The Danish Girl

I can’t help but feel that this story, loosely based on a real person from the past, should have been set in the future. The author treats his characters with such a high degree of dignity and compassion, coming not only from himself – which is wonderful – but also from each other, which leaves me a little confused and reeks of naive optimism. It’s a shiny fantasy story with surprisingly little conflict. Even the results of the stock market crash in 1929 are just barely given any acknowledgement and we feel like in 1930 one could just cruise, nevermind that the financial implications of the medical care that takes place. I’m pretty sure being self-employed as an artist has never come with full medical coverage, no matter what the level of success.

Every major character in this thing is a saint, and there’s exactly one real disagreement worth speaking of to be found between them in the entire thing, even with a divorce! To say this is startling is a major understatement, given subject matter that was virtually unheard of then, and is still an extremely delicate topic over 90 years later. The conflict we do get is token, and I just can’t believe anyone in Lili’s position could have it so easy. It’s like the author wanted some of the edginess that comes with trans issues, but then completely wimped out. In times like these when some empathy could really mean life or death, I find it a little disturbing. Even if I’m wrong and it’s not part of the problem, it’s definitely not part of the solution, either. This story is too nice and I was left wanting much more. More depth, realism, and struggle, but also that real life could be just a little more like it.


Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History – An Anti-Review

Hey look, another book review that will probably generate a lot of controversy! Bring it on Strangers, because I’m not going to get into that debate here; this is just about the book itself. Now I will say that I am pro-choice, and I’m not going to pretend I’m not. But my reasons for that don’t really apply to this discussion, and just because I’ve chosen a side also doesn’t mean I necessarily think a book like this should (without at least explicitly presenting itself as such), even if it agrees with me. It’s quite obvious that this book is pro-choice, and it cites some pretty horrifying facts of misogyny from times past (or present, who am I kidding?). It’s just that I think we learn the most effectively when there’s been care to equally represent both sides. Otherwise what are we doing but just congratulating ourselves on our so very enlightened view of things? The truth is, this book presents itself as explaining to us the history of this controversy, NOT the history of one side of the argument. That would be ok too, but if you picked this book up based on its title I imagine that’s not necessarily what you’re looking to learn here. I’m interested in the debate and I’m interested in facts. The opinions I end up landing on are based as much as humanly possible on facts rather than gut emotion. So I am going to have to fault this book for being somewhat misleading.

Once you get that out of the way, there are two reactions I have to this. “Holy shit this is fucking dry,” and “Wow, that’s fascinating!” This book is yet another victim to a great topic bogged down by just plain boring writing. Such a loaded topic should be at least a little fun to read, shouldn’t it? I don’t mean all-out sensationalism, but at least try to match the wild ride that is online arguments. Just, of course, with more information and fully researched points. Just because we want to learn while we read doesn’t mean we don’t also care about enjoying ourselves while we do it. Otherwise we’d probably sit in on an actual class that covers these sorts of things.

I wonder if I’m being unfair here by suggesting that this book be both unbiased and riveting. But I really don’t think I am. The documentary Lake of Fire proves that this is possible. This movie made a point to not try to sway its audience, but to portray both sides equally, in both all their glory and all their horror. The filmmaker’s efforts in my opinion were entirely successful. And it was one of the best damn movies I’ve ever seen. I think the fact that it was unbiased made it far more interesting, because not only does it really make us think, but it doesn’t shield us from the ugly side of our chosen side. And the ugly side is important, not just because it’s sure to get a rise out of us. Let’s not pretend that either group is a bunch of angels, because they’re not. If we don’t face the facts, and if we’re just not interested in the whole truth, then isn’t it a total waste of time to even bother? I really feel this book could have proven its point here by being entertaining, so because this means it falls short on two levels, well, just damnit.

I’m not being a hypocrite either. Obviously I’m not particularly interested in an unbiased recounting of slavery, or Nazis, or serial killers. But the difference is that society as a whole is pretty much done weighing in on these things. Opinion is now fact. It’s no longer a valid opinion that racism and murder are cool. But as much as pro-life people annoy the shit out of me, the fact remains that their opinion, at the time of this writing, is still valid. I don’t agree with it, but if so many people feel that way, shouldn’t we find out why? Besides, it doesn’t do much good to poke holes in an argument you don’t know much about.

