OFFICIAL BLOG

Fieldnotes

In Praise of Impure Women

Published by Wednesday Martin

As I have often said on this blog and elsewhere, our society is deeply uncomfortable with female autonomy, especially as expressed through sex. As a result, it has produced a number of narratives to control women and their sex lives. One of the oldest and most effective of these is the purity myth. That is, society’s obsession with female virginity and valuing women based on sexual constraint. In many religiously conservative communities, this is even enforced with pledges and paraphernalia like rings. However, this myth does not only root itself amongst the religiously conservative; its assumptions are shared by the culture at large. But women now more than ever are pushing back against its demands on their lives. A great example of this can be found in the work of Amber Rose. For years Rose has been bashed for her forthright sexuality and has been hounded by her ex Kanye West, who like a petulant teenager claimed he had to “take 30 showers” after their relationship before he could be with another woman. Rather than stoop to her misogynistic critics level, Rose has become an outspoken advocate for women embracing their sexuality, creating an annual SlutWalk that has drawn thousands into the streets to reject a society that shames women for engaging in sex. In pop culture, women who embrace their sexuality have often been cast as femme fatales, dangerous and not to be trusted. For many years, these characters were maligned and ignored, but we now are beginning to see new appreciation for their value as subversions of patriarchal norms. As film critic Abbey Bender recently noted in a viral tweet, these characters have also frequently been sheathed in white—the ultimate symbol of purity. By appropriating symbols of purity culture and mixing them with female ambition, rage, violence, and sexuality, these women rejigger our understandings of power and sex along lines of gender. And as I wrote in the wake of Harvey Weinstein revelations, our embrace of female sexuality is crucial to our healing of wounds caused by seeing women as objects. Screw purity, let women have their “perverse” desires freely and fully.


Independence: A Work in Progress

Published by Wednesday Martin

Today commemorates the finalization of the Declaration of Independence, a document meant to enshrine America’s foundational values. In it, Thomas Jefferson enumerates three rights he considered necessary for future citizens to flourish. The second of these is “Liberty.” We now more often use the word freedom but the idea lives. Everyday someone claims ours is a nation of freedom(s) and freedom is used to explain most of our political actions at home and abroad. But for a nation founded nominally for the right to live freely, everybody but white men has and continues to struggle to exercise true autonomy. I prefer the word autonomy to freedom; it has weight and the ring of real power. We still live in a world where female autonomy is destabilizing and this is rooted in our history. When early colonists encountered native societies where women were empowered and sexually autonomous, they scoffed and sought to right an “unnatural order.” And this would later continue with family separation and the forced sterilization of native women. Similarly, rape and abuse of black women was central to the flourishing of slavery. During Reconstruction, black women like Maria Stewart, spurred by this legacy, fought vigorously to enshrine female autonomy in our nation’s laws. And more recently, the scholar Danielle McGuire has highlighted the pivotal role control and sexual abuse of black women played in shaping the civil rights movement. In the late 19th century, when agitators for women’s suffrage like Susan B. Anthony were arrested for their activism, the New York Times ran a single paragraph about the issue in its “Minor Topics” section. This history can be still be felt forcefully because it is not history at all. Just this past week the Times blamed its lack of coverage for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s successful primary campaign on the fact that her supporters were young women. And we cannot forget that one of the first actions of the Trump administration was to ban aid to NGOs that promote or perform abortions. The same administration that could now oversee the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Sex is the fulcrum around which much of female difficulty exercising autonomy turns. Women’s sexual autonomy is treated frequently with anger and violence, and we still know how to shame women who dare to be free like the Puritans before us. Now as in our past, our failed leadership on female autonomy not only undermines our founding principles but kills women. In this frame, invocations of independence and freedom ring hollow. Time is up for a nation that does not fully support female autonomy.


