file’s natural leaders to take command, labor would no longer be so impotent.” In reality, she writes, “this approach glosses over the complex and multi-layered character of union leadership and various political configurations that are possible across those layers."

Milkman believes “that, when International leadership is progressive, it can be a powerful force for promoting innovation at the local union level” and rooting out “business unionism.” “As is now well documented, many of the most successful initiatives of the SEIU [and other Change to Win affiliates] have actually been ‘top down’ efforts, engineered not by the rank and file but by paid staff in the upper reaches of the union bureaucracy…The recent ascension of leaders with both extensive formal education and activist experience in other movements to high-level positions in key unions has injected dynamism into the labor movement….The most vibrant and innovative unions are those that combine social movement-style mobilization, with carefully calibrated strategies that leverage the expertise of creative, professional leaders.”

I was especially interested in the serious discussion of the Janitors for Justice movement, which was seeded by organizers in the way Milkman describes. There's a Hollywood film I recently found at a VHS sale, about the Janitors for Justice strike. It stars Adrien Brody and Pilar Padilla, was directed by Ken Loach, and produced by Rebecca O'Brien. It's called Bread and Roses (2001). The film shows the victory of the strike, but not the later erosion of the victory, as described in this review:

Milkman regards SEIU’s Justice for Janitors (JfJ) campaigns to be an unqualified success and model for union-builders everywhere. “Justice For Janitors originated as part of a strategic union rebuilding effort,” she explains.” It was conceived by SEIU’s national leadership and relied heavily on research and other staff-intensive means of exerting pressure on employers.”

To their credit, JfJ organizers helped pioneer comprehensive, community-based campaigns that by-passed the NLRB to win union recognition via card check and neutrality—by targeting building owners who were the real power behind cleaning service contractors. SEIU employed direct action tactics, including civil disobedience, built strong ties with immigrant communities, and presented the workers’ cause in a way that elicited sympathy and support from that part of the broader public concerned about social justice and better treatment of oppressed minorities.

According to Milkman, in the original JfJ struggle in Los Angeles in 1988-90–plus subsequent efforts in many other cities–”rank-and-file mobilization played a critical role in its success.” Nevertheless, as Moody notes, this “mobilization” has rarely translated into a leading role for immigrant janitors in managing the affairs of their own SEIU locals. By the mid-1990s, JfJ activists in Los Angeles were complaining about Local 399’s out-of-touch leadership, its neglect of day-to-day workplace issues, and the lack of rank-and-file participation in union decision-making. Many supported a successful electoral insurgency, led by the “Multiracial Alliance Slate.” But, in 1995, the SEIU national leadership quickly nullified the Alliance’s election victory by throwing the local into trusteeship and later moving L.A. janitors into a much larger, regional building services local. In L.A. Story, Milkman barely acknowledges that there was “widespread criticism” of SEIU over this pivotal development. She dismisses “Multiracial Alliance” organizing activity as an unfortunate “outbreak of factionalism” that, only “on the surface, appeared to involve rank and file rebellion against the local SEIU officialdom.”

In both Canada and the US, depiction of labour is very scarce - in the news, in academia, and in the movies, so I was happy to get the link to this information.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Late Nights on Air

by Elizabeth Hay (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2007)

Elizabeth Hay is quite a well known Canadian writer, with previous novels that were finalists or winners for major national book awards. Especially pertinent to this book, she formerly worked for CBC Radio in Yellowknife (as well as Winnipeg and Toronto). Late Nights on Air is set in Yellowknife in the summer of 1975, and revolves around characters who work at the CBC radio station there. Especially prominent are two young women in their 20s - Dido, who starts out very confident, and Gwen, who starts out very timid. If one of these characters is based on Hay, herself, I'm betting it's the timid one. There's also an older man named Harry, who as the story begins is on his way down the career ladder, and an assortment of other characters who are important but in a sense not central.

As a radio person myself, I love the parts of the story that have to do with learning about radio - the mic technique, the creation of sound effects, recording in the field, and so forth. During the period of the story, CBC is re-focusing its efforts and television is on the verge of eclipsing radio - although, for me, radio is still more important than television even in the CBC of today, and still the best-produced element of the national network.

More deeply explored than the radio angle of this book is the North, and in the end I would say the North is truly the principal character. The Yellowknife of this period is lovingly detailed, but as the book expands, the story grows to encompass the extensive Federal inquiry on a 2,200-mile gas pipeline planned to run from Prudhoe Bay across the Yukon on to the south. Hay and Gwen were great admirers of Canadian Supreme Court Justice Thomas Berger, who traveled for three years around the Arctic listening to witnesses, with great respect for all. I have found some of the CBC's coverage of these hearings archived online and even more powerful, video clips as well as audio from the hearings here. The CBC website confirms Hay's impression, that Berger's "report shocked the government that appointed him, and was heralded by some as 'Canada's Native Charter of Rights.'"

