Category Archives: feminism

Memoir of a Debulked Woman

Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian CancerMemoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer by Susan Gubar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I read that there was a memoir by the co-author of the groundbreaking, feminist Madwoman in the Attic, I had to read it. I am also interested in peoples’ interactions with cancer diagnoses and meditations on mortality. And like Gubar, in the abstract I am resistant to some of the extreme measures that decrease the quality of life while extending it only briefly.

As might be expected of an English literature professor, the style is wonderful; whether Gubar is describing a good day or a bad day, the description is vivid. I appreciated her periodic sentences and metaphors. As a professor too, her level of research is not surprising. She set out to read cancer narratives and fiction about women struggling with cancer (primarily ovarian as was hers and breast cancer) and websites about ovarian cancer. When she narrates a reaction to an event, she quotes others with similar and/or different reactions. When she is in despair she draws on great literature moments of despair; though these were often spiritual, she relates them to her physically induced state.

Gubar writes in order to draw attention to the lack of research funding for women’s diseases, primarily ovarian cancer, as evidenced by the lack of change in outcome for women with ovarian cancer and the horrendous nature of options. The options are set in the history of attitudes toward ovaries (at one time related to too much sex and at another to too little), attitudes that, of course, parallel attitudes toward women.

It might not be a good book to read for one in the midst of pondering whether or not to endure the radical “treatments,” but it would be a good book to have read.

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Creative Signage

Today I attended a rally on immigration issues. Alas, I did not have my camera to get pictures of some of the wonderful signs. They included “Immigration is a Feminist Issue,” “Immigrant Rights are Human Rights” and many–aimed at Wells Fargo–about divesting from the privatized prison-industrial complex.Related to that was a broken heart with a dollar sign dividing the parts.

There was a blond woman whose sign read “I’m a first generation immigrant, but don’t get hassled. Is it because I don’t have ‘the look’? Wie sind die 99%.” There was another similar with the last line in French.

My favorite was a person who appeared to be panhandling, seated on the sidewalk. Sign said “Keep your money; I want change.”

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A novel about Twin Boys and another about Three Sisters

The order in which I read books sometimes makes a difference in what I see. Before the novels, I had read Half the Sky, a book full of case stories about women’s mistreatment in third world countries.  Case studies are much more vivid than mere facts and statistics, so the sex slavery, female cutting, and vaginal fistulas made everyone in the book group uncomfortable. In addition I was uncomfortable at the solutions offered. Everything was reduced to economy: Women’s issues are not front burner issues because women don’t have status. Give women money and jobs and let them contribute to the economy, and then their issues will increase in importance as they become more important. In taking what in some cases is a side effect and making it a goal, I think women as human are completely lost. Can you spell COMMODIFICATION?

The next book, Cutting the Stone by Vergese, about twin boys. Not closely linked with the above, but since it dealt with medicine in Ethiopia female cutting and fistulas were issues in places.  I was more sensitive to the issues and noticed the hints sooner than I would have without the first book.

The picture of medicine with little funding was vivid, the contrast between medicine  and attitudes to death in Africa and the United States was enlightening. Sometimes I thought there was more medical information than needed, but often it functioned well to describe a character or to extend suspense.

But moving on to the twin boys.  The primary point of view was one of the twins, Marion. But he and Shiva were portrayed as one in the way that twins often are: knowing what the other is thinking, speaking for each other. Early in the novel the point of view was often”we” emphasizing that oneness; that ended after an estrangement between the boys.

Reading The Weird Sisters by Brown immediately after Cutting the Stone alerted me more quickly to the “we” narrator for the three sisters. It seemed to work better when it really meant all three, but it was also effective as the  “we” moved among the three so that it was the two not involved describing the one acting. The two kept shifting (as do loyalties in groups of three) so that the “we” was fluid. For me it emphasized how they defined themselves against each other, and it emphasized the “fate” of birth order in their personalities.

I think the family’s interest in Shakespeare could have been established by the girls’ names, names that mostly reflected birth order. Rosalind (As You Like It) was the eldest; Bianca (younger sister to Kate in Taming of the Shrew) was the second; Cordelia the third, as was Lear’s Cordelia. Like Lear’s , she was the father’s favorite.  But there the connections ended.  I know Lear better than the other two plays, and I don’t think the passivity and spoiled baby of Brown’s Cordelia fits with Shakespeare’s.  I’ll have to reread the other two plays. An additional means of showing the family fixation, the frequent quoting of Shakespeare’s lines as mask for emotion, was more gimmicky and intrusive than functional…I think the point had already been adequately made.

Both novels had pat endings with one feature that attempted to make it less pat. (Not being specific because I don’t want to do a ‘spoiler.’  )  But then, convincing endings are extremely difficult to write, and in spite of my complaints, I found the two books were good reads.

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A Reading Break

I have been putting off reading Follett’s Pillars of the Earth until I had time to deal with all 900+ pages, and I finally started it.  It was indeed a page turner.  Had it been shorter, I’d have been tempted to stay up all night to finish it; however, knowing the end of the next section would be as much of a cliff hanger as the one I had just finished encouraged me to be reasonable.  I like novels set in the Middle Ages; I especially liked focus on ordinary people instead of royalty.  Even the knights seemed ordinary.

Then came his  World Without End, another 900+ that takes place 200 or so years later, so of course I started that as well.  Although it was fun to recognize names of ancestors, knowing the first book was not at all essential for following the second. In fact, my first impression (maybe the first 150 pages) was that it was going to be the same story with different names, but that soon changed.  The conflict between “natural” medicine of the women and “professional” medicine (blood letting and nasty poultices) of the men, between authority and empiricism, was well done.

I enjoyed having a strong woman character in both books, a stronger one in the second.  I wondered, though, as I heard modern feminist theory coming out of her mouth.  To be sure there would have had to have been rebels all along, but I wasn’t sure they would have used the same arguments.  A small complaint, really, since I enjoyed reading those conversations and thoughts.

I am now 31st on the waiting list for his Fall of Giants. I hope everyone doesn’t take their full 2 weeks.


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