Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

One of the things I hate most is when people talk about shit they know nothing about as though they’re experts. We’ve all witnessed it. And Julia Serano is a woman after my own heart as far as this goes. Because there are certain experiences that need to be lived in order to be properly and fully understood. Here she is calling out all the so-called “experts” on gender and transsexuality for their ignorance and hypocrisies, and you can feel her anger.

So is this a book by an angry lesbian feminist? Yes. But the more you pay attention the more you’ll realize that this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s very much a good thing. Because one thing I didn’t expect this book to be was sad. To learn about all the ignorance this subject is steeped in and the very real negative effects this has on the great many people living it day in and day out is nothing if not upsetting. If the revelations herein don’t upset you, then I have to wonder how much you really care about this subject, and why then you decided to pick up this book. It should also be said that issues of feminism affect men, and likewise issues of transsexuality affect cis people. We’re all part of this world together and we don’t live in a vacuum.

This is a relatively new kind of gender-studies book in that it’s written by a feminist lesbian trans woman. This is a look not from the outside in, but from the inside out from someone who is in a position to experience discrimination, often perhaps unintentional, due to her inclusion in three different groups. To use the language of Hubbub‘s Emily Cockayne, she is an inpert, as opposed to an expert, as she relates to us her knowledge from first hand experience. She’s incredibly intelligent and makes her points very well, but she’s also completely unashamed of herself, and her personality – and anger – reverberate through the pages. This woman has earned her attitude and the right to speak authoritatively on this subject, and it’s for this reason that I really love this book.

Not only is this book heavily saturated in personality and real-life experience, but it brings to mind issues that many of us have probably not considered, as well as how these issues effect all of us as a whole. Julia Serano opens up and allows us to take a deeply personal look into her life as she experiences it and experienced it during the various stages that she went through on her journey to becoming the person she is today. This might sound especially appealing to those very curious people who want a look into something somewhat “taboo,” but while it’s definitely interesting, it also has a way of deeply humanizing this subject, and in the process showing us how very important it is for this to be done. Julia Serano is not only incredibly smart, but incredibly brave, not just in that she has been extraordinarily true to herself but in that she’s offered us the chance to see things from her own perspective in such an unashamedly honest way. By the end of the book you’ll no doubt see femininity and LGBT* issues from an entirely new perspective, and this to me is what makes this book an utter success.

Have a look at the video below for a discussion with Julia about her book.

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Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty

Ever wonder why babies are cute, why gentlemen prefer blondes, or why the human ballsack is the size that it is? Hmmm, ok maybe not that last one, but the answers are pretty interesting.

The subject of beauty is far from only skin deep, and it strikes me how very perfect the book’s title is. Beauty isn’t just incidental, and the source of frivolous fun or petty envy. It’s deeply tied into our instincts as living things, something we share with even the flowers, and goes back virtually as far as we do. This book leaves no stone unturned, and encompasses science, sociology, and of course biology in a way that’s truly fun to read. Not only that, but Nancy Etcoff’s own personal touch is extremely compelling, and this alone makes the book worth a read. This combined with the huge amount of learning inside is likely to leave you with a whole new perspective on a subject you once held strong and long-lived opinions about.

What’s interesting here is the particular way that this information offers up new meaning to the subject of beauty. To understand how beauty has transformed us biologically and culturally into the creatures that we are, it becomes both more important and yet less important all at once. Without beauty, we simple would not be, but who we have become also gives us the power to appreciate it in the most enlightening way possible. This isn’t a book so much about sitting in front of the mirror, putting on makeup and poking at your belly as it is about humanity itself. It strikes me as extremely valuable, and it can and should be read by people of all genders and ages. This book is awesome, and as it meets both my demands of educational and entertaining, I can’t recommend it enough.

Rather just see the movie? Well, there isn’t one exactly, but you might want to check out The Human Face.

Other recommended reads:  The History of Beauty, Sex in History.

Mirror, Mirror, Off The Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at it For a Year

Omg I can’t believe I read this so long ago but still haven’t written a word in review. Well, since my style blog has been a big stagnant lately it’s worth a shot trying to remember this one.

I first heard about this book when the author was interviewed on The Daily Show. This is a sociologist who challenged herself to not look in a mirror – or any reflecting surfaces – for an entire year. A year which just so happened to include her wedding day. Now while this may come across as a nice fluffy little self-esteem booster book, the author is well-educated enough to take this subject deeper, and we’re not left without a good dose of accessibly written psychology and sociology. I can’t remember all of the points she made, but the most fascinating one to me was exploring how mirrors almost serve as a form of companionship when we’re alone. We know it’s only the illusion of another person sitting there, we’re not beta fish, but we get a small amount of satisfaction that there is either way. Mirrors also have a way of affirming our existence. It sounds silly, obviously we know we exist, but it was interesting to note how Kjerstin started to feel after some time, almost doubting that because she couldn’t see herself, she wasn’t really there. She could only see other people.

The biggest message I got out of this book though was not that she suddenly started feeling physically beautiful – she was forced to focus more on her emotions, deep within herself, and her loved ones around her, those outside of herself, as opposed to the body in between. She learned to trust those around her more because she relied on them to make sure that she didn’t, say, have a booger hanging out of her nose, and she learned to pay more attention to her emotional self-esteem rather than her appearance. She didn’t feel beautiful because she knew she looked beautiful – she felt beautiful because she felt loved by those around her, and that’s what really mattered. Her appearance still caused her anxiety, especially as she had no idea what she looked like, but she gradually learned not to care. It simply wasn’t important. I think that’s a very valuable thing to take away here. Some people are ugly. Yep. While it’s nice to want to make ugly people, or yourself, feel physically beautiful, I felt the most important thing here was to learn that it just plain doesn’t matter. It’s such a tiny part of life. What matters is your mind, and your soul, and your relationships. Looks are a thing, but they’re not anywhere near being the most important thing. We have so much more to get our validation and happiness from. And while learning these important lessons it was nice to hear about these soul-searching thoughts and every day experiences from a very educated, sympathetic, real-life person. This wasn’t philosophy, it was real. We get to read all of her insecurities, all her learning experiences, and how all her relationships evolve. It was enlightening and it was fun. This was a great book, but it was great in a way that I didn’t expect. I feel that it could easily prove to be an important book for a whole lot of us, women, men, or anybody else.

The God Virus: How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture

My first impression? “Holy shit, I should totally be an Evangelical Christian for Halloween!” I mean really, the only difference between them and zombies are that they’re alive, and these people are real! Holy crap! Seriously though, despite – maybe because of – it’s admittedly brilliant metaphor of viruses to represent religion, this book does appear quite sensational on the surface. It’s hard not to roll your eyes just a little bit. Nevertheless, having been raised in a very Catholic family, I can’t really argue with any of Darrel W. Ray’s points. I remember how creepy and cultish church started to feel when I got old enough to start questioning everything around me. And maybe I was lucky, because for many people this is very hard to do. The virus has taken a deep hold. I would also like to add regarding this book: though the virus metaphor sounds harsh, the author also uses it in a way that encourages compassion for the “infected.” Like other illnesses, they simply can’t help it. They are likely to be vulnerable in various ways. We may not agree with their views but we still owe them respect and consideration. This was a new and very refreshing point of view to me, and really resonated with my own experiences with religious family and friends. Now I don’t intend for this review to piss off anyone religious. I feel like if you have truly examined your beliefs and find legitimacy in them, good for you. Religion is a comfort for many people and as long as it’s motivating you to be a good person as opposed to one of those Westboro Baptist assholes, then I can’t complain. But this book does remind us to be very critical of what we’re being told, and I feel like this is an important part of being a functioning adult. It’s wrong to follow blindly, dangerous even. Faith is not true faith when you don’t recognize the possibility of any conflicting opinions. If you “know” it’s true, it’s not faith, it’s “knowledge,” and I believe faith is strongest and most authentic when it’s challenged. 12th century religious figure Hildegard von Bingen preached this. So go ahead and challenge what you thought you knew. Question everything you read and hear, including this book. Open your mind and be critical. Because “God” might be infallible, but those who claim to speak for him are most definitely not.

Rather watch a movie? Check out Religulous on FunnyFixation.com

Other recommended reads: American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America

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.