A related aspect of Late Nights on Air revolves around the history of the doomed 1927 expedition led by explorer Jack Hornby to Canada's Northwest Territories. About the last third of the book is devoted to two men and two women from the radio station following in Hornby's footsteps, and becoming intimately acquainted with the spartan but various terrain of the Canadian Arctic. This section is beautifully written and creates strange and lovely pictures in the mind.

The way the book is built includes many surprising changes of the wind - both literally, and in terms of the direction of the story. Hay has a way of throwing out little warnings that something dire is going to happen in the future and leaving you waiting for it in a state of suspense, wondering if the part of the story she's telling now is going to reveal the disaster or not.

There's a lot of love and awe in this story. The human dynamics seem mostly realistic, and sometimes spark sharp memories for me. There is also the makings of an interesting reading list, if one wants to collect the wide variety of literary and historical references that appear throughout. I found the book informative and engaging and recommend it very much.

-- Frieda Werden

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

S.K.I.R.T.S. in the Boardroom: A Woman's Survival Guide to Success in Business and Life

by Marshawn Evans, JD (Hoboken NJ [published simultaneously in Canada]: John Wiley and Sons, 2009)

Reviewed by Dinita Caldwell

S.K.I.R.T.S. in the Boardroom delivers a realistic and relatable approach and perspective for all women looking to achieve success in the workplace. This book is an excellent resource for young women, current executives and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds who inspire to elevate their careers. To read the rest of this book review click here.

(Link forwarded by Jim Ellinger of Austin Airwaves and Hopeton Hay, host and producer of Economic Perspectives on KAZI-FM, Austin, Texas [Mondays 5:30-6 p.m. 88.7 FM)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bad Chemistry

by Nora Kelly (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1993)

I like mystery novels, but the older I get the more demanding I am about the quality of them. I want lots of background research to be in evidence, good writing, interesting characters, and a political slant that doesn't offend my feminism.

I'm happy to report that even though this novel by Nora Kelly is an old one, it's worth digging out and reading. Since the author is from Vancouver, you can still find it in the Vancouver Public Library, but I also have seen copies available through Amazon, along with more works by Kelly in the same genre.

The background research in this novel has a lot about a university chemistry department in Cambridge, England, its facilities, work, organization, technology, and human interactions. The descriptions are clear and concise and really evoke the lab in one's mind. The story also involves a feminist reproductive rights group and offers a naturalistic portrayal of the characters and their way of working.

The lead character is a feminist historian from Canada who is carrying on a long-distance relationship with a Scotland Yard detective -- perhaps slightly far-fetched, but not impossible. I really liked the conversations the various feminists had about men, police, and each other. They had political, social and temperamental differences but their way of dealing with each other was insightful and decent. I also liked the way the people from the different groups and places had tangential relationships that reasonably brought them together over the problem of the crime.

The character of the murdered woman was very plausibly drawn and the tension between her way of operating in the masculine environment of the lab and in the the feminine environment of the Pregnancy Information Service (yes, PIS*) seemed very realistic.

The plot came together remarkably well. There were many different pieces from the fairly large cast of characters that led to the solution, and the way the result emerged gave a satisfaction similar to that of a scientifically solved problem. It didn't leave me feeling as if the author had dragged in red herrings or had made specious claims of proof just to end the story. The murderer got well and properly nailed.

I plan to look for other books by Nora Kelly - I gather there are 4 with the Gillian Adams character, the feminist historian. The other three are In the Shadow of King's, My Sister's Keeper, and Old Wounds. One online source said Kelly was working on a fifth book.

*Kelly has a penchant for raunchy acronyms for feminist groups - there's another one in My Sister's Keeper.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Second Coming of Joan of Arc and Selected Plays

by Carolyn Gage (forthcoming, 2009)

I saw Carolyn Gage perform her one-woman show The Second Coming of Joan of Arc at the US National Women's Studies Association conference a few years ago. It was really gripping, and had a wonderful feminist and historical analysis of Joan's achievements, how and why she got screwed over by the troops and the King, and how the butch dyke aspect of this warrior's character was papered over by religious appropriation.

A few years after I saw the show, Gage allowed me to include the audio from one of her performances of this work in the radio series WINGS: Women's International News Gathering Service. I edited it into three half-hours, along with an author interview. This was one of the most successful program series ever to appear on WINGS. You can hear it streaming online through the University of South Florida Women's Studies Department website (find the right page by going to and clicking on Archives). The archives site is searchable - you can find the three programs using the search term Gage.

Carolyn Gage is a very prolific writer with numerous books published not only of plays but also of essays. Some of her books are the kind of thing you want to keep by your bed and read a few pages every morning to keep your fire alive.

Now, "The Second Coming of Joan of Arc" is included in a new anthology about to be released. You can find all the information about ordering this and her other books on her website: