Category: Feminism

Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 76-90: Whale Parts

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

Lost at sea? For all the details on this read-a-long, including schedule and sign up, click here. Then, share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.

So while reviewing this section I keep thinking about the song “Doll Parts” by Hole. There is actually some logic to this, I’m not just stuck in the 90s. I mean, *am* stuck in the 90s, but there’s more to it than that. 

livethroughthisWhale Parts: Taking the title literally, this section is largely about whale parts; breaking this massive thing down into smaller and smaller parts until you’re left with an empty shell, which is kind of the vibe I get from Doll Parts. I also interpreted Doll Parts as a revenge fantasy (“one day you will ache like I ache”) which fits in with Ahab’s quest. So that’s where I started, but then I started to think about it more…

Wait, that lyric is “dog beg?” The hell?: Information access, storage, and sharing all sound like modern concepts but they’re pretty well covered in Moby Dick. Ishmael is constantly giving us interesting tidbits about whaling, or going on tangents about, say, a whale’s skull. He likes to come up with ways to sort and categorize information and seems to delight in instructing the masses. Melville’s audience in the 1850s would have had to decide for themselves whether to trust him or not, and whether the information was presented as fact or as entertainment. Today, not only can I have Sparknotes open in another tab as I write up my thoughts (…not that I do that,) but I can check the definition or words on my Kobo and Google just about anything Ishmael states to see if it’s true.

I was reminded of this when I sort of idly Googled “Doll Parts” and found out some of the lyrics I thought I knew were wrong, AND the meaning I gave the song wasn’t what Courtney Love intended. It’s actually about the beginning of a relationship and feeling rejected because he seemed interested in someone else. Whoa. This is a song I listened to hundreds of times as a teenager, so it’s odd to have all this “corrected” years later. It made me think about the hours upon hours I spent listening to songs and trying to write down their lyrics – you know, the ones where the lyrics weren’t in the liner notes – and how today, we can look up lyrics AND in-depth analysis of the songs meanings. I distinctly remember hitting play – rewind – play over and over again trying to hear the lyrics to Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Yup, on cassette!

Anyway, I don’t have  a clever way to sum this up, but having my beliefs about a song from the 90s exploded did make me think about how people in the 1850s would have received all this information Melville is laying down.

Feminism: Hole wasn’t exactly a feminist band, but they were the first female-fronted band I got into that wasn’t, like, Ace of Base, so I associate them with my own awakening as a feminist. Women can be loud and messy and crazy and it’s okay? Who knew? This section of Moby Dick triggered a bit of righteous feminist anger. In case it wasn’t obvious due to the fact that there are zero female characters (Bechdel Test fail,) Melville didn’t write this book for women. OF COURSE I can’t find the link now, but I swear I saw a quote to the effect that he didn’t even think women should read Moby Dick. Ugh.

What set me off in this section was Melville’s celebration of male archetypes. We’ve got the the pack of young lads, having fun and causing trouble:

Like a mob of young collegians, they are full of fight, fun, and wickedness…

the player with his “harem” of females;

In truth, this gentleman is an luxurious Ottoman, swimming about over the watery world, surroundingly accompanied by all the solaces and endearments of his harem.

and my favourite, the lone wolf, who’s outgrown these simple pleasures and is now, like, the most interesting whale in the world, I guess? And gee, even Mother Nature herself is moody! Women!

Like a venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone, he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives is she, though she keeps so many moody secrets.

Meanwhile, female whales are – duh- having and caring for babies. Now, perhaps that’s they way whales roll, but Melville is obviously making a comment on humans here, and maybe I’m missing the satire (probably) but I was just kind of rolling my eyes through all this.

I’ve got a whole other blog post brewing in my head about the exclusion of women from great works of literature (see Jest, Infinite) but for the time being, I wish I could find my old Riot Grrrl t-shirt and wear it while I finish Moby Dick because these female whales need to start a revolution, stat.

Tune in Next Week: My favourite chapter so far, The Try-Works. Also, more fun with sperm!

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Pretty quiet this week… check in with me, read-a-longers!

What did you think of this section? Link to your blog post below and drop me a line in the comments.

This is What a Feminist Book Snob Looks Like

This is what a feminist looks like

Let’s assume Ashley is also a book snob, then this image works.

So there is this article, in which guy-author Jeffrey Eugenides accuses lady-author Jodi Picoult of “belly-aching” about the fact that she doesn’t get any love from the New York Times. I hate how soundbites are taken out of context, so here is the full quote, emphasis mine:

I didn’t really know why Jodi Picoult is complaining. She’s a huge best-seller and everyone reads her books, and she doesn’t seem starved for attention, in my mind — so I was surprised that she would be the one belly-aching. There’s plenty of extremely worthy novelists who are getting very little attention. I think they have more right to complain. And it usually has nothing to do with their gender, but just the marketplace.

Hmm, you mean she wants to be commercially successful AND respected? How dare she! Complainer! And really, does ANYTHING have “nothing to do with gender?” My feminist spidey-sense are tingling…

Then I read this Jezebel article. Jezebel has a feminist perspective, and I was ready to be righteously outraged… but I totally wasn’t. The author doesn’t deal with the fact that Eugenides writes literary fiction while Picoult writes commercial fiction, so all the ranting about how ladies aren’t taken seriously is moot because literary fiction is more deserving of publicity and attention… isn’t it? Maybe Eugenides is right, it’s all about the marketplace…

I was feeling very conflicted and icky.  I didn’t expect to agree with a guy who accuses a woman of “belly-aching” because she demands the same sort of respect her peers are getting. But then, I don’t see a situation in which I would ever read a Jodi Picoult book on purpose. Jeffrey Eugenides is brilliant and wrote one of my favourite books, The Virgin Suicides. So am I sexist, a book snob, or both?

Then I read this article (tweeted by @jenniferweiner. Follow her.) The author takes the time to research the background, present some actual data, and break down the issues. There are a couple of things going on:

  • Commercial fiction is not seen as important or worthy as literary fiction
  • Female genre writers like Picoult are treated differently than male genre writers, like, say, Nick Hornby.
  • Female genres like romance and YA are treated differently than male genres like horror and mystery.

The whole “belly aching” controversy seems like a smoke screen to distract from the real issues. Kind of like that whole “mom wars” silliness a few months ago. There is ABSOLUTELY sexism in publishing and in writing and in reading. I’ve been reading the classics for years, and it is a vast sea of dead white dudes. Think it’s not a problem today? Nearly all of the current New York Times hardcover bestsellers are by male authors. If you add e-books to the mix, suddenly half are by female authors – thanks to E.L. James are her ilk.

I’m trying to assuage my feminist guilt by stacking my Classics Club list in favour of female authors. I still only made it to 19/50 books, and that was difficult. Maybe I need to write a book.

Do you think the publishing industry is sexist? Do you make an effort to read female authors?