Dangerous and Untrue: Myths and Politics Undermining the Modern Woman

Published by Wednesday Martin

Joan Didion famously wrote that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” But our society also tells many stories in order to suppress and control, harm and abuse. This is particularly evident in our stories about women, which often have a simple, insidious throughline: that women who are autonomous and empowered are untrustworthy and dangerous. This fiction finds life in everything from the false but popular Madonna-Whore dichotomy—where only fathers or husbands can contain womens’ terrible force—or the constant, feckless chastizing of Maxine Waters by pundits and other politicans for daring to use her voice and platform. Earlier this week, Bloomberg ran a piece on the plight of single mothers in Japan that put the consequences of our societies’ stories about women in stark relief. The article highlights the countless ways in which single mothers and their children suffer materially, psychologically, and socially in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Worse still, single mothers in Japan with jobs do worse on almost every metric than those who don’t work, and the article pointedly suggests this has as much to do with taboo as economics. In my new book, Untrue, I similarly relate the copious literature showing that women in the US fare substantially worse financially from a divorce than men do, and that the only meaningful recourse is remarriage. What these facts tell us is that women are most valued when attached to a man and that the penalties for existing outside attachment to a man are severe. Some prominent new voices in pop culture have been pushing back against these narratives, allowing women to carve out space on their own professionnal, sexual, and cultural terms. There is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, Issa Rae’s Insecure, Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women, Hannah Gadsby’s astounding new comedy special Nanette, and so so many more. In all of these brilliant works, female creators are presenting stories where women can be unruly, angry, unsure, empowered, alone, or in community of their choosing. But the world around them is still playing catch up. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research argues that across developed nations the cost of modern maternity is a consistent pattern of women failing to realize both their professional and reproductive aspirations. A gap that the study’s authors contend is unaffected by currently implemented policy prescriptions like extended maternity leave. The picture their study paints is of a world where we have raised women’s expectations for their lives without meaningfully changing the offices or homes they inhabit. (To be fair, this week the Supreme Court tried to bring women's expectations back down, ruling that so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" can lie about abortion and reproductive health.) We may be beginning to get better stories about women (thanks to listening to the ones they tell themselves), but we are still a long way from seeing these stories lead our politics and culture.


Primates of Park Avenue Is Coming to the Silver Screen

Published by Wednesday Martin

Exciting things are in the air with the start of summer just around the corner. As reported in the Hollywood Reporter, I will be partnering with Lionsgate to adapt my last book, Primates of Park Avenue, for television! I know that this news already has many of my fans stoked; if you are too, please share your thoughts below or on Facebook and Twitter.


Wednesday's Woman Crush

Published by Wednesday Martin

Today’s MASSIVE crush on two fearless leaders—Okoye and Rachel Simmons. Have you seen Black Panther? It has broken the box office and inspired people across the US. I haven’t seen my friends this excited—about a movie that is more like a cultural event, and what feels like both the proof of and the possibility of even more meaningful social change--in a long time. Maybe ever. Okoye is inspiring girls and boys alike with her strength, smarts, and proud blackness. What does it mean when women lead unambivalently, without fear of stepping on male egos, without fear of reprisal from the greater male coalition? Okoye does just this. Can the rest of us get there? Rachel Simmons wants to know. The author of trailblazing Odd Girl Out has written another sure-to-be-a-classic for feminists, parents, and everybody else—Enough as She Is. Rachel’s message is that we have to let girls learn to fail and learn to forgive themselves for it if we want them to thrive and to lead. Buy it here—and I’ll see you at Black Panther.


Hypocrisy and Hierarchy in #MeToo Movement

Published by Wednesday Martin
From @WednesdayMartin Twitter
From @WednesdayMartin Twitter

Women who have an issue with #metoo — notice that among other things it’s a generational and political (progressive/conservative) divide. And much of it, when you read closely, is a version of “WE put up with it & we are ok so stop being crybabies/victims.“


How Embracing Female Sexuality Can Help Heal Hollywood Post-Weinstein

Published by Wednesday Martin
Illustration by Federica Bordoni for The Hollywood Reporter
Illustration by Federica Bordoni for The Hollywood Reporter

#metoo is paving the way for gender equality in ecologies like Hollywood, finance, science, and politics. I look forward to the day when female sexuality re-enters the equation. And women are not attacked for saying, "It's not just wrong to harass me because I don't want it and because you have power and I don't. Harassment is wrong because you are not recognizing that I am sexual in my own right, rather than just some extension of your desires." We need a world where we acknowledge that women, not just men, have a fundamental right to be sexual. Without being stigmatized or punished for it.


Harry and Meghan: Ring in the New?

Published by Wednesday Martin
Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle announced their royal engagement at Kensington Palace's Sunken Garden.
Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle announced their royal engagement at Kensington Palace's Sunken Garden.

The engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is big news in the UK—and the US.  Americans are often pretty indifferent to royal goings-on. We founded our country on an anti-royalist stance, after all, and the legacy endures in our deep suspicion of titles that are inherited, aristocratic and “elitist” versus earned (Donald Trump happened here not  only because of retrograde nationalist fervor and a backlash against women and people of color but because he was able to pass himself off as a gold-plated, self-made billionaire who supposedly “earned it.” Even though his wealth and privilege were intergenerational, passed down from Dad).