And this was all written by the time I got to page 46.

I’m not in the mood to summarize what I’ve learned here, mostly because I just don’t feel like it’s a whole lot. There’s almost just too much information, it’s so complicated (legal stuff always is), and based on other reviews I question some of its accuracy. Misogyny in the past was very dark! Opinions about abortion, inextricably tied to opinions about women’s place in society, oscillated constantly with changing social issues such as war and women’s suffrage! Goddamn do I wish I cared more about the details. Keep in mind, I’m reviewing this from a layman’s perspective. I’m not a literary expert or an expert on this subject. Most likely you won’t be either, which is why my relatively uneducated, overly simple everyman opinion is so valid here. I’m NOT enjoying this book. And I’m starting to question how much longer I’ll keep trying to before I give up and try replacing it with a different one on the same topic.

What I AM learning, or maybe just bringing more to the forefront of my mind, is that “interesting” and “boring” almost don’t exist. They’re only in the mind of the beholder, more influenced by presentation than the qualities of the subject itself. It’s a moving target. Whether you care or not about a topic has everything to do with how the way it’s been presented so far relates to your personality. My personality would rather watch well-informed people fight about this on Facebook. I’m not as highbrow as I’d like to be. So with that, I’ll leave off here for now. If it works out in the end, I’ll update with a real review.

Rather just watch the movie? Check out Lake of Fire.

Delusions of Gender

I’m not yet very much in the habit of reading sociology books, so I definitely can’t claim to be anything near an expert on them. But I know what I like. And I like this Cordelia Fine person. She’s witty and intellectual, and she knows how to write in an extremely intuitive way. She makes you ask yourself the right questions, and immediately sets about trying to answer them. The book has flow, and turns what could easily have been extremely dry into a fascinating pleasure. This is a woman I want to have a discussion with at a party, and a woman I would not want to debate. This book never shies away from picking apart the competition in biting personal style.

When I began this book, I’m really not sure what I expected. I suppose maybe an explanation of why men/women is an arbitrary distinction between human beings. But this was my own uncertain hypothesis. What I feel Cordelia Fine is doing in this book is taking various arguments that others have presented about behavior, psychology, and biology, and then either prove or debunk them, while making us wonder how certain sociologists are even still working. There’s no lack of philosophy thrown into the mix. In fact I wasn’t even aware until now that “philosopher” is still an actual job description, and I want to know where to sign up.

I did ask myself if this was going to quickly get boring, as I’m really not a very scientifically minded person, but no matter my doubts, whatever I was reading at the time did make me want to hear more of what Cordelia had to say. “Just one more chapter, then I’ll decide…now let me just finish this next one…” Part of her appeal may be that she is no doubt a feminist, and a spirited one. While other books of this type may either make you fall asleep or make you angry (as certain Victorian sociologists she quoted), this one has you cheering her on. One particularly striking point for me was that the phrases “I think therefor I am” and “fake it till you make it” are actually backed up by scientific evidence. When a group of people were told before a math test, “We want to find out why men do better than women,” the men performed better. If on the other hand they were told simply “we’re measuring your aptitude in math,” the results came out balanced. Likewise, if the people in a group were primed to think about their gender on a test where their gender is stereotypically thought to do worse, through something as simple as checking a box, as opposed to being primed to think about their high level of education, there is also a negative effect on the results. As a person with dealing with depression and anxiety, this came as sort of a breakthrough for me. I don’t necessarily have to think exclusively positive thoughts, but simply priming myself to think of my accomplishments is much more meaningful than being just something people tell you to be nice. Info you can use on the job, for sure!

Cordelia Fine’s incredibly modern view of the world is one I want to see explored in more depth, and her style is bound to get her ideas the attention they deserve. So we have only to sit back and watch it happen. I can’t wait to see what develops.